Opera Ball celebrates Italian culture with special guest Joe Biden

April 7, 2013

The scene at the 2013 Opera Ball at Villa Firenze on Saturday. (Yassine El Mansouri)

For this year’s very special Italian edition of the Opera Ball — hosted at the Italian ambassador’s Villa Firenze, celebrating composers like Verdi and Rossini, and serving up tons of risotto, mozzarella, gelato and cannoli — organizers managed to wrangle the perfect VIP guest.

Ambassador Claudio Bisogniero and Vice President Joe Biden at the Opera Ball. (Margot Schulman)
Ambassador Claudio Bisogniero and Vice President Joe Biden at the Opera Ball. (Margot Schulman)

No, of course Joe Biden’s not Italian. But you can always count on him to find an angle.

Every year is the year of the Italian in my house,” the genealogy-obsessed vice president told the crowd Saturday night. “I’m always referred to as an Irish politician — but I was smart enough to marry Dominic Giacoppa’s granddaughter.”

He added: “There’s only one office my wife Jill ever aspired for me to hold: The ambassador to Italy, and I’m not kidding.”

It was a rare gala appearance for the Bidens; they didn’t linger long at the party, but their attendance was a coup for the Washington National Opera’s annual black-tie fundraiser, which drew 600 guests.

Opera Ball Chair Connie Milstein, Laura Denise Bisogniero, Ambassador Claudio Bisogniero and Kennedy Center Chairman David M Rubenstein. (Margot Schulman)
Opera Ball Chair Connie Milstein, Laura Denise Bisogniero, Ambassador Claudio Bisogniero and Kennedy Center Chairman David M Rubenstein. (Margot Schulman)

Italian Ambassador Claudio Bisogniero eagerly signed on to host this year’s ball at his official Forest Hills residence because 2013 is, by official proclamation of the Italian government “The Year of Italian Culture in the United States.” And right now you, like Joe Biden, are thinking: Isn’t every year the year of Italian culture in the United States? In Washington not one but two booster organizations — Sons of Italy and National Italian American Foundation — hold grand dinners every year to celebrate the Mediterranean influence on America. Turns out this is, of course, a tourism initiative, with major Italian corporations underwriting dinners, conferences, concerts and exhibits in 50 cities across the States this year.

“It comes at a time when the image of Italy can be promoted in a very positive way,” the ambassador told us. “For us, this is a new model of public-private sector collaboration. Who knows? It might set an example for the future.”

In keeping with the theme, A-list event planner Bryan Rafanelli (who orchestrated Chelsea Clinton’s wedding) set up a tent whose interior resembled the central square of a quaint Italian village.

Oddly, though, few prominent Italian-Americans spotted in the room, which included ball chairwoman Connie Milstein, opera board chair Jackie Mars, philanthropist-financier David Rubenstein, and Chief Justice John Roberts. Also: Adrienne Arsht in a red ballgown (“Valentino,” she explained, “for Italy”); and Callista and Newt Gingrich, who told us they’re headed to Rome this week. “She loves Pinot Grigio,” he said.


Laura Denise Bisogniero and Jill Biden. (Margot Schulman)

The dance floor at the Opera Ball. (Margot Schulman)

Sydney and Jay Johnson with Connie Milstein right. (Yassine El Mansouri)

Last year: Arab glamour at Washington’s Opera Ball: UAE hosts black-tie party with henna tattoos and shishas, 6/4/12
From 2011: Placido Domingo’s big farewell at Washington’s Opera Ball at Chinese embassy, 5/8/11

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Amy Argetsinger · April 7, 2013