Kennedy Center announces 2012-2013 season

Arts feast ranges from jazz, to Lang Lang, to 'Show Boat,' to 'Nordic Cool 2013.' Photo: Daniel Schwartz

WASHINGTON, March 7, 2012 — The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts announced its upcoming 2012–2013 season programming at a press conference yesterday in the Center’s Family Theater. Highlights of this 42nd season, as described by the Center’s President, Michael Kaiser, include innovative and unusual happenings in classical music, dance, jazz, and theater.

These annual season announcement events are generally well-scripted, genteel affairs. But this year’s event broke the mold as Mr. Kaiser announced an upcoming theatrical production of War Horse. Based on Michael Morpurgo’s eponymous novel and originating at the National Theatre of Great Britain, War Horse (now also an Academy Award nominated film) is the tale of a seemingly magical horse drafted into cavalry duty during the First World War.

As Mr. Kaiser was speaking, the War Horse itself—actually, a life-sized mechanical puppet—burst through the side door and went through its paces. This unexpected bit of hilarity, not to mention the “horse’s” realistic behavior and Mr. Kaiser’s reaction, added considerable spice to the morning event (See video below). It didn’t hurt the PR effort for this production either, as this production will be brought to life with a series of lifelike, life-sized puppets created by South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company.

Next season promises to be broad, deep, and frequently innovative. Select highlights from the season include the following:

Washington National Opera

Under its new Kennedy Center umbrella, WNO will flex its artistic muscles a bit more next season, upping its currently short season to six operas and continuing its popular recital series.

Perhaps next season’s biggest news is the company’s new co-production of Show Boat. It’s become increasingly obvious in recent years that at least a few of America’s classic “Broadway Shows” are really American opera. It’s at least part of the reason why productions of Porgy and Bess and, lately, Sweeney Todd have been finding their way into America’s operatic repertoire at long last.

With today’s traveling editions of classic show like South Pacific increasingly relying on synthesized music and over-amped vocals, it’s WNO’s intention of producing Show Boat the way it was originally presented—with a full pit orchestra and un-amplified voices. The Kern and Hammerstein classic will be presented in the Kennedy Center’s Opera House and will be directed by WNO’s artistic advisor Francesca Zambello.

Other operas on tap next season will include Gaetano Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, featuring soprano Sondra Radvanovsky; Giacomo Puccini’s Manon Lescaut, which will return DC fave soprano Patricia Racette to the KenCen in her debut performance of this opera’s title role; Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma, featuring soprano Angela Meade in her WNO debut; and a revival of the company’s 2007 production of Don Giovanni, starring bass Ildar Abdrazakov and soprano Barbara Frittoli. Don Giovanni will also be broadcast live next season at Washington Nationals Park as part of the company’s continuing “Opera in the Outfield” program.

Oh, and where’s that sixth opera? WNO is reviving family programming next season by presenting a production of Engelbert Humperdinck’s classic Hansel and Gretel in the Terrace Theater to coincide with the December holiday season. Judging from Virginia Opera’s highly successful presentation of the opera this season at GMU’s Center for the Arts, WNO’s production promises to draw a good crowd to this sometimes overlooked but astonishingly entertaining and tuneful Romantic opera.

WNO’s ongoing Celebrity Concert Series will feature fully staged concert performances by baritone Nathan Gunn and soprano Diana Damrau, while Angela Meade will present a more up-close-and-personal recital in the Terrace.

National Symphony Orchestra

A major highlight of the National Symphony Orchestra’s 2012–2013 season will be the week long residency of China’s piano phenom Lang Lang, long a friend of NSO music director Christoph Eschenbach.

Other notable artists guesting with the orchestra next season include Juja Wang, Alisa Weilerstein, Jeremy Denk, Emanuel Ax, Christoph von Dohnányi, Anne Sofie von Otter, and popular pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet.

