The partnership between Washington National Opera and The Kennedy Center continues to dominate the opera scene in Washington. But Deborah Rutter, at the helm of the entire arts complex, continues to think “out of the box,” the Kennedy Center box that is, creating new spaces, reaching out to new audiences that better represent our city’s diversity, forming and showcasing new partnerships under the one roof. (Opera Lafayette, for instance, seems to be delivering programs in conjunction with or building audiences as an ongoing presence at The Kennedy Center.)
So what will be the go-to operas in the coming season?
WNO opens its 2018–2019 season during the month of October with La Traviata, in what they are calling “a stunning new production of Verdi’s everlasting story of fate and sacrifice, renowned for its soaring arias and heart-wrenching ending.” The story of a girl who just wants to have fun is tried and true, and Verdi’s music oh-so-beautiful.
Moscow’s Bolshoi soprano Venera Gimadieva, touted as “the new voice of Russia,” and American tenor Joshua Guerrero, much acclaimed singer and opera hunk, make for the kind of buzz that drives opera lovers to gala openings.
Directed by Artistic Director Francesca Zambello, she will also bring back one of her (and my) favorite graduates of the Cafritz Domingo program, Jacqueline Echols, in the leading soprano role for a few performances. Renato Palumbo, considered a gifted artist specializing in Verdi, will be conducting the entire run.
Next up in the season, the opera Silent Night grabs my attention and seems to contribute to our contemporary conversation around war as well as memorializing the centennial of World War I. Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning classic of the same name, it has music composed by Kevin Puts and a libretto by Mark Campbell (who feels like part of the WNO family while continuing to be a much sought-after librettist.) Not only is this opera an American classic but once again Zambello is staking her reputation on developing American singers, choosing to lead an ensemble featuring some of the very talented Domingo-Cafritz Young Artists.
Winter in WNO’s opera land is a time of both celebration and exploration. The holiday month of December brings back the homegrown family opera The Lion, The Unicorn, and Me featuring a score by Tony Award winner Jeanine Tesori.
January has spawned a mini-festival of new opera developed under WNO’s American Opera Initiative Festival. In addition to featuring three 20-minute operas testing new ideas and collaborators in the form, the festival premieres an hour-long opera. This year the company presents the world premier of Taking Up Serpents by composer Kamala Sankaram and librettist Jerre Dye.
The full complement of orchestra, design team, and artists re-convene to the grand Opera House for a spring season. Audiences return in March 2019 for a taste of the beloved classic repertoire.
Eugene Onegin leads off, and Tchaikovsky’s brilliant and lyrical score gets first class Russian treatment with Russian stars, including soprano Anna Nechaeva and baritone Igor Golovatenko making their WNO debuts joined by Russian tenor Alexey Dolgov. Peter McClintock, stage director at the Met in New York for thirty years, directs while Robert Trevino conducts.
The Opera House will also feature Gounod’s opera Faust the same month. It’s an opera that has not been seen in WNO’s repertory for twenty-five years. French tenor Benjamin Bernheim assumes the title role of the man who makes a pact with the devil. In this version of the classic tale, because it’s French, it’s to win the love of a beautiful woman, Marguerite (soprano Erin Wall.)
To round out the blockbuster “classic” season, WNO will produce Puccini’s Tosca in May. As per usual, WNO will feature more than one cast, in this case two sets of lovers in the leading roles: American Keri Alkema pairs up with Italian tenor Riccardo Massi to open the production and Latonia Moore joins up with Robert Watson for two performances. I know I will be at the edge of my seat watching Scarpia, because the man in the shoes of this villain will be Alan Held, the man who led us all magnificently through the Ring Cycle in 2016 in the role of Wotan.
Those whose wallets will not stretch to score WNO tickets should check out the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist schedule for the special performances throughout the season of WNO’s operas at discounted prices. One of the most entertaining of such events (and for those who don’t like death and dying on stage of the opera’s tragic repertoire) should be the showcase A Concert of Comic Masterpieces.
But you don’t have to travel far afield anymore to take in strong professional opera. I recommend you seize the opportunities to explore other companies as well. For my taste, though very different from each other – indeed almost opposite ends of the spectrum – there are two outstanding opera production companies that have developed very specific niche audiences: Opera Lafayette and UrbanArias.
Opera Lafayette is an American period instrument ensemble focused on the French 18th-century opera repertoire. Artistic Director Ryan Brown brings this little known repertoire to life with a command of its musical nuance and theatrical style.
The bad news is that their season performances are so few, you blink and the company has ridden out of town to New York, their other home, or on occasion to Versailles where they have been privileged to perform. The good news is that the company seems to have found a home at the Kennedy Center.
If you want a pre-season preview of the Opera Lafayette company, get down to the Kennedy Center on May 2 of this year and take in what feels like it might be a gala musical tour of greatest hits from the reigns of Louis XIV, XV, and XVI, an evening inspired by The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibition Visitors to Versailles.
Personally, I never want to miss anything that Robert Wood, Artistic Director of Urban Arias, commits to producing on stage. He aims at short, sharp and contemporary works of music-theatre. He has commissioned some outstanding composer-librettist teams and attracts many outstanding singers whose voices feel “just right” in the smaller venues where UrbanArias has been featured. Often the music bends across from opera into music forms including jazz and popular songwriting. No matter what the style, Wood’s musical intelligence is always evident as he conducts the Inscape Chamber Orchestra, his go-to ensemble that seem incapable of mis-stepping no matter what challenges the new composers write.
Check out the full season on WNO’s website. www.kennedycenter.org
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