The state dinner on Tuesday for German Chancellor Angela Merkel was elegant but decidedly pared-down. Maybe it was the Bauhaus-inspired design: sleek table settings, modern furnishings, geometric flowers and shrubs. Or maybe the Obamas, with the help of new social secretary Jeremy Bernard, have replaced the lavish spectacle of their early dinners with a less-is-more look. A comparison
Guest list: Merkel’s dinner was the smallest yet with 208 people. The first state dinner, in November 2009, for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had 320 guests (which made it easier for three crashers to slip in unnoticed). In May 2010, 200 attended the dinner for Mexican President Felipe Calderon, with 100 more invited to the after-dinner party. There were 225 guests at January’s dinner for Chinese President Hu Jintao.
Venue: Tuesday’s dinner was set under the stars in the Rose Garden — in stark contrast to Singh’s dinner, which was in a lavish tent erected on the South Lawn (costing $85,000, reported Vanity Fair). Guests for Calderon dined in the East Room, then moved to another South Lawn tent transformed into a glamorous nightclub. January’s party for Hu stayed in the White House itself: dinner in the State Dining, Red and Blue rooms, followed by entertainment in the East Room.
Star power: Merkel’s dinner was practically a celeb-free zone; the biggest name was James Taylor, who literally sang for his supper. Katie Couric and Blair Underwood made the list for India; George Lopez, Whoopi Goldberg and Eva Longoria for Mexico; China’s had Barbra Streisand, Jackie Chan and Michelle Kwan.
Entertainment: A small version of the National Symphony Orchestra (about 30 musicians) performed three pieces by German composers Tuesday night, then Taylor sang his greatest hits. Lovely, but nothing like the show Jennifer Hudson, “Jai Ho” composer A.R. Rahman and Marvin Hamlisch put on at the first dinner, for India. Beyonce (with laser show!) was the surprise performer for Mexico’s president; Chris Botti, Herbie Hancock and Dianne Reeves took the stage for China.
Was the Germany dinner cheaper? Diplomatic dinners at the White House are paid for by the State Department’s Office of Protocol; a department spokesman did not return calls about the state dinner budget.
Read earlier: An elegant state dinner for Merkel, devoid of any drama, 6/7/11