- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 10, 2001

Washington Opera Artistic Director Placido Domingo — having just conducted Giuseppe Verdi's "Un Ballo in Maschera" the previous night at New York's Metropolitan Opera — announced Thursday morning it would be among eight operas scheduled here next season.

At a press conference outlining the 2001-02 season, Mr. Domingo also announced a commitment of $5 million from Alberto Vilar to the company's forthcoming Young Artists Training Program, to begin as soon as staffing is complete. The sum is part of $8 million the New York philanthropist has donated to the company to date.

Mr. Vilar has given $3 million for the new season's initial production of Jacques Offenbach's "The Tales of Hoffmann" and Verdi's "Requiem," conducted here last month by Mr. Domingo.

As in the past, Mr. Domingo will appear in a starring role onstage and also as a conductor in the coming season. He will sing the featured role of Hermann in Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky's "The Queen of Spades" in May and June and conduct Georges Bizet's "Carmen," a revival of the company's 1995 production, during the same period.

"The Tales of Hoffmann," debuting Sept. 8, is a new co-production with Russia's Kirov Opera and the Los Angeles Opera. Marta Domingo, his wife, will be in charge of concept and direction for the work.

Washington's own Denyce Graves will be featured in "The Tales of Hoffmann," taking the part of Muse/Nicklausse. Theodora Hanslowe will assume the role Oct. 2 and 5.

Mr. Domingo also is artistic director of the Los Angeles company, which plans to present Richard Strauss' "Salome" in early April in a production by Sir Peter Hall.

"Of Mice and Men," an American opera by Carlisle Floyd, will have its Washington Opera premiere Oct. 20. It is a co-production with Austria's Bregenz Festival and the Houston Grand Opera. One week later, Giacomo Puccini's "Madama Butterfly," an audience favorite, will be imported from Poland's Teatr Wielki-Opera Narodowa. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's "Cosi Fan Tutte," from Chile's Teatro Municipal of Santiago, will open Sept. 13.

The season will have an earlier start than usual and take a respite from December through most of March. "Un Ballo" — from La Scala in Milan, Italy — begins March 30, 2002. "The Queen of Spades," which opens May 11, 2002, ends the season on June 8. (In previous years, the season began in October and ended in early April.)

All performances will take place in the Kennedy Center Opera House and will be given in the original language with English surtitles.

Among the many artists making their company debut are Julian Gavin, sharing the role of Hoffmann with Richard Leech; Joyce DiDonato in "Cosi Fan Tutte"; Michael Hendrick, Joseph Evans and Diane Alexander in "Of Mice and Men"; Dariusz Stachura and Andrey Breus in "Butterfly"; Sylvie Valayre and Rene Kollo in "Salome"; Elena Obrastzova in "Queen of Spades"; and Jennifer Larmore sharing the role of Carmen.

The opera's music director, Heinz Fricke, will conduct three of the repertory's eight works. Along with Mr. Domingo, other conductors with international reputations are Emmanuel Villaume, Marcello Viotti, Karen Keltner and Renato Palumbo.

Twelve artists scheduled to appear are winners or finalists of Operalia, the international vocal competition founded by Mr. Domingo.

"I think it is a very popular season," Mr. Domingo said. "It has a little bit of everything."

He also pointed out the difficulties for an opera company trying to maintain its financial health and offer an exciting and stimulating repertoire. The opera has been criticized by some for not offering as bold a repertoire as Mr. Domingo's Los Angeles company. "I'm not an alarmist who says the old times are better," he said. "There are just different needs."

Mr. Domingo said he hopes — "maybe in three years' time" — to be able to present Richard Wagner's "Ring" cycle but that planned renovations to the Opera House have put such aspirations on hold.

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