Gala Evening at Washington Opera's Le Cid

by Jan Rosen

Part 1 – Sights, sounds, gustatory delights

Saturday, October 30, 1999 was the opening night of Washington Opera's Le Cid, starring Plácido Domingo (as Rodrigue – "Le Cid") and Elisabete Matos (as Chimene).

My opera mate and I arrived at the Kennedy Center an hour and a half early to park, take it easy, and enjoy the nice weather out on the deck overlooking the Potomac River. Always a pleasant way to spend an opera night. Most of the time we walk, but this time we drove as we were planning to stay for the Gala Dinner after the performance.

When we arrived, we saw the Kennedy Center's Hall of Nations filled with people and song. At the Milliennium Stage at one end, where they give free concerts daily at 6:00 pm, a group was dancing scenes from the Nutcracker Ballet. Instrumentalists in the background were trying to make themselves heard over the chatting people arriving early for the opera. The chatters soon stopped when they heard the delightful sounds of the Nutcracker, which seemed to fill the whole first floor of the KC – Hall of Nations and Hall of States included. For a better view, the early opera-goers stood on the steps of the Opera House which leads into the walkway connecting the 3 theaters at the KC. What a way to start a delightful evening.

The opera started at 7:15 pm and ended at 10:45 pm. I will save the opera critique for the second part of this essay, as it was a rather long and complicated opera, with many scene/set changes, and a huge cast, mostly supernumeraries. I'll be seeing this opera again on November 13.

When we got into our seats at the opera house, we met a woman who said this was her first time to Washington Opera, and she had seen PD sing this in Madrid recently. At the Madrid performance, there were 27 set changes, and a cast of 700. When I describe the opera in Part 2, I will try to explain how Washington Opera was able to make this work. They did a masterful job and it was an excellent production. I was impressed, and this needs an essay all its own to describe.

Plácido Domingo, who had missed the dress rehearsal two days earlier because of the cold he had been suffering for the past month, was able to make this performance, to the glee and delight of the audience. When he made his first entrance as Rodrigue, the audience recognized "him" and went wild that "he" was well enough to perform. They gave him round of applause and cheers (wasn't time to applaud at that point in the opera) as the Voice was back!

After the performance, we went up to the second floor of the KC for the Gala Dinner. The Rooftop Atrium had been decorated like a Spanish Villa. A greeter at the door handed out fans with "Bravo Spain" on them, compliments of the Spanish Embassy. Costumed guitarists played soft Spanish melodies. Soft candles illuminated tables that were filled with Spanish delights – emplanadas, veal sausages, olives, dates, wines and other delights from Spain. I saw quite a few VIP's – among them, the ambassador from Spain, DC Mayor Anthony Williams, Chief Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, Judge Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. There must have been about 500 people.

Dinner was like stepping into a fairy tale! The place settings looked like they were from important state dinners at the Embassy of Spain (the hosts of the dinner). The plates were gold-plated, with thin red glass covers which were removed when the food was served. Each place had 3 forks, 2 long stemmed wine glasses, 2 other glasses (for water and something else), and the most fancy and delicate cloth lace napkin I have ever seen. Each table had a large centerpiece of roses – I wonder if those were from Spain.

After the introductions and applause, dinner was served. It was delicious! Heavenly! We had Filet of Veal with Golden Figs and Montillado Sherry Sauce, and Papas Fritadas (thin fried potatoes that are out of this world!). Dessert consisted of – this is from the menu booklet – El Caballo Dorado with Banana Chocolate Terrine and Sopapilla. No, I was not sure which was which. One of them I ate, the one that consisted of layers of chocolate and custard – yum! The other one looked like a chocolate molded knight's helmet. It had a bronze colored coating and none of us at our table was sure if we were to eat it or take it home for display!

Throughout dessert, servers were pouring an alcoholic beverage into everyone's glass. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught the name on the bottle – Ximene (Chimene)! A perfect drink for that opera! No, I didn't have any as I was already too sleepy (it was past midnight), and I was more focused on getting a chance to shake hands and grab a photo op with the Tenor.

Now for the high point of the evening. As people finished up their desserts and coffee, they all lined up to get a chance to say hello to Plácido Domingo. And what a crowd! My opera mate followed in tow with his camera ready to shoot. Many others also had the same idea. Cameras were flashing here and there. I found myself posing with others in pictures taken by I know not whom! I hope someone recognizes me (and I bet some will, from the Wagner Society activities) and sends me any pix of me in it. My opera mate also flashed his camera. We will wait and see. At one point Plácido took a moment to bend down to me (he is tall!!) and put his hands on my shoulders, looked me in the eyes, smiled, and said hello and I am not sure what else. I told him I loved his performance and congratulations. By the time he thanked me, others were pushing in talk to him.

Wow what a night! When the clouds of dreamworld have settled, I'll review the opera.

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