"What would Italy be without music?" mused Italian Ambassador Rinaldo Petrignani, looking out at the crowd assembled for a concert at his embassy.
He paused, pondering the question, and then added: "What would music be without Italy? It is a love affair that has gone on for centuries and will continue."
Last night, the affair took an unusual turn in one of Washington's most pleasant party sites -- the Italian Embassy's Firenze House, overlooking Rock Creek Park. It was a benefit performance by and for the Theater Chamber Players, titled a "Divertimento Musicale" but diplomatically leaving Italian music untouched.
It may have been the most hilarious evening of music-making this city has ever seen -- climaxed by the "Liebeslieder Polkas" of P.D.Q. Bach. It also included a one-man narration of the movie "Love Story," with pianist Claude Frank imitating the voices of Katharine Hepburn (as Clara Schumann), Paul Henreid (Robert Schumann) and Robert Walker (Johannes Brahms) while he also played the piano in a variety of styles. Soprano Phyllis Bryn-Julson, accompanying herself at the piano, sang a brief recital including "Sam, You Made the Pants Too Long."
The evening ended with a buffet supper, the guests settling down comfortably in three of the house's spacious rooms. Some of them, including John and June Hechinger, chose to sit on carpeted staircases, though the ambassadors's wife, Anne, darted from one group to the next to tell them "there are plenty of chairs in the next room."
At this party, many people were doing things they never do -- particularly the performers, whom master of ceremonies James Symington called "as fine a collection of musicians as ever performed in one room since Apollo strummed his lyre alone at the banquet of the gods." Tenor James MacDonald got into a polite shoving match with Bryn-Julson for the best place in the spotlight. She not only out-shoved him but made faces at the audience while he was singing. At one point, five singers went harmoniously out of tune, with the piano (played by Evelyn Swarthout Hayes, Andre' Watts and, occasionally, Leon Fleisher) nervously summoning them back to pitch.
The evening was marked by at least one commitment. "You have done so much for Washington that if we ever become a separate state, we might run you for governor," Symington told Petrignani.
"I will run," said the ambassador.