- The Washington Times - Monday, June 5, 2000

Wolf Trap's Gala 2000 may have been billed as an "Evening of Romance," but Virginia state Delegate V. Earl Dickinson couldn't resist talking about the slings and arrows of politics rather than hearts and flowers while waiting for singer Johnny Mathis to appear. The 27-year veteran Democrat and co-chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, seemed optimistic about fellow Democrat Charles S. Robb's chances for re-election in the fall.

"He's showing a lot better in the polls" against his Republican rival, former Gov. George F. Allen, Mr. Dickinson said.

After noting that his committee approves a hefty contribution to Wolf Trap because of its education programs, he chortled as Mr. Mathis, still youthful with incredibly good hair, came onstage.

"Look at those purple pants and that green jacket," the crusty politician from Louisa County, Va., said as Mr. Mathis bounded onto the Filene Center stage. "How old is he? Close to 70? I remember him on Ed Sullivan in 1957."

Sure enough, Mr. Mathis was soon marveling to the audience that 2000 had seemed a long time away for someone born in 1935. "You do the math," he added.

The gala reception and pre-performance dinner zeroed in on education and capital improvements, though a romantic atmosphere prevailed throughout the evening. Red roses and red-and-black bunting were everywhere on the ceiling and tables inside the huge white tents in the Great Meadow adjacent to the Filene Center. Dinner there featured a chocolate ecstasy dessert with cocoa beans in a pool of chocolate sauce, topped off with a CD made out of a chocolate bar. Men in crisp black tuxedoes and women in dresses ranging from the colorfully tasteful to the outlandishly otherwise mingled beforehand as nervous bartenders poured drinks for the numerous high rollers, many of them from Virginia's burgeoning high-tech industry.

"Terry Jones, the president of Wolf Trap, did assign me one task," said Wolf Trap Foundation Chairman Thomas Hoog. "And that was to bring good weather tonight, and I think I succeeded. Let me say that was the sum total of my contribution." Mr. Hoog, president and CEO of Hill and Knowlton USA, later credited "friends in low places." Elizabeth C. Clist, chairwoman of the gala, added that "we flipped for who would get credit for the weather."

The gala pays for programs such as the Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts (which Mrs. Clist says touched more than 40,000 young people this year), the Wolf Trap Opera Company, scholarships, internships, master classes and participation in national education programs. The board members of Wolf Trap also celebrated the May 23 opening of the $21 million capital campaign, $9 million of which is earmarked for a new state-of-the-art Center for Education.

"Given what the campaign is for, the community we're in and the exposure that we have, two years is a rational expectation for the campaign's time frame," said foundation Vice Chairman James M. Underhill, who nonetheless expressed confidence that he could "close it out sooner."

Mr. Hoog said a fund-raising dinner last month left him absolutely convinced of the institution's educational importance because of a stellar performance by Wolf Trap Opera Company Young Artist Cynthia Watters.

"She's only 20 years old and incredibly talented," Mr. Hoog said. "You remind yourself that this is one of the few venues in the country that gives young opera performers an opportunity to pursue their craft before they hit big time."

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