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Siegfried Postponed; Effort Amid Limitations: The WNO’s 2007 / 2008 Season

Washington National OperaThe Washington National Opera announced its 2007 / 2008 Season on Wednesday at a press conference that was styled as an “event” (including baroque-ish costume-wearing ushers), taking place at the Library of Congress’ Coolidge Auditorium. It wasn’t quite enough as to merit the presence of the WNO’s own music director (which is perhaps also a sign of how important that role is at a small company) or the Washington Post’s critic. Although Tim Page might have been interested in hearing that Kenneth Feinberg thought that the WNO is Plàcido Domingo! Despite the great importance of Domingo for the WNO, Feinberg was either selling the company well short, or, should he be correct, revealed that the company is in a lot more trouble than we could possibly imagine. After all, Washington opera lovers should like to see the WNO last a little longer than Mr. Domingo’s tenure.

Amid the mention of a some fine singers (but few, if any, stars) and plenty hyperbole, perhaps the only truly interesting factoid was the postponing of Siegfried, the third installment of the “American Ring Cycle” of the Washington Opera for one year, because there isn’t enough money around to stage it in 2007 / 2008. The WNO’s (and the underwriters’) commitment to the WNO-Ring was not in question, one was told, and the complete Ring will be staged, as planned, in 2009 / 2010 – when Die Götterdämmerung will be first performed as part of the complete cycle, therefore making up for the lost year. In its place – placating Wagner-lovers in this town – the WNO will produce Der fliegende Holländer which has already retained Alan Held (Die Walküre, Das Rheingold) to sing in this opera instead of Siegfried. Heinz Fricke – health permitting – will conduct.

If a company is kept to a meager seven productions a year, it is admittedly to build up much of a profile or to offer many of the lesser shown operas that we’d like to see and hear. (The complete season of the WNO looks rather like the schedule for any given week at the Staatsoper München…) Given these restraints, it is easy to see that the WNO tried hard to please as wide a crowd as possible and continue its calling as the National opera house. That element is satisfied with a production of Bolcom’s A View from the Bridge, which was premiered in Chicago and has since been shown on the stages of the MET, Pittsburgh, Portland, and Hagen (Germany). Catherine Malfitano, Kim Josephson, Gregory Turay, and Christina Brandes from the Chicago cast will appear in DC. The Tony-Award© winning Frank Salatti will direct. It’s not a premiere – but if this might be lacking in excitement, that is turned into the virtue of pointing out the importance, not of the first or even second performance, but the consecutive, following performances for a modern work to gain acceptance or even a following. [Nov 3, 5, 8, 11m, 14, 17, 2007]

On the other time-spectrum of opera, the WNO will produce Handel’s Tamerlano with Domingo as Bajazet and David Daniels as Tamerlano. Friends of baroque opera will finally get their fill at the WNO with this 1724 work that Handel squeezed in at the Haymarket between Giulio Cesare and Rodelinda. The “Greatest Hits” opera that pleases the crowd will come in the form of – I shan’t comment - La Boheme by our-all favorite composer: Giacomo Puccini. The WNO terms it the opening of “a most audience-friendly season”. The good news about this attempt to befriend most of the audience is the directorship of Mariusz Trelinski whose Chénier was excellent, even if his Butterfly was, for all the visual appeal, in much need of updating and refining. [Sep 15, 17, 19, 20, 23m, 25, 27, 29, 30m, 2007]

Mozart’s Don Giovanni will bring another favorite, Ildar Abdrazakov (L’Italiana in Algeri) as Leporello, back to DC and has him sing vis-à-vis Operalia member Erwin Schrott. When Abdrazakov takes on the role of the Don from Schrott, his brother, Askar, will be Leporello. Anja Kampe will be Donna Elvira. Don Giovanni will get a somewhat new production by John Pascoe (Democracy) – it will be a re-working of his version that was performed at DAR Constitution Hall three seasons ago. [Oct 25, 29, Nov 1, 4m, 7, 10, 13, 16, 2007]

Verdi is served with Rigoletto, featuring perhaps the most successful Operalia member, so far, Joseph Calleja as the Duke of Mantua. Lyubov Petrova (also well remembered from L’Italiana) and Carlos Álvarez are Gilda and Rigoletto. [Mar 29, 31, Apr 1, 3, 6m, 9, 12, 13m, 2008] The last fully staged opera of the 2007 / 2008 season will be Elektra by Richard Strauss – with Susan Bullock (Elektra), Christine Goerke (Chrysothemis), Irina Mishura (Klytemnestra) and Daniel Sumegi (Orest) – which is always a joy to see, even in a revival. [May 10, 12, 15, 18m, 21, 24, 29, 2008]

The WNO nightcap consists of two concert performances (at the Opera House) of Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana in combination with something yet to be announced. Salvatore Licitra (Chénier, Tosca) and Dolora Zajick (debut) will perform.


Garth Trinkl said...

Jens, as you know, the Washington National Opera, is not now a small opera company, but the flagship opera company of the capital city of the richest and only surviving superpower on earth, at present. I have no problem with the WNO's presentation of Arthur Miller, Arnold Weinstein, and William Bolcom's A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE. The presentation fits in with the Washington National Opera's progressive commitment to present one American opera each and every season -- something to which the grand Metropolitan National Opera -- now under Peter Gelb -- has not yet committed; though I expect that he will announce this commitment perhaps this winter.

I hope, personally, that Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana will be matched by Dallapiccola's The Prisoner.

Or following up upon the WNO's production of Janacek's Jenufa this Spring, how about a staging --without intermissions -- of Janacek's From the House of the Dead. You asked for operatic relevance, didn't you?

Happy New Year, belatedly, to you and Charles.

jfl said...

I agree. Now lets get Congress to find its cultural vain and give the WNO a one-time, no-strings attached, gift of $ 100 or $200 million to its endowment. It's peanuts, compared to what the country blows on projects far less worthy and it would suffice to turn the WNO from a hand-to-mouth opera house (where the limitations creak through all the good intentions and the facade of great professionalism) into something stable and respectable and something to be proud of... and even let them have a little repertory, perhaps. (For the price of two daring extra productions a year, I'll gladly have them alternate between a couple or four crowd-pleasing staples ever two years.)



My Daily Struggles said...

I saw the WNO's Flying Dutchman in March 2008. It was an excellent production musically and in terms of staging.