- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 3, 2009

After more than 50 years, the Washington National Opera Ball has not lost its luster as a gem of the summer social calendar.

This year, however, a momentous event in history - the fall of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago - is adding to the annual ball’s sparkle.

The ball - sponsored by Rolex, American Airlines and Washington Life magazine - is the Washington National Opera’s largest fundraising event, set for Friday evening at the residence of German Ambassador Klaus Scharioth.

The ball is known for being a “transformative experience,” WNO’s director of development, Shayne Doty, explains. Those who go “want to walk in and be dazzled. It’s the most dramatic social event of the year.”

Susan E. Lehrman, chairwoman of the ball, says the event’s theatrical elements - such as Las Vegas-style fountain shows and ornate costumes - are meant to conjure images of a dramatic night at the opera.

“The Opera Ball is an extension and celebration of the art onstage. Every creative detail, from the food and decor to the costumes and music, reflects the same quality that opera lovers expect onstage,” Ms. Lehrman says.

Before the ball begins, guests are hosted at pre-dinners at a wide range of embassies and ambassadorial residences. About 400 guests, including senators and Supreme Court justices, will be wined and dined by 27 embassies, including those of France, Britain, Argentina and Ireland.

Ms. Lehrman explains that the important role played by Embassy Row is fitting because “opera is an international art form that speaks to the heart of many people from around the world. To have a world-class opera company in our nation’s capital is a wonderful reflection of the sophistication of the Washington community as well as our nation at large.”

Because Germany is the host embassy, German culture and heritage - and, most important, history - are being trumpeted this year.

“We are celebrating the music of great German opera composers - Wagner, Strauss and Beethoven, to name a few - but also the joyous 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall,” Ms. Lehrman says.

The live band will be positioned in front of a 34-foot replica of the wall, and plasma screens will show YouTube footage of the wall falling “to remind us of those who actually danced on the wall to celebrate their freedom.”

“Major political events and music do fit together,” Mr. Scharioth says. “When the wall fell, the great Russian cellist and former musical director and conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra, Mstislav Rostropovich, performed an impromptu concert at the site itself.”

In addition, guests will be entertained by German chanteuse and Olivier Award-winning actress Ute Lemper and will nibble on decadent German chocolates.

Proceeds from the evening sustain the company and its ability to attract “a wide variety of opera for our sophisticated audience and get new people into opera,” Mr. Doty explains. In addition, funds from the ball are used for WNO’s many educational and community-outreach programs.

One of the special guests at this year’s ball will be Priscilla Barrow, a District public school teacher who was given a ticket to the ball for her passion for music education. The Four Seasons Hotel is donating a two-night stay to round out Ms. Barrow’s opera-ball weekend experience.

In an effort to reach a younger and more diverse crowd, tickets to the ball only are being sold for $250. Tickets for dinner-and-ball packages range from $500 to $1,000.

To purchase tickets, call 202/295-2437.

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