In its 2022-2023 season, Washington National Opera (WNO) builds on its commitment to work that inspires and shapes the future of opera. As General Director Timothy O'Leary and Artistic Director Francesca Zambello announced, the company's 2022- 2023 season balances groundbreaking new work with audience favorites. Through the stories it commissions and the voices it chooses to amplify, WNO is redoubling its commitment to diversity and inclusion. Visionary casting choices draw on longstanding collaborative relationships while also advancing the careers of rising stars.
The coming season features new productions of repertory staples Il trovatore and Elektra; the WNO premieres of two distinctly American stories, The Passion of Mary Cardwell Dawson and Blue; the return of the company's classic staging of La bohème; the world premieres of three American Opera Initiative commissions; and a family-friendly collaboration between Renée Fleming and Mo Willems. The season also sees 2022 Marian Anderson Vocal Award-winner Leah Hawkins presented in recital, the inaugural presentation of The True Voice Award to a trans or nonbinary singer, the continuation of WNO's "Let's Go There" conversation series, and the return of its popular, free Opera in the Outfield®.
Longstanding members of WNO's extended artistic family tackle new challenges. Superstar soprano Christine Goerke, a frequent collaborator with Francesca Zambello, returns to headline the Artistic Director's first production of Elektra, which also showcases Ryan Speedo Green, a winner of WNO's Marian Anderson Vocal Award, in his role debut as Orest. Another winner of the same award is Denyce Graves, who stars in The Passion of Mary Cardwell Dawson, the creation of Kennedy Center Composer-in-Residence Carlos Simon and playwright Sandra Seaton, two alumni of WNO's American Opera Initiative. Kenneth Kellogg, who sings the male lead in Blue, is a graduate of the company's Cafritz Young Artists program, several of whose current members will be showcased in a pair of performances of La bohème.
The company also continues its tradition of offering important American debuts, role debuts, and house debuts in 2022-2023. Artists making their WNO role debuts include Latonia Moore and Raehann Bryce-Davis in Il trovatore, as well as Gabriella Reyes and Migran Agadzhanyan in La bohème.Italian conductor Michele Gamba and reigning BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Gihoon Kim make eagerly anticipated American debuts in Il trovatore and La bohème, respectively. Acclaimed soprano Katarina Dalayman makes her U.S. role debut as Elektra's Klytämnestra. Fashion icon Bibhu Mohapatra costumes Elektra, and Jonathan Taylor Rush-the face of the New York Times' recent "Want More Diverse Conductors?" feature- launches his operatic career with Blue.
"We are exploring all the meanings of family in our 2022-2023 season-the beautiful, the bewildering, and the bombastic," said Artistic Director Francesca Zambello. "We open the season with Il trovatore and Elektra, two operas that demonstrate the passion and despair that can come from trying to navigate complex family dynamics. The spring repertoire will feature the D.C. 3 premiere of Blue-the moving portrayal of a Black family dealing with loss. And finally, La bohème, the classic tale of a group of young artists who create their own version of family, closes out the season reminding us to be grateful for the operatic family we create at the WNO and around the world."
The WNO season opens with Verdi's Il trovatore. Last seen by WNO audiences in 2004, the opera receives an opulent new period production from Canadian director Brenna Corner, with sets by International Opera Award finalist Erhard Rom and costumes by Tony Award® winner Martin Pakledinaz. WNO's international cast is headed by Grammy®-winning soprano Latonia Moore. After making her triumphant WNO debut in the title role of 2018's Tosca, Moore returns as Leonora; she sings opposite Gwyn Hughes Jones, a Welsh tenor not seen at WNO since his 2011 debut,who adds another role to his WNO repertoire as the titular troubadour. Making WNO debuts are Grammy®-winning English baritone Christopher Maltman, as the Count di Luna, and mezzo-soprano Raehann Bryce-Davis, whose "electric presence" is "taking the opera world by storm" (Opera News), in a reprise of her star turn as the vengeful Azucena. Between helming major Verdi productions in Europe and giving his first performances at the Met next year, Italian conductor Michele Gamba makes his eagerly anticipated American debut on the podium. (Opera House, October 22-November 7).
