Thursday, April 18, 2013

Washington Social Diary

Vice President Joe Biden with Italian Ambassador Claudio Bisogniero at the Washington National Opera ball.
by Carol Joynt

It was an altogether beautiful Washington National Opera ball, once again. As with recent years it was held at an ambassador’s residence -- this  year Italy’s Villa Firenze -- and was preceded by intimate seated candlelight dinners at embassies all over town.

Everybody was done up in black tie and pretty dresses, happy to arrive at the after-party for dancing and an eye-popping display of decor (Italian village square) and savories and sweets (salami, cheeses, risotto and pasta, and trays of Italian pastries.) What was not in common with past years was a visit by the Vice President of the United States, and that had both an up and down side.
The Italian Ambassador's residence on the night of the Opera Ball. The Ferrari and the Maserati were on loan for the evening. Guests actually rode in golf carts.
The non-Ferrari shuttle from the residence to the valet parking.
Joe Biden and Jill Biden show up well at a party. He has a big bright smile and genuinely knows many of the faces in any high end crowd in Washington. He’s been here that long. Jill Biden, also known as Dr. Jill Biden, is also a happy party goer, and I say that because her own bright smile appears sincere. In other words, they light up a room, and they did that for the Opera Ball ... not that it needed lighting up. The Bidens appeared on stage with Italian Ambassador Claudio Bisogniero and his wife, Laura. As I said recently in a story about another Italian dinner party (and where Jill Biden was a guest) Claudio and Laura have become two of Washington’s diplomatic gems, their home a reliable haven from the routine.

No gala organizers are ever going to quibble with the idea of a speech by the vice president at their big occasion. I wondered if this was a pre-2016 clever attempt to court the opera vote, or to maybe actually get appointed ambassador to Italy after his term -- a job Biden said his wife would like him to have. 
Vice President Biden shares a handshake with Ambassador Bisogniero. Kennedy Center president Michael Kaiser.
Laura Bisogniero and Jill Biden.
Adrienne Arsht, I’m told, generously made the appearance possible by reaching out to Biden. Connie Milstein, the ball’s chair, had to be pleased. Ditto David Rubenstein, chairman of the Kennedy Center itself, which is home to the WNO. The three of them lined up together at the red rope line that was put up around the stage before the Bidens and the Bisognieros came out. It was an amusing  and notable sight -- three billionaires, plus another one, the richest cat in the pack, Jacqueline Mars -- pressed against the velvet rope, no different than a rock concert with  Jon Bon Jovi about to walk out. They were a sweet sight and one of the evening's best photo ops.

Biden was sweet, too, and Bisogniero, making charming remarks about each other and America and Italy and the opera, and the room listened quietly except to  laugh at certain moments. Jill Biden wore a drop-shoulder red Valentino gown, but she and Laura were silent admirers, standing off to the side to listen and smile. And then, after 15 minutes of remarks, all four left the stage and disappeared through a door.
A trio of billionaires who support the Washington National Opera: Adrienne Arsht, David Rubenstein and Connie Milstein, who was also the evening's chair.
Mary Ourisman and Women's Wear Daily's Susan Watters. Chief of Protocol Capricia Marshall with Italian Ambassador Claudio Bisogniero.
Newt Gingrich.
Here’s where the rub came in, even if only a small rub. Since the event was a “ball,” techniclly a dance, and there was an orchestra ready to share the same stage with the official foursome, wouldn’t it have been cool for the Bidens to come down on to the dance floor to have the first dance, and then maybe mingle, as if they really were at the ball and not just doing a stage appearance?

