- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 8, 2005

Friday’s premiere of “Tosca” at the Kennedy Center was hardly your typical opening night at the opera: After praising all by name who had contributed to an enthusiastically received production, superstar tenor Placido Domingo, the Washington National Opera’s general director, called out the night’s historic winning score for the Wizards basketball team at the MCI Center across town.

Also, one of the evening’s three “celebrity supers” — silent walk-on supernumeraries of distinction — turned out to be Lorenzo Ascoli, a vocalist and guitarist with a rock ‘n’ roll band called Misspent Youth as well as a prominent banker who is on the opera board. He was disguised for the occasion as an archbishop.

And how often does the august Librarian of Congress James Billington appear anonymously onstage in a cardinal’s robes to lend his weight to a stirring first-act finale? The third in the ecclesiastical trio, Georgetown University professor Ricardo Ernst, made his stage debut as a deacon. (Wife Isabel Ernst is a board member, so perhaps one of the Billingtons may be signing up soon.)

The long hurrahs at the close of a performance conducted with flair by National Symphony Orchestra Music Director Leonard Slatkin were largely for the leads — hardworking tenor Salvatore Licitra, sopranoInes Salazar and baritone Juan Pons — but a lot of back-slapping at the celebratory dinner later in the atrium went to the three men whom Opera President Michael Sonnenreich had enticed to take part almost as a dare at a recent dinner party.

It’s something of a tradition to have local notables appear in crowd scenes in different guises. The difficulty this time was that none of the three could take part in a rehearsal at the same time. Mr. Billington, who called the experience like “entering my second childhood,” had done supernumerary work as a young man when the Metropolitan Opera came to Philadelphia during his high school days.

Mr. Ernst found his first-time experience “incredible. … The energy from behind the scene is … a contagious energy that goes out to the audience. My analogy is that this is like a puzzle. Somebody is putting the little pieces together to make a masterpiece.”

Mr. Ascoli called it “nerve-racking,” confessing, “I’m much less nervous” playing band gigs, which he went on to do in much less fancy clothes at Michael’s Pub in Columbia, Md., the following night.

—Ann Geracimos

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