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September 1, 2010

Heinz Fricke retires as music director of Washington National Opera after 18 years

Heinz Fricke, widely credited with major artistic strides during his tenure as music director of Washington National Opera, has retired from that position after 18 years.

The German-born Fricke achieved notable success in the works of Mozart, Wagner and Strauss, but he was a versatile, sensitive musician with a broad repertoire. In declining health for some time, he had to cancel several performances in recent seasons. He was expected to return to the podium for WNO's "Salome" production next month and the company had planned to  announce his retirement plans then, but word came last June that he would not be able to make it.

Fricke will hold the title of music director emeritus of both WNO and the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestras.

Placido Domingo, WNO's general director, said

in a statement that Fricke "took a group of dedicated and gifted musicians and shaped them into a world-class opera orchestra befitting the nation’s capital. As Washington National Opera grew, Maestro Fricke ensured that the quality of music-making grew as well."

Greg Drone, principal horn player and chair of the orchestra committee, credited Fricke with raising the orchestra "to a level that was unimaginable before his arrival ... Having selected more than two-thirds of the orchestra’s musicians, his legacy will continue for years."

A new music director for Washington National Opera is expected during the company's 2010-11 season, which opens next week with Verdi's "A Masked Ball."

Here are some snippets from WNO's production of "Elektra" that Fricke conducted in 2008:

Posted by Tim Smith at 12:27 PM | | Comments (0)

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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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