- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 2, 2001

With the flourish of a sword, Artistic Director Placido Domingo cut a gold ribbon yesterday to dedicate the Washington Opera's new 52,000-square-foot studio in Takoma Park.
"This is a happy day," the renowned tenor said.
Adding to the atmosphere were sounds of company members rehearsing "Of Mice and Men," which opens Oct. 20 at the Kennedy Center Opera House. They were working in one of three rehearsal halls at the studio.
The studio, which opened in August, brings together the opera company's rehearsal space, costume operations and education outreach. The company rehearses all its productions there until moving to the Kennedy Center for the final week before a show.
Mr. Domingo pointed out the role of downtown developer Doug Jemal and his Douglas Development Corp. in giving birth to the studio. Mr. Jemal is leasing the space to the opera company for 15 years. He had been a rival with the opera company in trying to buy the former Woodward & Lothrop building at 11th and F streets NW in the Metro Center area.
The opera won out and got the building in 1996 for $18 million at a bankruptcy auction with donated funds from board Chairwoman Betty Brown Casey.
It later decided renovations would be too costly and sold the building in 1999 to Mr. Jemal for $28.2 million.
"Our new opera house didn't happen, but it started a series of connections that brought us here," Mr. Domingo said.
He also acknowledged the generosity of Washington Opera trustee Adrienne Mars and her husband, John, in helping develop the studio at 6925 Willow St. NW.
Executive Director Walter Arnheim, in noting the short time it had taken to overhaul the space for the opera studio, said, "Down the hall six months ago was a workshop and over there a chocolate factory."
"We're no longer nomads," commented Costume Director Marsha LeBeouf during the ceremony. Previously, the costume and prop operations were housed in Alexandria while rehearsals were held at the Kennedy Center. "Now, they can just pull people out of rehearsals for fittings," publicist Jennifer Crier Johnston said.
The studio contains 5,000 square feet on the first floor for a costume "morgue." (The rest of the studio's total space is on the third floor of the building, which houses other uses.) The morgue contains thousands of costumes with labels, denoting such things as the productions for which they are used. Shoes, hats and every other item are labeled and computerized. The opera rents out costumes and props to other companies.
The costume operation also has a dye room, laundry room and costume craft room for making jewelry, among other things.
According to the opera company, more than 48,000 costume pieces, such as gowns, shirts, capes, hats and wigs, are stored on the premises.
Constituting the heart of the studio are three 5,000-square-foot rehearsal rooms, each as large as or larger than the rehearsal rooms that were used at the Kennedy Center. Also available are coaching rooms for musical preparation, a music library and company offices.
The studio also provides room for the new Vilar Young Artist Program, the company's summer Opera Camp for Kids and planned after-school classes.
Color photographs of opera singers decorate the halls of the studio, and a lounge with comfortable chairs and a sofa provides space for relaxation.
"We love having this wonderful place to work in," Mr. Domingo said.

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