The Washington National Opera has announced its 2008-09 season (.PDF file), as analyzed yesterday by Tim Smith in the Baltimore Sun and on Monday by the Post's newly arrived Interim Classical Music Critic, Anne Midgette. The good news is that the company will offer a concert performance of Rossini's Petite messe solennelle. The bad news is that the tenor soloist will be Andrea Bocelli, with Plácido Domingo conducting (decisions on the other singers have not even been made yet). That sound you hear is the angels weeping.
Midgette makes some valid points about our leading opera company (especially by comparison to the Met and Los Angeles), as if to fire a few shots across WNO's bow as she readies to engage in battle. Focusing on the good news, we already knew that the funding was in place for the company to complete its American Ring cycle, with Siegfried planned for May 2009. The complete cycle of all four Ring operas in November 2009, the first ever for the company, will be one of the most important cultural events in the history of Washington, D.C.
The company also hopes to follow up on the success of their production of Benjamin Britten's Billy Budd, one of the best operas offered by the company in the last decade, with a long overdue production of that composer's other masterpiece, Peter Grimes. The good news is that it will do so with John Curran's disturbingly beautiful production from Santa Fe Opera (rapturously reviewed in 2005). It is a claustrophobic production that captures the stifling atmosphere of the opera perfectly. We expect great things from Patricia Racette as Ellen Orford and have hopes for tenor Christopher Ventris in the title role (he will also replace Domingo as Siegmund in the complete Ring cycle). Throw in Alan Held's Captain Balstrode as a lagniappe, and we have a deal, even if the conductor will be Ilan Volkov, a relatively inexperienced Israeli conductor appearing at the podium here for the first time. Is he coming to Washington to feel out a possibility with the National Symphony Orchestra? Word is that Volkov is stepping down from the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in 2009, and he has a reputation for choosing interesting modern repertory. Maybe his Grimes will be alright, and hiring young conductors seems to be the thing to do these days.
Soprano Patricia Racette will sing Ellen Orford in Peter Grimes, Washington National Opera, 2009
The singer budget will be blown on the company debut of America's soprano, Renée Fleming, in Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia. The casting will also include the awaited debut of Giuseppe Filianoti, as well as Sondra Radvanovsky and Ruggiero Raimondi. Midgette points out that La Fleming's Lucrezia was "infamously booed at La Scala in 1998" (this will be her U.S. stage debut in the role). Fleming's bel canto being not nearly as good as her German late Romantic repertoire, the WNO has missed a major opportunity by not convincing Fleming instead to sing the title role in Korngold's Das Wunder der Heliane. Rounding out the good selections is a welcome production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers, last seen here in 1993. We have read good things about the voice and acting skill of French soprano Norah Amsellem (pictured below), who will make her debut as Leila. There will also be a yet-unknown American opera, to be performed by the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artists.
Slightly less exciting but not total disasters are the perennial favorites, another production of Carmen, again with Denyce Graves and Francesca Zambello directing (according to Domingo, hastily added to the season when Graves became available and reportedly displacing another opera -- but what? we must know! -- to a later season). The La Traviata, directed by Domingo's wife, will at least have the sparkling participation of Elizabeth Futral (Arturo Chacón-Cruz will be Alfredo and Lado Ataneli will be Germont, so the singing will be pretty good). A tired, old production of Turandot (an opera brought here only three years previously by the Kirov Opera) casts Maria Guleghina backed up by Sylvie Valayre, neither of whom has been all that impressive in recent outings here. Interestingly, one of the Mimis from this season's La Bohème, Sabina Cvilak (one of the high points in that generally dismal affair), will be back twice next season, as Liu for part of the run of Turandot and as Micaëla in Carmen.
Next season looks pretty strong so far.