ENTERTAINMENT

Washington National Opera set to stage "Ring" cycle

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WASHINGTON (AP) - Washington National Opera, which recently merged with the Kennedy Center after struggling financially for years, announced an ambitious long-term agenda Tuesday, including plans to stage Wagner's complete "Ring" cycle in 2016.

The Opera recently merged with the Kennedy Center. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The company's five-year plan is capped by the commitment to present all four episodes of the "American Ring" 10 years after the company spent considerable time and money developing the production but couldn't complete the endeavor. When funds ran short in Washington, it was left to the San Francisco Opera to complete the cycle.

The "American Ring" draws on settings from U.S. history to explore Wagner's greed, ambition and betrayal.

"It was always intended and inspired by Washington," said Francesca Zambello, the director of the cycle and the Washington opera's new artistic adviser. "We will also have a lot of new cast members for here who audiences will have never seen, so there will be a chance to see something that has grown and evolved and morphed, which is often what happens with 'Ring' cycles. They develop like fine wines over time."

Casting and fundraising can begin in advance for the production, which will add $10 million to the budget for the 2016 season.

A year ago, the Kennedy Center agreed to take over business, fundraising and marketing operations of the Washington National Opera to ensure its survival after several years of money troubles. Placido Domingo, who served as the opera's general director for years, left the company last year.

The new arrangement with the Kennedy Center "has given us the possibility to think with more confidence into future seasons," said Christina Scheppelmann, the company's director of artistic operations.

The company is creating a New American Works project as a commissioning program for young composers and librettists to develop new American operas. Scheppelmann said it will be the first major post-conservatory training program to develop new operas.

"There are the conservatories. They work there, they study there, they leave, and then what?" she said. "We cannot expect the composer to then turn around and then write the next masterpiece for a main-stage three-hour opera."

The program begins next season with three student teams charged with creating new 20-minute operas based on contemporary American stories. The new operas eventually will be presented at the Kennedy Center's 500-seat Terrace Theater.

Advanced stages of the program will commission a new one-hour opera each year and full-length opera on an American theme.

The opera company also is planning a new tradition of presenting holiday operas each year to present programs nearly all year long on various stages.

"These kind of projects are what define us," Zambello said. "This really allows us to make a bold statement and hold up a banner of who we are."

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