- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 13, 2005

“I’m not only my country’s ambassador to the U.S., I’m from Rome,” exclaimed Italy’s prideful envoy, Sergio Vento, during Monday’s reception at his residence to kick off a four-part Opera Goes to the Movies festival.

The series, which features cinematic versions of popular operas, is sponsored by the Washington National Opera and AFI Silver Theatre in cooperation with resident diplomats from Italy, Spain, Germany and France. (Georges Bizet’s “Carmen” will be shown Monday, Richard Strauss’ “Salome” Feb. 7 and Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata” Feb. 14.)

Mr. Vento’s boast was more than proper under the circumstances. The evening’s entertainment included a viewing at the Silver Spring theater of the breakthrough film version of Puccini’s “Tosca” that captured three Emmy awards when it was first seen more than a decade ago.

“Tosca,” of course, takes place in the fabled Eternal City, where the film version was painstakingly created on three actual sites (The Church of Sant’Andrea della Valle, the Palazzo Farnese and the Castel Sant’Angelo) named in the opera version.

The concept, which tasks singers to be actors above all, is credited to producer Andrea Andermann, who flew in from Rome just for the evening to greet an audience of opera fans and talk about the production: how it took 27 cameras, four sets and three months’ rehearsal time with the stars in the cast, who included Placido Domingo, now artistic director of Washington National Opera.

“They were singing with mikes in their hair,” Mr. Andermann said.

Elizabeth Drew and her husband, David Felton; Philip and Nina Pillsbury; Lucky Roosevelt (who was leaving for New York the next day to attend the Richard Tucker Music Foundation’s 30th anniversary gala at the Avery Fisher Hall); Walter and Didi Cutler; John and JoAnn Mason; Gilan Tocco Corn; Bill and Alice Sessions; Bill Nitze; Judith Kipper; and Judy Esfandiary were among the opera buffs who readily told stories of their favorite productions.

Ina Ginsburg, an honorary trustee of Washington’s opera company and a trustee of the American Film Institute, got credit for pulling everyone together. Her own introduction to opera on film, she said, had been an invitation to the Hungarian Embassy not long ago to see a three-hour opera-on-film show. “It was all in Hungarian for three and a half hours, and no one moved. It taught me a lesson,” she recalled.

The opera’s name was “Bank Ban,” chimed in Aniko Gaal Schott, who is of Hungarian lineage. “People were mesmerized.”

Mrs. Schott’s own memories include the time when her parents regularly took her to opera as a child: “They didn’t have baby sitters under the communist regime. I saw ‘Tosca’ five times by age 12.”

Walter and Didi Cutler reminisced about the night in 1983 when they were invited to a production of “La Traviata” in the Roman Amphitheater in Tunis.

Jack Valenti, who recently took up duties as president of the Friends of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS after retiring from the top job at the Motion Picture Association, put a more sober note on the evening’s festivities, saying privately that, as tragic as last month’s tsunami was in terms of casualties, “six million people die every year of AIDS and other infectious diseases.”

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