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July 30, 2010

Report suggests Washington National Opera will be folded into Kennedy Center

A Wall Street Journal article indicates that an intriguing scenario is being explored in D.C. -- the absorption of the Washington National Opera into the Kennedy Center, along the lines the National Symphony Orchestra followed some years back.

Gee, this could make Ken Cen prez Michael Kaiser King of the (Washington Art) World. I have no prob with that, by the way.

It would, presumably, also mean that Placido Domingo would depart as general director of the opera company, something that might be greeted with great enthusiasm in some corners but great dismay and disappointment in others.

WNO has a rental agreement with the center that

expires in 2013, so this is, obviously, a good time for everyone to be exploring options. 

I can see the benefits for WNO, a welcome taste of financial security. Recent budgets have been balanced, but nagging debt remains. Federal funding gives the center a solid base, and Kaiser's track record for raising private and corporate money has been re-enforcing it.

I can also see plenty of ruffled feathers, staff changes (and layoffs), tricky diplomacy and lots and lots of questions. But something about this idea makes sense to me, at least on first glance. It will be fascinating to see what happens.


Posted by Tim Smith at 11:25 AM | | Comments (10)


Good riddance.

And what will happen when Michael Kaiser leaves Kennedy Center?

I know some people have a problem with Placido but he does attract top singers to WNO and huge donors who will probably stop donating once he has left since they make no secret that they donate because he is general director. I do think he has been blamed unfairly for the financial problems in a really tough world financial crisis and has not been given credit for all the money he contributes himself to WNO and guaranteed income he generates.

This "intriguing scenario" is rather a catastrophic scenario, since it would definitively mean a HUGE quality drop for the opera shown here in Washington. Does anyone remember the times before Mr. Domingo arrived? Does anyone think about the fact that Mr. Kaiser may be a fine administrator but has very limited connections to the opera world? Does anyone reflect about what wonderful times we are in having Plácido in town while other opera companies (think Baltimore) folded? Do you really want that happening in DC??

I remember hearing many good things about opera in DC prior to Domingo's arrival--but I was not in the area personally, so I cannot vouch for the in-house quality of performances. It wasn't Domingo alone that made the Washington into a respectable regional house, despite his many talents. He's a phenomenally intelligent man, but a great singer and great brain don't always make someone a great GM. WNO and LA opera should thank their lucky stars that Domingo (despite shortcomings) is as good as he is in so many categories, because many other singers couldn't do what he's done managerially, while still performing.

In short, opera existed in DC before Domingo, it will exist after Domingo. The sad fact is that the Baltimore/DC region could no longer support two companies performing grand opera in terms of money, or artistic quality/integrity. I'd rather hear the crops of up-and-comers at AVA in Philly, then go down to DC to hopefully catch A-listers, then to Wolftrap some festival action.

The anonymous poster, recalling the apocalyptic scenario of a PDless Washington Opera, ignores the fact that Domingo inherited a very healthy company in splendid shape financially, and with as many international names as PD has brought. Mefistofele with Ramey, new productions of Elektra and Turandot with Marton still in her prime, new production of Carmen for Denyce Graves are just a few. Oh, and Domingo regularly sang with the company before becoming General Director. Unfortunately, by misunderstanding the nature of the company (a producing company that underwrote itself through rentals and a conservative fiscal policy that realized that DC does not have a large corporate base that can underwrite the arts), Domingo has gone one a wild spending orgy that the city could not and would not sustain, all based an arrogant belief in his own inviolability. By handing over a good company to the wrong person, Christine Hunter (the former board president) managed to destroy what was very carefully built up over decades. Shame, Placido.

You know there was a guy named George London that somehow managed to put on some great opera before Placido.

And have you looked at the casts for next season. Quick, who are Alexey Dolgov and Thiago Arancam? Never heard of them? Me neither - but they are singing Pinkerton next season. Ok, what about Antonio Gandia and Alexey Kudrya - big stars right? A-listers? Yeah, right. But they are next season's Ernestos in Don Pasquale.
I have no doubt the Baltimore-Washington area can support two opera companies - if they are run for the benefit of the public and not for the General Manager's prestige or as a showcase for the General Director's proteges.

Many of Domingo's "proteges" have become really good singers, Mike. They don't all hit the jackpot, but at least he bothers having "proteges" and helping young singers. Because it's Domingo, that's somehow a bad thing, but any other opera singer having "proteges" would of course be lauded.

Of course I'm sure many of you here could run the opera better, if only you'd find the time from all the internet bitching and yelling "shame" that you do.

In true forum fashion: +1 to Stephanie's comment!

Placido Domingo is a very smart and human person, an icredible artist, and I believe he's done a lot for WNO. He is nice to everyone, and artists are happy to come singing here.
I think WNO will miss Maestro Domingo!
And... anyway... Thiago Arancam is a great young singer. He won 3 prizes at Operalia, has a wonderful warm lirico spinto voice.
I heard his terrific Don Jose at WNO in 2008 and I'm thrilled to see he's coming again in DC. He's also performing in Philadelphia (Tosca) and San Francisco (Carmen) in 2011!!!
I'm going to love this Butterfly!!!

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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