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About the Washington National Opera

Program Description

photo by Scott Suchman

The American Opera Initiative is a comprehensive commissioning program founded in January 2012 by Washington National Opera. The Initiative was created to stimulate, enrich, and ensure the future of contemporary American opera.

Each season of the American Opera Initiative features three 20-minute operas, presented in the fall, and one hour-long opera, performed in the spring. Commissioned works are based on American themes and stories. Each team of composers and librettists workshop their operas throughout the development cycle at the Kennedy Center and have the invaluable experience of witnessing their work performed on a Kennedy Center stage. Each performance is followed by a Q&A session with the artists and the creative team.

Composers and librettists are chosen from conservatories that are participants in the Kennedy Center Conservatory Project. The Conservatory Project is an initiative of the Performing Arts of Everyone’s Millennium Stage, designed to present the best young musical artists in classical, jazz, musical theater, dance, and opera from our nation's leading undergraduate and graduate conservatories, colleges and universities.

photo by Scott Suchman

A key element of the American Opera Initiative is connecting the young composers and librettists to professional mentors who have successfully brought new American operas to the stage. Each of the inaugural mentors—composer Jake Heggie (Dead Man Walking, Moby-Dick), librettist Mark Campbell (winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Silent Night), and conductor Anne Manson (Manitoba Chamber Orchestra)—as well as advisor Robert Wood (UrbanArias)—will once again work with the artists selected for the 2013-2014 season.

2013 - 2014 Season

Three teams of new opera composers and librettists—Michael Gilbertson and Caroline McGraw, Jennifer Bellor and Elizabeth Reeves, and Joshua Bornfield and Caitlin Vincent—will premiere new 20-minute operas, each based on a contemporary American story, in a concert performance on November 13 in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. On June 13 and 14, 2014, a new hour-long opera by composer Huang Ruo and librettist David Henry Hwang—An American Solider, based on the true story of Pvt. Danny Chen, a Chinese American soldier in Afghanistan whose untimely death placed members of his own platoon on trial—will have its world premiere in the Terrace Theater.