- The Washington Times - Monday, June 10, 2002

The Washington Opera Ball can always be counted on to signal a sweet end to the social season, but the event this year, held at the residence of Belgian Ambassador Alex Reyn and his wife, Rita, turned out to be the sweetest ever.
Quite literally, as it turned out.
How could it fail to be with an entire room filled with magnificent Belgian chocolate treats: artfully sculpted roses, artichokes and asparagus embellishing tables overflowing with madeleines, pralines, bonbons and truffles; oeufs a la neige au chocolat blanc; hot and iced chocolate drinks; and a display of chocolate-dipped cherries, raspberries and strawberries in a chocolate basket lined with a chocolate napkin on a chocolate tray?
"You could OD on this stuff," pundit John McLaughlin said looking across a long table at an all-chocolate flower arrangement that could have passed for the real thing if it weren't entirely brown. "Death by chocolate," his wife, Cristina, sighed. "I can't think of a better way to go."
Even sweeter, at least for opera lovers, was the announcement that a record $3 million had been raised $1 million more than the high set last year. The stupefying sum was a result of $1 million gifts from ball chairman Betty Scripps Harvey and AOL co-founder Jim Kimsey; hefty contributions from BP America and other corporate donors; and ticket purchases by 600 guests who paid as much as $1,500 each to attend. (The least expensive tickets were $500, and they were limited.)
Mrs. Scripps Harvey said shegot the extra million for the Washington Opera's coffers by doubling her original $500,000 pledge and then asking Mr. Kimsey to do the same.
"I said, 'Will you match it?' and he said 'yes,'" the Scaasi-and-diamond-clad newspaper heiress said during a quiet moment in the chocolate room with her husband, Jeremy Harvey, and other guests.
Mr. Kimsey wasn't available to discuss how the deal was struck. Friends reported that he had flown to Monaco to attend another ball with a small group that included actress Bo Derek and Ecuadorean Ambassador Ivonne A-Baki.
The black-tie crowd began arriving from 22 pre-ball embassy dinner parties about 10 p.m., entering the limestone French-chateau-style mansion (once the home of auto heiress Delphine Dodge and Philadelphia banker Edward T. Stotesbury) for desserts, drinks and dancing. They included Sens. Patrick J. Leahy and Richard C. Shelby; Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder; former ball chairmen Evelyn DiBona, Nina Pillsbury, Jane Sloat, Ina Ginsburg and Mary Ourisman; Selwa S. "Lucky" Roosevelt; Sandra Payson; Hilda and Arturo Brillembourg; Jonathan Ledecky; and Washington Ballet Artistic Director Septime Webre.
Placido Domingo, the opera's artistic director, did his duty in the receiving line, chatting with benefactors even though he usually tries to avoid taxing his voice the day before a performance.
"Every year [the organizers] do better and better, but this year, they have outdone themselves," he said, looking a bit fatigued after a heavy week that included singing "The Queen of Spades" and conducting several performances of "Carmen" at the Kennedy Center.
Much of the high-powered mingling and generally low-key dancing (to Michael Carney and his orchestra) took place in an enormous specially constructed conservatory-style pavilion attached to the back of the house.
The effect left guests gasping superlatives.
"A pavilion instead of a tent. How beautiful and how perfect," exclaimed Baroness Constantine "Garnett" Stackelberg, who said the ball this year was the most beautiful she had seen. (She has attended every one since 1958).
Philip Baloun, Mrs. Scripps Harvey's favorite New York floral designer, spent seven months conceptualizing and constructing the space, which was meant to evoke the royal greenhouses of Belgium's King Leopold II. The task required providing a transparent ceiling (see-through plastic), hanging wrought-iron chandeliers, importing a forest of tall palm trees from Florida (which had arrived that morning) and arranging countless towering bouquets of pink and coral flowers. In the reception room, where the Reyns (who will soon leave Washington), Mr. Domingo and Mrs. Scripps Harvey greeted guests, Mr. Baloun created an arboretum effect with massive urns displaying fresh cherry blossoms, coral peonies and hot-pink lilies.
"It's a combination of Palm Beach, Newport and Southampton, but on steroids," joked Palm Beach, Fla., Rep. Mark Foley, who added that Mrs. Scripps Harvey always can be counted on to go "over the top" when she takes charge of a charitable event.

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