|Kennedy Center, Washington.|
You can't quite blame a company for taking the proverbial cigarette break after serving up a big historic Ring cycle, and WNO's 2016-2017 line-up is definitely a less ambitious affair than the current season, though redeemed in part by attractive casting and an admirable focus on contemporary work.
We get two chestnuts to bookend the season, Marriage of Figaro and Butterfly, both of which WNO hasn't done since 2010-11. Figaro gets opening night, in a production "adapted" from this nondescript-looking Glimmerglass effort from a few years back. Casting keeps this one interesting, with two intriguing WNO debuts: Amanda Majeski's Countess and Lisette Oropesa as Susanna. Oropesa made a fine impression here several years back with Washington Concert Opera in Verdi rarity I Masnadieri but she is long overdue for time on the mainstage.
Butterfly closes the season out, in a production imported from SFO (as was the tasteful 2010 incarnation). This time, the production is designed by Jun Kaneko, responsible for the video-projection driven/primary color-laden Floot the other year; we'll see whether that's a good look for Butterfly. The lead is shared between one unknown and one very well known quantity: Albanian Ermonela Jaho, of whom I am completely ignorant, and longtime Met veteran Hei-Kyung Hong. Peenk-air-ton offers a contrast as well, with Brian Jagde's big hearty sound swapping nights with Dimitri Pittas' light elegant tenor. Auguin conducts.
Fille du Regiment fills the wild card Donizetti fluff slot--an opera seen at WNO only once before in the 06/07 season. WNO has procured a first-rate A-cast here, with Oropesa back again and Lawrence Brownlee taking the role of Tonio.
The most distinctive programming is reserved for two American works, representing WNO's contribution to the JFK centennial that is being used to unify a lot of activities across the KC next year: Jake Heggie's popular "Dead Man Walking" and "Champion" by jazz musician Terence Blanchard. WNO seems to be economizing to get two contemporary productions onstage, as the press release notes these shows will use "many of the same designers and scenic elements." Kate Lindsey, assuming the role of Sister Helen Prejean, is the standout casting here.
I was lukewarm on Heggie's Moby Dick but am excited for DMW, and certainly support WNO's efforts to highlight the most successful American works out there. As for "Champion," I'm not familiar with Blanchard's music, but props to WNO for foregoing a musical offering this year in favor of a second contemporary work. Rounding out the contemporary offerings will be the company's regular evening of 20 minute new works and an hour-long premiere by Mohammad Fairouz.
Will try to circle back to other aspects of the new season later this week...