"When they publish my book," said Eugene McCarthy, looking at a lavish Watergate buffet table, "I expect all of this plus caviar."
Across the room, Galina Vishnevskaya was once again the toast of a superpower capital. Long known as one of the world's leading sopranos, Vishnevskaya last night celebrated her new role as author. Her autobiography, "Galina," was officially published yesterday and tells the story of her rise from poverty to international stardom and her marriage to Mstislav Rostropovich, ending with their exile from Russia in 1974.
"I have sung many operas and experienced them deeply," she said. "Now, having a book out is something new and different -- as if a child had been born. An opera performance disappears into time. A book lives and gives people ideas."
About 100 admirers came, including Sen. Edward Kennedy, former senator George McGovern and White House counselor Edwin Meese III. The literary appreciation was distinctly bipartisan.
One of the guests at the reception, pianist Eugene Istomin, recalled seeing the book's early stages. He was in Paris and, wanting a good piano to practice on, asked Vishnevskaya if he could use the "excellent" piano in the Rostropoviches' apartment there. "Galina took me into a small room with papers strewn all over the place -- hundreds of pages of handwritten manuscript. 'You see,' she told me, 'I am writing my memoirs.' "
Istomin added, "She has more to tell. She winked at me yesterday and told me, 'You know, I haven't told everything. I don't know if I will.' I told her, 'Perhaps it's best to leave them wondering,' and she said, 'Perhaps I will.' "
Istomin said that Vishnevskaya's potential as a writer was first recognized by Nobel Prize-winning novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who was a house guest of the Rostropoviches for years in Russia after he had been made a nonperson by the Soviet government.
"Solzhenitsyn saw her quality," Istomin said. "He told her, 'Don't let them change your style,' and they didn't."
Vishnevskaya said that one thing she learned from from Solzhenitsyn was "compression . . . to write succinctly . . . to condense what you say. Also openness, directness. He is not afraid to tell the truth."
Does she plan to write another book? "I don't know," she said. "Now that we have 'Galina,' maybe next we will have 'Slava.' But I think Rostropovich is afraid of that."
Notably absent last night was Rostropovich, the National Symphony conductor who is currently playing on a musical cruise of the Mediterrean. When they were married in the early 1960s, Vishnevskaya was more famous than Rostropovich, at least in places where Russian opera has an audience. She was the star of the Bolshoi Opera -- not merely the leading soprano but the company's most famous singer, receiving flowers and love messages even from a leader of the Soviet government.
Last night, she talked with leaders in the American government.
"I don't speak English," she told Meese, "but I talk to you."
Vishnevskaya has been in the West for a decade and uses a translator for English most of the time. Last night she conversed in surprisingly good English.
Meese and his wife Ursula were "on our way to another party," he explained, but felt they had to meet Vishnevskaya. "We're looking forward to reading your book," he told her.
The conversation was joined by Vishnevskaya's publisher, Bill Jovanovich, with a reference to Meese's confirmation problems as attorney general-designate. "Hang in there," Jovanovich said. "A lot of us want you to hang in there." "Thank you," said Meese.
Between guests, Vishnevskaya spent much of her time conversing in Russian baby talk with her infant grandson, Ivan Daniel. "He understands only Russian baby talk," she explained to a friend. Being a grandmother, she said, is "fantastic."
One fan who had already read the book was Rep. James Scheuer (R-N.Y.), who told Vishnevskaya he had been "taken into custody by the KGB in 1972" while in Moscow on congressional business.
"I feel I have known you all my life because I have read your book," he said. "Your book was the most informative I have seen on the quality of life in the Soviet Union."
In a quiet corner, Jovanovich was talking with Roger Stevens, chairman of the Kennedy Center. Was he thinking about writing a book, Stevens was asked. "A lot of people have suggested it for a long time," he said. "I know some good real estate stories, some good theater stories and some good political stories -- you never learn more about politics than when you're trying to raise funds for a party.
"The question is whether I'm ready to tell it all. I wouldn't want to write a hypocritical book."