It was a night more suited to galoshes than women’s pumps and men’s patent slip-ons, but the 800 guests at the annual black-tie Wolf Trap Ball took Saturday evening’s buckets of rain in stride. And wisely so, because inside the Filene Center it was warm and dry, in spirit an early fall evening in Paris, even with half the space open to the theater’s outdoor seats and hillside. If anything, the deluge was a counterpoint that enhanced the sparkle of the stage, which was set with hundreds of flowers and a twinkling replica of the Eiffel Tower.
The evening began with a VIP reception, held in the downstairs dressing room area that serves as a green room for entertainers. The ball’s co-chairs, Karen Schaufeld, Kimberly Stewart, and Sean O’Keefe, greeted guests as photographers snapped photos. They were joined by the ball’s patrons and partners, French ambassador François Delattre and his wife, Sophie L’Hélias-Delattre. The mood was particularly merry because the ball raised a record $1 million, which goes to support arts and education programs.
“I was never much worried about the weather,” Stewart said. “I knew we had it covered.” The bigger task was creating the right French menu with caterers Design Cuisine. Stewart and her co-chairs had tasted everything that would be served (more than once): canapés of fig with foie gras, quail eggs with caviar, a cocktail buffet of savory crepes, and a dinner menu that included sea scallops with duck confit and an entrée of beef Rossini. We wondered if maybe by now she just craved a hamburger. “Yes, actually,” she said brightly. The wines, no surprise, were French.
The occasion itself also marked the debut, at least at the ball, of Arvind Manocha, the new president and CEO of the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts. “For some of you it’s probably your first Wolf Trap ball as well, so we can all be new together,” he said from the stage, looking out at a packed house of seated patrons. “I’m sure I won’t forget this anytime soon. They say you always remember your first time, and I’m sure that’s true in this case as well.” From the moment he moved here at the beginning of the year, said Manocha, he was told “wait ’til you see the Wolf Trap Ball. And I have to say, after all the hype through the year nothing could prepare me for walking in here tonight and seeing the grandeur of this stage.” This is from a man who knows his stages—he was previously CEO of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Hollywood Bowl.
Ambassador Delattre was both lighthearted and serious, praising what he considers the current healthy bond between the US and France, particularly concerning the Syria crisis. He noted that President François Hollande will be at the United Nations on Tuesday. Delattre also provided a kind of synergy as he stood on the stage before a uniquely French backdrop—a rendering of the circa-1875 Palais Garnier—and charmed with his lilting French-hued English. “We are transported across the ocean and the years to that jewel of 19th-century Paris,” he said, gesturing to the ceiling-high mural that included a starry sky. “You brought the stage, and we brought the weather.” As the laughs died down, Delattre added that his embassy had last partnered with Wolf Trap for the ball in 1992, and explained that this year’s theme, “joie de vivre,” described the “profound joy the arts bring to all our lives.”
The speeches, while interesting, did not overtake the evening. More time was spent talking and dancing. At our table—which included Wolf Trap Foundation Board chairman John C. Lee IV, a leading technology expert and founder of Lee Technologies in Fairfax, and other denizens of the Dulles “tech corridor”—there was a lot of chatter about Apple’s new iOS 7. Much like talk of Washington football right now, the message was: “Give it time, and it will all work out.”
By the time we departed, the rain had subsided. We don’t know whether they were props provided by Wolf Trap, or possibly imported from France, but as we wended our way through a neighborhood toward the highway back to DC, we passed groups of large and small deer along the road and on lawns. Whatever their provenance, they were a good country touch.