- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 15, 2000

THE EVENT: The Washington Opera's Domingo Gala for the 21st Century at the Kennedy Center.
THE SCENE: For once, Opera fans felt the costuming on the guests was as good as or better than on the performers on stage.
By necessity, the musical portion of Sunday's gala took place on the Venetian Gothic set of the Opera's current production of "Otello," minus the usual lavishly dressed cast of actor-singers.
The audience, at least the female part, more than made up for what was missing on stage in the choice of stylish gowns. One could encapsulate current fashion trends just by looking at the opulent crowd waltzing in on the Kennedy Center's red carpet to take their seats in the plush, even deeper red environs of the Opera House.
The theme of the night, according to Samia Farouki (in wine red and gray satin taffeta) was "a happy anniversary" to celebrate the second of these glittering benefit galas. Decor in the rooftop terrace created a wonderland of sparkling white lights and apple-blossom sprays. Tables were centered by salmon-colored roses bursting out of tapered crystal vases.
"On a night like this," noted Buffy Cafritz, "Washington is as dazzling as anything in New York."
CAPITAL COUTURE: Bright colors predominated for once, over the usual sea of black. Statuesque Holidae Hayes chose an emerald-green Chanel with a plunging-neckline halter top over both a short and long hemline with gold button decorations down the back.
Noted too: the overwhelming popularity of shawls and wraps in all shapes and sizes, but most matching the evening dress in fabric and color. Gala chairwoman Selwa W. "Lucky" Roosevelt set the tone with her ever-so-feminine baby-blue silk-satin Bill Blass distinguished by flirtatious decolletage and a handy large shawl worn around the upper arms.
It bore a remarkable resemblance to what was on model-thin Tanya Snyder, blond wife of Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, who is so entrepreneurial he could be seen working his cell phone at midnight at the post-performance dinner.
Lady (Catherine) Meyer, wife of British Ambassador Sir Christopher Meyer, was in a forest-green sequin Armani, bare on the shoulders except for straps on the shoulders and crossed at back, chatting tete-a-tete with Houston socialite Lynn Wyatt in a shoulderless Bill Blass (with a red sash sweeping over one shoulder). Helen Philon, wife of Greece's ambassador, wore a figure-clinging blue lace and taffeta number by the Greek designer Mainis.
Evelyn Nef blended into the soft peach and champagne colors of the dining room in her champagne-colored paillette top over a slim chiffon skirt by Yves Saint Laurent. Alexandra de Borchgrave gave Mary McFadden her due, choosing her familiar green draped silhouette with an "over the top" full emerald necklace and earrings custom-made by Kenneth Jay Lane.
All eyes were on Jacqueline Leland, wife of Opera trustee Marc Leland, in one of Christian Lacroix's most striking designs from his most recent couture collection: a short strapless tangerine pouf dress decorated with an overlay of dotted black net.
LUCKY TO HAVE HER: When Mr. Domingo took over as the Opera's artistic director four years ago, it was understood that major money would be needed to produce the lavish, world-class productions he had in mind. That's when Mrs. Roosevelt formed the Domingo Circle.
Patrons paid $10,000 a pop for a four-year membership and tickets to attend the 1996 inaugural gala (which brought in $2.6 million). After it became clear that Mr. Domingo was willing to make a commitment beyond four years, it was time to start all over again. Mrs. Roosevelt agreed to an encore, and after two years of work, succeeded in persuading 170 of her well-heeled friends to renew or sign up.
Certainly no one had any complaints about getting his money's worth at the weekend's dizzying round of gala-centric events, including Friday's reception at the Mexican Cultural Center, lunch Saturday at Spanish Ambassador Antonio Oyarzabal's residence, private dinners at trustees' homes Saturday night and a farewell White House event with Hillary Clinton on Monday.
Before the opera's Domingo-led "quantum leap" forward, funds raised by the Circle were considered a "cushion to fall back on," Mrs. Roosevelt reminded the crowd Sunday night. "Now, after raising another $2.5 million, it's more like a mattress."
Mr. Domingo, of course, rose to the occasion.
"We're lucky to have Lucky," he said not once, but twice, before announcing that the Opera would be honoring her with "special performances" over the next three years.
LOOKING AHEAD: Major productions by "the world's greatest tenor, conductor and artistic director" (in Mrs. Roosevelt's words) require an ever-increasing budget and an endowment to match, and the Washington Opera appears to have met expectations and then some. The company's two-season (1997-1999) deficit of $1.26 million was wiped out recently, and the endowment stands at a record $29 million after the sale of the Woodward & Lothrop building downtown (for a $10 million profit) and a $2 million bequest from the late Laura Phillips, the widow of a founder of the Equitable Life Insurance Co.
There was more good news: A $1 million gift for rehearsal space and a costume shop was made recently by candy heir John F. Mars and his wife, Adrienne.
There was a final surprise for anyone presuming that the famed artistic director's salary might be a drain on resources. Mr. Domingo, it was said off the record by one trustee, "gives back more to the company than he receives."
"I work for the great pleasure it gives me," he said at evening's end as guests clustered around for bearhugs and kisses, "I don't do it for the money, and I never will."

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