Oren Gradus as King Henry VIII and Christina Scheppelmann as Queen Catherine of Aragon in Saturday’s opening night of "Anna Bolena" at the Kennedy Center. (Photo by Scott Suchman for Washington National Opera)

This being an election year, not one member of Congress made it to Saturday’s season opener of “Anna Bolena” and the post-performance gala; even the company’s new artistic director, Francesca Zambello , was out of town (in Moscow directing her “La Traviata” at the Bolshoi).

Cita Sunatgan, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sondra Radvanovsky, and Justice Elena Kagan at the post-performance dinner of "Anna Bolena." (Yassine El Mansouri for the Washington National Opera)

And, for the first time in her 11 years in Washington, the opera’s Christina Scheppelmann took the stage as a supernumerary, a non-singing, non-speaking role. As director of artistic operations, her job is usually behind the scenes; for this production, the director ordered her to play Henry’s first wife.

“He came up to me one day during rehearsal and said, ‘You will be Catherine of Aragon’ and walked away,” she told us. “It wasn’t a question, it was a statement. I hesitated at first, then thought, ‘Well, why not?’ ”

So Scheppelmann donned full makeup and costume for her brief appearance in Act I, where the production’s star, Sondra Radvanovsky, has to bow to her onstage rival — and offstage close friend. “I’ve known Sondra for 20 years. She hands me the crown and whispered, ‘I can’t believe I’m bowing to you!’”

This was also Scheppelmann’s last time on the WNO stage: She’s leaving D.C. in November to become the chief executive of the new Royal Opera House Muscat in Oman. “I think it’s fabulous — interesting and different and new.”

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