Anyway, Opera Ball was on May 21. It was my sixth one, which…I KNOW, right? Six seems like so long ago, like, I used to be able to say “Six years ago I had braces,” or “Six years ago I fell off the carousel at Six Flags and broke my camera.” Those occurred in 1994-95 and 2000 respectively, thus no longer fitting the “six years” requirement…. Where was I? Oh yes. My point is that although I only worked for the Opera for three of those balls, for some reason they keep inviting me back. Possibly because I am Reliable and A Hard Worker. Also Very Fun To Have Around, as well as a Kick-Ass Dancer. And modest, obviously.
This year, though, I didn’t attend as a volunteer. I was a guest! On the list and everything! Technically, yes, I was the plus-one of one of my old coworkers, Ryan, who as a member of the company’s senior staff was an invited guest. I was not required to guard a punchbowl or anything for the evening, so I considered it a win nonetheless.
Opera Ball is always an unbelievable, over-the-top amazing event, but this year took the proverbial cake. The Russian ambassador hosted, and there was an old world glamour this year that the previous five, at least, lacked. On the outside, the embassy is an austere, gray block, but inside it looks like the Winter Palace (I mean, I would imagine, not having been to Russia), with tall ceilings, sweeping staircases, and a huge, tapestry-laden ballroom. It was magnificent. Most years a huge tent is erected out behind the embassy residence to accommodate the main ball venue, but not so at the Russian embassy—because it has a BALLROOM. For, you know, balls. Like this one.
Everything you associate with old world Russia was represented:
Snow. Upon entering the house, you immediately walked into a winter wonderland of sparkling birch trees.
Ballet. The courtyard was transformed into a snowglobe with snow falling onto ballet dancers frolicking amongst the trees.
Opera. Duh. Guests could escape from the melee of the party for a short recital in the quiet of the embassy’s recital hall. Rising stars of the Bolshoi Opera had been imported for the occasion.
St. Basil’s Cathedral, first as one of a series of images projected on the outside of the building as the guests entered...
...then as a giant ice sculpture in a room with a bunch of OTHER giant ice sculptures, including Alexander the Great.
Russian literature. The books! Oh, the books. Dostoyevsky, Pushkin, Pasternak, Tolstoy. I was in heaven.
...displayed on an ice bar along with oysters and, of course, caviar.
Rasputin. Not the actual guy (though wouldn’t THAT have been a nifty party trick), but a dude who looked like him, technically one of the costumed supernumeraries who wandered the party (“Hello, I’m Eugene Onegin,” said one fellow as we entered.)
Fabergé eggs. In the main ballroom, 300 gorgeous Fabergé eggs were displayed. Several of us watched in horror as a bow-tied fellow picked up a knife and aimed for one of them…and holy Pete, what do you know, they were CAKES. Delicious, delicious cakes.
Tea. A side salon was arranged as a Russian tea room, with small tables and waiters who seated you and took your order. Cheese blintz with cherry glaze, accompanied by a samovar of tea? Don’t mind if I do.
Also, midway through the evening, rumor began to circulate that one of the wet bars was pouring Dom Pérignon. Naturally, this called for investigation. We sauntered up to the aforementioned bar and Ryan casually requested, “Two glasses of Dom, please.” The bartender didn’t even blink, popped a new bottle, and began to pour. Our eyes widened, but we played it cool, as if consuming $200 bottles of champagne was an everyday occurrence for us.
As always, it was a mind-boggling evening. We stood in the security line near Senator Leahy (a nice bit of symmetry, as he was the first VIP I recognized at my first Opera Ball in 2005), and brushed by Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano in the entry, and stood across from Chief Justice Roberts helping himself to some Oysters Rockefeller, and observed Lucky Roosevelt at the neighboring table in the tea room. I had yet another of those moments where I’m removed from myself, looking down and thinking, HOW did I end up here? The Hannah of ten years ago would never have imagined it.