Lithuanian musicians mark their country’s centenary in fine style at National Gallery

It has been a good week for contemporary music in the …

Bates premiere fires a dud but Noseda leads NSO in a thundering Mahler First

So few living composers get the chance to have a full-length …

Ballet West brings its shiny new “Nutcracker” to the Kennedy Center

‘Tis the season for the annual run of The Nutcracker in …

An electrifying DC debut by Kopatchinskaja, Leschenko at Phillips Collection

Patricia Kopatchinskaja makes waves wherever she goes. 

The Moldovan violinist finally …

A dual hymn to the modern in quartet and dance concert at Freer|Sackler

The Meyer Concert Series at the Freer|Sackler is back in its …


2018-19 Critic’s Choice

The District of Columbia and its environs offer a dizzying array …

Tenor Russell Thomas is breaking down operatic barriers with confidence

Tenor Russell Thomas, a rising singer from Miami, makes his Washington …


WNO revives underwhelming “Lion, Unicorn, and Me” for holiday season

Sat Dec 15, 2018 at 12:18 am

Holden Browne (center) with ensemble in Washington National Opera’s “The Lion, the Unicorn and Me.” Photo: Scott Suchman

Washington National Opera continues its tradition of presenting a holiday opera for children this month. In the rotation of works, some classic and others of more recent vintage, it was time again for Jeanine Tesori’s The Lion, the Unicorn, and Me. At opening night Friday in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater, this opera felt just as slender and specious as when it was premiered here in 2013.

The story, drawn from a book by British writer Jeanette Winterson, is ostensibly that of the birth of Christ. Mary and Joseph are going to Bethlehem, where she will give birth to a child. He will be important, but we never learn his name. Winterson once referred to the “God myth of the church” as “hogwash,” but the libretto, by the late J.D. McClatchy, is more banal than subversive.

Likewise, Tesori’s vanilla score is a disappointing admixture of lite jazz and music-theater tropes. Tinkling percussion and cheesy canned organ fail to lift the listener out of the mundane.

Treble Holden Browne, a veteran member of the WNO Children’s Chorus, sang the role of the Angel with cheek, plucked out of the audience shortly after the opening of Act I. His first job is to choose an animal to carry Mary to Bethlehem. Members of the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artists program took on these comprimario roles with zest, led by the flamboyant Flamingo of soprano Marlen Nahhas.

Two animals are singled out for special consideration to serve as transport. Bass Soloman Howard, a former Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist, returned to reprise the role of Lion. He hammed up the role of the celebrity beast, taking selfies as he entered and roaring with impressive bluster.

Soprano Alexandra Nowakowski, a current program member, was appropriately demure as the mystical Unicorn. Her entrance delighted the children in the house, a disco ball illuminating her white costume and the whole theater with sparkling flecks of light. Her coloratura exploits in the second act were a vocal highlight.

Of course, the humble Donkey wins the commission. By comparison to the Lion and Unicorn, he has the least interesting aria of the animals, but baritone Joshua Conyers made the role sympathetic and fun, even as the opera loses most of its dramatic steam in the second act. Mary and Joseph search for a place to stay in Bethlehem, with warm singing from mezzo-soprano Hannah Hagerty and tenor Alexander McKissick.

The company has done some minor renovation to the staging, as well as to the score itself, but the experience remains as unconvincing as it was five years ago. The sets (designed by Michael Yeargan) and costumes (Erik Teague) are handsome, especially the fanciful outfits for the Elk, Cat, Lion, and Hippo.

Conductor James Lowe, a specialist in musical theater, led the small pit band with a sure hand. The choral ensemble, combining the smaller solo roles and the impeccably prepared WNO Children’s Chorus, filled out the larger scenes with charming unity and poise.

The Lion, the Unicorn, and Me runs through December 16. Kylee Hope Geraci takes over the role of the Angel at both matinee performances.; 202-467-4600


December 15

Washington National Opera
Tesori: The Lion, the Unicorn, and Me
Hannah …


WNO names new principal conductor, extends Zambello contract

Washington National Opera has extended the contract of artistic director, Francesca …

Utah Arts Review to launch this fall

I’m delighted to announce the launch of Utah Arts Review, our …