- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 10, 2004

At the National Press Club yesterday, Washington National Opera general director Placido Domingo announced the company’s upcoming 50th anniversary season, which will be performed at the Kennedy Center’s Opera House.

“I’m very excited about the season,” Mr. Domingo said. “It very much reflects the company’s adventurous past and the sophisticated audience that has developed here.”

Operas will include Giuseppe Verdi’s “I vespri siciliani” (“Sicilian Vespers”), Richard Wagner’s “Das Rheingold” (“The Rhine Gold”), Gaetano Donizetti’s “L’elisir d’amore” (“The Elixir of Love”), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “La clemenza di Tito” (“The Mercy of the Emperor Titus”), and Gioacchino Rossini’s “L’italiana in Algeri” (“The Italian in Algiers”).

Some of the stars who will grace the new season include Lado Ataneli, Olga Borodina, Franco Farina, Barbara Frittoli, Elizabeth Futral and Maria Guleghina. Conductors will include Riccardo Frizza, Wayne Marshall, Emmanuel Villaume and Mr. Domingo himself, who will conduct performances of “I vespri siciliani.” The company’s music director, Heinz Fricke, will conduct three productions.

From Oct. 29 through Nov. 19 of next year, the company also will be mounting its very first production of George Gershwin’s immortal “Porgy and Bess.” The opera has become an “admired ambassador of American music drama at most of the important European opera houses,” according to Mr. Domingo, who noted that “its music has become part of our cultural heritage and is beloved by millions around the world, [which] only attests to its greatness.” Stars include Indira Mahajan as Bess, Angela Simpson as Serena, and Gordon Hawkins as Porgy. Anticipating brisk ticket sales, the company has added extra performances of this work to its schedule.

Known since last year as the Washington National Opera, the company was originally founded in 1956 as the Opera Society of Washington by Day Thorpe, the music critic of the long-departed Washington Star. The company’s inaugural event consisted of two performances of Mozart’s “Abduction From the Seraglio” staged at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium early in 1957, using musicians borrowed from the National Symphony.

To help celebrate the company’s golden anniversary, Mr. Domingo has created a sort of virtual opera. He will sing five performances of three fully staged opera acts, including one act each from Umberto Giordano’s “Fedora” and Verdi’s “Otello.”

As for the third opera act, “let it remain a surprise for a short time longer,” said Mr. Domingo. These “triple bill” performances will be mounted between Sept. 24 and Oct. 9.

Spurred on, perhaps, by its spectacularly well-received “Die Walkure” last season, the company is also embarking upon its first complete “Ring” cycle with its performances of “Das Rheingold” (the first opera in the series.) “We hope to have completed the entire Ring Cycle before the end of this decade,” said Mr. Domingo, “and thus have put Washington on the international Ring Festival scene.”

Commencing in March of 2006, this production of “Das Rheingold” will boast new sets designed by Michael Yeargan. It will be conducted by the company’s music director Heinz Fricke, a noted Wagner expert, and directed by the acclaimed Francesca Zambello, who also will direct “Porgy.”

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