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2008/2009 Season from Washington National Opera

Detail from Giotto, Lamentation, Scrovegni Chapel, Padua

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.

Soprano Patricia Racette will sing Ellen Orford in Peter Grimes, Washington National Opera, 2009
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.

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.

Norah AmsellemSlightly 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.


tustuprof said...

For the sake of accuracy... Fleming sang Lucrezia Borgia in a NY concert version well after the La Scala performances, and to considerable critical acclaim, as I recall. Indeed, the Scala performances were thenmselves very well received by the Italian Press. Of course, explaining that--and the broader context--would have required a great deal more subtlety and honesty than Ms Midgette is capable of, and would in any case have ruined the fun of disparaging a great artist. I am rather surprised that you yourself have chosen to compound the error. The snotty attitude is unbecoming.

Charles T. Downey said...

Sorry, the word "stage" got left out inadvertently. This will be the first time she has performed Lucrezia on stage in the U.S.

I agree with you that the La Scala wags are hardly the only way to measure any singer's performance there. However, there is nothing I can see as "snotty" in what I wrote. La Fleming was indeed booed at La Scala, and no one who has heard her sing the arias from Heliane could think it would be a bad thing to get a chance to see that weird, gorgeous opera staged. Right?

Actually, I admire Fleming's voice, especially in Strauss and music like that. However, I do not admire it in the same way as commenters who put "renee fleming" into their search engines and troll around looking for any critical comment against the Beautiful Voice and then cry foul.

The Lucrezia will likely have the best singing of WNO's 2008-2009 season, and that is most welcome.

Anonymous said...

Given the rather disastrous reception to the concert version of Heliane in London last year, I don't think anyone is interested in mounting a staged version of this rather ludicrous opera.

Yes, Fleming does sing one of the arias quite beautifully, but I believe she has said in an interview that the whole role is too heavy for her. As indeed did parts of it appear too heavy for Racette in the concert version.

Charles T. Downey said...

All true about Heliane. It is the job of the administrators and the singers to be realistic, I know. I have the luxury of being able to dream.

Akimon Azuki said...

I think the "realistic" part on the side of the WNO admins was to give Turandot to Guleghina. Perfect match: short part, so even she can learn it, lots of loud high notes. What's not to like? I love the Oceanliner and am looking forward to this circus act most impatiently. Other than this and Peter Grimes (which Met is doing in their HD broadcasts series very soon, so not very good timing here), what a bleh and blah season... Renaay and Bocelli, Carmen and Traviata. Enough said.