Washington National Opera Bids Adieu to Placido Domingo
With Placido Domingo singing his last role as general director of the Washington National Opera, it’s hard not to take the somber - at times downright mournful - mood of Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride to heart. Though he has lead the WNO for the last 15 years, one can’t help but feel just the teeniest bit abandoned, especially in light of the WNO’s financial woes and unevenness in recent seasons.
It is even harder to not already miss a leader who has brought us so much to celebrate during his tenure. We have thrilled to so many superb productions: two equally magical and yet very different renderings of "Madama Butterfly" and "Die Walküre"; an edgy, exciting "La bohème"; operas from a most original American Ring via director Francesca Zambello; striking contemporary works such as Benjamin Britten’s "Peter Grimes"; and a Pearl Fishers designed with wild and colorful abandon by fashion design icon Zandra Rhodes. In between resided such crowd-pleasing staples as "La Traviata", "Don Giovanni" and "The Barber of Seville". And we have been treated to powerful productions of Janacek’s devastating "Jenufa", Gershwin’s heartrending "Porgy and Bess" and Strauss’s beautifully tormented "Elektra".
And then there is Domingo’s tradition of singing one role per season. Although his influence will remain through next season and he will conduct at least twice more (including this season’s closer, "Don Pasquale"), can we really expect his voice to grace the Opera House with anywhere near the frequency to which we’ve grown so accustomed?
Thus, knowing Domingo is, with Iphigénie, offering one of his last gifts as director and singer, we embrace the cold, strange world of Tauris, the prison-like land ruled by the ruthless King Thoas. "Iphigénie", a Greek noblewoman whose family has been torn asunder by violence, serves on Tauris as high priestess to the Goddess Diana. After two shipwrecked Greeks wash ashore, Thoas demands that Iphigénie sacrifice one of the men to sate the gods. Unknown to Iphigénie, one of them is her brother, Oreste, who carries terrible guilt for his role in the family violence. When the moment of sacrifice finally arrives, Iphigénie recognizes Oreste and she pleases the gods even as she defies Thoas.
Hearing Domingo bring his extraordinary voice to the tortured Oreste and knowing it may be the last we hear him for some time, it is hard not to feel torn between misery and joy.