Arts & Society
Catholic University Arts Dean Speaks at Cultural Power Breakfast
WNO Welcomes Francesca Zambello, Artistic Advisor
Gary Tischler • June 2, 2011
The momentous recent times of change at the Washington National Opera just saw another one or two big changes about to materialize.
First Mark Weinstein, the Executive Director of the WNO, left during the 2009-2010 season. Then Placido Domingo, the bread-and-butter star power of the WNO, announced his resignation, effective at the end of this season (but not, it should be added, without delivering an assured star turn in the spring production of “Iphigenie en Tauride”).
Then the WNO announced that the company would become an affiliate of the Kennedy Center, where it has performed almost always at the Opera House, barring periods of renovation.
Now the WNO announced that the dynamic and gifted opera and theater director Francesca Zambello would become its Artistic Advisor. That’s a few steps short of actually being the Artistic Director. For now she will be working with others, including the KC President Michael Kaiser, as well as WNO officials, including Michael L. Mael who was appointed Executive Director in May. He was previously the WNO’s Chief Operating Officer.
That might mean that there will be a bit of the old breath of fresh air and more contemporary and cutting edge works on the horizon with Zambello placed in a critical role.
Zambello, a very busy woman these days already, has always had eclectic and diverse ambitions and tastes—and she’s not shy about trying new things. These days, she is currently the Artistic and General Director of the Glimmerglass Festival, and she holds an Artistic Advisor role at the San Francisco Opera, where she is directing the “Ring Cycle” next month.
Doubtless, Wagner and the cycle may get a new life in the future, after plans had to be abandoned at the WNO in recent years.
Zambello, by her track record, is always seeking new challenges, and in fact provided some of the more contemporary work seen at the WNO, where she’s been a familiar figure ever since she directed “Of Mice and Men” in 2001. She’s tackled Wagner before here with “Das Reingold,” “Die Walkure” and “Siegfried,” as well as material as different as “Porgy and Bess,” “Billy Budd,” “Fidelio” and last year’s scintillating “Salome.”
Zambello has staged plays on Broadway, including the musical “The Littlest Mermaid,” and directed in venues as varied as the Sydney Festival, the Bregenz Festival, Disneyland, Berlin’s Theater des Westens, and Vienna’s Raimund Theater. She has also staged opera and theater productions at the Met, Teatro alla Scala, the Bolshoi, Covent Garden, the Munich Staatsoper, the Paris Opera, the New York City Opera, the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the English National Opera.
By the awards she’s received, you can get a pretty good picture of her eclecticism: she’s been awarded the Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French government as well as the Russian Federation’s Medal for Service to Culture. She has received three Olivier Awards, two Evening Standard Awards, two French Grand Prix des Critiques, the Helpmann Award and the Palme d’Or in Germany.
She was quoted in the Washington Post as saying that her role at the WNO would include: “Addressing how to make opera more a part of the city at large.”
“The Edward Albee Festival”
March 5 – April 24
With lots of events, plays, talks and side activities, and it’s all about Albee.
Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
February 25 – April 10
Perhaps the main event of the Albee Festival, the Steppenwolf Theater Company’s production of the acerbic drama stars Tracy Letts and May Morton as George and Martha.
Edward Albee’s “At Home at the Zoo”
February 25 – April 24
March 8 – 27
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
“The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs”
March 21 – April 10
Most intriguing prospect and title goes to this one-man show by solo performer Mike Daisy, wherein he discusses the stigma and the harrowing truths of the world’s most mysterious techie icon.
“BootyCandy,” written and directed by Robert O’Hara
May 30 – June 26
O’Hara, who just took home a Helen Hayes Award for “Antebellum,” will be turning out this kaleidoscope of sassy sex education, which discusses growing up gay and African American.
