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The Opera Ball Closes Out the Spring Social Season With a Take of $1 Million (Photos)

Due to something she ate, Jacqueline Mars was a no-show at the Japanese soiree.
A view of the Japanese ambassador’s koi pond, which enhanced the serene mood of the annual Opera Ball. Photograph by Carol Ross Joynt.

The laid-back vibe at the 40th annual Opera Ball this past weekend might be explained by its return to its usual place at the end of the formal spring social season. Last year the ball was moved to April, to get out in front of the gala crush, which translated into high energy.

Or perhaps it was the ball’s tranquil location, at the Japanese ambassador’s sprawling residence with its mesmerizing interior koi pond. Guests were warned to not get too close or they might fall in. That would have been a party.

The ball, which raised $1 million for the Washington National Opera, traditionally circulates among the city’s diplomatic residences. After attending seated dinners at one of 18 embassies around town, this year’s guests flowed toward Nebraska Avenue as the clock moved toward 10, and then spilled into the home of Ambassador Kenichiro Sasae and his wife, Nobuko, for dessert, entertainment, and dancing.

Joining the ambassador and his wife as hosts were the ball’s co-chairs, Sachiko Kuno and Phebe Novakovic, and a welcoming committee of one, Kennedy Center chairman David Rubenstein.

Rubenstein was to have been joined on stage by Opera chair Jacqueline Mars, but she was a no-show. “She’s a little under the weather,” Rubenstein said. “She went to an ethnic-food restaurant the other night,” it was not Japanese, he assured the crowd, “and maybe the food wasn’t as good as it should have been.”

Had Mars attended the ball, a white-hot publicity zone with the entire DC grapevine in attendance, it would have been her first major public appearance since pleading guilty to a misdemeanor reckless driving charge in a fatal car accident that happened last year in Aldie, Virginia.

There were others to keep Rubenstein company on the stage—Kuno and Novakovic, Washington National Opera president James Feldman, and Ambassador Sasae all took turns, and the ambassador shared in the big moment of announcing the winner of the door prize. The name pulled from a glass bowl, alas, wasn’t a Washingtonian, but David Espinosa of Palm Beach, Florida, who said after, “I want to move to Washington.”

The prize was a round trip for two to Tokyo, which Espinosa said he would take with his partner, Daniel Biaggi, also of Palm Beach.

Each year the diplomatic hosts transform their residences into statements of splendor, and this year was no different. A party tent included a chandelier that was custom-made of 1,000 origami paper cranes, a symbol of good luck. A dessert buffet created by Susan Gage Caterers included Asian and Western confections. For a late snack, the embassy’s chef produced a buffet of sushi and tempura. There were also performances of opera and chamber music.

All in all, a beautiful, successful, and calming evening, and now, for the social establishment, summer can begin.

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