Wolf Trap Opera summer season features 'La Traviata' and much, much more

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Entertainment,Music,Emily Cary

Each season, the Wolf Trap Opera Company outdoes itself. This summer is no exception. There are three new productions and three recitals, one at the Phillips Collection of music highlighting the art on display, and a performance of Orff's "Carmina Burana" with the National Symphony Orchestra and the Choral Arts Society of Washington in the Filene Center.

"Wonders To Wander To," the first of two recitals at the Barns, will be conducted by Steven Blier, the power behind the New York Festival of Songs. It will be followed by "Aria Jukebox," an afternoon of favorite opera highlights selected by the audience and accompanied on the piano by WTOC Director Kim Witman.

The centerpiece of the season, Verdi's "La Traviata" performed with the Washington Chorus in the Filene Center, is an Operascape production enhanced by videos. It will be conducted by Grant Gershon, the music director of the Los Angeles Master Chorale and resident conductor of the LA Opera.

Onstage
'The Journey to Reims'
» Where: The Barns at Wolf Trap, 1635 Trap Road, Vienna
» When: June 21 to Aug. 9
» Info: $35 to $85; 877-965-3872; wolftrap.org
'La Traviata'
» Where: Wolf Trap's Filene Center, 1551 Trap Road, Vienna
» When: 8:15 p.m. July 19
» Info: $20 to $70; 877-965-3872; wolftrap.org

Meanwhile, two rollicking comedies fill the Barns: Rossini's "Il viaggio a Reims" ("The Journey to Reims") and Verdi's "Falstaff."

This season is the culmination of Witman's busy year beginning last fall with her travels around the country to audition hundreds of rising singers ready for professional roles. As she listened intently to fill the 20 slots for the 2013 Filene Young Artists, she planned the summer programs based on the candidates' voices.

"I don't choose the operas until I hear and select all the singers," she said. "Of the four invited to return from last season, bass-baritone Craig Colclough, was perfect for the title role in 'Falstaff.' Another, Corinne Winters, recently sang Violetta in 'La Traviata' with three different companies, so she was a natural for that role.

"We haven't done Rossini's 'Journey to Reims' since 1996 because it requires a large army of coloraturas and bass baritones. When I went to the Met finals, I discovered a big number of them, so we're taking advantage of that. In addition to the Barns dates, we'll present a performance for young students and their families. It's important to reach that demographic. Washington National Opera attracts young people who come to their dress rehearsals, so we're reaching out by making this comedy available to them and urging them to download and read the study guides on our website in advance."

The performance of "La Traviata" is not a concert version. Witman describes the concept of Operascape as a hybrid performance with the orchestra onstage and a large landscape displayed across the stage above the singers.

"Instead of building a set, we hire a designer who creates videos and stills of original art," she said. "The scenes fill the big stage and have a huge impact when seen either from in-house or the lawn. Everyone is in costume, they use props and the opera is fully acted out, so it's exactly like a performance in a typical opera house. The whole thing is crafted to capitalize on the venue. The visual components really pop and having the orchestra on stage adds great musical punch."

Those chosen to become Filene Young Artists spend the summer working with the finest professionals in the business. Many go on to busy careers and numerous graduates of WTOC are seen regularly at the Met and on other major international stages. In addition to the FYA, there are 16 Studio Artists housed at George Mason University.

"These are younger singers, many of them college seniors and first year graduate students, that we've heard when we go out on the audition tour," Witman said. "Some are not quite ready to make the decision to pursue an operatic career, so we indoctrinate them to the business by showing them how to do their taxes, plan a portfolio and handle interviews. Singing in the chorus, perhaps taking on some small roles and spending the summer in this environment helps them decide."

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Emily Cary

Special to The Washington Examiner
The Washington Examiner