This review first appeared, in a different form (DCist Goes to the Opera, October 1), at DCist.
Following up on our review of the first production, I Vespri Siciliani, at Washington National Opera, on Friday night I went to see the second one, a gala production featuring the company's superstar music director, renowned tenor Plácido Domingo. The fact that he is singing in all three acts of this pastische production, in alternation with working at the conductor's podium for the other production, I Vespri Siciliani, is remarkable for a musician of his age. As Tim Page put it in his review for the Post, "at the age of 64, Domingo continues to 'have it all'." Well, if not quite "all" in terms of vocal range and power, which have not surprisingly dwindled slightly, his magnetic power on the stage certainly continues to attract listeners worldwide. In fact, at intermission on the terrace of the Kennedy Center last night, I met a journalist who had travelled from Austria just to hear Domingo sing in this production. That's a serious opera lover.
This season is officially the WNO's 50th Anniversary Season. Normally, this would have been a chance for a major opera company to make a big commission of a new opera. One of the most successful new operas in recent history, John Corigliano's The Ghosts of Versailles, was originally commissioned for the 100th anniversary of the Metropolitan Opera in New York. However, commissions are expensive and often risky: in fact, Ghosts was not premiered until eight years after the 100th anniversary season it was intended to commemorate. Having just produced a not overwhelmingly successful new opera last season, Scott Wheeler's Democracy, WNO may be gun shy. Whatever the reasons, the company presented this production, Trilogy, as one of the major events to celebrate its golden anniversary. It's a sort of Frankenstein monster, single acts from three different operas stitched together to make an evening's worth of singing. If that image doesn't sound all that flattering, then you can tell that I was not all that excited by this production. In my opinion, this is the sort of thing one puts together for a summer lawn performance, not as an important part of an anniversary season. That being said, there is some radiant singing to be heard in this production, and it is worth your time, just to see Domingo on the stage, if for nothing else.
Tim Page, Merry Widower (Washington Post, September 26)
T. L. Ponick, Domingo golden in 'Trilogy' (Washington Times, September 26)
Tim Smith, Domingo delivers in 'Trilogy' (Baltimore Sun, September 29)
Kate Wingfield, Three's a Crowd (Metro Weekly, September 29)
Far and away, though, the reason to see this production is the middle part, the tragic fourth act of Verdi's Otello, one of the most beautiful operas ever written. It's one of Domingo's signature roles, and we would much rather have seen a complete production of it than Trilogy. The best singer in this mixed production is the Desdemona, Barbara Frittoli, who showed perfect control in her high, supersoft singing. The "Willow Song" was as radiant and tragic as one could have hoped (although the orchestra's wind section, featured prominently, left something to be desired, and not because of Heinz Fricke's conducting, which was excellent). The strings get their turn in the "Ave Maria," and they provided a gorgeous harmonic fabric to the simple vocal part. Prayer scenes are a dime a dozen in opera, but this is one of the great ones. Bindel was back here, as one of the great villains of opera, the treacherous Iago, although he sang for only about 45 seconds. (All in all, Trilogy was a waste of a good singer in this case: I look forward to hearing Bindel again as Fasolt in the WNO production of Wagner's Das Rheingold in March.) I love Otello, but it did feel wrong to see only its tragic conclusion, especially between two such poor cousins on either side.
The final part of Trilogy, a bastardized version of the third act of Franz Lehár's operetta The Merry Widow, is hardly worth mentioning. Here, the guest star is not even an opera singer. In our opinion, featuring Broadway star Christiane Noll in this production, apparently in a bid to woo a larger public, seems like desperation on the part of WNO. The same is true of the bad jokes when the first two act's leading ladies return here, to sing a Mozart duet. Trilogy must have cost quite a lot for the name singers (although featuring so many of the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist program's singers was economically savvy). It may not be great art (except for that resplendent middle act), but for the chance to see Plácido Domingo, I would probably have sat through worse. We advise you to do the same, although Generation O tickets may be harder to find for this than for I Vespri Siciliani.
The remaining performances of Trilogy are matinees this Sunday and next Sunday (October 2 and 9, 2 p.m.) and this coming Thursday evening (October 6, 7:30 p.m.). There will be a short break for Washington National Opera until the final production of the fall, Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, takes the stage on October 29.