Washington National Opera returns to Kennedy Center with tribute to RBG

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews the Washington National Opera (Part 1)

The Kennedy Center has not hosted an opera for 19 months due to the pandemic.

This weekend, the Washington National Opera finally returns to the Opera House for “Come Home: A Celebration of Return,” running Saturday, Nov. 6 at 7 p.m., Monday, Nov. 8 at 7 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 10 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 14 at 2 p.m.

“This is the return of live staged opera,” General Director Timothy O’Leary told WTOP. “We’re bringing out the Washington National Opera chorus, orchestra and major stars from around the world, offering the audience a chance to be together again and celebrate.”

Until now, the WNO has been holding various remote performances around town.

“We performed everywhere we could,” O’Leary said. “We opened this season with a gathering of 5,000 people at Nats Park for ‘Opera in the Outfield’ where we showed a filmed opera on the Jumbotron. … We’ve been performing by virtual means, but also low-tech like the pop-up opera truck, which was literally a moving van with a stage.”

Now, it’s time for a lavish production as Evan Rogister will conduct Bizet’s “Carmen,” Verdi’s “La Traviata,” Donizetti’s “‘The Daughter of the Regiment,” Beethoven’s “Fidelio” and Rossini’s “William Tell Overture,” better known as the theme for “The Lone Ranger.”

You’ll see the WNO debut of soprano Pretty Yende; WNO favorites like mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard, tenor Lawrence Brownlee and soprano Alexandria Shiner; and the main-stage debuts of rising star tenor David Butt Philip and bass-baritone Christian Van Horn.

The program will also remember the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

“This is our chance to do something live on stage to honor her and her legacy through the music that she loved the most in the world,” O’Leary said. “She loved opera as a storytelling mechanism. She fell in love with it as a child, and in her whole career in Washington, she never missed an opening night at the Washington National Opera.”

Ginsburg once guest starred in WNO’s “The Daughter of the Regiment” in 2016.

“She was hilarious,” O’Leary said. “That opera starred one of the great tenors of the world, Lawrence Brownlee, in the most joyful musical number in all of opera, a tenor aria famous for its nine high-C’s in a row. We’ll have Lawrence … in a way that honors the great RBG.”

Opera even proved Ginsburg’s ability for bipartisanship.

“She was very good friends with Justice Antonin Scalia; they were political opposites but close friends, in part because they both loved opera so much,” O’Leary said. “They performed together on our stage as extras in an opera and would attend performances all the time. Part of what we’re celebrating … is the role performances play in our civic life.”

After the show, the audience is invited outside for a champagne toast on the river terrace.

Proof of vaccination or a negative test are required to attend. Masks are required indoors.

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews the Washington National Opera (Part 2)

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Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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