Washington National Opera, Virginia Opera launch new seasons

Deborah Voigt withdraws from WNO's Photo: Cade Martin

WASHINGTON, September 13, 2013 — The Washington National Opera (WNO) and the Virginia Opera both spring into action this month as their 2013-2014 seasons get underway.

WNO is first out the gate, opening its season at the Kennedy Center Opera House this coming Sunday afternoon with a matinee performance of Richard Wagner’s epic love story, “Tristan und Isolde.”

The company will continue its autumn stanza with performances of Giuseppe Verdi’s infrequently performance “La forza del destino” (“The Force of Destiny”), set to open at the Opera House on October 12. This opera’s opening night coincides almost to the day with the 200th anniversary of the composer’s birth, generally assumed to have occurred on October 9 or 10, 1813.

Soprano Adina Aaron will star in new, futuristic production of Verdi’s “Force of Destiny.” (Credit: Cade Martin)

Keeping with this year’s Verdi bicentennial, the Virginia Opera will launch its own new season on September 27 at Norfolk, Virginia’s Harrison Opera House with a performance of the Italian master’s late comic masterpiece, “Falstaff.” The production moves to Richmond’s Carpenter Center on October 4, and wraps up its run at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts in Fairfax City the weekend of October 11.

WNO: “Tristan und Isolde” and a major cast change

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WNO’s new production of “Tristan”—presented here for five performances only—will feature British tenor Ian Storey in the title role for the first four performances. Tenor Clifton Forbis will sing the role in the final performance on September 27.

Soprano Deborah Voigt, originally scheduled to sing the role of Isolde, withdrew from the production earlier this month, apparently for artistic reasons.

Soprano Irene Theorin replaces Deborah Voigt in four WNO performances of Richard Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde.” (Credit: Scott Suchman)

In a prepared statement, she observed that “Returning to a role that I love but haven’t sung in a number of seasons, and encountering its unique challenges, has caused me to reconsider keeping it in my repertoire. I’m very disappointed that I feel compelled to withdraw from this production,” she continued, “but am very happy to continue my association with WNO both this season and into the future.”

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WNO, in its own release, noted that Ms. Voigt will continue her affiliation with the company as the first Artist-in-Residence with the company’s Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program.

Replacing Ms. Voigt as Isolde for the initial four performances of the opera will be soprano Iréne Theorin. British soprano Alwyn Mellor, who will sing Isolde during its final performance here on September 27, made her debuts as Brünnhilde earlier this year at both the Paris National Opera and the Seattle Opera.

Ms. Theorin is already well known to WNO audiences, having sung the epic role of Brünnhilde in the company’s new production of “Siegfried” (2009) and in WNO’s concert presentation of “Götterdämmerung” that same year. A noted Wagnerian, she’s also sung Brünnhilde at the Met and has sung the role of Isolde four times at the famous Bayreuth Festival.

Australian Neil Armfield will direct these performances of “Tristan,” which were provided by Opera Australia. WNO’s music director, Philippe Auguin will lead WNO’s orchestral and vocal forces.

This current Wagner production, along with others yet to be announced, are being programmed as a prelude to the company’s presentation of its long-delayed complete “American Ring Cycle,” which has now been rescheduled to occur in 2016 as part of WNO’s 2015-2016 season under the stage direction of artistic director Francesca Zambello.

“The Force of Destiny” rides again

WNO will follow its production of “Tristan und Isolde” with a new “modernist” production—described by the company as “daring and visually striking”—of Verdi’s “La forza del destino” (“The Force of Destiny”), slated to open on October 12 in the Opera House. Not seen in DC for almost a quarter century, these performances will be conducted by Xian Zhang in her company debut, and the opera will be under the stage direction of Ms. Zambello.

The opera’s byzantine plot involves an ancient tale of romance and intrigue, pitting money, greed, and political power against love and honor—conflicts not alien to our own violent and complex times.

Set design by Peter J. Davison for WNO production of “Force of Destiny.”

Alternating in the key role of the opera’s heroine, Donna Leonora, will be exciting young sopranos Adina Aaron and Amber Wagner. Ms. Aaron is perhaps best known for her portrayal of Aïda in Franco Zeffirelli’s 2001 film version of one of Verdi’s most popular operas. Ms. Wagner recently appeared with the Met in yet another Verdi role, singing Amelia in that company’s new production of “Un ballo in maschera” (“A Masked Ball”).

Tenors Giancarlo Monsalve and Rafael Davila will alternate as the opera’s tragic hero Don Alvaro. Baritones Mark Delavan and Luca Salsi will share the role of Leonora’s villainous brother Don Carlo.

