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New opera online: Wolf Trap Opera plunges into the stream

For a long time, John Corigliano’s opera “The Ghosts of Versailles” languished unperformed. Recently, though, it’s had several productions. And as of Tuesday, it’s online. The Wolf Trap Opera this week began streaming video of last summer’s production of the opera – a mark of its return to the repertoire, and the start of a new initiative for Wolf Trap that will involve the video dissemination of a number of its upcoming productions – including both operas in The Barns this summer.

The video (which you can find at allaccess.wolftrap.org or by simply searching it on YouTube) will be available for six months.

[‘Ghosts’ at Wolf Trap: An opera revisited, on a new scale]

“We didn’t want to do a live broadcast, because that would tax what we are able to do well,” said Kim Pensinger Witman, senior director of the Wolf Trap Opera and classical programming at Wolf Trap, by phone on Tuesday morning. “We’re not the Met. We wanted to have a chance to get the product into its best possible form before putting it out there.” And, she added, there are no plans to package the videos on DVD. “That’s a whole other step we are not taking.”

“Six months is wonderfully generous,” she added. “These are young artists. You want to showcase their best work right now. But the fact that it has an expiration date, and then you move on to the next project, is completely consistent with who we are.” The Wolf Trap Opera is designed to support young artists at the start of their professional careers — not to compete with mainstream opera companies.

[Wolf Trap Opera Company: The house that Kim built]

Part of the point is to help get a wider audience for some of the more unusual work the Wolf Trap Opera presents. Neither of next summer’s two operas, Britten’s “The Rape of Lucretia” or Gassmann’s “L’Opera Seria,” is widely available; there are a couple of versions of the Britten on DVD available on Amazon, and the Gassmann, which will be a US premiere, is not available there at all.

[From 2009: ‘The Rape of Lucretia’ at the Castleton Festival]

Wolf Trap will partner with WETA, a collaboration that already began with last summer’s second opera, “The Marriage of Figaro.” WETA will broadcast an audio recording of that opera as its Saturday opera showcase after the Metropolitan Opera season ends; it will air on May 14th. For future streaming projects, Wolf Trap will use WETA’s audio and its own video – one reason that there will be a delay of at least a few months between the performance and the availability online.

“We don’t have a video department,” Witman points out; she herself served as executive producer of “The Ghosts of Versailles.” Given that the fall is taken up with applications and auditions for the following summer’s operas, the staff has limited time to spend on video production for some time after the season ends.

Wolf Trap is funding the project itself, meaning that its costs will come under the heading of the general operating budget; there is no designated underwriter. Witman can’t comment on how much the project’s costs add to the budget beyond saying, “It’s proportional.” She adds, “It’s not the kind of thing where we’re going to throw all sorts of resources at this and jeopardize our main project.”

But “we hope and plan,” she said, “that this will be a significant part of our future.”

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