I would love to see that at a Washington gala, and I’m sure other guests would agree. As it was after they left the stage, the room fell nearly flat, as the momentum struggled to get back in gear, and there was a quick pause of silence before guests resumed their party talk and headed back to the many bars. A hapless David Rubenstein, who knows how to command a room, tried without succeess to get their attention back toward the stage to thank generous supporters and strategic planners, but as might be expected of 550 people, after one long stretch of speeches, they wanted to resume partying. 
A guest photographs the label of one of the Italian wines available for tasting.
A feast of Italian desserts, prepared by Susan Gage Caterers.
Chocolate egg filled with more chocolate eggs.
The dancing did begin, to covers of Frank Sinatra hits. And all in all this evening was declared a splendid success, and that’s fair. Because the date had been moved up in the calendar to earlier than usual -- the ususal is mid June ---  organizers had to cope with unsusually cool spring weather. Outdoors, frankly, was cold. It prevented an open air fete, with access to the Villa’s splendid lawns. Instead, we were under a massive glass marquee, with views out to the lighted woods. Inside was pretty, with lemons hanging from the ceiling, cachepot with more lemons, faux Italian tiles on the floors, painted village windows on the “stucco” walls, dappled lighting, Gelato in this corner, a Limoncello bar in that corner, a table dedicated to tasting Italian wines. The flavor of Italia was undeniable.

It’s been a good and strong season for the Washington National Opera. The production of Norma, which just wrapped, was a success, and there’s much excitement and anticipation for Show Boat, opening May 4 for an almost month-long run. It’s a co-production with Lyric Opera of Chicago, the San Francisco Opera Association and Houston Grand Opera and the cast is gorgeous. So, onward.
The room, done up to look like an Italian village square, with lemons and votives hanging from the ceiling.

One week after the Opera Ball two more annual spring galas filled the weekend, the Hemingway in Paris Ball, hosted by The Washington Ballet, and the Washington Performing Arts Society’s annual formal dinner and dance. Each had something to offer that made them memorable.

The WPAS gave us Matthew Morrison, a sweetheart of a person, a Broadway baby at heart, and one of the stars of the hit Fox muscial dramedy, “Glee.” Morrison is no stranger to DC. He’s been a regular at the White House Correspondents Association dinner, though he said regrettably he’ll miss it this year due to a commitment to the Olivier Festival. Personally, I’d just go with the latter, but he says he enjoys being in Washington, loves the city and particularly the WHCA dinner. But there’s time. Next year is the 100th anniversary of the WHCA, and that will be the dinner not to miss. He agreed.
Star of Broadway and "Glee," Matthew Morrison. Morrison meeting a fan.
And meeting another fan, Kathryn Rand of FedEx.
Cocktail chatter aside, when Morrison hit the stage he turned into an old-school song and dance man, complete with a fedora cocked over one eye. He spoke with awe and affection for Stephen Sondheim before a medley from “West Side Story.” He gave a syncopated lift to “Come Rain or Come Shine,” and ended with Elton John’s “Rocket Man.” He’d planned only an eight song set but went to a dozen because the crowd was so enthusiastic. No kidding. Since Morrison plays a high school teacher, "Mr. Schuester," on "Glee," it’s fitting that his performance became like a prom. Guests were up dancing while he was singing and dancing, and he did not mind. He encouraged them. 
Matthew Morrison sings "Maria" in a medley of classics from West Side Story ...
Yes, Washington can dance. Here's what it looked like on the dance floor while Morrison sang on stage. In the center, Daren Thomas and Jo Cooper.
Trent Lott and his wife, Patricia.
Hallie Bilfield and her mother, Jenny Bilfield, the new president of the Washington Performing Arts Society.
Carl Colby and Jay Hammer.
The dinner for more than 600 filled the ballroom of the Ritz Carlton West End hotel.
Dancers from the Culkin School of Irish Dance, who performed at the start of the Irish-themed WPAS gala.
The Culkin School dancers.
Singers from the Children of the Gospel Choir, which is part of the Washington Performing Arts Society.
At the after-party, tie off, glass of Jameson's in hand ... Matthew Morrison with Daren Thomas of WPAS. Matthew Morrison, relaxes after the performance.
Matthew Morrison, after his performance, with a whole crowd of fans.
The WPAS dinner had other purposes, too. It raised money for education programs and was a chance for the group’s new president, Jenny Bilfield, to introduce herself after being in town only a matter of weeks. She came to Washington from Standford University. Her date was her daughter, Hallie. 

