- The Washington Times - Friday, January 25, 2002

The sounds of "Aida" will be coming to DAR Constitution Hall next year.

The Washington Opera will relocate to the historic hall at 311 18th St. NW while the Kennedy Center Opera House undergoes renovation, opera officials said yesterday.

Verdi's "Aida," which opens Feb. 22, 2003, begins the move, which was discussed yesterday at a press conference Artistic Director Placido Domingo led to announce the opera's 2002-03 season.

Mozart's "Don Giovanni," which opens March 29, 2003, and which Mr. Domingo will conduct, and Beethoven's "Fidelio," the season finale, also will be performed there.

All three are new productions and will employ imaginative staging techniques, such as cinematic projections and adventurous lighting. The results, in Mr. Domingo's words, "will be opera unlike anything Washington has seen before."

The move to the historic hall involves a rearrangement of audience seating, the installation of a gently angled thrust stage extending out into the auditorium and perhaps most radical of all putting the orchestra at the back of the stage behind the singers because the hall lacks an orchestra pit. The work will reduce the number of seats from 3,700 to 2,900.

An acoustically transparent scrim will separate the orchestra and stage and sometimes act as a scenic element. Conductors and singers also will view each other on monitors, which Mr. Domingo says are commonly used in opera.

A similar arrangement was tried several years ago when the San Francisco Opera had to find temporary quarters. Washington Opera's new artistic administator, Christina Scheppelmann, who was introduced at yesterday's press conference, worked on that project.

The opera will spend $2 million to renovate the hall and move back to the Kennedy Center Opera House in spring 2004. It has retained Jaffe Holden Acoustics to improve acoustics at Constitution Hall.

The first four of this season's seven productions will be staged at the Kennedy Center, beginning Sept. 14 with a new production of Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor," directed by actress-director Marthe Keller and featuring soprano Elizabeth Futral.

The other operas are Puccini's "La Boheme" (opening Sept. 21), Samuel Barber's "Vanessa" (Oct. 19) and Mozart's "Idomeneo" (Nov. 2), with Mr. Domingo in the title role.

Another highlight of the season will be the Washington Opera debut of Dame Kiri Te Kanawa in the title role of "Vanessa," singing the part she created in the opera's 1958 world premiere.

Asked what permanent lessons might come from experiencing a new venue, Mr. Domingo spoke enthusiastically about a future in which the company might do 10 productions each season, "eight here and two there who knows?"

"We are really striving towards our 50th [season]. The reason I have been called here is for that. If we weren't growing more, there is no reason for me to stay," he said.

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