WASHINGTON — The Washington Opera is turning out to be the venue of choice for President Bush’s Defense Department hardliners in search of a place to chill. While Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, a longtime opera fan, has cut back on his musical outings since the outbreak of the war in Iraq, his deputy secretary Paul Wolfowitz is becoming a concert regular. Most recently he turned up at the opening night performance Saturday of “Die Fledermaus,’’ where he confided that, while he and his boss might agree about political policy, they’re not quite in total accord when it comes to their musical preferences. Referring to Rumsfeld, he said, “He likes opera and gospel music.’’ Wolfowitz, on the other hand, is no fan of gospels, adding, “I like opera and folk music.’’

But he also tries to groove to a different beat, thanks to his 15-year-old daughter, Rachel, who accompanied him to the white-tie dinner and ball at the Organization of American States following last Saturday’s opera. “I also took her to hear Aerosmith and Britney Spears on the Mall,’’ Wolfowitz said, adding, “I didn’t like it at all. I couldn’t hear myself think.’’

The opera’s globe-trotting general director, Placido Domingo, alluded to another rock ’n’ roll legend when he appeared on stage as a bit performer in Johann Strauss’ frothy second-act ball scene. Commandeering the limelight to salute the opening of the company’s new season, Domingo welcomed “The Supremes,’’ pointing to three Supreme Court Justices — Stephen G. Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Anthony M. Kennedy — perched side by side in their robes on an overstuffed pouf surrounded by various members of the company.

Later at the dinner, Domingo confided, “I have lost some weight, but I’ve also made my hair shorter, and in that way, too, I am lighter.’’

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