Standards and a premiere but no `Ring'

Domingo unveils Washington National Opera's wide-ranging lineup

January 11, 2007|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,sun music critic

Washington National Opera's 52nd season will include such favorites as Mozart's Don Giovanni and Puccini's La Boheme, along with the local premiere of a major contemporary opera and Placido Domingo's first U.S. appearance in a Handel work.

Missing from the 2007-2008 lineup, announced yesterday at the Library of Congress, is Wagner's Siegfried, the third installment in the company's new staging of Wagner's Ring. But Domingo, the famed tenor and occasional conductor who is also the company's general director, said yesterday, "We are going to finish the Ring as we promised. We will do Siegfried in '08-'09 and have Gotterdammerung as part of the full Ring" during the '09-'10 season.

Kenneth R. Feinberg, president of Washington National Opera, said that more time was needed to raise money for the continuation and completion of the ambitious project.

Wagner will still have a presence next season, though. His Flying Dutchman will dock at the Kennedy Center Opera House, with Alan Held, who was to have sung Wotan in Siegfried, in the title role. Washington National Opera music director Heize Fricke will conduct.

La Boheme, conducted by Emmanuel Villaume, will open the season in September in a new production conceived by Mariusz Trelinski, whose innovative staging of Puccini's Madama Butterfly was revived by the company last November. "It will take us into the digital age," Domingo said. In this Boheme, the poet Rodolfo will be a photographer.

Domingo will conduct a new production of Don Giovanni, designed and directed by John Pascoe, expanding on his staging of the piece in 2003, when the company temporarily relocated to Constitution Hall.

William Bolcom's A View from the Bridge, given a compelling premiere in 1999 by the Lyric Opera of Chicago, will be introduced to Washington with most of the original cast. John DeMain will conduct. "When I first saw the opera, I knew we simply had to present this work," Domingo said. "Our production will spearhead the festivities for William Bolcom's 70th birthday. I hope we will do the work full justice, because it deserves only the best."

The season also offers Verdi's Rigoletto, starring the in-demand baritone Carlos Alvarez, and Strauss' Elektra, with Susan Bullock in the title role. Giovanni Reggioli will conduct the former, Fricke the latter.

Handel's Tamerlano will feature exceptional countertenor David Daniels in the title role, with Domingo as Bajazet. "That will be the 127th different role in my repertoire," the tenor said, adding with a laugh that he wouldn't mind if a few of the arias in the score were cut.

The season will close with a concert version of Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana featuring Salvatore Licitra and Delora Zajick. In September, a free simulcast of La Boheme will be shown outdoors on the National Mall ("I hope the weather gods will work in our favor," Domingo said).

Interviewed after the season announcement, the general director spoke confidently of the organization's current state. "So far, I have to say this season has been terrific," he said. "We have made budget, better than budget actually. Everyone predicted the double bill [of Bartok and Puccini one-acters] would be a mistake to open the season with, but the public came. And artistically, I am very happy and proud of the season."

But Domingo said he would like to see "revolutionary" changes in the company's marketing and public relations efforts "to sell the product much better. We have been very conservative in P.R. We need to do a little bit more in development also," he said.

Domingo's appearance yesterday came in between his engagements at the Metropolitan Opera, where he is singing the title role in Tan Dun's new opera The First Emperor, which has received mixed reviews. "Verdi and Puccini revised their scores and, of course, Tan Dun will make many changes, too," Domingo said, "when we do the opera again."

The tenor, who turns 66 this month, is general director of the Los Angeles Opera as well as Washington National Opera and shows no signs of cutting back on anything. "I'm slowing down - in a way," he said, "maybe singing a little less."

This season at the Met, he experienced something almost unheard of in his long career - booing. But not for anything he sang. It came on a night he conducted La Boheme.

"It was very unpleasant," Domingo said, "but what can you do? I can say this: It was prepared. There were three people. ... They came deliberately to do this on a night when they knew the press would be there."

About the same time that boos were heard at the Met, Roberto Alagna was walking off the stage of Milan's La Scala after being booed at the start of Verdi's Aida. "I sympathize with him," Domingo said of his fellow tenor. "I would do the same thing. If people booed, I would just say, `Thank you. I apologize,' and leave. You cannot attack the public, because you cannot win."

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