Additional season highlights will include performances of Bruckner’s massive Symphony No. 7; Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis; Bartók’s “Piano Concerto No. 2; Sebelius’ Symphonies No. 6 and 7; and an evening of Schubert’s exquisite art songs. Composer-conductor John Adams will also appear, conducting performances of Respighi’s “Fountains of Rome,” Ravel’s jazzy “Concerto in G major,” and Adams’ own “City Noir.”

Running in the background of the upcoming NSO season will be the ongoing replacement of the Concert Hall’s aging pipe organ with a magnificent new instrument. We plan to follow this complex process extensively in the coming months.

Chamber Music

In addition to its Fortas Chamber Music Series, The Kennedy Center Chamber Players, Millennium Stage offerings, the Center will also present other popular performing artists including the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio, Dawn Upshaw, Anonymous 4, and Midori.


The Center’s growing ballet offerings next season will build on local offerings augmented by frequent appearances by well-known guest companies. Visitor highlights include an appearance by the National Ballet of Canada which will present Christopher Wheeldon’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland;” and appearances by the American Ballet Theatre, the New York City Ballet, the San Francisco Ballet, Ballet West, and Russia’s Mariinsky Ballet. The Center is also continuing its “Ballet Across America” series, which will bring nine regional companies here for the 2012–2013 season, including the Washington Ballet.


The Kennedy Center is pumping new life into its longtime jazz season, courtesy of its new artistic advisor Jason Moran who promises to spice up the series’ traditional offerings with appearances by up-and-coming new jazz artists. Highlights will include a “Fats Waller Dance Party;” an “Election Night Jam” with Mr. Moran and The Bandwagon on November 6; and a multimedia extravaganza entitled “The New Orleans Bingo! Show” featuring a return of the venerable Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival will also continue it popular annual run.


The KenCen’s 2012-13 theater offerings promise to be one of the most interesting seasons in recent memory. In addition to War Horse, likely hits will include collaboration with Ireland’s famed Druid Theatre that brings the work of playwright Tom Murphy to DC; a production of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas during the holidays; and a new Center production of Fernec Molnár’s classic The Guardsman, with a new adaptation by Richard Nelson and direction by Gregory Mosher.

Also likely to cause a stir—whomever wins the Presidential election this fall—will be the Tony Award-winning musical The Book of Mormon, penned by South Park’s masters of mayhem Trey Parker and Matt Stone along with Robert Lopez.

In addition, in conjunction with the center’s “Nordic Cool 2013” festival, the National Theatre of Oslo will present its production of Henrik Ibsen’s The Wild Duck, and Stockholm’s Royal Dramatic Theatre will present the U.S. premiere of the stage version of Ingmar Bergman’s film Fanny and Alexander.


Returning to its popular, nationality-themed cultural festival traditions, the Kennedy Center will be presenting “Nordic Cool 2013” from February 19–March 17, 2013. Encompassing selected evenings of music, theater, and dance during the ongoing season, the festival will be augmented by a number of specially scheduled stagings featuring the art and culture of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden, with an additional nod to Greenland and the Faroe and Åland Islands. Participating performing arts companies will include the National Theatre of Norway; the Royal Dramatic Theatre and Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra from Sweden; the Tampere Workers Theatre and Tero Saarinen Company from Finland; the Danish Dance Theatre and Teatret Gruppe 38 from Denmark; and the Vesterport theater of Iceland. The Center’s café will also feature Nordic-themed cuisine during the festival.

For a complete rundown on next season’s offerings, visit the Kennedy Center’s main website here.

Patrons 30 and under and active-duty members of the military can join the Kennedy Center’s MyTix program to get special discount offers and other benefits.
For more info, visit the KenCen’s MyTix page here. (MyTix is part of the Rubenstein Arts Access Program.)


Read more of Terry’s news and reviews at Curtain Up! in the Entertain Us neighborhood of the Washington. For Terry’s investing insights, visit his Communities column, The Prudent Man in Politics.

Follow Terry on Twitter @terryp17




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Terry Ponick

Now writing on investing, politics, music, and theater for the Washington Times Communities, Terry was the longtime music and culture critic for the Washington Times (1994-2009). 

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