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Pleading the excuse that I am on book leave this month, I am a little slower than usual about reporting the latest news developments. But it is worth observing here that Heinz Fricke has, for health reasons, been compelled to pull out of all of his Washington National Opera commitments for the fall. Andreas Delfs (evidently Washington's go-to conductor for eleventh-hour cancellations) will replace him in "Ariadne auf Naxos," and Philippe Augin will conduct the concert performances of "Götterdämmerung."

To follow up on some of the comments about Monday's post about new music in Washington: I think it's a mistake to look for an active new music scene, in any city, to be completely represented by big institutions like the opera and the orchestra. Deplore it or not, the fact is that not many big companies can afford to show too much that's truly experimental, even though the NSO gave a laudable focus to the new in its CrossCurrents festival last spring. Nor is experimental/contemporary work always best showcased in the settings of the Kennedy Centers and Lincoln Centers of this world. Try, by contrast, a festival like DC's Sonic Circuits, which (even in the wake of funding cuts) has just announced its program, September 22-27. I'll post a reminder nearer the date.

By Anne Midgette  |  August 12, 2009; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  Washington , news , opera  
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Shouldn't Washington Opera think about a successor to Heinz Fricke? I say this as an admirer of the conductor whose role in improving the Washington Opera orchestra is undeniable. But even if he did not cancel, he would have conducted only one staged opera and one in concert. His appearances in the past seasons were, likewise, limited, and the orchestra does need a leader. Again, I regret having to say this...

Posted by: cicciofrancolando | August 12, 2009 10:04 AM | Report abuse

Good luck with your book.

“Deplore it or not, the fact is that not many big companies can afford to show too much that's truly experimental …” (Anne Midgette)

I think that this is only half true. For a generation, David Gockley led the distinguished Houston Grand Opera and commissioned Peter Sellars, Alice Goodman, and John Adams to write “Nixon in China,” which subsequently toured to the Kennedy Center. Mr. Gockley also commissioned the opera “Atlas” from New York-based experimental composer Meredith Monk, as well as at least a dozen and a half other new American operas over his tenure with the Houston Grand Opera. (Meredith Monk’s haunting opera “Quarry” played for a week at the Kennedy Center in the 1980s).

Now at the San Francisco Opera, Mr Gockley has recently commissioned the experimental civil war opera “Appomattox” from Philip Glass and Christopher Hampton, and “The Bonesetter’s Daughter” from Amy Tan and Stewart Wallace. The company has also been involved in such recent smaller, although equally important, productions as Rachael Portman’s “The Little Prince” and Jake Heggie’s “Three Decembers” (with mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade). And would not one call the San Francisco Opera’s highly successful productions, under Gockley’s predecessor Pamela Rosenberg, of Olivier Messiaen’s “Saint François d'Assise” and Gyorgy Ligeti’s “The Grand Macabre” off the beaten path?

And even now, the long conservative Metropolitan Opera company is staging more experimental productions such as Philip Glass’s “Satyagraha” and Shostakovich’s “The Nose,” as staged by South African experimental inter-media artist William Kentridge. (The Met has actually been staging more edgy productions since the 1990s, and the WNO has been veeeery slowly following in its footsteps with such productions as “Jenufa” and the “Ring.”)

As for concert music, the distinguished Library of Congress has survived the transition to the 21st century with mixed, although generally positive results, while orchestras such as the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the San Francisco Symphony, and the Berlin Philharmonic have shown that new concert music can be championed alongside beloved warhorses.

San Francisco and Berlin have been aided by superb public media strategies, something sorely lacking in unimaginative Washington, D.C (excepting perhaps the Millennium Stage). For example, all of the Berlin Philharmonic concerts this coming 2009-10 season will be streamed each week world-wide for just a little more than the cost of a movie (the Berlin Phil concerts would be the same price as movies, except for the weak dollar). The concerts mix the classics and the brand new:

Posted by: snaketime1 | August 12, 2009 10:41 AM | Report abuse

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