- The Washington Times - Monday, November 3, 2008

Opera Honors

While costumed revelers took over the streets of Penn Quarter on Halloween night, pageantry of a different sort was celebrated nearby in Sidney Harman Hall. The National Endowment for the Arts gave out its four inaugural NEA Opera Honors. The new artistic award is the first authorized by Congress in 25 years.

Opera America and NEA co-produced and the Washington National Opera served as host company for the event, which paid tribute to luminaries in a field that, as WNO General Director Placido Domingo noted earlier, is still quite young in this country.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg started the proceedings, which were attended by opera notables including soprano Kathleen Battle, on a political note: “Opera gains scant support from the government of this country.”

Metropolitan Opera Music Director James Levine was expected but apparently was feeling under the weather. There is no American conductor more associated with opera. He has conducted the work of many American composers, including Carlisle Floyd, who also was honored Friday night. Mr. Floyd recalls having his first triumph, “Susannah,” performed at Berlin’s Deutsche Oper. It was in English, of course, and he says, “I could not help but feel that it was fair play.”

Another honoree, Richard Gaddes, a British-born impresario who recently retired as general director of the Santa Fe Opera, was gracious in his remarks, but it was a comment by someone about the charming man in the video tribute that got the biggest laugh from the crowd, filled with donors (though tickets were free to the public): “People have a very good time when Richard is asking them for money.”

Susan Graham hosted alone after actress Sarah Jessica Parker pulled out a week before the event; sadly, she didn’t sing. The mezzo-soprano was one of the highlights of the Met’s transcendent “Don Giovanni” this season. There were plenty of other performances, though, mostly given by current and former members of the WNO’s Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program. The WNO orchestra overwhelmed the singers in scenes from Verdi’s “Falstaff” and Mr. Floyd’s “Susannah” but had found a balance by the time it got to an ensemble piece from Mozart’s “Le nozze di Figaro.”

Soprano Sondra Radvanovsky was glorious in “Song to the Moon” from Dvorak’s “Rusalka.” It was sung as a love song to honoree Leontyne Price. NEA Chairman Dana Gioia declared that Miss Price’s soprano voice has “never been surpassed.”

Resplendent in a black sequin dress and matching turban, Miss Price brought tears when she explained in her video tribute why the role of Aida was so important to her: “She was a princess. Never a slave.” If there was a dry eye after that, it wasn’t for long. When Miss Price accepted her honor, she said she would say thanks the only way she knew how - with a song. The 81-year-old singer, who retired from the opera stage in 1985 and from recitals in 1997, sang a rousing “America the Beautiful,” reaching the final high note with a perfection that simply brought the house down.

- Kelly Jane Torrance

Back in action

Patrick Swayze is filming again, less than a year after being given a grim diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. He described chemotherapy as “hell on wheels” but said work had kept him feeling positive, Reuters news agency reports.

Mr. Swayze, 56, is best known for his dance-instructor role in the movie “Dirty Dancing.” He underwent months of chemotherapy and an experimental drug treatment to beat one of the most virulent forms of cancer, which experts say has only a 5 percent five-year survival rate.

In and out

• Former “One Day at a Time” television star Mackenzie Phillips pleaded guilty Friday in Los Angeles to cocaine possession and was ordered into another drug rehab program. Miss Phillips, 48, thanked police for arresting her at Los Angeles International Airport in August, saying during the court hearing, “They saved my life.”

• Country singer Mindy McCready, 32, was released from the Williamson County Jail in Tennessee on Friday after serving about 30 days for violating probation on a 2004 drug charge, Associated Press reports. She had to serve only about half of her 60-day sentence because of credits she received for good behavior and doing janitorial work in the jail.

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