There was a lot of noise surrounding GQ’s “50 most powerful people in D.C.” event at Café Milano in September. Washington – the red-headed step child to the powerful New York media machine – was graced by publishing demi-gods Condé Nast Publications, who inform us that 24 of the 50 individuals on the GQ power list descended upon the event – it’s highly debatable. Franco, we love you, and we realize this was supposed to be a “hot event,” but please, could you turn on the air conditioning next time? I can’t recall an event in NYC or L.A. where I ever dehydrated from sweating. Maybe it’s an Italian thing; I don’t know. In retrospect, the evening should have been called GQ’s “Washington’s 50 most commonly sited media types: a night of sweat, hot air and finger food.” Count me guilty as charged. If not for The Examiner and Media Bistro’s Patrick Gavin and his well-documented encounter with a finger waving Canadian lass, the night would have passed in a New York minute.
Talk about hot – Polish director Mariusz Trelinsk’s contemporary interpretation of Puccini’s classic opera La Bohème had enough men in drag, street walkers and Matrix-meets-Vegas costuming to keep the Kennedy Center warm in the coldest days of winter. Placido Domingo is feeling the heat as well for the out-of-the-box interpretation. In his review of opening night the Post’s Tom Page wrote: “that production – dark, dumb, drab, denatured ….¬ has to be the least sympathetic staging of La Bohème I’ve ever seen.” He adds: “We learn nothing about the character of Mimi by watching her sing her autobiographical aria through a bumpy, grimy video projection …. And the slangy supertitles, while witty on occasion, have nothing to do with what is actually going on in the drama.” (Interestingly, on its website, WNO cites Page’s one good comment in his review and uses it for PR – Washingtonians do love their spin.)
Vittorio Grigolo’s Rodolfo was on par with what one would expect of a high-caliber performance at the Kennedy Center; Korean baritone and former Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Hyung Yun (Marcello) almost stole the show with a sensitive and steady performance; and I saw a gorilla, an Elvis impersonator, bozo the clown, and the Indian chief from the Village People on stage as well. Was this opera? Perhaps for Page and the other glassy-eyed $500 ticket holders, it wasn’t. But for the high school and college kids who saw that “grainy video” and “slangy supertitles” via the WNO’s groundbreaking simulcast of opening night, this is the only opera they know – and it might be something they like. The WNO fed the opening night to 32 schools across the country, as well as on the National Mall and in select Washington, D.C. movie theaters. They’re also working with the HUD to introduce the world of opera, including its employment opportunities, to families living in public and assisted housing across the country. Perhaps the gorilla and Elvis impersonator are something that the late Luciano Pavarotti – a humble baker’s son – would have appreciated.