"Your fame has spread far and wide," Sir Oliver Wright told members of the Washington Performing Arts Society Saturday night in his new residence next to the British Embassy. "We heard about you in Surrey long ago; in fact, you were the first Washington institution to come to our attention." The new British ambassador's greeting was a wry tribute to the energetic campaign that won the WPAS a social coup: having its lawyers' committee invited as the guests at the first soire'e hosted by Wright since his arrival in Washington.
About 100 lawyers and their spouses (including Sen. John Tower (R-Tex.), former attorney general Elliot Richardson and Anthony Hope, son of comedian Bob and husband of attorney Judith) sat down to a bowl of madrile ne followed by a buffet supper that included such British specialties as veal pie and a summer pudding (drenched in blackberries and covered with whipped cream)--not to mention Stilton cheese that sat on the buffet table proudly flying a small, paper Union Jack. The occasion was a celebration following the triumphant Washington recital debut of soprano Kiri Te Kanawa, who is claimed equally by England, where she lives, and New Zealand, where she was born.
The dual nationality of the star of the evening was the subject of elaborately courteous sparring between Wright and his New Zealand counterpart, Lance Adams-Schneider. Wright thanked Adams-Schneider "for loaning me his fellow-countrywoman," then turned to Te Kanawa and added, "We have adopted you. Now that you have come to America, we hope you won't let the Americans adopt you." Adams-Schneider thanked Wright "for looking out for the interests of New Zealand, as Britain has always done."
The guest of honor, whose voice had been heard by 2,900 people earlier in the evening, said nothing to the assembled guests except "Thank you" when they applauded her entrance and "Good night, everybody" when she left less than an hour later--"to preserve her voice," as Wright explained, "to take New York by storm again next week." In between, while nibbling at a buffet plate, she chatted mostly with Ambassador Wright and Sherman Katz, chairman of the WPAS lawyers' committee, who were seated on either side of her. How did she enjoy the evening's performance, she was asked. Fine, she said, "but there is an ideal of perfection that keeps slipping away."
One partygoer who was clearly enjoying himself was Douglas Wheeler, managing director of the WPAS--perhaps the only adult male in Washington who is happy about recent developments in the National Football League. "With the Redskins canceling their season," he confided, "we can hope to get audiences on Sundays."
On Saturday night, the WPAS had audiences galore at two standing-room events running simultaneously at the Kennedy Center: Te Kanawa's recital in the Concert Hall and a program by the Handel Festival Orchestra in the Terrace. How did that feel? Wheeler was asked. "Very unusual," he said.