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EVENT REPORT

Opera Ball Offers Russian History Lessons Via Themed Rooms at Embassy

The Washington Opera Ball

Photo: Tony Brown/Imijination Photography for BizBash

The Washington National Opera set a new standard for its largest annual fund-raiser, the Opera Ball, which took over the ceremonial building at the Embassy of the Russian Federation on Friday night. This year marked the first time the Opera Ball was hosted in conjunction with Russia, and throughout the evening more than 600 guests were immersed in Russian history by way of five themed spaces that offered glimpses into both Russia’s past and its future. The event, which was overseen by chairman Susan Lehrman, raised $1.5 million for the Opera’s upcoming season and outreach and education programs.
 
Patti Humphrey, director of special events for the Washington National Opera, said the ceremonial building at the embassy was an easy choice due to the fact that it “was such a clean slate to work with, but still offered so much history and tradition.”
 
Event producer Sandi Hoffman of Sandi R. Hoffman Special Events echoed that notion during an early walkthrough of the space. “When we started, these rooms were bare, except for the paintings, and we were free to create these historic scenes,“ she said. “We literally brought in every single piece of furniture and decoration that the guests see.” Although these spaces offered plenty of creative freedom, there still were challenges to working within the confines of an embassy. While a typical Opera Ball takes five days to set up, this year’s event required 12, due to the security requirements and the large amount of furniture and decor.

For the majority of guests, the evening began at one of 22 formal dinners hosted by embassies all over the city, a longstanding tradition of the ball. The evening was a celebration of the host country's heritage, and that recognition began the moment guests arrived at the embassy shortly after 9:30 p.m. A canopied red carpet ran from the front gate to the entryway, and Quince Imaging projected eight-story images of traditional Russian architecture on one of the ancillary embassy buildings.  

Inside the embassy, the lobby was transformed into a winter landscape with plush white carpets and white birch trees lining the hallway. The winter theme continued into the courtyard, which featured fake snow falling from the rooftop and was designed in tribute to the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

On the second floor were four themed rooms. The embassy’s Golden Hall was made over as St. Petersburg’s Winter Palace. The large room was a hub of activity, with two cake stations serving Faberge egg cakes created by Sylvia Weinstock, two large bars, the main dance floor, and dessert tables with chocolate creations by Occasions.   

From the ballroom, guests could make their way into the Yellow or Petrovsky Halls. The Yellow Hall became a Russian tearoom complete with table service at round café tables and live music from Russian pianist Alexander Izbitser. Petrovsky Hall resembled an ice palace that paid homage to historic symbols of Russian history by way of seven nine-foot-all ice sculptures. Easily one of the most crowded spaces of the evening, the room featured two ice tables bearing a spread of seafood options, including Russian caviar.  

The final room, Palekh Hall, resembled Tolstoy’s library with its dark walls and plush seating. A champagne and cordial bar anchored the room while a large round center table featured cake replicas of Tolstoy’s classic novels along with a variety of desserts—think chocolate-covered cherries and marzipan petit fours.

For entertainment, the Peter Duchin Orchestra kept the dance floor abuzz, and rising opera stars from the Bolshoi Opera gave three 15-minute performances in an adjacent auditorium. The ball concluded shortly after 1 a.m. and all guests received an official program and a shot glass engraved with the symbol of the Russian Federation.


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