WNO's THE LION, THE UNICORN, AND ME Runs Now thru 12/22 at the Kennedy Center

Washington National Opera (WNO) continues its 2013-2014 season with the world premiere of a new holiday family opera: The Lion, The Unicorn, and Me, today, December 14-22 in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater.

Based on Jeanette Winterson's award- winning children's book which tells the story of the Nativity from a donkey's point of view, The Lion, The Unicorn, and Me features new music composed by Tony-nominated composer Jeanine Tesori (Thoroughly Modern Millie and Shrek The Musical) and a libretto by the poet J.D. McClatchy. This WNO commission is directed by WNO Artistic Director Francesca Zambello and conducted by Kimberly Grigsby (Broadway's Spring Awakening and You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown) in her WNO debut.

As the world's first Christmas nears, an Angel is conducting a most important interview: who among all the animals can lead Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem? Will it be Lion, fearful ruler of the jungle? Or might it be Unicorn, graceful steed to lovely maidens? It's certainly not Donkey, whose only humble gift is a small but sturdy back. But with the birth of a very special king on the horizon, and one bright star blazing the way to a crowded inn, Donkey soon discovers that miracles can happen anywhere-even right in front of his nose.

Following the sold-out success of last season's Hansel and Gretel, this season's production of The Lion, The Unicorn, and Me continues WNO's commitment to presenting a holiday production for the entire family. Holiday programming for future seasons will be announced at a later date.

Zambello has a long history of bringing works for children and families to the stage, including the world premiere of Rachel Portman and Nicholas Wright's The Little Prince at Houston Grand Opera (later televised as part of PBS's Great Performances), as well as the recent Broadway musical The Little Mermaid. The production team includes set designer Michael Yeargan (WNO's Ring cycle, Tony winner for Broadway's The Light in the Piazza), costume designer Erik Teague (The Glimmerglass Festival's The Flying Dutchman), lighting designer Mark McCullough (WNO's Show Boat and Nabucco), choreographer Eric Sean Fogel (WNO's The Force of Destiny), and resident hair and makeup designer Anne-Ford Coates.

"I think it's important that as our national opera company we present a wide array of new American works, from our new 20-minute operas to bold new works like Moby-Dick to works like The Lion, The Unicorn, and Me that can bring a new generation of opera lovers into the Kennedy Center," said WNO Artistic Director Francesca Zambello. "We will continue to present works for new audiences and families so that they can begin to experience opera in an accessible way."

American composer Jeanine Tesori is known mainly for her award-winning musical theater compositions, including Violet, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Shrek The Musical, and Caroline, or Change. In 2011, her first opera A Blizzard on Marblehead Neck, featuring a libretto by Tony Kushner, had its world premiere at The Glimmerglass Festival.

Librettist J.D. McClatchy is a prize-winning American poet and literary critic. His opera libretti include William Schuman's A Question of Taste; Tobias Picker's Emmeline; Lorin Maazel's 1984, co-written with Thomas Meehan; and Elliot Goldenthal's Grendel, co-written with Julie Taymor. He is also the editor and translator of the highly praised Seven Mozart Librettos: A Verse Translation, published by W.W. Norton in 2010.

Leading the WNO Orchestra in her WNO debut is Kimberly Grigsby, who most recently led the orchestra of Broadway's Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. This is Ms. Grigsby's operatic conducting debut.

The Lion, The Unicorn, and Me also features the debut of WNO's new Children's Chorus, made up of 16 D.C.-area children, under the direction of chorus master William Breytspraak. The opera also features a prominent role written for a boy soprano-Henry Wager, who will make his WNO debut as the Angel.

"I'm proud that we have assembled our own new Children's Chorus for this production, and I have enjoyed working with Henry on his role as the Angel since our workshop this summer," said Zambello. "I love seeing children on our stages and know that they help bring children into our audience."

Other roles in the opera will be performed by members of WNO's Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program, including Jacqueline Echols, Norman Garrett, Soloman Howard, Deborah Nansteel, Patrick O'Halloran, and Wei Wu. Special guest artists include Catherine Martin, Ian McEuen, John Ordun?a, and Lisa Williamson.

The Lion, The Unicorn, and Me previews on Saturday, December 14 at 2 p.m. and opens on Saturday, December 14 at 7:30 p.m.; other dates are Sunday, December 15 at 2 p.m.; Friday, December 20 at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, December 21 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, December 22 at 2 p.m. Visit WNO's website for complete production details, casting information, and artist biographies.

WNO's 2013-2014 season also includes the East Coast premiere of Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer's Moby-Dick, a revival of Donizetti's comedy The Elixir of Love, and a new English- language production of Mozart's classic The Magic Flute. A performance of The Magic Flute will be simulcast to Nationals Park in May as part of M&M'S Opera in the Outfield. A second season of the American Opera Initiative will continue WNO's efforts to commission new American works with performances in November of three new 20-minute operas and in June with the world premiere of An American Soldier by Huang Ruo and David Henry Hwang.

The show runs today, December 14 at 2 p.m. • Saturday, December 14 at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, December 15 at 2 p.m. • Friday, December 20 at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, December 21 at 2 p.m. • Saturday, December 21 at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, December 22 at 2 p.m.

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