Philanthropic 50: Calvin and Jane Cafritz: They Sing For More Than Their Supper

by Editorial

The “Cafritz” in the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artists Program.

In May, Jane Lipton Cafritz hosted a lunch that brought together a number of young opera singers and many of their supporters and admirers. The singers belonged to the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artists Program (YAP), one of the opera world’s most prestigious breeding grounds for the next generation of Pavarottis and Renee Flemings. In a speech, Cafritz asked, “where would the embassies be without the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artists?” making the point that singers not only sang the minor (and sometimes, not so minor) roles with the Washington National Opera, but this being the nation’s capital, they also perform in some iconic settings, including at White House state dinners, the Supreme Court, the U.S. Congress and at foreign missions.

Jane Cafritz manages to give the impression that the project is the initiative of somebody else—no mean feat when her name is in the title. This is because she and her real estate mogul husband, Calvin, have turned philanthropic self-effacement into an art form. The couple has a wide range of philanthropic interests, and every year contributes millions to Washington charities, but “Jane cares a great deal about the Domingo-Cafritz YAP and tries to attend many of their performances,” says a source in Washington music circles. The reality is that while Placido Domingo is the cachet brand name, the program’s mainstay, including the financial mainstay, is Jane Cafritz.

“The Domingo-Cafritz Young Artists Program is both valuable to the Washington National Opera and to its participants so it’s a real win-win,” commented the same inside source. “In addition to taking small roles and covering large ones, the Young Artists peform modern works and do outreach. And then, occassionally, they come back, as did Keri Alkema from the first crop of YAs, in the role of “Tosca.” The program was launched by Placido Domingo in 2002 when he was artistic director of the Washington National Opera. Its aim was to offer exceptionally promising young singers two years of intensive training study and career guidance with a resident faculty—and a chance to perform before audiences playing minor roles. Jane Cafritz, then an Opera trustee, was its sole patron. By the time Domingo quit his WNO post in 2010 the program was well established at the Kennedy Center as the Domingo Cafritz Young Artists program. As the program has added staff—including an Italian speech teacher, essential in opera— other philanthropists have stepped in with support, but the main benefactors remain the Cafritzes, with Jane as the prima donna—but not in the temperamental sense.


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