Washington National Opera plans ambitious season

CRITIC'S CORNER

December 06, 2005|By TIM SMITH | TIM SMITH,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Washington National Opera announced yesterday a remarkably ambitious and enticing lineup for 2006-2007 that includes the North American premiere of Sophie's Choice by eminent British-born composer Nicholas Maw, conducted by Marin Alsop, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's soon-to-be music director.

Sophie's Choice, based on the William Styron novel that inspired an acclaimed film, was premiered by London's Royal Opera in 2002. This powerful story about one woman's wrenching experience in the Holocaust was recently staged in Berlin and Vienna, Austria.

Members of the original London production, including Angelika Kirchschlager, Rod Gilfry and Gordon Gietz, will reprise their roles in Washington. Alsop, a leading advocate for new music, will be making her company debut in these performances, which begin Sept. 21. The D.C.-based Maw, who wrote his own libretto for Sophie's Choice, is on the composition faculty at the Peabody Conservatory.

In a novel double bill of one-act operas that will open the company's 51st season Sept. 16, the dark mystery of Bartok's Duke Bluebeard's Castle will be contrasted with the bold comedy of Puccini's Gianni Schicchi. Both works will be directed by noted filmmaker William Friedkin, whose directorial credits include The Exorcist and The French Connection.

The cast will be headed by two celebrated artists -- bass Samuel Ramey, in both operas; and mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves in the Bartok piece, which was recently performed in concert form by the BSO. The work will be sung in the original Hungarian for this first Washington National staging.

A masterpiece of Czech opera, Janacek's Jenufa, will likewise be sung in its original language when the company presents it for the first time May 5. The exceptional cast will be headed by sopranos Patricia Racette and Catherine Malfitano. David Alden, who can be counted on for imaginative insight, will direct.

Company general director and superstar tenor Placido Domingo will sing the role of Siegmund in Wagner's Die Walkure (March 24), the second installment of a new Ring Cycle directed by Francesca Zambello that begins this season with Das Rheingold.

Joining Domingo will be Anja Kampe as Sieglinde, Alan Held as Wotan and Linda Watson as BrM-|nnhilde, reprising their roles from the company's 2003 Walkure presented during a temporary residency at Constitution Hall.

Also returning is Puccini's Madama Butterfly (Nov. 4) in the tradition-bending Mariusz Trelinski production that was a highlight of the company's 2001-2002 season. There will be alternate casts and alternate conductors -- Domingo and Eugene Kohn.

Donizetti's comedy La Fille du Regiment (March 31) will feature soprano Stefania Bonfadelli and, in a role famous for its nine high Cs in a single aria, tenor Jose Bros.

One of Verdi's early masterpieces, Macbeth (May 12), gets a new production staged by Paolo Micciche, who has done provocative work for the company in the past few seasons. Lado Ataneli and Paoletta Marrocu will star.

In addition to the main stage productions, the company will offer its first "family opera," Dream of the Pacific by Stephen Mager and Elkhanah Pulitzer, inspired by the journals of the Lewis and Clark expedition. This venture will include members of Washington National's various educational activities.

For subscription information to the 2006-2007 season, call 202-295-2400 or 800-876-7372.

Concert Artists

The Concert Artists of Baltimore engagingly explored works for string orchestra Saturday night at the Gordon Center for Performing Arts in Owings Mills.

Benjamin Britten's Simple Symphony, which is anything but, received a particularly vivid performance. The ensemble's artistic director, Edward Polochick, tapped into the brilliant counterpoint of the outer movements, the sheer fun of the all-pizzicato scherzo and the almost Mahler-like beauty of the sarabande. The players did tightly coordinated, expressive work.

Intonation and articulation slips, chiefly among the violins, caused some damage in Tchaikovsky's familiar Serenade for Strings and Anton Arensky's Variations on a Theme of Tchaikovsky. The latter, with an elegiac strain underlying surface diversions, found a passionate advocate in Polochick.

One wind instrument made it into the concert, making it possible to savor a remarkable novelty, the Concertino for Oboe and Strings by late Brazilian composer Brenno Blauth.

With lots of rhythmic vitality and a sensual quality that recalls the music of Villa Lobos, the score is instantly appealing. It also was quite a showcase for oboist Vladimir Lande's technical elan and dynamic phrasing. Polochick and the ensemble provided firm support.

tim.smith@baltsun.com

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