I would like to introduce myself to you–WNO’s loyal subscribers, members, volunteers, and more–as the new Artistic Director of Washington National Opera. Although I took up the position officially on January 1st, I have been working behind the scenes for over 18 months as the Artistic Advisor. It has been a pleasure getting to know all of you over the years I have spent here as a director, and I look forward to growing our relationships in my tenure as Artistic Director. You’ll be hearing from me soon about our exciting lineup for the 2013-2014 season and future plans, but first I wanted to reach out to you about the rich spring season ahead of us.
On March 2, Patricia Racette returns to the Opera House in a WNO revival of Puccini's classic Manon Lescaut. If you love La bohème you will find this to be a richer, darker, and more sensual work, transporting you to the world of France in the 18th century. Manon chooses to give up a life of being a kept woman for a passionate love affair with a student from the countryside, but her reckless desires drive her to sacrifice everything. We are excited to bring back the American star Ms. Racette as the heroine to lead the cast under the sure baton of our Music Director, Philippe Auguin.
Another strong female protagonist appears in Bellini's monumental opera about a Druid princess wronged by her lover. Norma invokes the passions of Greek dramas like Medea and Electra with sublime bel canto melodies. I am thrilled to present the work of visionary director Anne Bogart in a new production of this dramatic and vocal masterpiece. I know she will bring a deep interpretation of these characters coupled with a visually evocative setting of this ritualistic world. American sensation Angela Meade assails the title role for the first time ever in a fully staged production. Sopranos consider the role of Norma to be a Mount Everest for a career, and as Angela demonstrated in a recent recital here at the Kennedy Center, she is up to scaling the heights of this challenge. She shares the stage with one of our own truly legendary dramatic mezzo-sopranos, Dolora Zajick, who plays her nemesis Adalgisia. The bel canto music will be deftly in the hands of conductor Daniele Rustioni who we present in his WNO debut, having already stormed many of the major European theaters. This promises to be a sublime theatrical event unique to WNO.
To finish the season we will have our first foray into presenting a classic American musical with Show Boat. Set against a rich tableau of an evolving American landscape, the plot comes from Edna Ferber's powerful American novel (1926) which follows protagonist Magnolia Hawks from her childhood on a Mississippi show boat to a gritty life as an abandoned mother in Chicago and finally on to her life as a Broadway star. Nowadays only an opera company can muster the forces to see and hear it as Hammerstein and Kern envisaged their masterpiece. Our cast is a mix of opera, dance, and music theater performers. It calls for two full choruses and requires a large and lush orchestra which will be led by American specialist John Demain in the original orchestrations. I have created this production for WNO in collaboration with other US opera companies using some of America's best designers to evoke the tapestry of locations.
As you will see in the coming months, more and more I will be expanding our programming beyond the standard five productions in the Opera House. This June, as part of the American Opera Initiative, we present Approaching Ali, from composer DJ Sparr and librettists Mark Campbell and Davis Miller. This world premiere opera, based on the autobiographical novel The Tao of Muhammad Ali by Davis Miller, will be presented in the intimate Terrace Theater. When he was a boy in the early 1960s, Miller was galvanized by Muhammad Ali on television and inspired to overcome some traumatic childhood events. More than twenty years later, as a writer on the brink of middle age, Davis seeks to rekindle that spirit by visiting the Champ in person at his mother’s home in Louisville. The production will feature many of our superb singers from the Domingo-Cafrtiz Young Artist Program, in addition to guest artists. This is a chance to experience a world premiere in an intimate setting, before anyone else sees it. Please stay tuned for more new programming and innovations coming your way next year alongside your beloved repertoire and favorite singers.
These are just a few highlights of WNO events this spring–Diana Damrau makes her WNO debut with an evening of music accompanied by harpist Xavier de Maistre on April 8, Opera in the Outfield will bring us back to Nationals Park on May 18 for Show Boat, and by the end of the season we’ll also have a wonderful free preview concert for the 2013-2014 season as well as a dedicated concert for our young artists.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts and getting to know all of you better in the coming months.
See you at the opera!