Saturday, June 03, 2017

Washington National Opera Kennedy Center Gala: Trading Voices

Tonight's event was the Washington National Opera Gala Concert titled: Trading Voices featuring luminaries from both the Opera and Broadway stages and headlined by Aretha Franklin.  The event was part of an evening fundraiser that included for many of the guest after concert diners at one of about 20 Embassies from Finland to Japan and Australia to Russia.  There was also a moment to honor the retirement of WNO Board of Director's Chairman and holder of the Mars Inc. Candy Bar fortunes, Jacqueline Badger-Mars.  The point to raise money and the whole experience raised over 2.3 million dollars for the WNO.  Bravo! 

But to quote one of my favorite lines from Truman Capote's seminal work "Christmas Memory": "I am disappointed!  Who wouldn't be?"  For you see there was no Aretha Franklin, and no explanation as to why she was not there.  Since there wasn't even a moment a silence, I assume she didn't die.  I bought my ticket on the thrill of seeing her perform in the flesh--and her absence was a huge letdown for me. 

This doesn't mean that the rest of the evening wasn't amazing.  It was.  They brought in Cynthia Erivo to sing in her place, and I know she's all the current rage--but she's no Aretha.  Local favorite contralto extraordinaire, Denyce Graves, international Opera star, Rene Fleming and a local phenom and product of the WNO Cafritz Education Initiative, Solomon Howard represented the opera side of the slate, with Jordan Donica, Leslie Odom Jr. and Erivo representing Broadway.  Brian Stokes Mitchell played host and performed, as well.  Highlights included Solomon Howard's performance of aria I was unfamiliar with, but under his incredible bass-baritone voice, it was transcendent.  I immediately thought of  Paul Robison and "Old Man River."  The entire row behind me was made up of a group of gay men who chattered before the program started.  Later when the conductor announced that the next number would be "Old Man River" they all gasped and a couple said in low voices, "Solomon"...  but the announcer went on to introduce Denyce Graves.  Solomon was the only performer to only get a single number.  Rene Fleming brought the house down with a performance of "O Mio Caro Bambino."  Leslie Odom Jr. sang a throw away song that were drowned out by the WNO Orchestra, very disappointing, and then he recovered for a number from "Hamiton".  But Jordan Donica?  OMG--what a tall glass of water that man is!  And his two appearances on stage were both stunning.  The second was a performance of "The Music of the Night" from Phantom of the Opera. 

The performances that I experienced were mostly amazing.  The one I was told to expect and then didn't happen is the one that hung over the experience like a damp rag.
Brian Stokes Mitchell performing a number from "Progy & Bess"--"It Ain't Necessarily So".
Jordan Donica performing his opening number.
Leslie Odom Jr. performing a number from "Hamilton" the show he won a Tony in
The Final Bow

At one point luminaries were pointed out:  Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, drew applause, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, got a more robust acknowledgement.  Then Mick Mulvanney, the head of Trump's Budget Office and architect of the raping of America's arts funding to give the uber rich a tax cut was named and the moans were pretty much equal with the applause.  Finally, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson was named and the applause fell flat, the moans winning out. 

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