- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Kennedy Center’s 2009-10 season, announced Tuesday, is full of celebrations, commissions and celebrities. It is a full slate of arts programming without a single cut, which Michael M. Kaiser, the center’s president, calls “miraculous in this economic environment.”

Mr. Kaiser declared: “Our theater season is chockablock next year,” and it is not an understatement. “Nights at the Opera” highlights three plays by four-time Tony Award winner Terrence McNally: “Master Class” and “The Lisbon Traviata,” both inspired by diva Maria Callas, and a newly commissioned work, “Golden Age.”

Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire” brings Academy Award winner Cate Blanchett to the city with actress Liv Ullman, who will direct. Broadway hits “August: Osage County,” “Young Frankenstein” and “Mary Poppins” also will grace Kennedy Center stages, as will longtime Kennedy Center Honors producer George Stevens Jr.’s one-man play “Thurgood,” starring Laurence Fishburne as Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

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The center’s overflowing schedule comes after many other arts institutions have scaled back their seasons. The Metropolitan Opera, for example, canceled a planned revival of John Corigliano’s “The Ghosts of Versailles.”

“Unfortunately, arts organizations’ first instinct is cutting programming and marketing because they feel very discretionary and you can leave the whole organization intact,” Mr. Kaiser told The Washington Times. “The problem is, we’re competing more now for resources rather than less because there’s less money out there. So if you’re competing more, you don’t want to compete by doing more boring work or less work.”

Instead, the institution has made cuts at the back of the house. Eliminating coffee for the staff, for example, saved $30,000. “I believe that when you start cutting programming, then you cut the reason people support you,” Mr. Kaiser says, adding that contributions have been “scary” but ticket sales are doing well. “I think in a recession, people turn to entertainment more rather than less. They may go to dinner less, but they go to movies and shows more.”

He says arts groups should think big - and so the Mariinsky Opera will return to the Opera House for a week, including two fully staged performances of Prokofiev’s “War and Peace.” “This production has more than 200 people onstage and will be a technical nightmare,” Mr. Kaiser deadpanned. It’s part of a two-year “Focus on Russia.”

Mr. Kaiser says “it’s a really important time to be doing interesting work and not just doing the same thing over and over again.”

The National Symphony Orchestra will see some new music and faces along with mainstays such as cellist Yo-Yo Ma and pianists Lang Lang and Jean-Yves Thibaudet. One of America’s greatest contemporary composers finally makes his NSO debut with the two-week program “John Adams: Perspectives.” Mr. Adams spent two weeks at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in 2007.

The NSO also will premiere a piano concerto by Jennifer Higdon, while pianist Evgeny Kissin will make his NSO debut at the opening-night ball Sept. 26.

Other highlights include “Gospel Across America”; the International VSA Arts Festival, the largest-ever showcase of artists with disabilities, staged during the 10th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act; and an 80th-birthday celebration of Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim. (Handel, Haydn and Mendelssohn, all celebrating important anniversaries this year, get short shrift, however.)

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