Georgetowner • May 17, 2011
Arena Stage will be producing John Grisham’s first novel adapted for the stage, “A Time To Kill,” the first theatrical adaptation of any Grisham work. After Carl Lee Hailey’s daughter falls victim to a horrific crime, her father takes the law into his own hands and ends up on trial for murder. An idealistic lawyer takes the case, but he’s up against a district attorney and faces a racially divided city. Tony Award-winning Rupert Holmes (The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Curtains) is the playwright in this play at Arena Stage through June 19. (ArenaStage.org)
Folger Theatre premieres Michael Hollinger’s new translation of Rostand’s classic play, “Cyrano,” through June 5. The now-familiar tale of the large-nosed Cyrano, famed for his panache, and the handsome but tongue-tied Christian, who conspire to win the heart of the beautiful Roxane, is given new life in this sensuous, precise adaptation. (Folger.edu/theatre)
Ford’s Theatre presents the world premiere of Liberty Smith through May 21, a madcap musical romp through Revolutionary America. The elusive Mr. Liberty Smith, childhood friend of George Washington, apprentice to Benjamin Franklin and link to Paul Revere’s remarkable ride, weaves his way through familiar tales of a young nation. Rife with melody and blazing with adventure, Liberty Smith recalls the lush heyday of the American musical. Experience the nation’s birth through the eyes of forgotten Founding Father, Liberty Smith. (FordsTheatre.org)
Washington National Opera
Washington National Opera brings us Iphigénie en Tauride, the story of Iphigénie, high priestess of Taurus, tormented by dreams of her family’s bloody past and intimations of violence in the future. Gluck’s masterpiece, with its sweeping score and dramatic story, is enjoying a renaissance at major opera houses around the world. This company premiere features a cast led by soprano Patricia Racette, “the consummate singing actress” (Chicago Tribune). Hailed as the “greatest operatic artist of modern time” (The Guardian), world-renowned tenor Plácido Domingo, in his last show at the company, sings Oreste, Iphigénie’s long-lost brother who is condemned to death. The opera runs through May 28. (DC-Opera.org)
“King Lear” at Synetic Theater
Gary Tischler • April 20, 2011
Can you get the full measure of Shakespeare’s “King Lear” without hearing Lear’s verbal rage against the Gods?
You bet you can—and without any of the words for that matter—in Synetic Theater’s “silent Shakespeare” series, now through April 24 at the Lansburgh and April 29 – May 9 at Synetic’s home base in Rosslyn.
This is a Lear with more than one fool, more than one clown, and one true mime who is the fool. This is the Paata Tsikurishvilli version of Lear, where all the characters wear painted faces, like some mad, violent circus troupe, damned and doomed to hell and gone. It’s also a full expression of just what’s made the troupe from Russia—head by Tsikurishvilli and his wife choreographer Irina—almost universally acclaimed by critics and rewarded almost routinely with Helen Hayes awards.
This production with its high, athletic and murderous energy, works almost like a bookend to the Bard’s “Lear” in the sense that it lays on the emotional content through movement, visceral visual vistas and the words that can seep out of and echo through silence. You’re reminded a little of Kurasawa’s “Ran,” a cinematic Japanese version of “Lear,” in which the last image is that of a blinded fool dancing on the edge of a cliff.
It doesn’t quite explain why Tsikurishvilli decided to make Cordelia a son instead of a daughter, and why Lear’s love and loss don’t quite get their full measure as a result.
Still, this production is an opportunity for DC city dwellers to catch the horrible, beautiful magic of Synetic, which is in a theatrical category by itself.
Enda Walsh and “The Walworth Farce”
New and fresh Irish playwright Enda Walsh is currently getting a full-blown festival exposure at the Studio Theater, with “Penelope,” his contemporary version of the story of Ulysses and his wife, having already been performed.
Now its “The Walworth Face” and “The New Electric Ballroom,” starring some of DC’s finest veteran actors and actresses, being performed simultaneously in the Milton and at the Mead theaters, respectively.
