On the evening of Sunday, March 10, The Washington
Opera held a welcome gala at the Kennedy Center
Opera House in honor of Artistic Director Designate
Placido Domingo. I had the privilege of attending this
sold-out, black-tie concert, and let me tell you, Opera-L
"compagni e compagne," it was worth every penny of
the (steep) admission price. It was altogether an
exciting, thrilling, and rewarding evening of music.
Maestri Leonard Slatkin took turns conducting the
excellent Kennedy Center Opera House orchestra,
which included Opera-L's own David Quick, plainly
visible in the viola section from my front-row, first tier
seat, and whom I had the pleasure of meeting recently
since we are both participating in TWO's current
production of "Mefistofele."
The program was as follows:
PART I (Leonard Slatkin conducting)
-- "Bacchanale" from Saint-Saens' "Samson et Dalila"
-- Finale of Act I, Scene 1 of Gounod's "Faust" ("Mais
ce Dieu ... A moi les plaisirs") sung by Placido
Domingo & Samuel Ramey
-- "O, ma Lyre immortelle" from Gounod's "Sapho,"
sung by Denyce Graves
-- Entrance of the Queen of Sheba from Handel's
-- "Ya vas lyublyu" from Tchaikovsky's "Queen of
Spades," sung by Chinese baritone Chen-ye Yuan
-- "Torero quiere se" from Penella's "El Gato Montes,"
sung by Ainhoa Arteta and Placido Domingo
-- Duo piano selection, by French virtuoso pianists
Katia & Marielle Labeque
-- "Les oiseaux dans la charmille" from Offenbach's
"Les Contes d'Hoffmann," sung by Natalie Dessay
-- "O souverain" from Massenet's "Le Cid," sung by
PART II (Heinz Fricke conducting)
-- Overture to Reznicek's "Donna Diana" (how
-- "Dio, che nell'alma infondere" from Verdi's "Don
Carlo," sung by Placido Domingo and Chen-ye Yuan
-- "Tu al cui sguardo onnipossente" from Verdi's "I
Due Foscari," sung by Ainhoa Arteta
-- Intermezzo from Puccini's "Manon Lescaut"
-- "Mentre gonfiarsi l'anima ... Oltre quel limite
t'attende" from Verdi's "Attila," sung by Samuel
-- "A vos jeux, mes amis" from Ambroise Thomas'
"Hamlet," sung by Natalie Dessay
-- "Mon coeur s'ouvre a ta voix .. Mais non! Que
dis-je, helas" from Saint-Saens' "Samson et Dalila,"
sung by Placido Domingo and Denyce Graves
As a special surprise treat, unannounced in the
program, Maestro Slatkin, Placido Domingo, and the
Labeque sisters played "a quatre" the Ride of the
Walkyries on two pianos, and brought down the
RAMEY -- a consummate artist, in great voice, wowed
the audience with the "Attila" selection. Perfection,
what more can I say? Yes, Kellia, Ramey doth rule!
DOMINGO -- also in fine form, a voice of burnished
ARTETA -- this statuesque, blonde Spanish soprano,
who could give Claudia Schiffer a run for her money,
really shone in the "Foscari" selection, a classic bel
canto recit/cavatina/cabaletta. On the basis of her
performance yesterday, we have much to look
forward to when she returns to TWO a year from now
GRAVES -- her husky, velvety mezzo was at her best,
she and Domingo were fireworks in "Mon coeur."
DESSAY -- I have saved the best for last! Mlle.
Dessay is possessed of an extremely agile, very
pleasing high coloratura, sang with incredible
expressiveness, and reminded me of Bartoli
in her stylistic approach. I look forward to hearing her
many more times in the future. I don't think I have
ever heard quite so perfect an "Oiseaux dans la
charmille," and her "Hamlet" number was exquisite.
