Opera Sets 'Sophie's Choice' for '06

By Tim Page
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Washington National Opera will present the North American premiere of Nicholas Maw's "Sophie's Choice," based on the best-selling novel by William Styron, as part of the company's 2006-07 season, it was announced yesterday.

Another highlight will be General Director Placido Domingo's first company appearance in three years in a major role. The tenor will sing Siegmund in seven performances of Wagner's "Die Walkure," the second installment in an ongoing WNO staging of the composer's complete four-opera "Ring" cycle.

Other offerings will include Leos Janacek's "Jenufa"; a double bill of Bartok's "Bluebeard's Castle" and Puccini's "Gianni Schicchi," directed by filmmaker William Friedkin ("The Exorcist"); a new production of Verdi's "Macbeth" (to be part of a citywide "Shakespeare in Washington" festival); Donizetti's "La Fille du Regiment"; and a revival of the Polish director Mariusz Trelinski's 2001 production of Puccini's "Madama Butterfly."

The announcement was made as part of an online news conference, featuring participation from Domingo in Washington and from Maw and stage director David Alden (who will supervise "Jenufa") in Great Britain. Details are available at http://www.dc-opera.org .

"Sophie's Choice," a wrenching study of a Holocaust survivor, was a critical and popular success when first performed in London in 2002 by the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. The cast will include Angelika Kirschlager, Rod Gilfry, Gordon Gietz and Dale Duesing; Marin Alsop, the incoming music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, will conduct the WNO Orchestra and Chorus.

Domingo last appeared as Siegmund in "Die Walkure" during WNO's residency at DAR Constitution Hall in 2003, while the Kennedy Center Opera House was undergoing renovation. This will be a new production, directed by Francesca Zambello and conducted by WNO Music Director Heinz Fricke. Soprano Anja Kampe will repeat her much-admired performance of Sieglinde.

"Jenufa" marks WNO's first venture into the works of the Czech modernist composer Janacek since "The Cunning Little Vixen" in 1993. A strong cast is promised, one that includes sopranos Patricia Racette and Catherine Malfitano. Jiri Belohlavek, the incoming chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, who has made a specialty of Janacek's music, will conduct.

Opening night, Sept. 16, will be Friedkin's staging of the Bartok and Puccini one-acters. Bass Samuel Ramey will be featured in both operas; he will be joined by soprano Denyce Graves as Bluebeard's wife. It will run through Oct. 7.

WNO also announced the commencement of what it calls a "family opera" for summer 2006. The first offering will be the East Coast premiere of Stephen Mager and Elkhanah Pulitzer's "Dream of the Pacific," a one-act opera about the Lewis and Clark expedition that will be staged by the WNO Education and Training Center.

All operas will be sung in their original languages, with English supertitles projected above the stage. "Sophie's Choice" opens on Sept. 21 and will play six performances through Oct. 9. "Madama Butterfly" will run for eight performances between Nov. 4-19.

All of the operas presented in the spring of 2007 will have seven performances. "Die Walkure" runs March 24-April 17. "La Fille du Regiment," starring Stefania Bonfadelli and Jose Bros, runs March 31-April 15. "Jenufa" opens on May 5, running through May 24. The season will conclude with "Macbeth," which will star Lado Ataneli and Paoletta Marrocu; it runs May 12-June 2.

In a phone interview, Domingo said that he hoped to follow up last month's free simulcast of "Porgy and Bess" on the Mall with further free presentations. "I'd like to make that a tradition," he said. "Every year, if we can, we will pick one of our most popular operas and bring it to the city, the way it's done in London." No plans for this season have yet been set.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company