In “The Walworth Farce” you get to see Walsh’s work, his furious passion for words embedded. There’s something brazenly revolting, revolutionary and rash about this play, which builds from confusion to clarity and madness, while blasting away just about all traces of fondness for Irish sentimentality and tropes.
Here’s the trip: three Irish men living in London, a father and two sons, act out the recurring and changing history and farce of their lives in their disjointed up-high city flat. It’s a cross-dressing, sometimes dangerous, violent sorting out of their own history, of murder, death, displacement and identity, plus there’s a prize for best actor each time out. When the youngest son brings in an interloper, things go straight to the inevitable hell, with no pit stop for purgatory.
Ted Van Griethuysen shows again his gift for going from classical, Shakespeare and Shaw to the crude poetics of contemporary Irish plays. He’s a mad, sly, bully-boy ringmaster here. The acting, including Aubrey Deeker and Alex Morf as the sons, is superb all around, and the tensions and foreboding is electric.
“The New Electric Ballroom” stars Jennifer Mendenhall and Nancy Robinette as two Irish sisters lost in the memories of their small-town youth, trying to find the truth.
“The Color Purple” at the National Theater
This Oprah Winfrey-backed musical theater version of Alice Walker’s powerful novel packs more emotional punch than your everyday Broadway musical. The road company, now at the National Theater through April 24, talks and sings the story of Celie, a much put upon young black woman who rises above abuse, ignorance and suffering to become the cornerstone of life for many people. The film version, which starred Whoopee Goldberg, Danny Glover and Oprah Winfrey herself, was directed by Steve Spielberg with great intensity, if a little too much sentiment, and was nominated for 11 Oscars (but won none). The musical is a powerful surprise and moves with flair and power to tell an emotionally affecting story.
The Washington National Opera
Georgetowner • February 22, 2011
February 26 – March 19
“Iphigenie en Tauride”
May 6 – May 26
Placido Domingo himself, departing as head of the WNO at the conclusion of this season, will perform in this Greek tragedy, composed by Christoph William Gluck. Running for eight performances, Domingo sings alongside soprano Patricia Racette.
Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale”
For something lighter, try this classic comic opera starring renowned American bass-baritone James Morris.
Placido Domingo Celebrity Series
February 27 & March 12
Domingo’s lasting legacy, his vocal celebrity series, will this time feature tenor Juan Diego Florez, February 27, and Welsh Bass Baritone Bryn Terfel, March 12.
The Washington Ballet performed “Le Corsaire”
April 6 – 10
THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE photo gallery
Jeff Malet • October 29, 2010
The Washington Savoyards present THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE at the Atlas Performing Arts Center ( 1333 H Street, NE Washington DC), running through November 7, 2010.
The Washington Savoyards is the light opera company of Washington. It performs comic and light opera, operetta, and musical theatre. Remembering its roots as a Gilbert and Sullivan company, it mounts at least one of their popular light operas each season.
(All photos by Jeff Malet maletphoto.com) [gallery ids="99360,99377,99376,99375,99374,99373,99372,99371,99370,99369,99368,99367,99366,99365,99364,99363,99362,99361,99378" nav="thumbs"]
Gary Tischler • October 6, 2010
What can you say about “In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play)” the latest play by Sarah Ruhl, now at the Woolly Mammoth Theater?
Well, let’s try “aaarrrg”, “yiiiii” “ooohhhhh”, “a – a — a — o”, or “oooohmygddd” with lots of !!!!!!!!.
?Can’t be sure that we’re exactly there, but you are going to hear female and male characters doing symphonic variations loudly on the human soul, heart and other body parts straining for release, with the assistance of an apparently ancient but very effective prop if you go to “In the Next Room”. And you’re likely to feel almost as good as the aforementioned characters do, even without a vibrator.
