The Young, the Old, and Dynamic Pricing: Washington National Opera’s 2016-2017 Season

The Washington National Opera which performs at the Kennedy Center has announced its 2016-2017 opera season and it has been reviewed by Washington Post music critic, Anne Midgette; she found the program “deliberately cautious,” offering too much that is familiar, unclear in its goals.  Here are the main attractions; judge for yourself:

  • The Marriage of Figaro by Amadeus Mozart, Sep 22 – Oct 2
  • The Daughter of the Regiment by Gaetano Donizetti, Nov 12 – 20
  • Dead Man Walking by Jake Heggie, Feb 25 – Mar 11
  • Champion by Terrence Blanchard, Mar 4 - 18
  • Madame Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini, May 6 – 21

Even if you are relatively new to opera, you probably have heard of Figaro and Butterfly. With a little more familiarity you likely know of Daughter.  These three are the classic, crowd pleasing selections, hopefully keeping WNO’s budget in the black selections.  You have to have more opera experience than I to know about Dead Man Walking or Champion.  These offerings are presumably born of a desire to offer newer and more Innovative opera.  Well done, that.  I still like Top Forty Opera (my term for the operas you hear over and over again on Met Opera radio), and admittedly with each production, each group of singers and crew adds their own stamp to make it interesting again, sort of like seeing another performance of Hamlet because Meryl Streep is playing Hamlet (I couldn’t think off hand of a male actor of equal stature, and who wouldn’t go see Streep play Hamlet?).  However, I admit my personal trend now is to get more excited about the newer stuff. 

So let's start with the newer stuff:

The story line of Dead Man Walking is taken from the book and movie of the same name.  A death row inmate is listened to and then befriended by nun Sister Helen who attempts to lead him to spiritual salvation before his execution, by all accounts a powerful and moving story.  The opera premiered in 2000 to acclaim.  Sister Helen will be played by Kate Lindsay, a young performer who has drawn much praise of late.  Susan Graham who starred in the premiere of this opera at the Met will also be a featured performer in the WNO production.  I am not familiar with the works of Jake Heggie.  This is the first of several operas and stage works he has composed; he is also known for his songs, choral works, and orchestral music.  The story seems to me to be an ideal one for opera and I look forward to seeing it. 

Different operas affect us each differently because each of us are different.  Champion is based on a real life event that affected me personally.  In 1962, as a teenage fan of boxing I watched on television the welterweight championship fight between Emile Griffith and Benny “Kid” Paret.  I was aware that there was enmity between the two, though I did not know the back story of Paret outing Griffith for being a homosexual.  In the 12th round of the fight, Paret was hit hard and stunned by Griffith. Unfortunately, when he fell back, the ropes caught him and held him up, defenseless.  Griffith continued to pound fierce punches to his head.  The referee did not intercede quickly enough.  Ten days later Paret died of brain injuries.  My interest in boxing died with him.  The focus of the opera is how this event affected Griffith in later years.  He is quoted as saying, "I kill a man and the world forgives me. I love a man and the world wants to kill me." The music for this production is described as a fusion of jazz and opera and I look forward to the new music, though watching it will be painful.

Just a few words about the classic operas:

I saw a fine Virginia Opera performance of The Marriage of Figaro a couple of years ago at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts.  The opera is a delightful comedy that is often recommended for opera newbies.  And you get the great Mozart music.  Much has been said about the role of Susanna in this opera; it will be interesting to see how the popular Lisette Oropesa plays her.  Amanda Majeski plays the Countess which she also played recently at the Met.  I have not seen a performance of Daughter, but I have listened to some of the opera on recordings and like the music; Oropesa stars here again.  I usually like Donizetti’s music with its bel canto style singing.  Rising star tenor Lawrence Brownlee performs lead tenor in this one; in one aria he will be required to hit nine high Cs, which I gather for tenors is like climbing Mt. Everest.  Madame Butterfly is one of my very favorite operas.  Wolf Trap Opera put on a fine performance at the Filene Center last summer.  The key to this opera for me is who plays Cio-Cio San.  My all-time favorite performer for this role is the super fabulous Renata Scotto (I am bowing and repeating I am not worthy) who no longer performs, but the recordings are a must listen.  Ermonela Jaho and Hei-Kyung Hong will alternate in this role for WNO.  I am not familiar with either, but both are established, highly-acclaimed performers.  The difficulty will be in choosing which one you go see (or you could do both).  And you get the gorgeous Puccini music.

Now to ticket information and dynamic pricing: 

Currently you can purchase subscriptions for these five operas at a 10% discount over single ticket prices; individual tickets are not on sale as yet.  Actually, it could prove to be more than a 10% discount.  The Kennedy Center uses dynamic pricing for its performances; that is, if demand is great, the seat you want could cost more, closer to the time of the performance.  I found this out the hard way in buying my tickets recently for the Ring Cycle.  The subscription prices for seats to the main operas vary depending on their seating location, ranging from around $1100 to $240; this covers a ticket for all five operas.  A big advantage of the subscription packages is the added feature of ticket exchange.  If later, you cannot make the performance that you have a ticket for, Kennedy Center will allow you to exchange your ticket for a different date of the same opera.  I bought one subscription package for 2016-2017 for myself.  My wife and son were not ready to commit to all the operas, but if we get tickets for them later, I can trade mine in for a seat next to them. 

WNO/Kennedy Center offers several other worthwhile related short operas/concerts/events for the 2016-2017 season.  One I will mention is "Justice at the Opera" with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which will deal with themes raised in Walking and Champion.  Purchasers of subscription packages have the option to also purchase now individual tickets to these events.  Be sure to check the schedule.