The Kennedy Center

Better Gods

Washington National Opera: American Opera Initiative: New Hour-Long Opera: Better Gods

Friday, January 8, 2016 - Saturday, January 9, 2016

Washington National Opera

Told through the eyes of an American journalist, the world premiere of Better Gods is the story of Queen Liliuokalani, the last reigning monarch of Hawaii, who fought to preserve her people's native culture when the island was annexed to the U.S.

Search for Current Events


AOI's hour-long opera premieres have been garnering high praise. The Baltimore Sun called 2013's Approaching Ali "a worthy calling card for the American Opera Initiative" and the Washington Post praised 2015's Penny, about a woman with autism, as "a story we haven't heard before, told with compelling directness and through effective music."
For the 2015–2016 season, the composer/librettist team of Luna Pearl Woolf, winner of OPERA America's 2014 Discovery Grant, and Caitlin Vincent, the librettist of Uncle Alex, one of our 20-minute world premiere operas in 2013, has been chosen for the program's new hour-long opera in the 2015–2016 season. Told through the eyes of an American journalist, Better Gods is the story of Queen Lili'uokalani, the last reigning monarch of Hawaii, who refused to renounce her faith and fought to preserve her people's native culture when the island was annexed to the U.S. more than a century ago. Exploring a dark chapter of American history, this emotional and moving opera leads us to question the morality of our actions taken in the name of progress.

Featuring a colorful score that incorporates authentic Hawaiian instruments, themes, and sounds--including a framework set by the traditional Hawaiian Creation Chant and elements of Lili'uokalani's own musical compositions--the world premiere staging of Better Gods will be directed by internationally acclaimed theater director Ethan McSweeny with Timothy Myers, artistic director and principal conductor of North Carolina Opera, conducting the WNO Orchestra.
Complete cast and creative team to be announced at a later date.

Performance Timing: 1 hour, with NO intermission.


Queen Lili'uokalani 
Daryl Freedman
Lauren Thurston 
Rexford Tester
James Miller 
Hunter Enoch
Judge Albert Judd 
Timothy Bruno
Robert Wilcox 
Wei Wu
Ariana Wehr

Timothy Myers*
Ethan McSweeny*
Set Designer
Daniel Conway
Lighting Designer
Andrew Guban
Costume Designer
Lynly Saunders
Vicky Takamine*
Luna Woolf
Caitlin Vincent

*WNO debut
‡ Current Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist


WNO's acclaimed commissioning program for contemporary American opera enters its fourth exciting season with more world premiere presentations featuring Domingo-Cafritz Young Artists and other talented performers among the casts.

Says the Washington Post: "Encouraging new voices and new work is a good thing… and [the American Opera Initiative] is getting more music heard. Let's applaud it--and attend it!" Meanwhile, the Baltimore Sun praises WNO's "expert mentoring" from program director Michael Heaston (also Head of Music Staff and Director of the Young Artists Program at The Glimmerglass Festival) and several distinguished advisors including OBIE and Stephen Sondheim Award-winning composer Ricky Ian Gordon (The Grapes of Wrath, 27, A Coffin in Egypt), Grammy Award-nominated librettist Mark Campbell (Silent Night, Volpone, The Inspector, Rappahannock County), and Grammy and Tony Award-winning conductor John DeMain (WNO's Show Boat and Lost in the Stars; world premieres of A Quiet Place and Nixon in China; music/artistic director of Madison Symphony Orchestra).


Following these performances:

Friday, Jan. 8
Saturday, Jan. 9
Join WNO artists for a unique opportunity to ask questions about the production.
All discussions begin immediately after the performance and are free with your ticket.


Watch and Listen

Washington National Opera - 2015-2016 Season Preview