The principals were given a standing ovation. There were calls of "encore!" for the 28-piece orchestra and 14-member chorale; the soprano and baritone got their share of bravas and bravos. And one of the backstage managers, Ted Homans, who has had past experience directing this sort of thing for the Shoreham Hotel and should know, said it was the finest -- and perhaps most unique -- production he had seen.
It was a wedding, in three acts.
But that's getting ahead of the story, which, like all good fairy tales, operas and real-life weddings, starts at a beginning.
Long ago -- in the late '50s -- two people met at George Washington University. He was Sigma Nu; she was the sweetheart. They grew up and married other people. She raised a family in the suburbs. He worked hard to the music of Wagner, his "empire-building inspiration," and created a successful newsletter publishing firm. He stopped being married, twice; she, once.
They met again, and five weeks ago decided to be married once more, this time to each other. Music was important to them both. The wedding would be a musical celebration.
The cast of characters:
The Bride: Sharon G. Harrison.
The Groom: Kenneth M. Callaway (musical, yes, but no, "no relation to Paul -- of National Cathedral fame -- or Cab . . . they always ask me that.")
The supporting players:
Three Harrison children and two Calaway children; divers relatives; music lovers, business friends, neighbors; assorted singers, musicians, technicians and supporters; supernumeraries from the hotel.
Act 1, Scene 1: The Shoreham Diplomat Room, 5:30 p.m.:
A dentist's convention has just cleared from the room, workmen are setting up chairs and laying carpet, the groom's party is standing around in white and wondering if the wedding will start on time.
Joseph Callaway, the groom's brother is observing the activity, looking a little dazed. Still, he says, "I'm not at all surprised by this production. My brother is always doing fantastic things."
The groom is calm, certain that he remembered everything; it is only later that a fraternity brother chides him for not having thought to fly the party to Mad Ludwig's castle (where the guiding force for the evening used to hang out with his buddy the Bavarian king). Right now he has faith that the music will carry the evening from the Beethoven to the Bach right through to the Rogers and Hammerstein. All the music was chosen for special reasons.
"I love music," he says, "What's more, I'm the worst kind of music lover, a Wagnerian . . . Have you met my son?"
Head usher, Tristan Callaway, 10, is a lively tribute to his father's fascination. Right now, Tristan is trying to figure out what a head usher does, and answering the question that no, he doesn't have a sister . . . .
His father gives a belly laugh and twinkles his "no, I wouldn't have named a girl that. . ."
Scene II: The Blue Room, same hotel, 5:50.
Soprano Rosemary Steeg, co-director of the Capitol Chorale, is conducting the 14 gray-cloaked members of the chorale in rehearsal and saying, "Now remember, this is very, very pilgrim." She calls on baritone Jerome Barry to join them in singing the processional. "I don't know this," the baritone booms. "Just let me sign "Traviata.' I'm afraid I would make a fool of myself if I tried this."
"How are you feeling?" one chorister asks of his marching mate. "Yukky," is the reply of the short blond man with the John Denver smile, as he pulls up his dove-gray hood and starts his pilgrim's progress through the Bombay Bicycle bar on the way to the wedding.
The guests are being seated in the candlelit room. The 28-piece Capital Chamber Orchestra is playing the prelude: Beethoven's First ("All four movements!" remarks a photographer on a tight schedule).
The symphony over, the processional starts. The orchestra in the front of the room is matched in the Tannhauser by the pilgrims in the back, who march up the aisles booming out the heroic music. Audience throats are tighter, eyes shinier by the time Rev. Beverly A. Bumbaugh, begins "an act as ancient as the history of the human race and as new as each morning."
After the ring ceremony, it's Bach, "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring," by chorale and orchestra and those of the audience who call still sing out their feelings.
"I wasn't certain I would get through the Jesu," Bumbaugh said later. "It's hard to speak on the other side of that."
For many in the audience it was a little hard to see on the other side of that as well. The scene was a success that built to the crescendo of the "Meistersinger" recessional. "Success," in weddings as in opera being in direct correlation to the degree of dampness on cheeks and measured in number of handerchiefs waving about the room.Act II was brought to a most triumphant close.
Act III, later that same night, the Blue Room of the same hotel.
The orchestra has played Mozart (Symphony No. 35) the chorale has sung Lerner and Lowe (Brigadoon" -- complete with tartan costumes), Rodgers and Hammerstein ("South Pacific") and Rosemary Steeg has been Violetta Vaery dressed in violet tulle.
Many in the audience have actually listened to the music, some joining in when "Bloody Mary" is clapped and shouted out. Others have been congratulating the bride and groom or eating from a banquet table substantial enough to have sustained all of those who quested for the Grail.
And, of course, there were introductions.
"This is my former wife," said the groom.
"His second former wife," piped in his son.
"A Willy Nelson fan," chimed the former wife, by way of explaining why she was "former." Incompatability.
"I like rock. I'm not too much of a classical fan," said John Harrison Jr., 12, son of the bride.
"There were four things that were important to me," said the bride. "first was the music; second, that all the children take part in the ceremony; third that I end up legally married; and fourth that everyone have a good time."
And it all played as planned.Even the musicians had a good time. Said one moonlighting violinist who wouldn't give his name, "I've played weddings before, but nothing as substantial as this. These people have a real appreciation of music, and they shared it with others tonights. It was genuine."
Too soon, however, it was over. The audience was calling for encores, but the orchestra was leaving. The songs were ended, but the applause was not. The principals, the bride and groom, joined in the applause, then in true operatic fashion, conductor Bruce Steeg led the orchestra and the audience in a standing ovation for the leading man and lady of the evening.
The opera had ended triumphantly. But there are many stories in the Ring.The cycle was just beginning.