In a panoply of superlative artists, she somehow
came off as just a tad more superlative than the
others. Judging from the hurricanes of applause and
cheers that greeted her two numbers, I venture to say
the rest of the audience shared my opinion.
CHEN-YE YUAN was very impressive. He has a firm,
fairly large, well-focused, accurately pitched, and
pleasant-sounding baritone voice, and he more than
held his own with Domingo in the "Don Carlo" duet.
He galso gave as fine a rendition of the "Pikovaya
Dama" aria, "Ya vas lyublyu," as I have ever heard,
and I was especially impressed by his clear,
authentic-sounding Russian diction. I own a recording
of that opera with an all-Russian cast -- the Mark
Ermler version, and thought him very good indeed.
Singing opera in Russian is very difficult for any
non-Russian singer, but I imagine it must be even
more difficult for a Chinese because of all those
clusters of consonants, and Chinese is a vowel-rich,
consonant-poor language. Mr. Yuan Italian diction
was excellent also. I suspect we'll be hearing more of Mr. Yuan soon.
This dazzling concert was followed by an equally gala
dinner (at an even steeper price!) on the roof of the
Kennedy Center, but that too was well worth the price
of admission. The normally drab, dingy atrium and
North hallway of the roof terrace were transformed into
fairy-tale settings, a veritable fantasyland of elegance
and enchantment. The Atrium had been rechristened
"The Hall of Mirrors." Tall emerald-green classical
columns with gold capitals held a canopy of white
draperies, lowering the ceiling and hiding the
KenCen's drab ceiling tiles, the round dinner tables
decorated with tall candelabra and spectacular sprays
of white roses, Versailles-like panelled mirrors lining
the walls. The Versailles theme was echoed in the
North hallway, where I sat, which was rechristened
"L'Orangerie." Classical columns and tall orange
trees laden with fruit decorated the hall, whose walls
were lined with green Versailles-style trellises, and
each table had a miniature orange tree, also laden
with fruit, as a centerpiece. On each seat was a blue
Tiffany bag, containing (1) a specially made
commemorative porcelain covered dish, in emerald
and gold, the lid being decorated with a gold likeness
of Placido Domingo as Otello (or so it seemed to me);
and (2) to my delight, the boxed Sony CD set of "Il
Guarany" with Domingo, which for weeks I had been
unable to locate in Washington record shops. (Small
wonder; TWO must have bought every copy within a
200-mile radius of Washington, D.C., given the
fact that there were hundred of guests.) Scads of
Washington movers and shakers attended this
event, numerous ambassadors (U.K., France, Russia,
Spain, to name but a few), and international socialites,
and I spent a delightful time ogling the beautiful ladies
in their spectacular couture gowns and hairdos. I was
also able to chat briefly with Srta. Arteta and Mlle.
Dessay and to tell them how much they had delighted
On the menu were gravlax in honey-mustard sauce, a
delicious chicken curry cum basmati rice with all the
trimmings, and a Sachertorte with raspberry coulis
which far outshone the dry, tasteless, indigestible
confections sold under that name at both Demel's and
the Hotel Sacher in Vienna. Champagne, white, and
red wines, all French and high-quality, flowed in
abundance, courtesy of the Seagram Corp., and I must
admit that when I got home at 1:00 a.m. I was totally
drunk -- very uncharacteristic of me -- and belting out
operatic arias at the top of my voice. (I hope the
neighbors weren't indisposed.)
Shortly after midnight, the event came to an end and I
felt like Cinderella returning home from the ball,
wondering whether it had all really happened.
And now I'll be eating bread, water, and a few leaves
of lettuce for the next few months as I gradually
replenish my much-depleted purse!!!
But again, it was worth every penny and I'll be living
off the memories for a long time. A great day in the
life of The Washington Opera, awaiting the auction on
March 20 of the former Woodward & Lothrop
department store in downtown Washington, which
TWO hopes to purchase and convert into an opera
house of its very own. Stay tuned.
All the best,