Ask Not What the Kennedy Center Has Done Lately. Ask What It Can Do Now

Photographer: Richard Nowitz/Getty

Photographer: Richard Nowitz/Getty

Maybe it was the Haribo gummy bears we ate on an empty stomach. Maybe it was the anemic last act of "Parsifal," conducted by Christoph Eschenbach. But as Loot sprinted across a median for one of the few cabs that ventured near the Kennedy Center's silent parking lot, the visit left a sour taste in our mouth.

We've been to the palace on the Potomac several times, without much luck. So the announcement of a new president, Deborah Rutter, can only improve matters.

It's about time. "Tristan and Isolde" opened the Center's opera season without the scheduled Isolde, Deborah Voigt, whose voice was deemed insufficient one week before the performance. Washington can be a cocoon, but had no one noticed that the diva hadn't been sounding well for some time?

The Kennedy Center's theater program didn't offer alternatives once the casting change was announced. It was pretty much "Shear Madness," a musical that has run at the Center for more than 20 years, or nothing, for weeks on end, since the Center mostly relies on touring shows. All of this was puzzling, as the departing president, Michael Kaiser, is a management guru and claims credit for the turnaround at the Royal Opera in London.

Rutter, the president of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association, sounds like someone who can turn things around. She has a history of ambitious planning and shrewd fundraising. In 2008, she lured superstar conductor Riccardo Muti to the Midwest. Plus, she added to the Chicago Symphony's endowment, expanded its education programs and is widely credited with making the symphony one of the best in the country.

Rutter's appointment isn't just good news for DC residents. The train ride is a little over three hours from New York, not an epic journey, with round-trip fare at $168. An orchestra ticket at the Washington National Opera is $155 -- that's $323 in all. Compare that to New York's Metropolitan Opera, which costs $310 (though some of that buys you heavy-duty casting and productions). Give audiences a decent excuse to make the trek, and there's very little to stand in their way.

We plan to go back. With a sandwich.

James Tarmy writes the Loot blog for's Good Life channel.

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