Morrison made the WPAS dinner memorable, and for the ballet’s ball it was location, the Italian-Renaissance style Libary of Congress. The gorgeous building only enhanced the theme of Hemingway in Paris, the Roaring '20s, flappers and a gin-soaked good time. But that’s not all. The party was done beautifully -- lighting, flowers, table-settings -- and caterer Susan Gage made the bold move of serving Bouillabaise to some 400 guests. It’s one thing to make a good Bouillabiase for a small dinner party, but try doing that in the back of an ancient building and for hundreds. It worked out and well. In the French fashion, the stew was followed by a salad course and a cheese course. Dessert included made-to-order crepes.
Young ballet dancers greeted guests as they arrived at the Library of Congress. They are students from THEARC in Anacostia.
Cocktails were served in The Great Hall, which was also where a group of the ballet’s dancers put on a rousing pre-dinner "can-can." It was also where the guests returned for after-dinner dancing to DJ Pitch One, and where The Washington Ballet’s artistic director, Septime Webre, talked about the upcoming ballet production “Hemingway: The Sun Also Rises,” and the co-chairs, Chris and Jackie Dodd, thanked all for their generosity, and where board chair Sylvia A. de Leon declared the evening “the most successful gala in the history of the Washington Ballet.” 

Sylvia A. de Leon, board chair of The Washington Opera, Jackie Clegg Dogg and Chris Dodd, the ball's co-chairs, and in the foreground, Septime Webre, the ballet's artistic director.
The Mexican Ambassador, Arturo Sarukhan, Jane Harman, Veronica Sarukhan, and Tony Podesta.
Close friends Bruce Lipnick and Chris Dodd.
Jack Davies and Kay Kendall. Bill and Alison Paley.
Justice Samuel Alito and his wife, Martha.
A group of the ballet’s dancers put on a rousing pre-dinner "can-can" ...
Watching the "can-can," closely.
The corps de ballet entertains before dinner.
Moments before dinner was seated.
At every table, at every seat, there were beautiful views.
There were almost 400 guests at the dinner.
Septime Webre, in the center, with friends at his table.
Sunshee Kim. Bruce Lipnick with his daughter, Olivia, one of the dancers with The Washington Ballet.
Gouri Mirpuri and Astad Deboo.
Irene Roth, with Vicken Poochikian beside her, taking a photo of ...
Annie Totah, Gouri Mirpuri and Astad Deboo.

Jose Andres,
a superstar chef with restaurants in Miami, Beverly Hills and Las Vegas, opened his first restaurant in Washington, Jaleo, 20 years ago. He's taking the whole year to celebrate the anniversary and it began recently with a party at the restaurant, one of four he owns in Washington. Among the guests were Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor, US senator Mark Warner, Spanish ambassador Ramón Gil-Casares, and DC mayor Vincent Gray. Others at the party were developer Herb Miller, businessman Steve Case, lawyer Stuart Pape, Haitian ambassador Paul Altidor, and White House chef Sam Kass.
Jose Andres makes a point, sort of.
It was an anniversary party but also a terrific foodie event, with plate after plate of Andres' signature tapas passed around the room, as well as a giant paella. The party's cocktail was a concoction of gin and Aperol. I stopped by with my colleagues from Washingtonian, Jessica Voelker and Anna Spiegel, just two members of the magazine's food team who are up for James Beard Awards.
Chef Jose Andres with Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
Virginia senator Mark Warner with Think Food Group's CEO Rob Wilder.
NBC anchor Eun Yang slurps up a "gin and tonic" oyster.
Follow Carol on twitter @caroljoynt