The Kennedy Center announced the line-up for its 2012-2013 season, which now includes the Washington National Opera as well as the National Symphony Orchestra and dance and chamber music events. What is in the air for Washington next year? That sound you hear is the angels weeping at the area's leading opera company selling out its cultural patrimony.
WASHINGTON NATIONAL OPERA:
The bad news is that WNO's season has been reduced to four main stage opera productions -- although there are some exciting all-Italian choices, that is the lowest it has ever been in the history of Ionarts. The company returns to Donizetti's Anna Bolena after an absence of two decades, with Sondra Radvanovsky making her debut in the title role; another role debut will be Patricia Racette in the title role of Puccini's Manon Lescaut; best of all, the delightful Angela Meade will make her stage debut in the title role of Bellini's Norma. In less exciting news, the 2007 production of Don Giovanni, which was kind of a dud, will be revived. Now that the company does not have to rent space from the Kennedy Center, WNO will take advantage of the Terrace Theater, with four Christmas week performances of Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel and a recital by Angela Meade (with piano), and the Concert Hall, for the long-awaited company debut of soprano Diana Damrau, sadly not in a staged production but in a celebrity concert.
Shamefully, some of the company's precious budget will be squandered on non-operatic performances: a recital by baritone Nathan Gunn (with Broadway conductor Ted Sperling) and Zambello's production of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein's musical Show Boat, scheduled for 15 performances -- by far the longest run of any production on the season. The world has been turned upside down.
NATIONAL SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA:
Christoph Eschenbach's third season continues to offer worthy programming. The 200th anniversary of Richard Wagner's birth, in May 2013, will be marked with performances by mezzo-soprano Kelley O'Connor and contralto Nathalie Stutzmann; violinist Pekka Kuusisto will play Magnus Lindberg's violin concerto; soprano Anne Schwanewilms will lead the soloists in Beethoven's gargantuan Missa Solemnis; there will be a a week-long residency by Lang Lang, in recital and with the orchestra, who can only benefit from the mentorship of a veteran like Eschenbach; mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter will be featured in a program of Mahler, Schubert, and Mozart; John Adams will conduct his piece City Noir; and a pairing of symphonies by Schnittke and Shostakovich will be part of the NSO's spring trip to Carnegie Hall. In other interesting news, the NSO's highest ticket price is going up to $85, but the lowest is going down to $10.
At the top of the list of other performances we will definitely want to see is the new staged concert work Love Fail by David Lang, inspired by the medieval Lais of Marie de France, to be performed by the vocal quartet Anonymous 4. In ballet -- the Mariinsky Ballet's performance of Cinderella, the American Ballet Theater's Le Corsaire, and visits by the San Francisco Ballet and the New York City Ballet. In theater -- the play War Horse, with its life-size equine puppet; and, just to show I don't have anything against musicals (just opera companies wasting money on them), productions of Cole Porter's Anything Goes and the new musical The Book of Mormon. The Nordic Cool Festival, in spite of its absurd name, holds promise: Anne Sofie von Otter in recital with Bengt Forsberg, plus visits from Stockholm's Royal Dramatic Theater and Norway's National Theater, the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, the Iceland Symphony, and much more.
While Eschenbach's honeymoon with the NSO continues, Marin Alsop's tenure in Baltimore appears to have stagnated. She has put together a series of concerts for next season that recapitulates much that she has already done -- in some cases, quite literally recycling pieces from her first few seasons in Charm City. This makes me sad, as someone who has lauded the work of this orchestra -- and indeed, someone who praised the first couple of very promising seasons from Alsop. Many of the same humdrum soloists return -- Gil Shaham, Garrick Ohlsson, Orion Weiss, Colin Currie, Midori, and some of the orchestra's own principal musicians. Many of the same composer tropes are revisited -- Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, Brahms, Dvořák, and Bernstein (most regrettably, since all of Alsop's championship has only confirmed my low opinion of his symphonic music) -- and none of it has impressed much as Alsop conducted it in past seasons. Wagner gets his due, with Eric Owens featured in concert excerpts of Die Walküre; Hannu Lintu returns, this time with Sibelius's second symphony; the live musical score for film screening idea gets reused -- three times! -- for Alexander Nevsky, more Chaplin (Modern Times this time around), and West Side Story; the only contemporary composer really showcased by Alsop is Christopher Rouse, if we do not count John Adams's Short Ride in a Fast Machine and Shaker Loops (both repeated from earlier seasons) and Concerto 4-3, a crossover travesty from Jennifer Higdon.
Marin Alsop's current contract extends through August 2015.
The National Philharmonic also announced its 2012-2013 season.