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New year, new season

So it begins. The start of the new year brings with it the start of a wave of new season announcements that will continue for several weeks and months to come, letting eager classical-music lovers know what's in store for them in the fall.

The conventions surrounding such announcements have become slightly risible. In classical music, things are booked so far in advance that the performances being announced now have been set in stone for some time. A group of bloggers has predicted, or leaked, the Metropolitan Opera's future seasons, extending up through 2013-14 (hypothetically, of course). Similar speculation about the Washington National Opera would be difficult only because of last-minute changes as the company cuts back on its 2010-11 season (to be announced mid-month).
(read more after the jump)

The mainstream press, however, is not supposed to know anything about this. In the week before New Year's, I received not one but two announcements of upcoming seasons, from the Spoleto Festival and the Seattle Opera, both embargoed until January 3 (Sunday being, as we all know, a hot day for breaking news). I confess this gave me pause. I had to wonder, first, how much any reader, even in Spoleto and Seattle, is waiting for this information, and, second, why it matters what day it is released to them. Does it make a difference whether the public finds out on Thursday or on Sunday that Seattle, next summer, is offering Tristan und Isolde with Annalena Person and Clifton Forbis, or that Spoleto's opera offerings are the first-ever opera performed in the American colonies, Flora (an English ballad-opera), a marionette production of Haydn's puppet opera Philemon and Baucis, and the American premiere of Wolfgang Rihm's Proserpina? (The contemporary "Music in Time" series also continues, and Emmanuel Villaume, the festival's gifted music director, is leading two orchestral concerts.)

In the age of new media, and at a time when it's important to get word about our field out to as many people as possible, the whole idea of embargoes is getting ridiculous. It only feeds into a game, popular on the internet, in which bloggers publish a piece of news as soon as they hear it rumored, and then mock the mainstream media for not coming out with it until several days later. I'm all for transparency. The Santa Fe Opera, for instance, released details of its 2010 season months ago, and appears to have survived.

As for the 2010-11 season in DC: stay tuned. For a while.

By Anne Midgette  |  January 4, 2010; 6:10 AM ET
Categories:  opera , random musings  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: The way it was in Washington
Next: States of music


The Washington National Opera’s upcoming season announcement is expected on January 12, 2010.

If Placido Domingo does not announce an American opera as part of the new WNO 2010-2011 season (the Washington Opera promised the American Congress that it would perform one American opera every season if it were allowed to change its name to the Washington NATIONAL Opera; and Mr Domingo, upon becoming General Director, has repeatedly reaffirmed this commitment in public statements including those made in the Washington NATIONAL Opera magazine), then I believe that steps should be taken to carefully replace Mr Domingo with an internationally respected artist such as Thomas Hampson, who has proactively demonstrated an artistic, administrative, and scholarly commitment to American classical music, American opera, and American civilization.

A musical artist of Thomas Hampson’s international stature – and an individual easily worthy of both a Kennedy Center Gala Honor and a U.S. Presidential Medal for the Arts – should surely be able to raise from the American people and American business (as well as Congress, if need be) the financial resources for the Washington NATIONAL Opera to meet it promise to Congress and to the American people to produce one American opera every season.



(I wish that Katharine Meyer Graham – who passed away just before the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City, Washington, and Pennsylvania -- were still with us to – through her great newspaper and its editorial board – encourage the development of a viable and great world-class national opera company here in the Nation’s Capital.)

Posted by: snaketime1 | January 4, 2010 10:03 AM | Report abuse

Snaketime1, the nationalisation calls are getting tiresome. It ain't gonna happen. As it is, the organisation is barely afloat when it performs the warhorses. Peter Grimes barely sold in DC, so I'm not optimistic about any new-ish works in the 10-11 season. Ariadne barely sold!

That said, I love the idea of Hampson having some kind of role in DC. I don't know about his administrative prowess (haven't we learnt our lesson about appointing singers hoping that they can fundraise and balance the books?) but he's certainly an excellent musician and could charm the pants off anyone to write a check. Though I would only want a singer as Artistic Director if they could devote 100% of their time to the DC Opera. I don't know that Hampson, who also has his foundation, would be interested in that.

In an ideal world, the opera would have an AD of someone like Hampson with an excellent GD to raise money, and an excellent Administrator (which, happily, DC Opera already has).

Posted by: ianw2 | January 4, 2010 10:24 AM | Report abuse

Those of us with a constant intense interest in the field see the "leaks."

But a large number of ticket buyers do sincerely like music yet don't follow the scene all the time. To get them into the concert halls, there's no such thing as reporting on upcoming events too many times.

And let's keep our flesh and bones fingers crossed that those marionettes aren't wooden actors.

Posted by: ScottRose | January 4, 2010 11:49 AM | Report abuse

I'm seconding ianw2's comment- the calls for nationalization, though well-intentioned, are growing increasingly tiresome. The notion of a nationalized opera is contrary to the vast majority of Americans and would only serve to increase the belief that opera is an elitist art that can only sustain itself when propped up by the rich. If you do some careful research of nationalized opera in Europe, you'll find that ticket sales are getting increasingly worse and that even European governments are finding the prospect of funding the artform untenable. Both Germany and Italy, the "bastions" of operatic funding, have been gradually decreasing their subsidies along with increasing governmental control over opera. As a result, smaller companies are having to learn how to fundraise in country's that don't have the charitable background of the US. As it is in the US, we are struggling- struggling -politically to get any arts funding at all. Argue all you like that that's not the way it "should" be... that's the way it is and American opera companies need to learn to cope.

Before railing on the lack of commitment to American opera at the WNO, you might consider the realities of funding. Though ticket sales don't count for everything (after all, they only account for only 40% of the budget), ticket sales make a huge difference to donors... Most individual donors are more willing to support operas that they perceive as popular. Operas that they already enjoy and can, frankly, show off to their friends as 'spectacles.' D.C. doesn't have the same artistic economy as NYC... most of the Met's funding comes from corporate and foundation funding. At the WNO, the majority comes from individuals like Jane Cafritz and Ken Feinberg. Without these individuals, some of the most interesting productions in the last few years, like Jenufa or Gotterdämmerung, simply wouldn't have happened.

What the WNO lacks is strong leadership... Somebody with an artistic vision and the stubborness to work it through at all levels. Domingo has done a world of good for the company, simply by raising it's profile. However, his artistic decisions are spastic with no perceivable goal beyond 'I think this singer would be good in this opera' or 'I want to bring in this person and they'll only come for this opera.' While these decisions led to a few awesome productions, they are short-term only. Domingo does not have the time to cultivate donors in a significant fashion, and the rest of the advancement staff at the WNO does not have the power. As such, the above suggestion of Thomas Hampson seems incredibly misguided... the WNO needs a General Director who has not only artistic vision and commitment to American opera, but the time and the conviction to implement it. A still-performing opera singer is not that person.

Posted by: dagneyandleo | January 4, 2010 2:45 PM | Report abuse

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