Ramin Karimloo, Tesori & Brant World Premiere & More Set for Washington National Opera 2023–2024 Season

The season also features a world premiere of a new ending to Puccini’s Turandot in a new production.

By: Mar. 09, 2023
Ramin Karimloo, Tesori & Brant World Premiere & More Set for Washington National Opera 2023–2024 Season
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The 2023-2024 season of Washington National Opera celebrates opera's legacy while shaping its future. Led by WNO General Director Timothy O'Leary and WNO Artistic Director Francesca Zambello, this season examines opera classics through an inclusive and modern lens, while expanding the repertory with the world premiere of Jeanine Tesori's Grounded in a co-production with the Metropolitan Opera.

"For Washington National Opera's 2023-2024 season, we have set the ambitious challenge of asking ourselves, 'What is the future of opera?'" says WNO General Director O'Leary. "How will opera evolve to thrill, challenge, include and entertain future generations?'"

Artistic Director Francesca Zambello cites several examples of the company'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."
O'Leary adds, "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 Presents World Premiere of Jeanine Tesori's Grounded

WNO presents the world premiere of Tony Award®-winning composer Jeanine Tesori's new work, Grounded, in a co-production that was initiated and commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera. Adapted from the play by George Brant and featuring his libretto, Grounded tells the story of Jess, an elite female F-16 fighter pilot who upon becoming pregnant, is relegated to a trailer in Las Vegas to fly lethal drones in Afghanistan. The juxtaposition of hunting and killing terrorists by day while rocking her daughter to sleep by night in the safety of her home creates a moral and psychological tension that plays out onstage. Playing the role of Jess is "one of the world's special young singers" (The New York Times), Emily D'Angelo, in her WNO debut. (Opera House, October 28-November 13, 2023)

The Metropolitan Opera has employed massive LED-screen technology to immerse audiences in the flying and drone warfare sequences, offering a first-hand view of Jess' world both high up in the sky and through the scope of her drone.

In addition to Grounded, WNO has programmed the revival of another popular Tesori work: Tesori and J.D. McClatchy's family-friendly Holiday opera, The Lion, the Unicorn, and Me, based on the children's book by Jeanette Winterson. Former Cafritz Young Artist and Marian Anderson Award-recipient Solomon Howard plays the Lion. (Terrace Theater, December 8-10, 2023)

"Jeanine Tesori is one of the most talented composers of our generation," says WNO Artistic Director Francesca Zambello. "Through operas like Grounded and Blue, she is pioneering the future of the art form, positioning opera as a seminal force in our society. Her operas foster dialogue around important cultural issues and ultimately help our communities become more inclusive, respectful and empathetic. In this way, I passionately believe that Jeanine is not only pioneering the future of opera, but her powerful music is also creating a better world."

Christopher Tin and Susan Soon He Stanton Imagine a New Ending for Turandot
WNO has commissioned a world premiere ending to Puccini's Turandot by Grammy® Award-winning film, choral, and gaming composer Christopher Tin, featuring a new libretto by Susan Soon He Stanton. 2024 marks the 100th anniversary of the death of Puccini, who died before he was able to complete Turandot. An ending composed by Franco Alfano had become standard for most performances of this opera for the last century.

In the title role is Polish soprano Ewa Płonka. The "gifted tenor" (The New York Times) Yonghoon Lee performs the role of Calaf. Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha, who made her National Symphony Orchestra debut this past December 2022, makes her American operatic debut performing the role of Liù. All of the visual elements of this producation will be created by Drama Desk Award-nominated set and producation designer Wilson Chin and Tony Award®-winning costume designer Linda Cho. (Opera House, May 11-25, 2024)

"What excites me about this project is that this is a chance to fulfill Puccini's vision in the way he would have wanted," says composer Christopher Tin. "Alfano's ending has always felt incomplete because it doesn't address the plot in a satisfactory way and even paints Princess Turandot in an unflattering light. 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."

New Production of Gounod's Romeo and Juliet Anchors D.C.-wide Shakespeare Festival

WNO's new production of Gounod's Romeo and Juliet, led by Principal Conductor Evan Rogister after his acclaimed performances of Elektra in the 2022-2023 season, is the anchoring event at this year's D.C.-wide Shakespeare Festival, which also includes productions by Folger Shakespeare Library, IN Series, Shakespeare Theatre Company and UrbanArias. The classic tale is directed by Shakespeare Theatre Company Artistic Director Simon Godwin, who makes his WNO debut, and is a co-production with the Glimmerglass Festival.

Italian soprano Rosa Feola, hailed for her "plush, warm voice" (The New York Times) in her performance as Gilda in Rigoletto with the Met Opera, makes her role and WNO debut as Juliet. British "tenor that the whole opera world is talking about" (Marie Claire) Adam Smith makes his WNO debut as Romeo. Marian Anderson Vocal Award-winner Justin Austin plays Mercutio. Duke Kim, a former WNO Cafritz Young Artist, performs the role of Tybalt. (Opera House, November 4-18, 2023)

Principal Conductor Evan Rogister says of the piece: "By its very nature, opera is an interplay of words and music, but rarely is a score as inspired by text as Romeo and Juliet. Gounod was fascinated by Shakespeare's play from a young age; when he finally sat down to compose, he completed the music in one month! 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."

