- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 3, 2007

Not your usual party problem: Pondering at 1 a.m. what to do with the replica cast in dark chocolate of Machu Picchu that held firm in the center of a dessert table at the Peruvian ambassador’s residence, scene of Friday’s annual Opera Ball. There wasn’t a sign of melt, so expert was the creation that looked over an abundance of truffles, trifles, tarts, turrons and other tempting chocolate treats.

Not a usual decoration at all, but then the annual $1,000-a-pop fete to benefit the Washington National Opera always manages to outdo itself.

This time the Friday night festivities began as usual with pre-ball dinners at 21 embassy residences, followed by dancing and dessert at the home of Peruvian Ambassador Felipe Ortiz de Zevallos, who greeted the 550 arrivals by turn in the entrance of Battery Terrill, his grand mansion that sits on Garrison Street Northwest in 25 forested acres just west of Rock Creek Park.

Guests enjoyed exploring the artwork in the wood-paneled sitting rooms, including pre-Colombian ceramics from the Moche, Chimu and Nazca cultures, colonial paintings from the Cuzco and Lima schools, Molas textile hangings, costumbrista watercolors and hammered silver treasures. “It has to be one of the most beautiful diplomatic residences in Washington,” one guest said before sharing the widely-circulated rumor that former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori’s government had considered putting the property on the market in the 1990s but never went through with the sale.

A few with even longer memories pointed out that the ball had been scheduled at the house once before, but was abruptly canceled. “The Peruvians backed out in 1982 because Great Britain had just beaten Argentina in its battle over the Malvinas islands and they didn’t want it to look like they were celebrating,” said a longtime patron who asked not to be named. “We had to move quickly to find a replacement, which turned out to be Malaysia.”

All serious talk (apart from the ball’s $3 million proceeds) was forgotten as Bob Hardwick’s society orchestra kept up a steady beat throughout the evening under a tented dance floor lighted in heavenly blue with immense blown-up images of Lima’s two main plazas on three sides. Those less athletically or rhythmically inclined lounged inside or on the pool terrace enjoying cabaret-style performances by Peruvian singers and dancers until well past 2 a.m.

Piscos, both sour and sweet, were on offer throughout the night: a “mood enhancement potion” that Giselle Theberge found particularly effective. “Everyone gets very happy,” she said before joining her husband, John Jeppson, on the dance floor for Mr. Hardwick’s mambo-merengue-salsa-samba suite.

For the first time in her eight years as chairman, Betty Knight Scripps did not attend, citing a “pending business deal” in California. Opera benefactors Betty Brown Casey and Jim Kimsey were also absent, ditto opera director Placido Domingo (who had a conflicting engagement).

VIPs and philanthropists sighted at the dinners and ball (although not necessarily both) included Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, astronaut Buzz Aldrin, Morton and Grace Bender, Marc and Jacqueline Leland, Lucky Roosevelt, Pat Sagon, Frances Townsend, Arturo and Hilda Brillembourg, Calvin and Jane Cafritz, Leo and Grega Daly, Bill Haseltine, Fred and Marlene Malek, Charles and Evelyn DiBona and opera president Ken Feinberg.

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