Congratulations to WNO Artistic Director Francesca Zambello for her election into the Class of 2018 of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. This prestigious honor recognizes exceptional scholars, leaders, artists, and innovators, and engages them in sharing knowledge and addressing challenges facing the world. The Academy dedicates itself to “new knowledge” and their projects and publications generate ideas and offer recommendations to advance the public good in the arts, citizenship, education, energy, government, the humanities, international relations, science, and more.
This spring, the Kennedy Center celebrates Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday with a production of Candide, a work with contributions from a veritable gallery of 20th-century masters. In anticipation of this epic theatrical event, you can learn more about the creators of Candide—and the novella and events that inspired them—by exploring some of the recommendations below.
Voltaire’s satirical novella traces the journey of young Candide as he attempts to reconcile his tutor’s philosophy of optimism with the hardship of earthly existence. The Norton Critical Edition of Candide, edited by Nicholas Cronk, includes extensive footnotes for the novella’s many references, as well as a series of essays offering background and criticism. Read more
By Dramaturg Kelley Rourke
Watchmaker, harp teacher, playwright, spy—Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais (pictured) was something of a general factotum himself. Today operagoers know him as the man who gave us Figaro (and friends) in a trilogy of plays. Le Barbier de Séville (“The Barber of Seville”), the first, is a light-hearted comedy in which two young people, inspired by love, conspire against those who would prevent them from being together. In the second, La Folle Journée, ou Le Mariage de Figaro (“The Crazy Day, or The Marriage of Figaro”), the high-spirited conspirators of Barber have lost their common cause—and are in danger of losing their youthful affection and regard for one another. This play has more of a political edge, which is even more pronounced in the work that follows: L’Autre Tartuffe, ou La Mère Coupable (“The Other Tartuffe, or The Guilty Mother”).
By Dramaturg Kelley Rourke
When Gioachino Rossini (pictured) brought forth The Barber of Seville in 1816, a few days shy of his 24th birthday, it was an audacious act, since Giovanni Paisiello’s 1782 setting of the same play by Beaumarchais, with a libretto by Giuseppe Petrosellini, still enjoyed widespread popularity. The older work had played in Vienna, Prague, Paris, London, Madrid, Barcelona, New Orleans, Stockholm, and in cities across Italy through the early years of the 19th century, and even held the distinction of being the first opera performed in Italian in Mexico (1806).
In February 2018, WNO Artistic Director Francesca Zambello directs Leonard Bernstein’s classic musical in a production staged for the unique experience of the Concert Hall, with a full cast of more than 20 dazzling performers including members of WNO’s Domingo-Cafritz Young Artists. NSO Principal Pops Conductor Steven Reineke leads the National Symphony Orchestra in the performance.
Today, it seems incredible that Leonard Bernstein could have written West Side Story, an up-to-the-minute commentary on gang warfare in New York City, concurrently with Candide an operetta based on political satire by Voltaire. Yet both pieces, in their way, struggle with timeless ideals that are at the heart of the American project: the idea that we are all created equal, and with a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
The human struggle to honor these ideals plays out in both pieces. In West Side Story, discord between native-born Americans and recent immigrants leads to tragedy, but its most famous song is an anthem of true optimism, a belief in a world – “Somewhere” – where each person has a place, each person has a home. Later this spring, at Washington National Opera, Candide will ultimately offer a similar message of hope, a message wrapped in a challenge to “Make Our Garden Grow.”
BravO is D.C.’s premier young professional arts-lover program, welcoming those who are interested in opera to connect with one another, WNO, and the productions. Each year, led by the BravO council, this group attends designated, discounted BravO nights at the Opera, networking happy hours, and a variety of other social events that focus on the work on our stages. The council functions much like a Junior Board and is made up of extremely dedicated individuals who meet monthly to make strategic plans for the future of BravO, and more importantly the next generation of Opera fans.
This fall we are thrilled to welcome two new council members, Mattia D’Affuso and Alyssa O’Connor! Read more
For this season’s showcase of the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artists, WNO presents a staged performance of Mozart’s timeless drama Don Giovanni featuring engaging set and costume design elements–with the WNO Orchestra conducted by Michael Christie and direction by WNO Artistic Director Francesca Zambello. Join us for the performance on March 17 in the Opera House.
There was a time when people used the term “Don Juan” to refer to a kind of charming rogue. Today, we see nothing charming about a man who won’t take no for an answer. How do we approach a character like Don Giovanni in 2017?