Next, WNO presents Richard Strauss' searing Greek tragedy Elektra in a new production from Artistic Director Francesca Zambello. The company last mounted the opera in the 2007-2008 season, when soprano Christine Goerke sang a supporting role. Having since proven herself not only "the dramatic soprano of choice in opera houses around the world" (Opera News) but also an "unforgettable Elektra" (The New York Times), the Grammy® and Opera News Award winner returns to headline Strauss' masterpiece in what marks both her 10th collaboration with Zambello and the Artistic Director's first staging of the opera. Bass-baritone Ryan Speedo Green, whose honors include a Grammy® and WNO's own Marian Anderson Vocal Award, makes his role debut as Orest, internationally acclaimed tenor Štefan Margita appears as Aegisth, and two great female Strauss interpreters make WNO mainstage debuts. 2020 Opus Klassik Award winner Sara Jakubiak lends her "plush-voiced, impressive soprano" (The New York Times) to Elektra's sister Chrysothemis, and Swedish mezzo-soprano Katarina Dalayman, a leading dramatic soprano for whom Elektra was a signature role, makes her U.S. role debut as the murderous Klytämnestra. Zambello has assembled an equally starry creative team, with sets by Erhard Rom and costumes by Bibhu Mohapatra. An icon of the fashion world, Mohapatra made his first foray into opera 10 years ago, with Aida at Glimmerglass, before drawing national notice with his designs for Come Home,which opened WNO's current season. Elektra,together with Strauss' Salome, also provides the inspiration for Mohapatra's most recent collection and runway show. WNO Principal Conductor Evan Rogister, known for his "clearly inspired leadership" (Opera News), leads from the pit. (Opera House, October 29-November 12).
In 2020 WNO's American Opera Initiative introduced Carlos Simon, now Kennedy Center's Composer-in-Residence, and playwright Sandra Seaton, winner of the Theodore Ward Prize; following that collaboration, the pair re-united to create The Passion of Mary Cardwell Dawson, which shines a light on the trailblazing founder of the National Negro Opera Company (NNOC). After premiering last year at Glimmerglass, where it returns this summer in revised form, the newly expanded work makes its WNO premiere. Combining original new music by Sphinx Medal of Excellence-winner Simon with selections from NNOC's repertory, the work will once again star its dedicatee, Marian Anderson Vocal Award-winning mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves. "An operatic superstar of the 21st century" (USA Today) who reprises her "searing performance" (Classical Voice America) in the title role, Graves says: "It is an honor to champion her story." (Terrace Theater, January 20-22)
WNO presents the long-awaited D.C. premiere of Blue, named "Best New Opera of 2020" by the Music Critics Association of North America (MCANA). From Tony Award®-winning composer Jeanine Tesori and NAACP Theatre Award-winning librettist Tazewell Thompson, the work draws inspiration from Black literature and contemporary events. Hailed as a "wrenching and remarkably original opera" (Wall Street Journal), Blue captures a young Black couple's hopes and fears about raising their son in 21st-century America. Now complete with a new recording and a documentary chronicling its creation, the work comes to WNO in a co-production from the Glimmerglass Festival, WNO, and Lyric Opera of Chicago, directed by Thompson. Briana Hunter, in her WNO debut, and D.C. native and former Cafritz Young Artist Kenneth Kellogg reprise the roles they created in the work's Glimmerglass world premiere, when mezzo-soprano Hunter was "both vocally and theatrically affecting as the Mother" (Financial Times) and bass Kellogg proved himself "not just a singer of paramount technique and vocal power but a man who embodies emotional qualities of strength, tenderness, and great dignity" (DC Theater Scene). Conducting duties are shared between two conductors making WNO debuts: Zimbabwean-born Vimbayi Kaziboni, Artistic Advisor of Boston Lyric Opera, and Jonathan Taylor Rush, Assistant Conductor of the Baltimore Symphony, in the first operatic engagement of his career. "We have all been thinking about the meaning of home and the importance of those close to us, especially over the last two years." said General Director Timothy O'Leary. "Our spring lineup offers us the chance to experience Blue. We were in final rehearsals for this opera in 2020 when the pandemic forced us to postpone the show. Blue asks us to reflect on what happens when a young Black man, the son of a police officer, loses his life at the hands of a white police officer during a political rally. For us, the enduring aspect of this piece is the way the community gathers around the family in the wake of the killing. I think this extraordinarily beautiful work help us all better understand our collective definition of family."
