WNO's A-Listers: Fleming, Bocelli, 'Siegfried'
2008-09 Season Includes Company Premieres of 'Borgia' and 'Peter Grimes'

By Anne Midgette
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 14, 2008

Ren¿e Fleming and Andrea Bocelli are coming to D.C.

Those to whom that is exciting news will find much to be enthused about in the Washington National Opera's 2008-09 season, which presents some familiar names in conventional repertory but also offers company premieres of Donizetti's "Lucrezia Borgia," Britten's "Peter Grimes" and, continuing its ongoing "American Ring" cycle by Francesca Zambello, Wagner's "Siegfried."

It is a sign of the times at the Washington National Opera that there is no news conference to mark today's announcement. For one thing, journalists are increasingly accustomed to getting information electronically. For another, the schedule of Pl¿cido Domingo, the company's general director, does not easily admit of extraneous appointments.

"I hope the public will share with me the excitement I feel when I think of the potential of what we planned," he said in a statement that was dictated to his European secretary in the middle of the night somewhere between engagements in England, Madrid and Milan's La Scala, where he is to start rehearsals for the title role in Alfano's "Cyrano de Bergerac."

Domingo has managed to transcend criticisms about his myriad ventures by emerging -- in a career twilight that bears the earmarks of a zenith -- as not merely an artist, but a phenomenon of nature. On the cusp of 67, he is still singing (respectably), conducting (gamely) and running two of the country's largest opera houses, in Washington and Los Angeles. There might be a certain sameness to his vision of what an opera house can be (both Los Angeles and Washington are offering "Carmen" and his wife's production of "La Traviata," with Elizabeth Futral, next season), but it is a viable take on the widely implemented formula of juxtaposing tried-and-true classics with new and ambitious projects, such as Wagner's "Ring" cycle at both houses. (After sitting out a season, the Washington National Opera is continuing the tetralogy in May; "Goetterdaemmerung" will follow as part of the complete cycle in November 2009.)

Moreover, Domingo's very presence probably does more to draw money and attention to his opera houses than would the round-the-clock, in-house efforts of many another administrator. So it seems ill-bred to point to cracks, or wonder whether Washington is getting quite as much of the maestro's limited attention as Los Angeles, where he has capitalized on the energy and money of the film industry to raise his operating budget from $20 million to $60 million, and where the next season is studded with Hollywood names, from Woody Allen's opera-directing debut with Puccini's "Gianni Schicchi" to a new opera by Howard Shore, directed by David Cronenberg: "The Fly."

The Washington National Opera, by contrast, has kept its budget at about $31 million, and is offering somewhat less flashy fare.

Although Fleming's "Borgia," her first appearance with the WNO, is news indeed, the soprano's forays into bel canto terrain have not been unqualified successes -- this is the role in which she was infamously booed at La Scala in 1998. Still, she remains one of the few sopranos with enough star quality to make mounting such a vehicle worth a company's while. And the supporting cast is excellent: the limpid tenor Giuseppe Filianoti and Kate Aldrich, a full-throated mezzo, will make company debuts, performing with Sondra Radvanovsky (who shares the title role with Fleming) and Ruggiero Raimondi. John Pascoe, a friend of Fleming's, directs and designs the production, as he did with this year's "Don Giovanni"; Domingo will conduct.

Most of the other productions have been seen elsewhere. They range from "Peter Grimes" -- one of the great operas of the 20th century, in the Santa Fe production by John Curran (one year after the Metropolitan Opera's new production of the work in March, with Patricia Racette and Christopher Ventris) -- to "Turandot" in Andrei Serban's 20-year-old production from Covent Garden. The latter features the very loud Russian soprano Maria Guleghina sharing the title role with Sylvie Valayre, and will be conducted by Keri-Lynn Wilson, wife of the Met's General Manager Peter Gelb, in her company debut.

The "Carmen," a late addition to the schedule, is also from Covent Garden; it is by Zambello, and stars that perennial Carmen, Denyce Graves. Bizet is a season focus; Washington will also see his "Pearl Fishers" in the brightly colored San Diego production designed by Zandra Rhodes.

Domingo said the company would also present a new American opera (to be revealed at a later date) with the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program.

He did not, in his statement, mention Bocelli, a pop star whose vocal technique is more adapted to the microphone than to concert performance, and whose long-standing wish to collaborate with Domingo is being rewarded with two concert performances of Rossini's "Petite Messe Solennelle."

Domingo is making time in his tight schedule, however, to conduct.

The 2008-09 season schedule:

"La Traviata": Sept. 13, 18, 21, 24, 27, 30; Oct. 2, 5.

"The Pearl Fishers": Sept. 20, 22, 25, 28; Oct. 1, 4, 7.

"Lucrezia Borgia": Nov. 1, 5, 7, 9, 11, 15, 17.

"Carmen": Nov. 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 19.

"Petite Messe Solennelle": Nov. 21, 22.

"Peter Grimes": March 21, 24, 26, 29; April 1, 4, 6.

"Siegfried": May 2, 5, 9, 14, 17.

"Turandot": May 16, 19, 21, 24, 27, 30; June 1, 4.

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