No one was giving workshops on consent when Mozart and Da Ponte wrote Don Giovanni, but that doesn’t mean the creators of the opera condoned Giovanni’s actions. The complete title of the opera is Il dissoluto punito, ossia il Don Giovanni (“The debauched punished, or Don Giovanni”). This is an opera about a bad guy who gets what he deserves.
It’s true that we can get overly comfortable with some of the great, standard operas. We bask in Mozart’s beautiful melodies, we compare interpretations, we marvel at modern stagecraft. But I don’t think that’s what the creators ever intended for this piece. We should be disturbed by the events that unfold. This is a drama with serious consequences.
I’ve directed Don Giovanni many times, but I don’t think I have ever chosen to make it so clear that the opening scene between Don Giovanni and Donna Anna is an attempted rape. I have always struggled with it, as there is textual uncertainty in the libretto, but this time I made a conscious choice with the artists. It really seemed so clear to me, directing this piece immediately after Dead Man Walking, which begins with a violent rape. I want the audience to understand from the beginning what kind of man we are dealing with.
So why spend an evening with these characters? Why put a man like Don Giovanni at the center of an opera?
Look, if you’re going to the opera to find characters to model your behavior after, you might want to reconsider. That said, I do think the great operas teach us a lot about life. I think that’s especially true of the three operas that Mozart and Da Ponte wrote together (the other two being The Marriage of Figaro and Così fan tutte). Those two didn’t just give us good guys and bad guys—they gave us an array of complicated human beings.
We opened our season with The Marriage of Figaro. The Count is a character who has some things in common with Giovanni. But everyone in that opera has some less-than-enlightened moments—as do we all. In Figaro, the Count eventually finds redemption when he admits his wrongs and asks forgiveness. It is one of the most moving moments in all of opera. Giovanni, on the other hand, refuses the Commedatore’s call for repentance. Again, it is interesting for me to consider themes that resonate across our season. In Dead Man Walking, Sister Helen pours all of her energy into getting De Rocher to confess and confront his crimes before he dies, which he ultimately does.
I believe we go to the theater to hold up a mirror to our own lives. Maybe a piece like Don Giovanni can help us recognize moments, hopefully at a less significant scale, when our desires become more important than other people’s feelings; when we enable a predator; when we are tempted to stray from a relationship; when we fail to comprehend the depth of a friend’s suffering; when we behave like victims. And with any luck, we’ll be able recognize our own failings before we get to the point where we, like Don Giovanni, are pulled down to hell.
What can you tell us about this production?
Mozart and Da Ponte’s opera is so character-driven, the words and music—in the hands of great performers—are practically enough to create the world. We are keeping it simple in terms of staging so that the focus can be on the complex psychology.
It has been a joyous and fulfilling process to work on this piece with our amazing Domingo-Cafritz Young Artists. They have really dug into their roles, and I have had a blast working on the characters with them. I cannot say enough about this group of singers. Not only am I looking forward to their WNO performances, I am looking forward to watching their interpretations of these fascinating characters evolve as they go forth to continue their careers around the world.
From the playbill for The Daughter of the Regiment
by Kelley Rourke, WNO Dramaturg
Much of the humor and suspense of Donizetti’s The Daughter of the Regiment concerns the title character’s lack of “feminine” influence. Can a young girl brought up on the battlefield ever take her place in polite society?
For some legendary women warriors, the call to military service crowded out any other desire. Joan of Arc took a vow of chastity as a teenager and successfully petitioned against an arranged marriage. When she was captured and tried, the charges against her ranged from heresy to dressing like a man. Joan is perhaps the most notorious—but far from the only—cross-dressing patriot. In our country, Deborah Sampson served for three years in the Revolutionary War under the name “Robert Shirtliffe,” and once cut a musket ball out of her own thigh to avoid having her deceit discovered by a doctor.
Mezzo-soprano. Sister Helen Prejean in Dead Man Walking.
Originally from Virginia, Kate is a graduate of Indiana University, and was a student of the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program at the Metropolitan Opera. Since entering the program, Kate has performed over 80 times at the Met.
This performance marks Kate’s WNO debut.
Acclaimed performances include Zerlina in Don Giovanni, Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro, Wellgunde in The Ring, and Hansel in Hansel and Gretel.
A notable moment: In 2012, Kate was featured in Vogue magazine alongside fellow opera singers Susanna Phillips and Isabel Leonard. In the feature, they discuss what it means to be an opera singer in the modern world.