Andre Gretry composed more than 50 operas, many of them operas comiques, a favorite form of entertainment during late 18th century France. Despite his popularity then, the modern premiere of his romantic comedy, "Le Magnifique," is taking place nearly two centuries after his death. The preview performance at George Mason University's Manassas campus is followed by the premiere at the Kennedy Center before the production moves to Rose Hall at New York City's Lincoln Center. When artistic director Ryan Brown founded Opera Lafayette in 1995, his goal was to present 17th and 18th century operas accompanied by a period instrument ensemble. The success of his venture has been confirmed over the years by glowing accounts in respected periodicals and sold-out houses.

"We took the name Opera Lafayette to show the connection with 18th century France because the works we perform are primarily French in origin," Brown said. "Although the arias and ensembles of 'Le Magnifique' are sung in French, a narrator tells the story in English.

"Swiss tenor Emiliano Gonzalez Toro is making his American debut singing the title role. He's the kind of amazing tenor the 18th century composers wrote for, one with a wide range and rich lower range. When I first heard him sing, I immediately thought of him for this role."

If you go
Special premiere preview performance:
Where: Hylton Performing Arts Center's Merchant Hall, Manassas
When: 8 p.m. Feb. 4
Info: $15 to $25; 888-945-2468 or
Premiere Performance
Where: Kennedy Center Terrace Theater
When: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 5
Info: $60 at 202-467-4600, 800-444-1324 or

Along with Gonzalez Toro, the international cast of stars includes sopranos Elizabeth Calleo and Marguerite Krull, tenors Jeffrey Thompson and Karim Sulayman and baritone Doug Williams. The narration is by bass-baritone Randall Scarlata. They are joined by the ensemble members, many of them veterans of past Opera Lafayette productions. Half of the 40 instrumentalists are based in Washington; the other half come from around the country.

The opera buffa, or comic opera, is set in Italy. The hero, Le Magnifique, is determined to outwit the guardian of the girl he wishes to marry. The guardian, certain that he will win, promises Le Magnifique a horse if she stays mum for 15 minutes. He has not counted on the "rose" scene in which the girl manipulates the rose to agree to Le Magnifique's proposal.

This opera will be recorded by Naxos for release in 2012. It will join the six other Opera America recordings, the most recent to be released this year. To educate students about its repertoire, Opera America presents programs in D.C. public schools and at family/community performances in the Atlas Performing Arts Center.

"We're excited to inaugurate the wonderful new hall at Hylton Performing Arts Center," Ryan said. "It's a reproduction of great European opera houses and is perfect for this production. We look forward to presenting 'Le Magnifique' at all three venues and hope the audiences have a rollicking good time. When they discover this fabulous world out there, they'll want to see more of it."