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Washington National Opera Announces
New Wave of Artistic Initiatives

Plans include Washington premiere of the full “American Ring” in 2016

New American Works Project to engage young American composers
and librettists in the development of new American operas


Washington National Opera (WNO) announced several new initiatives as part of a long-range plan to build on its tradition of artistic excellence, including the Washington premiere of Richard Wagner’s complete “American Ring” cycle and a multipart New American Works Project for young American composers and librettists. Additionally, WNO announced it will add a holiday opera to its season schedule and expand its programming to include performances in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater next season. The Opera has also committed to create at least one new production each season.

“Washington National Opera is planning aggressively for our future seasons with a new confidence,” said Michael L. Mael, WNO Executive Director. “These initiatives are part of an even bolder artistic vision that builds on our successes while creating exciting performances for our audience as well as new opportunities for American artists.”

Key initiatives that are part of the new long-range plan include:

The “American Ring” in 2016
WNO will present three complete cycles of Richard Wagner’s epic four-part masterpiece Der Ring des Nibelungen in the spring of 2016. Hailed by the Washington Post as “one of the best Ring cycles in more than a quarter of a century,” these performances will be the first time the Company has presented the Ring in complete cycles in its 56-year history.

“I am honored to finally bring my complete vision of the Ring back to its home at WNO,” said Francesca Zambello, the director of the cycle and WNO Artistic Advisor. “This ‘American Ring’ started and evolved here in Washington, and I’m looking forward to having our D.C. audience experience it in the intimacy of the Kennedy Center Opera House as a complete work as Wagner intended.”

WNO has previously presented the first three operas of the cycle individually: Das Rheingold in 2006, Die Walküre in 2007, and Siegfried in 2009. The fourth opera, Götterdämmerung, was presented in a successful concert staging in 2009.

“I had such a great experience making my WNO debut at the Götterdämmerung concert,” said WNO Music Director Philippe Auguin. “I look forward to conducting the wonderful WNO orchestra for the complete cycles — these performances will surely be a memorable experience for both the musicians and our audiences.” 

Complete casting and ticketing information will be announced at a later date.

New American Works Project
Next season, WNO will begin a comprehensive commissioning program to offer career development to young American composers and librettists and aid the expansion of the American repertory. In the New American Works Project, teams of composers and librettists at three key stages of their careers will receive critical coaching and guidance from leading guest artists and WNO staff, as well as opportunities to workshop and perform their works at the Kennedy Center. The program will continue WNO’s efforts to stimulate, enrich, and ensure the future of contemporary American opera.

“Many of our peer opera companies have programs for young singers and conductors, but there are no major post-conservatory training programs for composers and librettists,” said Christina Scheppelmann, WNO Director of Artistic Operations. “I’m proud that as the National Opera, we will bring contemporary American stories to the stage and foster and develop the talents of new composers and librettists.”

The New American Works Project will include these programs, beginning in the 2012-13 season:

Student Composers and Librettists Working with the Kennedy Center Education Department, WNO will select three student teams of young American composers and librettists to create new 20-minute operas based on contemporary American stories. After extensive workshops and guidance from an established composer and librettist, these three operas will be presented in an annual concert performance in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater.

Emerging Composers and Librettists — The next stage of the New American Works Project will be to commission a new opera that is written by a more experienced American composer-librettist team on an original American topic with a one-hour running time. This commission will also be given a young director and design team, and open workshops will be held throughout its development cycle. A final performance will then be presented on a Kennedy Center stage. Through this facet of the Project, WNO will spur the development of contemporary American operas with affordable productions in an approachable environment.

American Masters — In later seasons, the third stage of the New American Works Project will be to select a leading young American composer and librettist and commission a full-length opera on a contemporary American theme. The American Masters composition will receive a fully staged production as part of WNO’s subscription season.

Holiday programming a new annual tradition
As part of its mission to reach out to new audiences and families, WNO will begin an annual tradition of holiday programming in the 2012-13 season. A young composer and librettist engaged in the New American Works Project will also have the opportunity to add to the holiday repertory by creating a new American opera with a holiday theme. Next season’s holiday production will be announced in the coming months.

WNO returns to the Terrace Theater
WNO now has the flexibility to produce opera beyond its traditional home in the Kennedy Center Opera House, best matching the needs of each production to a unique performance space. In the 2012-13 season, the holiday opera and the New American Works Project will reestablish WNO’s presence in the Terrace Theater, its first time performing there since 1987. In future seasons, WNO will continue to use the Terrace Theater to produce a broader repertoire of opera that can best utilize the Theater’s smaller size and expressive acoustics.

WNO new productions
Returning to its roots as one of the most prolific producing companies in the United States, the Opera will continue to present at least one new production in each of its forthcoming seasons. The current season’s new production and company premiere of Giuseppe Verdi’s Nabucco will open on Saturday, April 28.

Zambello to direct each year
In addition to offering advice and expertise related to opera repertoire and casting, WNO Artistic Advisor Francesca Zambello will also direct at least one production per season, beginning with the 2012-13 season. Since her company debut with Of Mice and Men in 2001, Zambello has directed 10 WNO productions, including the audience favorite Porgy and Bess.

Kennedy Center President Michael M. Kaiser remarked, “With the ‘American Ring’ cycle, the New American Works Project, new holiday programming, the expansion into other theaters at the Kennedy Center, and a commitment to new productions, WNO is positioned for a bright future.  I look forward to working with Francesca Zambello, Christina Scheppelmann, Philippe Auguin, and Michael Mael to continue WNO’s rich artistic tradition.”

Washington National Opera’s 2012-13 season will be announced later this year.


David and Alice Rubenstein are the Presenting Underwriters of WNO.

Generous support for WNO Italian opera is provided by Daniel and Gayle D’Aniello.

Additional support for Nabucco is provided by The Dallas Morse Coors Foundation for the Performing Arts.