The new production’s promised “bold vision of a futuristic metropolis” was designed by Peter J. Davison, with costumes by Catherine Zuber and lighting by Mark McCullough.

Additional WNO productions

WNO’s fall press release also highlights additional productions upcoming in the current season:

“WNO’s 2013-2014 season also includes the East Coast premiere of Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s “Moby-Dick,” a revival of Donizetti’s “The Elixir of Love,” and a new English-language  production of Mozart’s classic “The Magic Flute.” A performance of The Magic Flute will be simulcast to Nationals Park in May as part of M&M’S® Opera in the Outfield.

“WNO will also present the world premiere of “The Lion, The Unicorn, and Me,” a holiday-themed family opera commissioned by WNO and written by acclaimed American composer Jeanine Tesori and librettist J.D. McClatchy.”

A second season of the American Opera Initiative will continue WNO’s efforts to commission new American works with performances in November and June. Trust us: if this year’s commissions are even half as interesting as last year’s, audiences willing to take a chance on new music by young—and still breathing—American composers will likely be amply rewarded for their efforts.

WNO fall season dates, times, and tickets

The five performances of Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde” open on Sunday, September 15, 2013 at 2 p.m. Remaining dates are September 18, 21, 24, and 27 and these performances all have an early curtain at 6:00 p.m.

WNO’s new production of Verdi’s “The Force of Destiny” opens on Saturday, October 12, 2013 at 7 p.m. and continues its run for seven additional performances: October 16, 18, 22, and 24 at 7:30 p.m.; October 20 at 2 p.m. (matinee); and October 26 at 7 p.m.

For tickets and information, including complete production details, casting information, and artist biographies, visit WNO’s section of the Kennedy Center’s website (www.kennedy-center.org) or call 202-467-4600 or 800-416-8500.

WNO outreach events

A recent WNO press release notes that the company “presents a free pre-performance education event prior to every performance in the Opera House. These Opera Insights are led by WNO artistic staff members or other experts and will take patrons inside the composer’s mind, behind the scenes of planning a production, and into the history and social context of the opera. These events will begin one hour prior to curtain and last approximately 20-25 minutes. (O-Zone lectures begin 75 minutes prior to curtain and last approximately 45 minutes.)”

Details on this and numerous additional educational and outreach events are available on WNO’s Kennedy Center web pages. If you’re an opera newbie, we advise taking advantage of these events to learn more about what you’re going to see and hear.

Virginia Opera’s “Falstaff”

Virginia’s “Official Opera Company,” whose HQ is located in Norfolk’s marvelous Harrison Opera House, opens there and then takes its productions on the road, with stops in Richmond and Fairfax City, just across the river from DC. This modest-sized company’s productions frequently surprise audiences in this area with their bright young singers and innovative productions.

Like WNO, Virginia Opera is also doing their Verdi thing this fall with a new production of “Falstaff,” directed by Steven Lawless. An added note: the company informs us that this opera is its first installment of its “First of Firsts” series, referring to its creation of “a new production to open each season of works never before produced on our stages.”

One of Russell Craig’s costume sketches for Virginia Opera’s upcoming production of Verdi’s comic opera Falstaff.

The company’s new “Falstaff” features baritone Stephen Powell in the title role of Shakespeare’s famously rotund and dissolute reprobate. As is this company’s custom, the Virginia Opera Orchestra is provided by the Virginia Symphony Orchestra, with these performances conducted by Joseph Rescigno.

Virginia Opera outreach

In one outreach program similar to WNO’s pre-opera talks, each performance will feature a free 30-minute pre-opera discussion by Virginia Opera’s Dr. Glenn “Dr. Opera” Winters whose comments are usually light, informative, and often funny and pack extra punch since he often demonstrates what he’s talking about as he speaks from the piano.

Tickets and information

Fairfax performances take place at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts, just down the road from the Patriot Center. An adjacent pay-parking garage is available, and plenty of free parking is located not far from the center in one of the student-faculty lots. Reasonable tickets range from $29 to $114 and are available at www.vaopera.org. Alternatively, Fairfax opera goers can call 888.945.2468 or visit cfa.gmu.edu/tickets.

Read more of Terry’s news and reviews at Curtain Up! in the Entertain Us neighborhood of the Washington Times Communities. For Terry’s investing and political insights, visit his Communities columns, The Prudent Man and Morning Market Maven, in Business.

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Terry Ponick

Now writing on investing, politics, music, movies and theater for the Washington Times Communities, Terry was formerly the longtime music and culture critic for the Washington Times print edition (1994-2009) before moving online with Communities in 2010.  



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