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Subject: Wash Natl Opera's world premiere of THE DICTATOR's WIFE will really make you wonder about the state of thw world (1-13-17)
From: Alan Savada <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Alan Savada <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Sat, 14 Jan 2017 15:40:30 -0500
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Last night the Washington National Opera presented the first of two performances (one more tomorrow matinee) of Mohammed Fairouz and Mohammed Hanif's THE DICTATOR's WIFE at the Kennedy Center Family Theater, but family theater this is not!

The production is part of the American Opera Initiative Festival this weekend which also includes a program tonight featuring the premiere of three 20-minute operas as well.

First Lady-Allegra De Vita

Ms. Holy-Ariana Wehr

Aide-de-camp - Hunter Enoch

I-Will-Sell-My-Children Mom - Leah Hawkins

Give-Me-Cheap-Petrol Protestor - Rexford Tester

Death Row Dad-Timothy J. Bruno


Conductor-Nicole Paiement

Director- Ethan McSweeny


The satirical, and often funny, work is based on the one-woman, one-act play by the librettist which was previously set in Eastern Asia. Today, the team has moved the setting to a clearly Western country, to imply to us that this can happen in our own backyard. At the post-opera discussion, Mr. Fairouz made no point in hiding that the opera was based on Donald Trump and his wife. Francesca Zambello was quick to point out, however, that the opera was commissioned almost 2 years ago and that the bulk of the writing was done during 2016 and not since the election.


The generous orchestra of 13 was at the rear of the stage with a small set cordoned off by red stanchions on the left and right. A door and frame were free-standing to the right rear with an elegant dressing table and mirror at the rear center with a cushioned bench. A lush chaise was at the left and dozens of red roses were in vases as well as strewn everywhere on the stage.

The first lady enters and we discover her husband has stationed himself on the loo for what seems an eternity. Indeed, he is referred to by all as "Himself," as some royal highness. She is dressed in a sexy white (pink?) negligee and matching robe and is bedecked with jewels.

Her opening aria, "Today, I received 5000 roses" sets the scene as she explains her husband, but is disrupted by three protestors in the aisles. I-Will-Sell-My-Children is handing out leaflets with photos of her 3 kids and offering to sell them for food (I got one; a leaflet, not a kid); Give-Me-Cheap-Petrol has a large sign saying "FREE PETROLE" with a large "X" through the final "E."

The Aide-de-camp enters and explains these people reek and should be given tea and biscuits and sent off. "You live with a people without history" over undulating violins showed off Mr. Enoch's baritone to great effect ending in the duet, "send them biscuits and tea..."

He ultimately tells the First Lady that Ms. Holy, the UN Ambassador for Children's Rights (and star of the hit film series Zombies in our Midst), is expected soon.

The protestors return and Ms. Holy enters in scarf, sunglasses and boots and confronts the Death Row Dad urges him to sing about his son who is on Death Row,  and ultimately pastes a pink triangle on his chest insisting his son is Gay. He tries to explain that his son gave his life to his country to serve in the army ultimately deserting due to fear and the noise, and is now going to die for that.  Ms. Holy explains that as a UN Ambassador she can not intervene in the laws of the nations, but respects their culture and traditions. It's quite a poignant scene in that this is so often the case with these people who are trying to help save folks in trouble; they are helpless.


The First Lady re-enters in a white linen dress and sings to agitated strings, "Secret in my heart..." as well as singing with the aide-de-camp and Ms. Holy. The Protestors return wearing Occupy Gay Fawkes masks and are invited onto the stage to talk with the First Lady and they ultimately end up arguing amongst themselves that each one's needs is most important including the Petrol Guy who wants free gas for his Toyota Corolla), "Out with the old, ring in the new..."

Amidst the cacophony, the First Lady seizes the knife she hid earlier and slashes her face.

In perhaps one of the funniest moves, she then moves forward to a microphone on the edge of the stage, a la Evita Peron, and sings that all the petitions have been signed, the sons hanged, and you can drive your Corollas for free.  She urges them to take the roses, smell them, eat them and declares her husband has indeed died on the john where he has been ensconced. It was an amazing performance by Ms. De Vita, who was on stage for almost the entire hour and took only one break from singing to change! In reality I was not sure where this was going, but it ended here and I felt a little dejected.


In the post-discussion the team explained it was indeed meant to exude delusion vs. cluelessness vs. power. Indeed, Mr. Fairouz said he wanted to leave the image of the dictator dying on the loo while he was tweeting....and you clearly know what that means.


Musically, the piece is lush and very interesting with complete tonality and  indeed truly enjoyable. I just wish that I had a better understanding of Mr. Fairouz' work so I could have perhaps felt more comfortable...but them maybe his goal is to make us feel uneasy; that was achieved.


What a treat to have such talented young artists in the roles yesterday and again today fro our Domingo-Cafritz Young Artists Program. These are the singers of tomorrow, and boy what voices and acting capability they offer on stage! BRAVI!

ALAN SAVADA of Washington, DC

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