Our long night at the opera

  • The Washington Examiner
  • |
  • September 20, 2005

by Karen Feld

The Washington National Opera opening night Saturday of “I Vespri Siciliani” was a big deal – all three and a half hours of the seldom-performed opera. “I read the words. That was the best part, and the music, too,” said Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash. Nevertheless, some opera aficionados at the Kennedy Center couldn’t keep their CrackBerries – oops, BlackBerries – off during the performance.

Domingo’s challenging choices

General Director Placido Domingo explained at the post-performance dinner on the KenCen Terrace, “It would be easy to come up with a very popular opera such as ‘Carmen’ or ‘Tosca,’ but ‘I Vespri’ has always been in my mind as a masterpiece. It’s not easy to find four tremendous singers,” he added before excusing himself early because he was singing at last night’s opening night gala performance at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

Hamlisch’s pop-speak

Composer Marvin Hamlisch, who joined the guests after his own pops performance in the KenCen concert hall, told me his upcoming Broadway project based on Woody Allen’s film “Bullets Over Broadway” is “semi.” In Marvin-talk, that means they’re still dealing with rights.

Totenberg’s court call

We heard lots of talk about the high court, and everyone seemed to agree that the president will wait until John Roberts is confirmed by the full Senate before naming a replacement for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Court watcher Nina Totenberg of National Public Radio quipped: “He [President Bush] should name [Attorney General Alberto] Gonzales, and let the Dems stew in their own juices.”

Nation’s librarian loves opera

My dinner partner, James Billington, head of the Library of Congress, has performed in opera since he was 14. He was a supernumerary, playing a cardinal, in “Tosca” last year at the Kennedy Center. “I’m waiting to be summoned,” he told me, joking that he most frequently was cast as Ebenezer Scrooge.

“Performing is my never-never land,” Billington said. But of course, he has a demanding day job. The big dilemma he’s dealing with at the Library of Congress these days is determining “what’s worth saving on the Internet.” He’s also going to Moscow for Russian first lady Lyudmila Putin’s book festival Oct. 2. Billington, whose specialty is Russian, wrote a long introduction for the catalog for the Guggenheim’s Russian art exhibit.

If you’ve ever wondered what books the Librarian of Congress is currently reading, this eclectic selection is on his night table: “Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness,” by Jon Kabat-Zinn; and a novel written in Russian that he’s re-reading called, “The Black Candle.”

Other opera supporters

Also spotted at the opera dinner: Betty Knight Scripps, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Judith Martin (aka Miss Manners), Esther Coopersmith, Ina Ginsburg, Myrna Haft, John and Lynn Pohanka, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., ambassadors from the Netherlands, Georgia, Jordan, Hungary, Mexico, Peru and Australia – and Selwa “Lucky” Roosevelt, who chairs the Washington National Opera’s upcoming golden anniversary gala, set for March 19. Some guests, including Joanne Mason and Soroush Shehabi, stopped by the dinner following Fred and Marlene Malek’s daughter’s wedding reception at the Mayflower Hotel.

‘You never leave’

Philip and Melanee Verveer – she was chief of staff to first lady Hillary Clinton – were just back from former President Clinton’s global initiative with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and many other leaders in New York. She now chairs a D.C.-based nonprofit called Vital Voices, which supports emerging women leaders globally. When asked if she’s still working with the Clintons, she mused: “You never leave the Clintons – just like you never leave Washington.”

… and the U.N. gridlock

James McBride, a former general manager of the Ritz-Carlton in downtown D.C., had quite a week juggling security at New York’s Carlyle Hotel, which he runs these days. The property played host to both Mick Jagger and Tony Blair simultaneously last week while Gotham was under U.N.-inspired security gridlock.

Pets are family

Pet-lovers watched with great sadness the heart-wrenching stories of Gulf Coast evacuees having to leave their beloved pets behind. But local pet owners – myself included – were shocked by Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher’s response to a question in an online chat the other day: “I cannot fathom why all these folks who stayed behind to take care of their pets would risk their lives for an animal that they could easily replace at any pet store,” wrote Fisher. One prominent parent and pet owner had this to say in response: “Would Fisher tell someone who lost a child in the hurricane to go to an orphanage and get another one?”

Surely not. Enough said.

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