Are you planning an intimate little party for 1,000 of your closest friends? If money is no object, you might think of hiring the stage at Wolf Trap's Filene Center, where the lighting can be arranged to make everyone look their best, there is lavish space and the great auditorium and lawn serve as a unique background.
The Wolf Trap Associates used the stage last night for a reception, sit-down dinner and evening of dancing for 950 people who paid from $125 to $1,000 per plate to nibble Jordanian delicacies, sip three kinds of wine and have the pleasure of telling friends later that they had danced on the stage at Wolf Trap and dined with Queen Noor Al Hussein of Jordan.
The queen -- tall, cooland regally, radiantly blond -- sat quietly at a table with, among others, Catherine Shouse, founder of Wolf Trap, Ambassador Mohamed Kamal of Jordan, Frank and Marcia Carlucci and Carol Lascaris, who had planned the party's unusual de'cor, reminiscent of Jordan's Jerash Festival.
That festival, held annually at an archeological site -- one of the best-preserved provincial cities of the Roman Empire -- was founded by Queen Noor and is one of her favorite activities.
In conversation, she recalled the visit to that festival by a Washington group, Young Strings in Action, with its teacher -- "a very special young lady named Sheila Johnson."
"They brought away something special from that festival," she said, "and they returned ... she returned ... to help us create what we call our National Music Conservatory, using her violin teaching method. We had 45 students a few months ago; we now have 70 all studying the violin, and now the group has expanded to study brass and woodwind instruments. This year, a large group of our students and a small group of Young Strings in Action performed together, and some day we hope to bring our musicians over here to Wolf Trap. The bonds forged between children through music and art will have an everlasting impact on our societies."
In her prepared address, after being given the Wolf Trap Medal by Shouse, she talked about Jerash as the scene of "almost continuous interaction of cultures" for more than 2,000 years. "It reflects what we were, what we value today and what we hope to be remembered by," she said.
During the dinner, views of Jerash and other Jordanian scenes were flashed on a Cinerama-size screen at stage left: Roman pillars, archeologists at work, highlights of the arts festival, forests and beaches, ancient mosaics and modern merchants. Replicas of ancient Roman pillars were set up here and there on the stage, and a photo mural of pillars at Jerash decorated the wall behind the queen's table. Carol Lascaris, who designed the de'cor, said the ideas had come to her during a visit to the Jerash Festival last July.
At a reception before the dinner, Jeannie Baliles, first lady of Virginia and honorary chairman of the ball, was comparing notes with her friend Mollie Ottina, who was chairman last year. Nibbling such Jordanian hors d'oeuvres as kibbe, tabouleh, hummus and spinach pies with a trace of mint, Baliles reflected on how fast the food was disappearing despite its unfamiliarity. "I don't know what the names are, though I recognize some of the ingredients," she said.
Ottina was happy to see her last year's record attendance of 750 beaten this year. "Last year we raised $125,000," she said. "We should have at least $150,000 this year." The proceeds go to the Wolf Trap Foundation, which uses them to subsidize the Wolf Trap Opera Company and other activities.
Ottina was clearly enjoying herself more than she had when she was chairman. "Last year," she said, "I arrived a 9 a.m. and stayed until 2 a.m. This year, I arrived at 7:15 p.m. and I can leave at a reasonable time. Tonight I can kick up my heels."
Baliles also felt celebratory -- about the Wolf Trap season just ended if not about her working hours last night. "We had 21 sold-out evenings and ticket sales reached almost $6 million," she said. "I'm so thrilled."
Also thinking about money was one of the guests, James Walker Jr., who is a Democratic candidate for Congress in the Maryland's 8th district -- Montgomery County. "I don't expect to shake the hands of many voters from my district at this ball," he said, "but there are a lot of generous people here and I can use some contributors. You have to raise about $10 for every vote you receive -- up to $15 in tightly contested elections."
When someone suggested to Wolf Trap board Chairman John McLucas that that the reception, in an enormous tent next to the backstage parking lot, might be slightly overcrowded, he disagreed. "I think it's just right," he said, gazing at 950 people crowded wall-to-wall sipping cocktails. "We're suffering the penalty of success; we have more people than we can accommodate."
Shouse said she is looking forward to even better seasons at the performing arts park. "We have some great things planned for next season," she said, "and I'm working on a special project for the season after -- a foreign country that is planning a celebration and wants a celebration at Wolf Trap, too.