The Opera Ball is still many months away, but work on the city’s most glamorous event proceeds apace. This year’s chairwoman, Susan Lehrman, provides an exclusive behind-the scenes look at what to expect.
HOW DID YOU DEVELOP A LOVE FOR OPERA AND THE WASHINGTON NATIONAL OPERA (WNO)?
My family is very musical. My mother played piano, my husband was on the board of the National Symphony Orchestra, my brotherin- law was head of the National Association for Music Education, and I started studying voice at 13. I have a love of the physical art of singing and appreciate the training that goes with the music. As for WNO, we have the world’s greatest living opera singer, Plácido Domingo, here in Washington along with wonderful education and outreach programs. And having a national destination makes our opera unique.
THIS IS THE THIRD TIME YOU WILL BE CHAIRING THE BALL. HOW DO YOU UP THE ANTE YEAR AFTER YEAR?
I have been involved with the Washington National Opera for 10 years now and have learned that the flavor and tone of the ball depends a lot on its location. To make the event a success, we must take into account the number of people who will be attending, the space available at the different embassies, and what the embassies would like emphasized. For instance, when the German embassy hosted the ball, their chef made traditional German desserts and the ball coincided with the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. They had a part of the wall replicated and used that as the theme for the evening. They also had their fountains move to the music being played, which was quite a sight to behold. The country hosting the ball gives it a different feel each year.
WHAT WILL BE DIFFERENT THIS TIME?
This year marks many firsts in the Opera Ball’s history. We have moved the date to May 21st, from its usual June date for the first time, and it will be held during the same weekend we will be performing “Hamlet.” This is also the first time we will have the ball at the Russian Embassy. Due to the embassy’s size, we will not need tents – another first for us. The Russian Embassy has a spectacular ballroom, and we are thinking of doing a “Winter’s eve” theme, featuring Russian vodka, a fabulous ice bar, and the more elaborate costumes from the Opera’s costume studio.
WORDS OF WISDOM OF THOSE HEADING UP OTHER GALAS AND FUNDRAISERS?
The best advice to someone chairing an event is to have fun. I always try to plan something I would enjoy myself.