The winter holidays present a perfect opportunity for audiences of all ages to behold the wonders of opera, particularly special operas like The Lion, the Unicorn and Me, presented by Washington National Opera (WNO) at the Kennedy Center December 8-10, 2023.

Tony®-award-winning composer Jeanine Tesori and librettist J.D. McClatchy based The Lion, the Unicorn and Me on a charming book by Jeannette Winterson that retells the Nativity story from the perspective of the donkey who carries the pregnant Mary into Bethlehem for the first Christmas, aided in the journey by a unicorn and a lion.  

The festivities and magical atmosphere of the opera are heightened by colorful costumes and dance, a production full of "fresh energy and charm" (The Washington Post). WNO Artistic Director Francesca Zambello, who commissioned the opera and directed the original production, said the story is about “the wonder of creation . . . the unexpected becomes great; the ordinary becomes extraordinary. It is not just as a story for kids, but for everyone. It is a story that reaches outside any religion and celebrates the things we least expect.”

The Lion, the Unicorn, and Me
Photo Credit: Scott Suchman

When The Lion, the Unicorn and Me premiered in 2013,  Tesori was the first female composer commissioned by the WNO.  And in a first for a contemporary composer, she has had three operas staged by the WNO in the same year;  Blue and Grounded are the others.  And Tesori’s talents extend to the Broadway stage:  she received her second Tony® Award in 2023 for Kimberly Akimbo.

This revival production at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater is directed by Andrea Beasom and conducted by Stephanie Rhodes Russell.  Heading the cast in the role of the Lion is Cafritz Young Artist (CYA) graduate, Marian Anderson Vocal Award winner, and Washington, D.C. native Soloman Howard.  Other cast members from the CYA program include Kresley Figueroa (The Unicorn), Justin Burgess (The Donkey), Darryl Lillian Johnson and Aria Song (Angels), and the Washington National Opera children’s chorus.

The December 9 performance at 12 p.m. will be a Sensory-friendly performance, designed to create a welcoming and comfortable arts experience for people with autism, sensory sensitivities, or other social, learning or cognitive disabilities. Further information can be found here.


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