We got to the Library of Congress and got on to the first tour of the day, again thanks to helpful volunteers and staff. The Library was a must since, as Georgie put it, it’s one of her Holy places. The main, or Jefferson, building, is astonishing. Not only is it an architecturally handsome Beaux Arts structure, the public spaces are intensely decorated with mosaics and paintings. Exhibits include a Gutenberg Bible, Thomas Jefferson’s library collection, and a current exhibit of early maps of America. We had a very enthusiastic and knowledgeable docent, who was a former member of the Library staff, and made her love for the place evident. The Library has an interesting shop, which included both books (imagine that--) and chocolate, so we bought some of each.
The National Art Gallery is a huge, multi-building complex on the Mall, which took up our Saturday afternoon. We got a light lunch in their Concourse cafeteria, and then started at the annex building, which involved taking an underground slidewalk which is wrapped around by what must be the world’s largest “blinky,” an installation of chrome and white lights which coruscate and chase in ever-changing patterns and gives a very science-fictional effect. In the annex space, we looked at an exhibit of prints by Eduard Munch (he of “The Scream” fame) and found them very interesting, not least for his variations on each print. We were interested to see signs for a show of Archimboldo, the vegetable portrait artist, but that exhibit was not yet open. Instead, we went back to the main building and toured galleries of 18th Century and earlier French, Spanish, and English painters, then getting into Americans as well. While not as crammed as some European galleries, such as the Kunstmuseum in Vienna, the National Gallery collection is truly impressive and second to none. In a few hours, we saw works by Goya, Fragonard, , Boucher, Vernet, David, Ingres, Turner, Constable, Gainesboro, Reynolds, Winslow Homer, Whistler, Sargent, Wyeth, Hopper, Tiepolo, Caneletto, Durer, Holblein, Velasquez, and Van Dyck.
There was much more, but that’s what we got through before running out of energy and time, since we had tickets for the Washington National Opera that evening.
Besides, we needed time to check out the Gallery shop, which proved to be the most costly one we visited—lots of VERY nice things there--.
We went back to the hotel and dropped off things like cameras we would not need later, and went out to a local restaurant/bakery called Bread and Chocolate for dinner. They have an interesting light meal menu, and Georgie had a very nice chicken pot pie, and I tried the moussaka. The owners of the chain are of Greek ancestry, so I was pleased to find the moussaka was made authentically with eggplant, instead of the potato you get in less adventurous restaurants. It was very good, and accompanied with a nice salad, which was also garnished with pickles, in this case sweet gherkins. (Must be a current fad in the D.C. area--).
A shuttle bus ran from the nearby Metro stop to Kennedy Center, and we caught one and got to the Center in good time. Although it contains a number of halls (rather like the Marcus performing arts center here in Milwaukee) the Opera House is the central and largest venue there. The auditorium itself is quite plain in decoration, save for a very pretty chandelier, and is actually a bit smaller than Uihline Hall, so, although we were in the balcony we had quite good sight lines.
We thought that the opera, Verdi’s Ballo in Maschera, was quite well sung, and nicely supported by the orchestra, although the Washington Post reviewer (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/09/12/AR2010091203371.html) was quite a bit more harsh. One thing that we were in agreement on was that the costuming was drab and ugly. The principals were the only ones with any color in their outfits, and the climactic “masked ball” scene, which ought to be a riot of color, had all the chorus wearing identical grim gray outfits, which just did NOT work. The minimalist set was somewhat more effective, with the main platform dividing and being used in some clever fashions. As for singing, Salvatore Licitra in the role of King Gustavo had a big tenor voice that easily filled the hall after a few bobbles at the start. (We think there ought to be a rule saying tenors have to warm up ten minutes more than they think they need--.) Tamara Wilson was a competent Amelia whose voice was a match for Licitra’s. Micaëla Oeste was athletic and charming in the “breeches” role of Oscar, and Elena Manistina was good and witchy as Ulrica the fortune-teller.
Placido Domingo is the director of the Washington National Opera, and it was a bit of a treat to see the famous tenor in person, even if he was only introducing the show.
The shuttle was quite popular, and we stood in line to catch the second one (surprising how many people you can cram on one of those mini-buses) and were back at our hotel in good time.
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