Like you, I look forward to the start of each new season of musical performances. So I was delighted to see Washington National Opera's recently-announced 2023-24 season schedule, which will celebrate the WNO’s legacy and future vision with two world premieres, two new productions, a holiday opera, and a group of important initiatives to advance new artists and American opera.
WNO General Director Timothy O’Leary describes the new season and the WNO’s vision for the future. “For Washington National Opera’s 2023–2024 season, we have set the ambitious challenge of asking ourselves, ‘What is the future of opera? How will opera evolve to thrill, challenge, include and entertain future generations?’” He added, “We are continuing our commitment to education and community engagement, to ensure that opera is accessible and inclusive for all. We believe that the future of opera is exciting and for everyone.”
WNO’s longtime Artistic Director Francesca Zambello explained WNO’s forward-thinking approach: “By investing in the work of composer Jeanine Tesori, one of the leading writers for the stage today; by employing technology in novel ways; by reimagining the story and music of Turandot to redress the stereotypes inherent in Puccini’s day; by infusing the music of Offenbach’s La Périchole with jazz influences; and by inviting new voices from a variety of backgrounds to perform and contribute to the creative process.”
The season kicks off on September 30 with Opera in the Outfield, continuing WNO’s tradition of offering free opera broadcasts from Nationals Park. It’s a fun, informal way to experience great opera, and perfect for introducing newcomers to the thrill of opera! This year’s selection is an audience favorite: La bohème by Giacomo Puccini. The performance starts at 7:00 p.m.
Here’s an overview of the remaining season:
The season opens with the world premiere of Tony-award winning composer Jeanine Tisori's Grounded, adapted from George Brandt's critically-acclaimed play examining the psychological effects of virtual warfare on a female fighter pilot grounded due to pregnancy. The opera was commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera and developed in conjunction with Lincoln Center Theater New Works Program. Mezzo-soprano Emily D'Angelo makes her WNO debut as the pilot, Jess. And, in a first for opera, the WNO will employ a large LED screen to envelop audiences in the psychological and social effects of virtual warfare. Performances will be conducted by Daniela Candillari and run from October 28 through November 13 in the Kennedy Center Opera House.
Tradition returns November 4 through 18 in the Opera House with Charles Gounod's lush and romantic Romeo and Juliet, an audience favorite based on Shakespeare's tragedy of forbidden love between young members of warring families. Simon Godwin, Artistic Director of Shakespeare Theatre Company, makes his highly-anticipated opera directorial debut in this performance featuring singers Rosa Feola and Adam Smith. This co-production with Glimmerglass Festival will anchor the D.C.-wide Shakespeare Festival.
Evan Rogister, the WNO’s Principal Conductor who will lead these performances, notes, “In four gorgeous duets written for the star-crossed lovers, Gounod captures the arc of their relationship from infatuation to deep love, from a dream-state to tragedy. I’m thrilled to be collaborating with director Simon Godwin. Simon believes that art should captivate and delight; I can’t think of a better approach to Shakespeare and Gounod’s masterpiece.”
December offers a special holiday production of The Lion, the Unicorn and Me, composed by Jeanine Tesori, a charming story for audiences of all ages of a unicorn that leads Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem for the first Christmas. Sung in English, the production showcases talented singers from the WNO’s Cafritz Young Artist Program and the WNO Children’s Chorus. Two performances, December 8 and 10, will be held at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater.
Also in December, Marian Anderson Vocal Award Winner Justin Austin performs in the Marian Anderson Vocal Award Recital on December 12 in the Terrace Theater. Praised by The Wall Street Journal for his “mellifluous baritone,” Austin has made his debut with the Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, among other noted companies, and is also featured in the WNO’s production of Romeo and Juliet this season.
The new year of 2024 rings in with WNO’s American Opera Initiative (AOI), a commissioning program for contemporary America opera designed to stimulate and encourage emerging composers and librettists by means of mentorship and performance opportunities. AOI will enter its 11th season with the world premieres of three one-act operas in two performances in concert version on January 19 in the Terrace Theater, featuring singers from the Cafritz Young Artists Program. Composers Laura Jobin-Acosta, Elizabeth Gartman, and Joy Redmond, and librettists Sam Norman, José G. Alba Rodríguez, and Melisa Tien were selected by WNO artistic leaders and industry leaders: composer and AOI alumna Kamala Sankaram, librettist/playwright Deborah Brevoort, and conductor David Bloom.
The action moves to the New Orleans nightlife during Prohibition-era 1920s with Songbird, adapted from Jacques Offenbach’s operetta, La Périchole, by Eric Sean Fogel, James Lowe and Kelly Rourke, with musical arrangement and orchestration by James Lowe. Offenbach’s music is infused with Jazz Age swing and a French/English libretto in a charming love story commissioned by the Glimmerglass Festival in 2021. Internationally-acclaimed mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard sings the title role. The opera runs from March 9 through 12 in the Eisenhower Theater.
The season ends with a world-premiere twist on Puccini’s spectacular masterpiece, Turandot: a new ending of the opera to mark the 100th anniversary of the death of the great opera composer. Puccini didn’t live to complete Turandot; the ending that is traditionally presented was written by Franco Alfano. This new ending, commissioned by the WNO, was composed by Grammy Award-winning composer and playwright Christopher Tin and acclaimed playwright and screenwriter Susan Soon He Stanton.
“What excites me about this project is that this is a chance to fulfill Puccini’s vision in the way he would have wanted,” Tin notes. “Plus, I am eager to redress stereotypes that existed in Puccini’s day. In this new ending, we hope to create a more three-dimensional Turandot whose transformation from selfish sadist to an empathetic leader and lover is not only believable but inspiring, and perhaps even sparks a dialogue about the nature of leadership in today's society."
The remainder of Turandot remains as written in Puccini’s hand, including the showstopper tenor aria, “Nessun dorma”. And WNO’s production promises this opera’s trademark visual sparkle. Soprano Ewa Plonka stars in the title role of a coldhearted princess who subjects her suitors to a deadly game of riddles, and tenor Yonghoon Lee sings the role of her tenacious suitor, Calaf. Performances run from May 11 through 25 in the Opera House.
Further information is available here.
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