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Economy Puts Pinch On WNO's 'Ring'

Plácido Domingo, WNO's general director, said the
Plácido Domingo, WNO's general director, said the "Ring" will be postponed until "the financial climate becomes more positive." (By Neilson Barnard -- Getty Images)
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"We all recognize that ticket sales are softening, and we want to make sure we are addressing it on the front side rather than being in a place where we have to be reactive," said Chad Bauman, director of communications.

Financing for Arena's move into new space in 2010 does not appear to be in jeopardy. The theater has collected more than 80 percent of the $108 million pledged so far in the $125 million capital campaign, and the money is invested safely, Bauman said.

The Shakespeare Theatre Company is glad to be presenting comedies and well-known plays at a time like this, Artistic Director Michael Kahn said in a statement. Sales for the upcoming "Twelfth Night" are above projections, he said.

Fundraising, so far, has not sunk dramatically. "Like many arts institutions, we have seen some change in the level of donations, but at the same time, our annual gala just a few weeks ago was more successful than any others in our history," except for the celebratory opening of a new hall last fall, Kahn said.

The Washington National Opera also reports extremely strong fundraising and ticket sales. Postponing the "Ring" only demonstrates that it was impossible to raise extra money in the current climate.

Dubbed "The American Ring," Francesca Zambello's production frames the operas in an allegorical American setting, with Indians, gold prospectors and black slaves. Critics have been ambivalent about the staging, but Tim Page, in The Washington Post, raved about the singing in "Die Walküre," calling it "simply spectacular."

The cycle is a co-production with the San Francisco Opera, which plans to stage the entire cycle in 2011. It is unclear how Washington's postponement will affect San Francisco's plans. David Gockley, the company's general director, said through a spokesman that it was impossible to respond so quickly.

"We are truly sensitive to what the Washington National Opera is going through," said Jon Finck, the opera's director of communications, "because we are all in this. It is affecting everybody nationwide."

The postponement is not the first belt-tightening move WNO has made since Weinstein's arrival in February to oversee the business side of the operation. But Weinstein denies that it sends a negative message to the world.

"I think it sends out a message that we're being smart," he said.

As for potential sponsors, "I think this will reassure them that we are a smart company that responds to market conditions. People invest in us. They're not giving to a charity, they're investing in our future." The postponement, he said, indicates that "we're not wasting their money. We have a valid artistic vision, but we're prudent." And given the current state of the economy, "if we didn't react, you would have more concern."

But the savings will bring costs of its own. "Ring" cycles tend to draw international audiences; there are people who travel the globe to see a new "Ring." Ticket sales, said the WNO statement, were already "exceptionally strong" and "undoubtedly would have resulted in sold-out performances."

A "Ring" is also a statement of a company's artistic stature. In 2007, Zambello told The Post that "it's a great benchmark." She added, "This demonstrates that Washington National Opera is an international company on the level of many of the great companies of the world, and you wouldn't be if you didn't have your own 'Ring' cycle."

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