WNO's 2010-11 season to be filled with popular, less risky works

SALOME: Deborah Voigt makes her debut with the Washington National Opera in the title role.
SALOME: Deborah Voigt makes her debut with the Washington National Opera in the title role. (Joanne Savio/angel Records Via Bloomberg News)
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By Anne Midgette
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Washington National Opera announced in December that financial constraints would restrict the 2010-11 season to a mere five operas. On Monday, the company revealed, to no one's surprise, that those operas will be repertory staples that sell tickets: Verdi's "Un Ballo in Maschera," Donizetti's "Don Pasquale" and 14 performances of Puccini's "Madama Butterfly" (an opera that the company last did in 2006).

Deborah Voigt will make her company debut as Strauss's Salome. And the most unconventional opera on the roster has a cast member who will guarantee ticket sales: Gluck's "Iphigénie en Tauride," in its WNO premiere, will feature Plácido Domingo as Oreste, a role he first essayed at the Metropolitan Opera in 2007.

In short: As the company trims its budget from $32 million to $26.5 million, this is not a season for risk-taking.

"I have a list of pieces that we want to do, have talked about doing," said Christina Scheppelmann, the company's director of artistic operations, "and when we feel secure enough, we'll do it again. But caution is, I think, for everybody now the name of the game." And she admits that while the company would like to do a contemporary or American piece, "they don't sell as well. It's a matter of fact."

There is one innovation: The new Plácido Domingo Celebrity Series of concerts will present super-tenor Juan Diego Flórez in February and the Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel in his first WNO appearance in March, with Domingo conducting.

Other significant artists include Salvatore Licitra as King Gustavus III in "Ballo" (which will be broadcast live at Nationals Stadium on opening night), Patricia Racette in the title role of "Iphigénie," Catherine Naglestad and Ana María Martínez sharing the title role of "Butterfly" (Philippe Auguin, so successful at the helm of "Götterdämmerung" this fall, conducts), and James Morris making his company debut as Don Pasquale. WNO Music Director Heinz Fricke, absent for all of 2009-10 after quadruple bypass surgery, will return to lead "Salome."

"We have to protect ourselves with really popular work," said Domingo, the company's general director, speaking by phone from New York before conducting the premiere of "Stiffelio" at the Metropolitan Opera on Monday. He added, "The only way to fix the budget is to cut quantity. We refuse to cut quality."

"We have to have faith and hope," he also said, "that everything comes back to normal."

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