New Production Infuses Offenbach's La Périchole with New Orleans Jazz

A new adaptation of Offenbach's Songbird (La Périchole) moves the setting of this comedic opera to Prohibition Era New Orleans before Mardi Gras. Songbird, a down-on-her-luck vaudeville performer who must choose between financial security or love, is played by returning WNO artist, mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard. Tony® Award-nominee Ramin Karimloo performs the role of Piquillo-Songbird's lover and fellow starving artist.

In this new version, composer and arranger James Lowe has taken Offenbach's original melodies and infused them with rhythmic structures like ragtime syncopation and collective improvisation, made famous by New Orleans jazz legends such as Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong. Lowe's reimagined orchestration delivers a distinctly New Orleans sound through use of instrumentation that typifies the bands of that era: piano, bass, drums, banjo, trumpet and cornet, clarinet, trombone, and sousaphone. Finally, New Orleans in the 1920s was a melting pot of American, French, and African influences, and as such, many New Orleanians spoke both English and French. Kelley Rourke celebrates this bilingual blend with an adaptation that juxtaposes the use of both languages throughout the opera: most of the famous arias are sung purely in French, while much of the rest of the opera is interspersed with English. (Eisenhower Theater, March 9-23, 2024).

Fostering the Next Generation of Artists

Washington National Opera continues its commitment to fostering a new generation of artists through these important programs

WNO's American Opera Initiative, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in January 2023, has commissioned three new works that will premiere on January 19, 2024. Composers Laura Jobin-Acosta, Elizabeth Gartman, and Joy Redmond, and librettists Sam Norman, José G. Alba Rodríguez, and Melisa Tien were selected from a field of more than 130 hopefuls. Applications were reviewed by WNO artistic leaders and three industry leaders who will mentor the writing team through the development process: composer and AOI alumna Kamala Sankaram, librettist/playwright Deborah Brevoort, and conductor David Bloom. AOI is a comprehensive commissioning program founded in January 2012 by Washington National Opera. The Initiative was created to stimulate, enrich, and ensure the future of contemporary American opera by providing talented emerging composers and librettists with mentorship and opportunities to write for the stage. (Terrace Theater, January 19, 2024).

Named for the barrier-breaking African American contralto, the Marian Anderson Vocal Award is presented annually by the Kennedy Center and WNO to a young American singer. This year's winner is Drama Desk Award-nominated baritone Justin Austin, whom Opera News praised as, "a gentle actor and elegant musician." Austin earned critical acclaim for his performances last season in the leading role of Charles Blow in the Lyric Opera of Chicago's performance of Fire Shut Up in My Bones and his starring role in Lincoln Center Theater's production of Intimate Apparel. In addition to awarding Austin a cash prize and a residency at Washington D.C.'s Duke Ellington School of the Arts, WNO will present the baritone in an intimate recital. (Terrace Theater, December 12, 2023).

Washington National Opera's Cafritz Young Artists is a resident-training program that offers artists on the verge of international careers a course of intensive training, study, career guidance, and performance opportunities in Washington, D.C. and beyond. Throughout their training, the Cafritz Young Artists are featured prominently in WNO performances, including a performance of Romeo and Juliet (November 17, 2023), and the American Opera Initiative (January 19, 2024), in which they perform the leading roles. The Young Artists will also perform Handel's Partenope in an intimate performance at the REACH; more details about this program will be announced at a later date.

Washington National Opera, in partnership with librettist Kimberly Reed, composer Laura Kaminsky and librettist Mark Campbell, has created the True Voice Award. This award is designed to support the training and increase the visibility of transgender and non-binary opera singers. It will be conferred annually on an emerging singer who so self-identifies. For the next three years, each awardee will receive a career grant and the chance to participate in career training, artistic coaching, and a concert or recital with the Cafritz Young Artists. The inaugural recipient of the True Voice Award will be announced later this Spring 2023.

Finally, the coming season sees the return of Opera in the Outfield®, the popular annual summer event at which a classic opera is streamed live, free of charge, on the high-definition scoreboard at D.C.'s Nationals Park. WNO's production of La bohème will be broadcast on September 30, 2023.

About the Washington National Opera Orchestra

Under the directorship of WNO Principal Conductor Evan Rogister, the Washington National Opera Orchestra is the musical heartbeat of the company, playing for all WNO productions. Comprised of 61 musicians from around the world, the Orchestra has played under the baton of such famed conductors as Daniel Barenboim, Valery Gergiev, James Levine and Mstislav Rostropovich, as well as former WNO Music Directors Heinz Fricke and Philippe Auguin, and former WNO General Director Plácido Domingo. Highlights of the Orchestra's history include performances of the world premiere of Menotti's Goya (1986), accompanying WNO on its tour to Japan (2002), performing WNO's "American Ring Cycle" (2016); and numerous recordings and broadcasts which have introduced WNO to audiences around the globe.

The Orchestra's roots date back to the company's founding in 1956 as the Opera Society of Washington. As the small but intrepid group of opera lovers grew into an internationally recognized opera company, the musicians grew with it, and the orchestra was officially established as a professional orchestra in 1978. Today, the same musicians also constitute the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra, the Center's resident orchestra which provides the music for most musicals and ballets in the Center's nine theaters and performance spaces, as well as the CBS television broadcast of the Emmy® Award-winning Kennedy Center Honors

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