In a perfect world, everyone would get a chance to hear Roberta Flack sing in an intimate setting. A place where her lush, dreamy contralto would reach your ears unamplified, where you could savor her songs up close. Until then, places the size of the Kennedy Center's Concert Hall will have to do.

Literally thousands of volunteered hours went into making last night's End World Hunger Benefit a financial success, but it was Flack's singular talent--and perseverance in the face of recurring amplification problems--that turned the evening into an artistic triumph.

A decade hasn't tarnished songs like "Killing Me Softly." Nor has it dulled Flack's interpretive gifts, as she proved by turning Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne" into an alluring suite. While her up-tempo songs often bristled with energy and humor, it was those beautifully crafted ballads, warm and lyrical, that shone most brightly on the decidedly partisan home-town crowd.

The highlight of the first half of the program was the exquisitely costumed candle dance by the Khmer Classical Dancers. Other performers included pop singer David Pomeranz, comedian Joan Cushing and the Mime Resource Group of New York. Proceeds from the benefit will go to the Capital Area Community Food Bank, the Hunger Project and Save the Children.