The Opera Season, Opening

On Red, White & Blue Notes

The flags at the Kennedy Center were at half-staff, the Opera House was draped in red, white and blue bunting, and the fall social season began with a moment of silence. Such was the backdrop of the Washington National Opera opening gala Saturday night, the third anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

WNO General Director Placido Domingo and President Michael Sonnenreich took the stage before the performance of "Andrea Chenier" and asked for a silent remembrance and then led the audience in the national anthem. Only then did the curtain go up.

"As long as we recognize what the day is about, it's an affirmation of life in America going on," Sonnenreich said later in the evening. "We both felt very strongly about this."

The opera, a tragic love triangle set during the French Revolution, stars Salvatore Licitra, the Italian tenor who shot to fame two years ago at the Metropolitan Opera as a last-minute substitute for Luciano Pavarotti. Saturday night's audience gave Licitra equally rave reviews, which extended to the visually stunning yet bloody production. "Evolution is better than revolution," said French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte.

Afterward, the 370 guests moved upstairs to the gala dinner, underwritten (as was the production) by opera Life Chairman Betty Casey. In keeping with the evening's theme, the invitation to the black-tie event called for gowns of red, white or blue. Casey wore blue, as did Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Aniko Gaal Schott. Red was the choice of Grace Bender and Norma Tiefel, while Mary Ourisman and Jellie van Eenennaam chose white. A notable exception was benefactor Betty Knight Scripps, who wore an orange gown, albeit with white diamonds. The men, including Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, World Bank President Jim Wolfensohn, Sen. Patrick Leahy, Rep. Norm Dicks, board member Jim Kimsey and several ambassadors, were stuck with tuxes.

Even the goody bags were patriotic, containing two small bottles of domestic chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and a split of French champagne. Or, as we like to call it -- red, white and brut.

At Marine Fundraiser, Attendees Know the Drill

Another party on Sept. 11 brought the Marine Corps together with Hollywood. At a fundraiser at the Madison Hotel, TV stars with long hair and designer suits mingled with young men in buzz cuts and uniforms to raise $50,000 for the Navy Marine Corps Relief Society and the Young Marines.

Many of the actors attending -- Richard Grieco, LaLaine and John Aylward -- were lured to Washington by R. Lee Ermey, a retired Marine and actor best known for Stanley Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket." The ball was part of a weekend consisting of a USO show, golf tournament and polo match.

"Many of my friends are liberal," Ermey said with a forgiving smile. "But it doesn't matter if you're liberal or conservative. We need to support our troops."

After the 300 guests had filled up on munchies in the hotel's Dolley Madison Ballroom, the party moved across the street to the National Association of Home Builders glass atrium for some live music. Before going inside, the crowd was stopped short in the middle of M Street, where they were serenaded by the Marine Corps Band. Once inside, guests sipped "Navy grog" (think jungle juice) and munched Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Semper fi!

Something New in Store at the Archives

The National Archives wants a bigger piece of the tourism pie. Thursday night it celebrated the opening of the new, high-tech William G. McGowan Theater with a dinner honoring biographer David McCullough. "This great granite building will no longer be a puzzlement to Americans," said Archives foundation head Tom Wheeler. We the People agree.

With Laura Thomas