It’s a busy winter for the Washington National Opera. In February is its midwinter gala, in March its Golden Gala, celebrating 50 years of opera. Selwa “Lucky” Roosevelt is chairing the expensive and elite Golden Gala at the Kennedy Center, featuring performances by general director Plácido Domingo—who is celebrating ten years in that post—as well as many other talented voices. It will be, organizers say, the biggest event the opera has ever hosted.
During Ronald Reagan’s administration, Roosevelt served as chief of protocol, where she oversaw more than 1,000 US visits by foreign leaders and led the renovation of Blair House, the president’s official guest house. Her late husband, scholar and CIA officer Archibald Roosevelt, was a grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt.
Favorite opera: Otello. It’s Verdi’s masterpiece. All my life it’s been my favorite opera.
Favorite moment at the opera: Once at the Met, during a performance of Adriana Lecouvreur, when soprano Mirella Freni appeared onstage, the audience burst into a 15-minute ovation. I had not seen that kind of response before she even started singing —it was just thrilling.
Favorite performance: Plácido Domingo in London doing Otello. I saw it about ten years ago, with Georg Solti conducting. That was the most brillant performance I’ve seen.
Favorite museum: The National Gallery of Art. It’s the greatest museum in the world.
Favorite book: Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak; Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. There’s something about Russian literature.
Book on your nightstand now: Two, actually—The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt and The Assassins’ Gate by George Packer.
Favorite television show: The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer.
All-time favorite restaurant: Cafe Milano. I live there.
Favorite meal: Scrambled eggs and caviar. I can afford it in Russia.
Favorite object you own: My late husband’s Saint Christopher medal. I take it wherever I travel. It’s old and it’s worn, but I feel it protects me.
Historical figure you’d most like to meet: Alexander Hamilton. He’s one of the great architects of American history.
What makes the Washington National Opera special? It’s that we are the “national” opera, which takes an act of Congress to designate.
What makes Washington special? It’s the capital and the cradle of our history. It’s so beautiful, it’s a very human city, and our cultural life is blossoming.