Sunday, September 17, 2006

THE EVENT: The Washington National Opera’s Opening Night Gala Dinner

THE SITE: The Organization of American States’ headquarters

THE SCENE: D.C.’s “Hollywood on the Potomac” connection went into overdrive Saturday night as local VIPs mixed with Hollywood types after the performance of Bela Bartok’s “Duke Bluebeard’s Castle” and Giacomo Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi,” both directed by William Friedkin of “Exorcist” and “French Connection” fame. Adding to the buzz level were opera stars Denyce Graves and Samuel Ramey, who swept in after the show to make nice with well-heeled opera buffs paying $500 a pop (minimum) to be part of the post-show festivities.

WHO WAS THERE: Mr. Friedkin’s wife, former Paramount chief Sherry Lansing, kept busy introducing two tables of guests from L.A. to such local pals as historian Francis Fukuyama and Jane Hitchcock as superstar tenor and opera director Placido Domingo, event underwriter Betty Casey, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, Lucky Roosevelt, Mary Ourisman (confirmed by the Senate as ambassador to Barbados on Thursday), Pat Kluge, Jack Valenti, Israeli Ambassador Daniel Ayalon and Kuwaiti Ambassador Salem Al-Sabah and his wife Rima got up close and personal during cocktails in the jam-packed mezzanine before dining on foie gras (not likely to be banned in D.C.), loin of veal “paprikas” and chocolate caramel cake.

Unfortunately for the bleary-eyed, dessert didn’t get served until midnight, just as Mr. Domingo was winding up his always charming but ever-more-lengthy (a record half-hour this time) thank-yous to cast, crew, orchestra, directors, producers, management, benefactors, etc. “Next time,” one wag noted, “I’m sure he won’t forget the valet parkers.”

LASS FROM THE PAST: Still-slinky redhead Abbe Lane, 73, whose “swingingest sexpot in show business” singing and dancing style and one-liners (“Jayne Mansfield may turn boys into men, but I take them from there”) put her in the spotlight in the 1950s and ‘60s. Her autobiography, “Latin From Manhattan,” sure to focus on her marriage to elderly rhumba king Xavier Cugat, is in the planning stages for Broadway with Mr. Friedkin in the director’s chair.

MAN OF THE MOMENT: Although Mr. Friedkin has directed many more films than operas (“Aida” and “Samson and Delilah” are among his previous productions), he waxed rhapsodic about the latter when comparing the two mediums. “Anyone can be an actor in the movies,” he noted. “All you need is a look and an attitude and you can be a star. In opera, you need God-given talent and training.”

CLASSY FINALE: The “master of the dark side” director drew a collective sigh of appreciation when he credited his wife for supporting his operatic endeavors: “If it weren’t for her encouragement, I’d probably be doing ‘Exorcist VI’”

— Kevin Chaffee

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