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How a Venue's Modern Architecture Invigorated a Benefit

This year's Opera Ball in Washington had a modern feel that influenced its decor, entertainment, and activities.

By Beth Kormanik June 25, 2015, 7:00 AM EDT

Two custom structures created a sense of arrival at the entrance to the residence of the German ambassador. They reflected the modern architecture of the residence, and the long design drew guests into the reception hall. Since the attractive structures featured the Opera Ball logo, they also doubled as a step-and-repeat.

Photo: Yassine El Mansouri

With a design that plays off patterns of squares, the Residence of the German Ambassador is a picture of modernism—and it served as the design inspiration for this year’s Opera Ball, a benefit for the Washington National Opera.

The modern inspiration was reflected in the sleek signage, greater use of technology, and new approach to entertainment at the high-profile Washington benefit, which for years has been held at the home of an ambassador. The ball was most recently held at the German ambassador’s residence in 2009, and the opera’s staging of Wagner’s Ring Cycle next year made for opportune timing to return, said Matthew Porter, director of special events for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, which organized the 500-person ball.

“The first design inspiration was to take a new and modern approach to the event,” Porter said. “We wanted to do something very new and fresh and different from the last time it was hosted there.”

One way the event presented a modern look was by incorporating technology into the decor. Inside the residence there were two 18-foot rectangular towers with embedded screens that featured images of past Washington National Opera performances in German as well as images of German architecture and art. The towers also featured illuminated versions of the sleek logo for this year’s event.

“We got the idea from knowing we wanted to embrace the modern architecture of the residence and bring that modern feel to the decor,” Porter said. “Bringing in a technical aspect felt right. It was also a way to bring the history of the opera there as a visual component and to bring the host culture out in the decor as well.”

The benefit also offered a photo booth for the first time, and guests could print out images as well as post them to their social media sites with the #operaball hashtag.

Porter’s team also rethought the structure of the event itself. Instead of its traditional format of remarks followed by a band and dancing, planners offered a variety of programming both on the main stage and throughout the extensive grounds. The entertainment included an opera set of German works performed by Washington National Opera artists, a cabaret act performed in both English and German by New York-based Adrienne Haan, and dancing to music performed by the band Moonshine Society. A separate subterranean space dubbed the Berlin Bar featured the German DJ Arndt Peltner—the first time the event had a DJ in a separate space.

The event raised $700,000.

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