The Kennedy Center

American Opera Initiative

Application Information

Washington National Opera's American Opera Initiative (AOI) provides emerging composers and librettists who have not yet received a major operatic commission with the opportunity to compose operatic works under the guidance of expert mentors. Emerging artists, recent graduates, and current students are encouraged to apply. Three composer-librettist teams will each receive commissions for a twenty-minute operatic work to be performed by singers from the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program and members of the Washington National Opera Orchestra at the Kennedy Center.

Composers are invited to suggest potential librettist collaborators, who will then be invited to submit an application to the program; librettists may also apply independently. Both composers and librettists will be selected by the mentor team and WNO based on individual merit, and desired pairings will be kept as a unit only when both members of the pair are selected for the program — all candidates should also be willing to explore new collaborations.

Mentors for the 2020-21 season are:

  • Anthony Davis: Composer (X, The Life and Times of Malcolm X, Amistad, Wakonda’s Dream, Central Park Five)
  • Kelley Rourke: Librettist & Dramaturg (Lucy, Natural Systems, Odyssey, Robin Hood, Wilde Tales)
  • David Neely: Conductor (Music Director, Des Moines Metro Opera)

Applications for the 2019-20 AOI 20 Program are now closed.

2020-2021 Program Deadlines

Subject to change

December 20, 2019
Composer applications due
January 3, 2020
Librettist applications due
February 3, 2020
Teams selected and notified
February 24, 2020
Libretto initial outlines due
March 13, 2020
Libretto outlines approved
April 6, 2020
First draft of libretto due
April 27, 2020
Revised libretto approved
July 24, 2020
First draft of piano vocal score due
August 31, 2020
Revised/workshop piano vocal score due
September 23-26, 2020
Piano workshop in Washington, DC
November 13, 2020
Final scores and parts delivered to WNO
January 4-16, 2021
Final rehearsals/world premiere performances

Application Instructions

To apply, follow these steps:

Step 1: Send an email to to request an application, contact information, and Dropbox link.

Step 2: Once you receive the application form and Dropbox link, send another email with the following:

  • Completed application form
  • Up-to-date Résumé/CV
  • Upload 3-5 compositions (with accompanying audio/MIDI and full scores) or written excerpts to Dropbox. More specific information on acceptable and appropriate materials for both composers and librettists will be sent in response to the initial e-mail.

For more information about the program, email

All materials for composers must be submitted by December 20, 2019

All materials for librettists must be submitted by January 3, 2020

All applicants will receive an e-mail confirmation of receipt of their application.