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It’s the one that got away: Richard Wagner’s four-part Ring cycle, which the Washington National Opera has been trying to put on for a decade now. They got three-quarters of the way through, with Siegfried in 2009, before running out of money and losing the fourth installment to the San Francisco Opera.
Now, the dividends of the WNO’s merger with the Kennedy Center are paying off in the form of a $10 million budget boost in 2016, when the company announced today it will finally put on the complete series. Francesca Zambello, the creator of the “American Ring” concept and longtime WNO collaborator, has been named the company’s artistic advisor, an ambiguous position that suggests a transition to a permanent one. She’s committed to direct the four part cycle as well as at least one production per year going forward.
Perhaps more interesting is the New American Works project the company has also unveiled: a commissioning program to develop shorter new operas written by emerging composers and librettists. The idea is to give young artists the backing to develop grander productions than they might not otherwise get to do straight out of conservatory. The new works, which will be just 20 minutes long and focus on a contemporary American theme, will be presented at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater. Hour-long and full-length new operas are envisioned for the future. Additionally, the WNO says it will stage one family-friendly holiday opera each year.
For all the hype leading up to its non-realization, the Ring Cycle had become emblematic of the troubled state of the WNO in the Plácido Domingo era: big ambitions without the resources to match them. Finally putting on this very expensive series will give the WNO some sort of closure. But it also doesn’t quite jibe with the WNO’s supposedly leaner and humbler post-bailout mission. Will it all be worth it in the end? We’ll have a while to find out.