- The Washington Times - Monday, October 23, 2000

It was a "super" night Saturday at the gala opening of Washington Opera's 45th season.

The production chosen by Artistic Director Placido Domingo was Jules Massenet's "Don Quichotte," never before seen in America in the version by Piero Faggioni, which required 175 supers to be on stage at one time. To call the performance "complicated," as Mr. Domingo did, was something of an understatement.

A Spanish theme based on the familiar tale of Cervantes' Don Quixote, sung in French and staged by an Italian, reflected the international aspect of the evening, which had Mr. Domingo fully enjoying the job of host. For a change, he was neither performing nor conducting. At intermission in the Golden Circle, he introduced a beaming Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright to one and all with a bottle of champagne by his side.

Alas, the eagerness of so many in the audience to rush to the exit at opera's end before the applause and curtain calls had finished indicated less-then-courteous behavior. Surely Washingtonians don't have to be in such a hurry to get home before 10 p.m. on a Saturday?)

A line of the Strolling Strings greeted guests on the outside steps of the ornate Organization of American States building at a post-performance benefit dinner. Tapas were on tap before the main course and were served in the resplendent downstairs courtyard among tropical foliage; dessert was served upstairs in a flower-bedecked main dining room.

French Ambassador Francois Bujon de l'Estang and wife Anne wanted guests to know the same opera and the same singer, famed Italian bass Ruggero Raimondi in the Don Quichotte role, had opened the Paris opera season in September.

"It changes for me. It gets deeper every time," Mr. Raimondi said when asked on arrival how his frequent performances in the part influence his interpretation.

"It's about passion and the harm it does except to the person possessed," said Hilda Ochoa-Brillembourg of the well-known story of a heroically comic hero in quest of the ideal life and love.

"I found myself extremely moved by the libretto, and I love Washington having the opportunity to do new things," said enthusiastic opera-goer JoAnn Mason of the opera's debut.

The event was clearly an ideal "stage" for formal fashion as well. Lolo Sarnoff wore a red satin Chanel evening trouser suit; gala co-chairwoman Donna McLarty chose a black John Galliano. Her co-chairwoman, Toni Gore, had on a colorfully beaded black skirt under a quilted satin jacket in red clearly the color of the night and the one chosen by Dorothy Graves-Kenner, mother of Washington's own star diva, mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves, who played Dulcinee.

"Judge not that you be not judged" is all the normally voluble Justice Antonin Scalia offered to say when asked his opinion of the production.

Washington Ballet Artistic Director Septime Webre judiciously complimented the opera's choreographer-dancer, Mariano Brancaccio. Mr. Webre, just two days away from making his own company's debut in Cuba, said he had come because "I love dramatic spectaculars of every kind."

Mr. Faggioni never made it to the party. "He is exhausted and is resting," Mr. Domingo explained in after-dinner remarks.

Not so the rest of the crowd, most of whom were still celebrating until past 1 a.m.

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