- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Somewhat earlier than usual, the Washington Opera has announced its 2004-2005 season. A mix of old favorites and new offerings, the new season highlights operas from many countries, “cornerstones of operatic style in Austria, Italy, France, Russia, Spain and England,” according to the company’s General Director Placido Domingo.

Next season’s playlist includes always-popular operas such as Mozart’s sparkling “Die Zauberflote” (“The Magic Flute”), Verdi’s reliable “Il Trovatore” (“The Troubadour”), Saint-Saens’ exotic “Samson et Dalila” and Puccini’s bloody-minded “Tosca.” New to the company, however, are productions of Umberto Giordano’s “Andrea Chenier,” Tchaikovsky’s rarely performed “The Maid of Orleans” and Benjamin Britten’s modernist masterpiece “Billy Budd,” which is based on Herman Melville’s short allegorical novel.

“Andrea Chenier,” a tale of revolution and terror, will open the season, appropriately, on September 11, 2004. In addition to comic and tragic fare, zarzuela, or Spanish light opera, returns after a long absence, with Mr. Domingo starringas the heroic Vical Hernando in a new production of Federico Torroba’s “Luisa Fernanda.”

Set in the revolutionary turmoil of 19th-century Spain, “Luisa” is a particular favorite of Mr. Domingo, who sang Hernando to great acclaim last season at La Scala. When Mr. Domingo was a young child, his father often performed the same role, while Mr. Domingo’s mother sang opposite him in the role of Luisa.

In a first under Mr. Domingo’s tenure, the company also will present the world premiere of Scott Wheeler’s “Democracy: An American Comedy,” which will be mounted by members of the company’s Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program. Not part of the company’s regular season, it is the Washington Opera’s first commissioned work since the company premiered Dominick Argento’s “The Dream of Valentino” in January 1994. With a libretto penned by Romulus Linney, “Democracy” is set in 1875 and pokes fun at 19th-century Washington politics. It is based on the novels of Henry Adams.

The Washington-born Mr. Wheeler’s works have been performed by the New York City Opera, the Chamber Music Society of London and many other companies.

At the helm of the Washington Opera Orchestra next season will be the company’s music director, Heinz Fricke; Richard Hickox; Evelino Pido; and Stefano Ranzani. They will be joined by maestro Domingo, who will conduct performances of “Andrea Chenier,” and the National Symphony Orchestra’s Leonard Slatkin, who will lead the ensemble in “Tosca.” Conductors for two operas — “Samson et Dalila” and “Luisa Fernanda” — have not yet been announced.

The new season will feature many world-renowned singers, including Mirella Freni, Olga Borodina, Marcello Giordani, Dwayne Croft, Alan Held, Carl Tanner, Sergei Leiferkus and Samuel Ramey.

In addition, Washington favorite and D.C. native mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves will make her first company appearance in three years singing the role of Azucena in “Il Trovatore.”

“We are fortunate that in our varied casting we have such international stars,” Mr. Domingo said.

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