?You may even think that you know where this play is going. Silly you: this is a Ruhl play, and the rule with Ruhl is that you’re going to get ambushed at every turn with reveries, lyrical side trips, and unexpected behavior by almost all of the characters. Mind you, you do end up where you might wish to have things end up, but the illustration of the climax — all right, conclusion—of the play is a delicious surprise, in the way an unexpected and perfect gift is.
?With Ruhl, you also get a lot to mull over; it’s always almost as if she’s thought through the implication, past, present and future, of every situation and line. Ruhl gets context. This is a play that takes place near the end of the 1900’s, when electricity has just been invented and marketed by Thomas Edison as the harbinger of a new age. ?
We’re in Northeast America somewhere, and Dr. Givings has electricity in his house, which fuels lamps and a dandy little device which he’s more or less invented. The good doctor uses this device — a primitive vibrator — on patients (mostly women) suffering from hysteria, a common malady in the Victorian age. With these corseted women and their sexual feelings, this is done to the point where they must have had trouble breathing.
?Mrs. Givings, a creative chatterbox whose emotional and physical needs haven’t come close to being met by her husband, has had a baby but can’t supply it with sufficient milk. The doctor is busy with patients like Mrs. Daldry, suffering painfully from the effects of too much light. She’s a bundle of nerves accompanied by her husband, a gruff, controlled man with an almost immediate eye for Mrs. Givings. Away, Mrs. Daldry goes into the next room, where Dr. Givings applies his, um, mechanism with the assistance of the implacable Nurse Annie.
?Sure enough, wonders occur after the first application, and even her rigid husband notices that her cheeks have attained a rosy tone, one he has never seen before. The implications of all this are lost on the good doctor himself, who doesn’t know he’s absented himself from his wife or that he’s giving his patients releases and pleasure, as opposed to eliciting a cure. “I ‘m a scientist and a doctor,” he says. “I’m doing good. My patients have to be sick for me to apply the cure.”
?Other things go on in the next room and in the living room, where the new electric lights flicker on and off like fireflies. Mrs. Givings and her husband have decided to hire a wet-nurse for the baby, a black woman whose last child died soon after birth. The artist Leo Irving shows a walking mood swing and personification of the artist who suffers for his art so openly, you want to slap him or seduce him. Mrs. Givings falls a little for the wild-eyed artist. Mrs. Givings insists that her husband apply the vibrator to her. “I have made a mistake,” he moans, for the first time behaving as if he’s paying attention. “This is not for healthy women.” Oh, but it is, it is.
?In some ways the plot is thick and complicated; it seems often like a really smart soap opera. But its real subjects are release, freedom, and yes, love, which are the guardian angels that hover above this play constantly.
?Over the course of the play — which is often inordinately and hilariously funny in a discomfiting way — you can see the future, and you can see how men and women are human beings of gender almost irredeemably separated by a common language, to paraphrase Shaw.
?Ruhl is of course almost something of a supernova among new playwrights — and she’s found a special home at Woolly Mammoth, where her remarkable “The Clean House” was produced five years ago. This play is her most accessible, which is a good thing by my thinking.
?At Woolly, they’ve assembled a terrific cast. None are better than Katie DeBuys as the hungry, seeking, bewitching and wanting to be bewitched Mrs. Givings, around whom everything swirls like a hurricane. She’s sharp, quick, touched to the quick, quirky, seductive, eager, angry, and totally worthy. Kimberly Gilbert as the game Mrs. Daldry adds another touching comedic role to her Woolly repertoire. It’s sometimes a mystery how Gilbert does it — she seems the best kind of actress, performing as if she doesn’t realize she’s in a play.
?Director Aaron Posner, with the critical help of set designer Daniel Conway and costume designer Helen Q. Huang, has created a world for the play to function in. Physically, it moves as fast as the words and recreates a lost world or rather reclaims it for our own times.
?Go see — and hear — what goes on “In the Next Room.” You’ll be enriched.
“In the Next Room” runs through Sept. 19. [gallery ids="99195,103359" nav="thumbs"]