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Posted at 10:06 AM ET, 01/20/2011

Washington National Opera to merge with KenCen

By Anne Midgette

And now, the moment we've all been waiting for:

Kennedy Center to take over Washington National Opera, by Anne Midgette.

By Anne Midgette  | January 20, 2011; 10:06 AM ET
Categories:  Washington, news, opera  
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The use of the Kennedy Center's smaller theater could be a real plus. During Martin Feinstein's WNO (or WO, as it was then known) tenure, there were memorable performances in the Terrace Theatre, (e.g., "Turn of the Screw", "Postcard from Morocco", Offenbach's "Christopher Columbus", "Il barbiere di Siviglia").

The Family Theater didn't exist in those days, but this venue might work for small-scale operas, etc.

With the bicentennary of Wagner's birth in 2013, I hope we'll see more Wagner performed in the one or more of the "big houses". "Tannhauser" has never been performed at the Kennedy Center and the WNO hasn't produced "Lohengrin" in the years I've lived here. Either work could be performed in concert form, if need be (c.f. "Meeting Venus" and the very successful 2008 concert "Lohengrin" in Amsterdam).

And of course, there's "Der Ring"!

Posted by: JerryFloyd1 | January 20, 2011 2:15 PM | Report abuse

As a former employee of the company, I'm both saddened and hopeful about this move. The loss of independence for the company means decisions will be made in the best interest of the Kennedy Center first. We will have to see how that will impact the productions and the dynamics of administration and talent.

But if it's possible to finally remove the influence of the Domingo years and return the company to it's status as a gem of regional companies instead of the mediocre performance as a "national" company, I fully support the move. Washington, DC, despite the political influence and the associated wealth, is too transitory and government-centric an environment to support the lofty ambitions (and poor artistic decisions) of the company for the past decade. The struggle to support the less than realistic plans by Mr. Domingo and the board make arts professionals shake their head in disbelief and still hasn't elevated the prestige to something more than the equivalent of a gaudy social climber.

Other regional companies have been able to transform themselves from a regional company to something much more by smart, tempered decisions without sacrificing artistic vision. It's my fondest wish for the company to operate more to that ideal, which suits the character of the city and its patrons so much better. The company has such a rich history of interesting and notable performances and performers. If only there had been more discipline by the board and company when Mr. Domingo was brought on board, more individuals willing to say no to the odder choices by Mr. Domingo, I doubt the company would be in the state it is today. It's such a shame looking back that the company wasn't able to find a permanent home in the mid-1990s but perhaps this move will give some stability and firm direction to allow it to flourish once again.

Posted by: madclark | January 20, 2011 3:30 PM | Report abuse

As an attendee who has traveled from the West Coast for 10 years to watch select performances at WNO, the Met, LA Opera, Royal Opera, etc. I am now fortunate to be living locally and from this season can attend all WNO performances. Change is always good but I do hope that there are not too many changes. I hope we will continue to see the same first class operas and experience the top notch singers that Mr Domingo managed to attract and that he will continue to sing and conduct here as well. We always thought Mr Domingo tried to please everybody and looked out for everybody. There was always something in the season to satisfy the taste of a variety of people, not just a select group of people. It is a pity that he is not being kept in some kind on an honorary position to advise and help attract the top notch singers he is capable of attracting. The Kennedy Center is doing a great job of everything else so hopefully the opera will continue to flourish.

Posted by: news09 | January 21, 2011 1:39 PM | Report abuse

I have been going to the Washington Opera for some fifteen years. One thing I can say is, that during this time,the quality of the performances has grown - both vocal and orchestral. This I attribute to Domingo and Heinz Fricke.

An opera company in a city as important as Washington should not aspire to be a "regional" one. We already have a regional opera in this area - the visiting VA Opera - and smaller companies. The last years have given us challenging productions - who can forget the night of the two Siegfrieds? Or Peter Grimes? Or Boris Gudonuv with Samuel Raimey? Yes, there have been clunkers, but overall the opera is in a better place now. Just look at the company's programing over the past fifteen years, and you'll see some very interesting pieces and productions.

Ironically, as the WNO has been forced to become more conservative in its programing, I have cut back my ticket purchases. Should the company stick to the basics - the Toscas, Bohemes - I fear others may do the same.

One thing that should change, and I believe another commenter has pointed this out, is the twenty dollar parking fee for the evening. I avoid it by parking at the Watergate for half that. Twenty dollars to park of three or four hours is over the top.

Posted by: GRILLADES | January 22, 2011 6:59 PM | Report abuse

Since the subject changed to parking, I feel I have to defend the Kenned Center here. As an employee of the KC/NSO I wonder if anyone in the audience has ever been to a performance in another major city in the US. I really think people need to stop complaining about the parking fee! As someone who lived and performed in Boston, the parking rate TEN years ago when I was there was $25 near (you had to walk down the street, so it wasn't even that close!) Symphony Hall. I'm sure it's much more than that now. takes a lot to run a garage and $20 is cheap compared to a lot of other major cities on the east coast!

Posted by: fritzo | January 23, 2011 4:22 PM | Report abuse

Someone at the Park Service and IRS needs to take a closer look at this. Anne says "no longer will the company have to pay high rental costs for the opera house." Why does the non-profit Kennedy Center organization, as operator of the Park Service's building, charge less to its own performing organizations than to other non-profits for use of the facilities? As a public institution, everyone should be charged the same prices. And as an accounting practice, its own books should reflect the true cost of each performance rental - which is the fair market value others are charged. Or is the Kennedy Center driving up costs for other non profits, harming their finances and driving them out of business (the Master Chorale) or into the Kennedy Centers control (NSO, Washington Opera)?

Posted by: vanguard2 | January 23, 2011 9:20 PM | Report abuse

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