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WASHINGTON, D.C. Saturday night offered appropriately balmy weather for the Washington National Opera’s Midwinter Gala at the Mellon Auditorium. The theme of the evening, after all, was the Greek city of Thessaloniki, which is known for its stunning waterfront. “In February, people like to focus on things warm and sunny, so we thought of Greece and the beaches as being cheery and uplifting,” said WNO special events manager Deana Taylor. “We also wanted something that was radically different from last year’s Taj Mahal theme.”
Another difference from last year’s event was the attendance, which dropped from 500 to 320 guests, even as ticket prices were halved from $1,000 to $500. “Our biggest challenge this year is that people haven’t really stopped since November, with the election, the holidays and inauguration all in a row,” added Taylor. “At this point the town feels a bit partied out.”
But that didn’t stop co-chairs Sally Cox and Rebecca Miller from pulling together an evening of Greek design. The event paired the traditional and the contemporary, from the cocktail reception, where Greek key-patterned linens decked the glowing bars, to the passed hors d’oeuvres, which included fried olives in conical holders, zucchini croquettes, and lamb meatballs on skewers. Actors in ancient Greek garb even made the rounds, taking photographs with guests.
In the main space, large replicas of Greek coins hung between the venue’s massive columns, which were lit in blue. The tables alternated between salmon and blue silk linens, with lanterns and large bowls of vegetables acting as centerpieces. The idea to use piles of artichokes, lemons, eggplants and other edibles as the focus came from Taylor’s first meeting with caterer Eric Michael of Occasions. “When we went for the tasting, Eric had this wonderful bowl of fruits and vegetables in the center of the table, and we really hooked onto that idea,” said Taylor. She then joined up with Whole Foods, which donated all the materials, which were arranged by the women’s committee the morning of the event. (Occasions donated the vegetables to the D.C. Food Bank at the end of the evening.)
For dinner, the theme was clearly Greek, featuring grilled seafood with skordalia, lamb youvetsi, and chocolate and apricot pavé with apricot-yogurt ice cream and mini baklava bites. After the live auction, where the main attraction was a trip to Greece, the lights shifted to give a nightclub feel to the space. By 10 p.m., guests were grooving to Greek club tunes as well as a sprinkling of Michael Jackson, Abba, and disco classics.