The regional opera season is breaking out a little early this year. It's starting in the nation's capital, where the latest manifestation of super-philanthropist Alberto Vilar's influence can be observed.
The Washington Opera, which for years followed a mid-fall-through-spring schedule, now is splitting up its activities into two parts. The first half of the 2001-2002 season opens Saturday with Offenbach's The Tales of Hoffmann in a new co-production with the Kirov Opera's Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, and the Los Angeles Opera. Vilar, whose gifts to opera companies around the world have totaled in the tens of millions, is the underwriter for this staging, as well as a major donor to these three co-producing companies.
The D.C./L.A. connection, in turn, reflects Placido Domingo's dual role as artistic director of both companies. Keeping things even more in the family, Domingo's wife Marta is the stage director for Hoffmann, which has 10 performances through Oct. 5.
The double cast for Offenbach's masterpiece includes Richard Leech and Julian Gavin in the title role; Denyce Graves and Theodora Hanslowe as Nicklause; Alan Held and Kyle Ketelson as Hoffmann's three nemeses; Sumi Jo and Maki Mori as Olympia; Victoria Livengood and Luz del Alba Rubio as Giulietta; Andrea Rost and del Alba Rubio as Antonia. Emmanuel Villaume is the conductor.
The Washington Opera season continues with a production of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte that should get an extra dose of interest from its casting - with real-life brothers Dwayne Croft and Richard Croft as Guglielmo and Fer- rando, and Ainhoa Arteta, Dwayne's wife, as Fiordiligi. (Joyce DiDonato, set to sing the role of Dorabella, is not currently related to the other singers, but after this experience in the battle-of-the-sexes opera, you never know.) Cosi runs Sept. 13-30.
Completing the first half of the Washington season are Carlisle Floyd's Of Mice and Men (Oct. 20-Nov. 12) in a new Francesca Zambello co-production with Austria's Bergenz Festival and Houston Grand Opera; and Puccini's Madama Butterfly (Oct. 27-Nov. 17) in what promises to be an unconventional staging originally from the Teatr Wielki-Opera Narodowa in Warsaw.
The spring lineup, March 30-June 8, offers Verdi's Un ballo in maschera (featuring Marcello Giordani as Riccardo and conducted by Domingo); Strauss' Salome; Tchaikovsky's The Queen of Spades (with Domingo singing the role of Hermann) and Bizet's Carmen (with Jennifer Larmore in the title role, and Domingo back in the pit).
All performances are in the Kennedy Center Opera House. For tickets, call 202-295-2400 or 800-876-7372.
Also coming up quickly on the operatic front:
Baltimore Opera Company starts off its 51st season with Rossini's The Barber of Seville Oct. 11-21, with Vladimir Chernov and Daniel Mobbs sharing the title role, Vivica Genaux as Rosina, Bruce Fowler as Almaviva. Claudio Desderi will conduct.
Puccini's Tosca, starring Giovanna Casolla in the title role (alternating with Laura Nicolescu), Maurizio Graziani as Cavaradossi (alternating with Frank Porretta) and Mark Delavan as Scarpia, will be presented Nov. 10-18 in a production conducted by Andrea Licata.
Famed filmmaker Werner Herzog returns to the company to direct Mozart's The Magic Flute, Dec. 8-16. Will Crutchfield will conduct a cast featuring Kristopher Irmeter as Papageno, John Osborn as Tamino and Valeria Esposito as the Queen of the Night.
A new production of Verdi's Otello, with Jon Fredric West and Mark Lundberg alternating in the title role and Aprile Millo and Caroline Whisnant alternating as Desdemona, is slated for March 16-24. Christian Badea will conduct.
The season wraps up with Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor April 27-May 5. Esposito returns for the title role, alternating with Youngok Shin; Roberto Aronica will sing the role of Edgardo. Richard Buckley will conduct.
All performances are at the Lyric Opera House, 140 W. Mount Royal Ave. For tickets, call 410-727-6000.
Bizet's ever-popular Carmen will be the season-opener for the Municipal Opera Company of Baltimore, entering its second decade of providing a mix of rare and standard fare, prepared by aspiring and established local singers and stage technicians.
Rebecca Rossello and Sabrina Coleman-Clark will alternate as Carmen in performances Oct. 6-14, with Dan Snyder and Keith Pen- nick alternating as Don Jose. Stanley John Thurston will conduct. The opera will be sung in English.
A staging of Menotti's popular Christmas opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors, is slated for Dec. 7-9. In March, Municipal Opera plans to revive Scott Joplin's ambitious ragtime opera, Treemonisha. A concert of music by African-American composers will be held Feb. 18.
All performances are at Brown Memorial Woodbrook Presbyterian Church, 6200 N. Charles St. Call 410-329-6874.