Tears ran down her cheeks when Luciano Pavarotti finished an aria by Donizetti. She shook her head slowly from side to side, a smile glazed on her face. When the concert was over, she left her first-row seat in the Kennedy Center's Concert Hall, and walked to the stage, reaching up to hand Pavarotti a bouquet of chrysanthemums.
Others followed with carnations. Then came fat red roses. Then a long, single tiny rose, almost limp. Then more carnations. Then more roses.
Pavarotti beamed at each, bending to pick up these gifts, then sweeping dramatically out to the audience with his hands, the buttons on his white weskit gleaming in the spotlight. He blew a kiss. Then he sang four encores.
Afterward, there were autographs. Backstage, a table had been set up so that Pavarotti -- changed from his white tie and tails to a navy-blue suit -- could accommodate the nearly 200 who lined up. They included both those who probably never have to wait in line for anything and those who had been waiting since early Sunday morning for standing-room tickets to the afternoon concert.
"There's no man in the world like this," said Patrick Hayes, of the Washington Performing Arts Society. He said the commotion caused by the tenor's concerts was comparable only to that caused by Toscanini and Horowitz.
"I'm 32 going on 12," said another fan, Amy Henderson, deputy historian at the National Portrait Gallery, who had brought the singer the chrysanthemums. Grinning and slightly embarrassed, she said she sends Pavarotti singing telegrams on his birthday (Oct. 12).
"Ahhh, beuuuuty!" crooned Pavarotti, catching sight of Henderson's familiar face. He gave her two generous kisses on each cheek.
Behind Henderson stood a truly devoted Susan Lemke, 33, a rare-books curator from West Point, N.Y., with camera in hand. She has followed Pavarotti to San Francisco, Hillsborough, N.Y., Seattle, Philadelphia and here. She estimates that her "Pavarotti habit" costs her a few thousand dollars a year.
He kisses all the women on their cheeks, on their hands, as he goes.They love it. So, apparently, does he.
"You were phenomenal," one woman said to him, as he grabbed her hand and began kissing it.
"No, you are phenomenal," he said.
Later, upstairs in the Atrium, at the WPAS' reception for their corporate sponsors, Pavarotti arrived to another scene of pandemonium. Among the more than 100 in the crowd were congressmen and their wives, taking their turns for pictures, including Sen. Paul Sarbanes and his wife, Sen. Strom Thurmond and his wife, Sen. Mark Hatfield and his wife -- and Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Doug Walgren and his wife.
Working the crowd, Pavarotti embraced a well-dressed woman whose reaction captured the mood. She held out her hand and cried, "Hold the glass" to those around her, desperate to free her hands as Pavarotti leaned close. "Get a photographer," she said. "Quick!"
"The audience gives you back what you give them," Pavarotti said, beaming. He had come down from New York on the train, which he finds more relaxing than air travel, and said he was well-rested for his reception. "I am very happy about tonight," he said, "because there was mutual love."
Thomas "Tommy the Cork" Corcoran, one of the many guests, watched all of this with awe. "I've been a politician all my life," said the former Roosevelt brain-truster, "and I've never gotten an ovation like this."