When Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is waiting patiently for his spoonful of rigatoni and scallops, too, you know you’re in for a real Italian party. But what else would you expect at a dinner in honor of a 200-year-old Italian rock star?
On Thursday, the Washington Chorus’s “The Essential Verdi” gala held at the Italian Embassy was dedicated to il Tricolore. Scalia, along with fellow Supreme Court Justice and opera aficionado Ruth Bader Ginsburg and a hundred other music lovers, celebrated another famous Italian, composer Giuseppe Verdi, described to this novice as “The Bruce Springsteen [who's, you guessed it, Italian] of Italy,” while sipping on Italian wine and dining on Italian food. The five-course meal was peppered heavily with performances as part of the chorus’s annual “essential week,” this year dedicated to Verdi, which culminated in a performance at the Kennedy Center on Sunday.
The national pride then was hardly a surprise, although the night held many. The first came as the crowd settled into their seats. As the few non-Italians at Table 32 took a first bite of gnocchi, without warning the chorus members embedded throughout the grand atrium shot up from their seats and commenced to harmonizing. “This is their version of a flash mob,” one guest joked.
Later there was a staged tete-a-tete between Ginsburg and Nina Totenberg, NPR’s legal affairs correspondent. The surprise there was that Ginsburg is pretty hilarious. Seriously, if the Supreme Court thing doesn’t work out, she could take her show on the road. When discussing Verdi’s “La Traviata,” Totenberg asked Ginsburg to settle a debate on what kind of woman the main character is. “If you don’t know the difference between a courtesan and prostitute,” said the 80-year-old Ginsburg, “you need an education.”
As the night wound down, after a performance by Maryland-native Corinne Winters, a soprano who would make an opera lover out of anyone, one last surprise was forthcoming. “Another famous Italian is on her way,” the MC announced. This being Washington, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) then made her grande entrata to oohs and ahhs.