|WASHINGTON’S OPERA BALL
By Carol Joynt
The Dinner in Brazil
You have to hand it to the Washington Opera. They know how to pick their night. Any organization that chooses June for a Washington gala is taking a risk. It can as easily be the most gorgeous night of spring as the first heat wave of the year. What the Opera Ball got was the heat wave, but at least minus the vicious storms of a couple of days before. Opera lovers are made of tough stuff, though. When you consider the elaborate texture of opera – the music, the staging, the divas, the length - it’s practically part of the drama to don ball gowns and black tie in sweltering temperatures. The show must go on.
The arrangement of the evening was an opera-worthy production that could happen only in Washington and took full advantage of the city’s international uniqueness. The guests started by attending intimate dinners at the residences of 22 ambassadors. It was an international alphabet soup that included Afghanistan, Algeria, Argentina, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Chile, Ireland, Morocco, Peru, Russian Spain, Turkey, and Uzbekistan. For dessert and dancing, everyone made their way to the residence of French Ambassador Pierre Vimont.
The dinners vary and as always with this sort of thing there’s jockeying for one embassy over another. But what better place to be on a hot night then the home of the Ambassador of Brazil, a country that knows hotness in so many forms (Rio, Giselle, Samba, the Caipirinha). The Brazilian residence is at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Whitehaven Street, a prime location adjacent to the British and Italian Embassies and the home of Bill and Hillary Clinton.
|The menu.||The dinner table.|
|Terrine of fresh Foie Gras with Watercress.|
|Pave of Brazilian Bacalhau, with rice, snow peas and roasted garlic sauce.||Fresh Coconut Sorbet with Guava Coulis and Spun Sugar.|
|Brazil’s ambassador, Antonio de Aguiar Patriota, played cool Samba on the CD player as guests arrived for cocktails in the grand reception room of his residence. He’s charming and friendly and seemed particularly happy to be entertaining on this night, especially with the power back on after it earlier had been knocked out by the storms. He enjoyed welcoming his guests, pointing out architectural details and favorite works of art. He also, happily, was open to talk about the residence’s Princess Diana connection, which still fascinates so many. Both as the Princess of Wales, and later after her divorce, Diana used the Brazilian residence as her Washington home away from home. The then-ambassador’s wife, Lucia Flecha de Lima, was among her closest friends.
“Her favorite butler is still here,” Patriota volunteered. “He always took care of her. You can go meet him.” I did, finding him in the dining room, finishing the flowers. His name is Martin Marin, and he smiled at the mention of Diana. He said she was always relaxed and comfortable during her visits to the residence, making herself at home, even walking barefoot on the parquet floors. He talked with pride of the framed pictures he has of her.
|Twenty-four of us sat down to a candlelight dinner at the long and polished table, with the ambassador in the center. Across from him was Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, who was briefly among the democratic candidates for president. To Patriota’s left was Selwa “Lucky” Roosevelt, a member of the Opera’s Board of Trustees, and to his right was Elizabeth Kucinich. Elizabeth told her other dinner partner, Mat Hastings, that she is a former British Peace Corps volunteer whose uncle served as for the Duke of Marlborough. The Kuciniches are vegans. While the rest of us dined on Terrine of Foie Gras and Pave of Brazilian “Bacalhau” (or codfish cakes), they were served asparagus crepes and other vegetables. Elizabeth said it was her husband who was vegan first and got her to come aboard. “Wherever we go we phone ahead to let them know and it’s not a problem,” she said.
After dinner and applause for Chef Gaby Aubouin, the ambassador invited us to linger over coffee. Earlier, in her toast, Lucky Roosevelt expressed the whole groups’ sentiments when she said, “I am happy to be here on Brazilian soil tonight.” The others at the Brazilian dinner included Josephine Cooper and David Vennett, Joel and Barbara Finkelstein, Christina and Mark Ginsburg, Francesca Craig, Patsy Lee, Mark and Roseli Militana, Bill and Maureen Torgerson, Ed and Yvette Lewis, Michael and Generose Knight, Togo and Gail West.
|The Dessert in France
It seemed cruel to leave the cool environs of Brazil to head out into the hot night for the 5 minute drive to France - in the form of the French Ambassador’s residence. But count on the French to know how to distract from the elements.
The mansion was glowing with the fanciful handiwork of French lighting impresario Julien Pavillard. There were light designs in the grass, in the windows, in the garden and on the pool, and chandeliers hung from the trees.
|Costumed singers greeted guests, waiters passed cold champagne, white wine and water, and in every direction there were desserts: plump fruits, Crepes Suzettes, sorbet, chocolates, pastries. A large round table in one of the residence’s dining rooms held a gorgeous feast of ripe cheeses.
The terrace was covered with a glass canopy that was washed in cool blue light. Under it, the Bob Hardwick Sound played romantic standards. The truth is the heat did cut into the dancing, because many of the men were sweating in their dinner jackets. Sweat on cheeks, on brows. One guest described it as “what life must have been like in India for the British before the Partition.” In fact, had the water not been topped with lights in the form of lily pads it’s quite possible the ambassadorial pool would have replaced the dance floor as the preferred place to frolic.
|The goody bag was a single but lovely item: a Bernardaud porcelain votive light featuring the Monuments de Paris.
The Opera’s Shayne Doty said approximately 550 people attended the festivities. With tickets starting at $1000 per person, you can do the math. A hot time, indeed.
|Setting the tone for the fantasy of light inside, the official greeter at the Embassy's front entrance. He/she handed out fortunes in the form of tiny scrolls wrapped in wire and beads.|
|Those opera lovers who could take the heat included Michael and Meryl Chertoff, Wayne Brown, David Ireland, Lisa Epifani, Graeme Clark and David Ireland, Chilean Ambassador Mariano Fernandez, Bill Cox and Mary Noble, Sen. James Webb of Virginia and Hong Le Webb, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Marcelle Leahy, Gen. Michael Hayden, Justice Anthony Kennedy and Mary Kennedy, Justice Antonin Scalia and Maureen Scalia, Michael Wynne, Randall Kroszner and David Nelson, Hungarian Ambassador Ferenc Somogyi, Kenneth and Diane Feinberg, Finnish Ambassador Pekka Lintu, Ricardo and Isabel Ernest, Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, Cheryl Mills, John and Joann Mason, Malcolm and Gail Matheson, Kathy Kemper and James Valentine, Turkish Ambassador Nabi Sensoy, British Ambassador Sir Nigel Elton Sheinwald, Jacqueline Mars, Nancy Bagley, James and Mai Abdo, Austrian Ambassador Eva Nowotny and Thomas Nowotny, Philip and Nina Pillsbury, Rep. Jim Moran and Luann Bennett, and Svetlana Ushakova, wife of the Russian ambassador.
Also, Robert, Susan, Aimee and Sam Lehrman, Michael, Linda, Peter and Debbie Sonnenreich, Hilda and Arturo Brillembourg, John Pohanka, Jim Bell and Mark Scott, Rosemary Harris, Mary Mochary, Mark Weinstein, Nicky and Indu Singh, Donald and Debbie Sigmund, Heidi and Manuel Talavera, Carol Thayer, Marshall Thompson, Rep. Ed Royce of California and Marie-Terese Royce, Beth Krynicki, and Christina Scheppelmann.
|Photographs by James R. Brantley & Carol Joynt. Carol Joynt is the host of The Q&A Cafe, a talk show at Nathans Restaurant in Washington, D.C.|