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Heinz Fricke retires as music director of Washington National Opera after 18 years

Heinz Fricke, widely credited with major artistic strides during his tenure as music director of Washington National Opera, has retired from that position after 18 years.

The German-born Fricke achieved notable success in the works of Mozart, Wagner and Strauss, but he was a versatile, sensitive musician with a broad repertoire. In declining health for some time, he had to cancel several performances in recent seasons. He was expected to return to the podium for WNO's "Salome" production next month and the company had planned to  announce his retirement plans then, but word came last June that he would not be able to make it.

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Fricke will hold the title of music director emeritus of both WNO and the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestras.

Placido Domingo, WNO's general director, said

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in a statement that Fricke "took a group of dedicated and gifted musicians and shaped them into a world-class opera orchestra befitting the nation’s capital. As Washington National Opera grew, Maestro Fricke ensured that the quality of music-making grew as well."

Greg Drone, principal horn player and chair of the orchestra committee, credited Fricke with raising the orchestra "to a level that was unimaginable before his arrival ... Having selected more than two-thirds of the orchestra's musicians, his legacy will continue for years."

A new music director for Washington National Opera is expected during the company's 2010-11 season, which opens next week with Verdi's "A Masked Ball."

Here are some snippets from WNO's production of "Elektra" that Fricke conducted in 2008:

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