The WNO season draws to a close with a revival of the company's celebrated 2014 staging of Puccini's beloved classic La bohème. This elaborate production, directed by Peter Kazaras, has been credited with producing "enough expressive electricity to keep the lights of the Cafe Momus burning for a couple weeks" (Baltimore Sun). Originally slated for the 2020-2021 season, the revival features a vibrant cast on the cusp of major international careers, anchored by rising star soprano Gabriella Reyes, who makes her WNO debut in the title role. One of WQXR's "20 for '20 Artists to Watch" and a 2019 Lincoln Center Emerging Artist, the Nicaraguan American singer anchors a first-rate international cast. A top prizewinner at the 2018 Operalia competition, Armenian tenor Migran Agadzhanyan makes his WNO debut as Rodolfo, and 2021 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Gihoon Kim,the Korean artist "with a velvet baritone capable of inspiring tears and awe" (The Guardian), makes his eagerly anticipated American and WNO debuts as Marcello. Marking her house debut, Alevtina Ioffe, Music Director of the Mikhailovsky Theatre, leads from the pit. WNO's annual opera gala will take place on La bohème's opening night, and the opera's run also features two Cafritz Young Artists performances on May 14 and 26, when emerging singers from WNO's young artist program will undertake the principal roles (Opera House, May 13-27). The New Year brings the return of the American Opera Initiative (AOI), WNO's comprehensive commissioning and mentorship program, with the world premieres of short chamber operas from three emerging composer-librettist teams: B.E. Boykin and Jarrod Lee, Silen Wellington and Walken Schweigert, and Jens Ibsen and Cecelia Raker. Performed by members of WNO's Cafritz Young Artists, with the support of a chamber orchestra of WNO Orchestra musicians, their new works will be staged by WNO Artistic Director Francesca Zambello and conducted by WNO Principal Conductor Evan Rogister. All three teams are receiving expert guidance at every step, including an intensive four-day workshop in September, from four mentors-AOI alumnus and KennedyCenter Composer-in-Residence Carlos Simon, As One co-librettist Kimberly Reed, WNO dramaturg Kelley Rourke, and WNO Principal Conductor Evan Rogister-in collaboration with AOI Director Robert Ainsley and Zambello herself. Two of this year's composers, Boykin and Ibsen, come to AOI following last year's commissions for The Cartography Project, a multi-season initiative mapping Black dignity as a cultural response to extrajudicial violence. The Washington Post marveled at the quality of the Project's inaugural offerings: "It's not every commissioning project that delivers such uniform strength and impressive variety." (Terrace Theater, January 22).
Named for the barrier-breaking African American contralto, the Marian Anderson Vocal Award is presented annually by the Kennedy Center and WNO to a young American singer. This year's winner is rising star soprano Leah Hawkins. A 2018 alumna of the Cafritz Young Artists program, Hawkins has already won recognition for appearances at houses from the Bavarian State Opera to the Metropolitan Opera, where she was hailed as a "revelation" (New York 6 magazine) when she "stopped the show" (New York Classical Review) in Porgy and Bess. As well as awarding her a cash prize and a residency at D.C.'s Duke Ellington School of the Arts, WNO looks forward to presenting the soprano in an intimate recital (Terrace Theater, February 12).
Additional highlights also include a family-friendly event. Exploring the range of human emotions through opera, The Ice Cream Truck is Broken! & Other Emotional Arias draws on the combined talents of inaugural Education Artist-in-Residence Mo Willems and Kennedy Center Artistic Advisor Renée Fleming, who join forces with the Cafritz Young Artists and WNO Orchestra to present a program of famous arias, with new lyrics commissioned by the Kennedy Center. These will be heard alongside the world premiere performance of a new WNO commission. Showcasing the operatic debut of The Pigeon, one of Willems' best-loved children's characters, Don't Let the Pigeon Sing Up Late is set to original music by Kennedy Center Composer-in-Residence Carlos Simon. (Eisenhower Theater, April 22-23).
The 2022-2023 season also sees the continuation of WNO's conversation series "Let's Go There." Moderated by Garrett McQueen, "a Black talent in public media that you may not know, but should" (Current), the series invites figures from the arts, culture, academia, politics and beyond to examine and candidly discuss modern-day issues through the prism of opera.
Three further events complete the season's lineup. In partnership with librettist Kimberly Reed, composer Laura Kaminsky, and librettist Mark Campbell, WNO looks forward to inaugurating The True Voice Award. Designed to support the training and increase the visibility of trans and non-binary opera singers, the award will be conferred annually on an emerging singer who so self-identifies. For the next three years, each awardee will receive a career grant and the chance to participate in career training, artistic coaching, and a concert or recital with the Cafritz Young Artists.
World-renowned tenor Juan Diego Flórez will be joined by pianist Vincenzo Scalera for an intimate performance as part of a co-presentation with WNO and the Renée Fleming VOICES series. (Eisenhower Theater, January 26, 2023).
Finally, the coming season sees the return of Opera in the Outfield®, the popular annual summer event at which a classic opera is streamed live, free of charge, on the high-definition scoreboard at D.C.'s Nationals Park