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Subject: WNO ends FIGARO run with a youthful Young Artists Cast that conquers (10-1-16)
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Date:Sat, 8 Oct 2016 18:57:21 +0000

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While the Le Nozze di Figaro run at Washington National Opera eneded last Sunday, on Saturday night, Oct 1, the main cast got a break and our Young Artists got a chance to shine. 
Featuring current and former Domingo-Cafritz Young Artists: 
Countess: Raquel González 
Susanna: Ariana Wehr 
Count Almaviva: Hunter Enoch 
Figaro: Andrew Bogard 
Cherubino: Allegra De Vita 
Marcellina: Daryl Freedman 
Dr. Bartolo: Timothy J. Bruno 
Don Basilio: Frederick Ballentine 
Don Curzio: Rexford Tester 
Barbarina: Mandy Brown 
Antonio: James Shaffran 

Director: Peter Kazaras 
Conductor: James Gaffigan 
Scenery Designer: Benoit Dugardyn 
Costume Designer: Myung Hee Cho 
Lighting Designer: Mark McCullough 
Choreographer/Fight Master: Kevin Williamson 
Asst Director-David Carl Toulson 

I already reviewed the production, so I will simply make some short notes about our remarkable cast as they did indeed conquer not only me, but the entire opera house. 
Seats are sold for reduced prices and the WNO team tries to cater to a younger crowd, many of whom have often never attended the opera. It's great to see how people react to an opera like Figaro when they have never seen it before. Their laughter is often so infectious, I laugh in places I have not done so for years. I was also thrilled that our son Samuel, who is now almost 13-1/2 attended with us and very much enjoyed seeing so many of his favorite performers. 
Before the opera started, Executive Director Michael mael spoke and noted that there were thousands of applicants for the 2016-2017 program, yet only a couple hundred were actually asked to audition and in the end, only FIVE new YA's were accepted to join those in the ranks from the year before (the program lasts 2 years generally). 
Even though this was my third time seeing this production, I saw new things as well such as Figaro measuring up Susanna's leg as he is counting at the beginning. 
And as always, something tends to go wrong, as did with Susanna's veil in the opening scene forcing Ms. Wehr to sing with her hand on her head much of the first 10 minutes! She had moved from Barbarina into the lead role in which she excelled, and handled it with aplomb, shining and bubbling for the entire four acts. 
Our Figaro, Mr. Bogard, had just joined the program and had never sung the entire role before; you never would have guessed that as he fell into the part with such ease and owned it. 
Just prior to the performance and acquaintance of mine said that she had seen the dress and was unimpressed by most of the YA's diction. I didn't even knew this person spoke Italian (I don't think she does is the point) and we all agreed that these YA's excelled in their diction making every word audible and having trained with some of the best coaches in the business such as Ken Weiss and Louis Salemno. It should also be noted that our beloved program director, Michael Heaston departed this summer and now runs the Met's Lindeman Program (what a boost for them!), but we do have Robert Ainsley just in for a month who has taken over and excelled. 
Mr. Bruno moved up from Antonio to Bartolo and shone in "La vendetta" with gorgeous low notes that are his specialty as well as a knack for comical undertones. Joined by Ms. Freedman's Marcellina, they were a notable pair. 
We had met Ms. DeVita at Glimmerglass this summer and she has also just joined the program this season and was making a house, company and Kennedy Center debut all in one as Cherubino. One might think this a daunting undertaking, but she shone brightly in the role and truly embodied the page's youthfulness and male testosterone. 
Mr. Ballentine is another newbie this season, although he sang at WNO last season, and his Basilio was also a gem, fey, yet never too silly, always scheming and laughing at everyone; his slap in the face seemed so real. 
In Act II Ms. Gonzalez was superb in "Porgi amor" and truly gracious, although depressed, as the Contessa. Mr. Enoch, as her husband, went for the less self-impressed sexy count than we had seen from Joshua Hopkins the week before, but still impressed mightily, especially when we got to his Act III, "Hai gia vinta la causa." 
In the recognition scene in Act III, I don't ever recall an audience laughing so raucously as these young folks did; it gave us all great pleasure to hear this and know that opera is NOT dead. 
Bravi to the entire team at WNO who makes these most special performances happen and we are SO thrilled that this season there will be yet another YA performance on May 19, 2016 of Madama Butterfly (on my bnirthday!). 

ALAN SAVADA of Washington, DC 

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