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Washington National Opera Announces Ninth Season of American Opera Initiative

Three one-act operas to premiere on Digital Stage+ on Saturday, May 1: Las Auténticas, the barren(s), and American Apollo.

Washington National Opera Announces Ninth Season of American Opera Initiative

Washington National Opera will present the ninth season of its American Opera Initiative with three world premieres on the Kennedy Center's streaming platform, Digital Stage+, Saturday, May 1, directed by Amanda Consol. This year's class of librettist-composer teams are Laura Fuentes and Ben Morris, Rebecca Hart and Amber Vistein, and Lila Palmer and Damien Geter. Their three original stories describe the experiences of a first-generation Mexican-American as she navigates her own cultural identity (Las Auténticas), the haunting mysteries of a south New Jersey town (the barren (s)), and the complex relationship between painter and model, muse and artist, touching on unspoken sexual identification and the transgression of racial and economic class norms (American Apollo).

"As we start to see the fog of last year lift and work to rebuild our artistic communities and creative connections, AOI remains a beacon of operatic creativity and a pipeline for the next generation of composers and librettists," said Robert Ainsley, director of American Opera Initiative and Cafritz Young Artists. "It is a central part of WNO's mission to continue expanding the operatic canon, and we are so grateful to this year's teams for bringing these works to completion under such extraordinary conditions."

A comprehensive commissioning program, the American Opera Initiative provides rare opportunities for emerging composers and librettists to collaborate and write for the opera stage. The initiative encourages and ensures the future of contemporary American opera through development, mentorship, and performance, with works based on American themes and stories. Since its inception, the annual program has commissioned 34 chamber operas, with some going on to future productions around the country; notables include Chicago Opera Theater's recent production of Taking Up Serpents, an AOI commission from 2019; a successful production by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis of An American Soldier, an AOI commission in 2014; Opera Omaha's and Miller Theater's productions of AOI's 2018 commission, Proving Up; and Rice University's 2019 double-bill of Proving Up and Taking Up Serpents.

Las Auténticas

Libretto by Laura Fuentes

Music by Ben Morris


Jenny and her tía Luz run a taco stand that has been named as a finalist for a social media influencer's Most Authentic Taco title. As they await the influencer's visit and final verdict, Jenny questions her cultural legitimacy as a first-generation Mexican-American, as Luz hearkens back to lessons learned from a lifetime of punk rock fandom. Who determines authenticity? How far should we lean into others' expectations? Whose tacos will emerge victorious?


Luz: Marlen Nahhas (soprano)

Jenny: Katerina Burton (soprano)

Esteban/Gary: Samuel J. Weiser (bass-baritone)

the barren(s)

Libretto by Rebecca Hart

Music by Amber Vistein


Have you heard of the New Jersey Devil? If you grew up anywhere in or around southern NJ, you have. The Garden State's "official state demon" is said to reside in the wide mysterious swath of forest known as the Pine "Barrens" named because the soil is inhospitable to farming. Every year, the Barrens draws "dark tourists" eager to visit the Devil's supposed birthplace in the town of Leeds Point. In 1735, legend has it, the Devil was born human, the 13th child of a woman named Mrs. Leeds. When she uttered a fateful curse, however, her baby transformed, killing her... and haunting the woods forever.

the barren(s) takes a closer look at the woman who supposedly started it all, asking who Deborah Leeds might have been... and how her story might echo in the lives of women today.


Debbie Leeds: Katerina Burton (soprano)

Amanda Shroud: Rehanna Thelwell (mezzo-soprano)

The Ranger: Jonathan Bryan (baritone)

The Internet: Duke Kim (tenor) + Dennis Chmelensky (baritone)

American Apollo

Libretto by Lila Palmer

Music by Damien Geter


American Apollo is a story forged at the crossroad of celebrity, class, race, and power in America, teasing at the impossibly closed page of the personal relationship between two intensely private people with good reasons to be silent: John Singer Sargent, the closeted celebrity image crafter and public artist, and the Black-American artist's model, soldier, and muse Thomas McKeller. With special contributions from Sargent scholar Nathaniel Silver, and drawing on the recent Gardner Museum exhibition Boston's Apollo, comes a tale of individual courage and breathtaking vulnerability that peels the varnish off venerable historical figures to reveal the beating heart & simmering desire beneath Sargent's only uncommissioned monumental male nude. Is love blind, or does it have the keenest eyes of all?


Thomas McKeller: Justin Austin (baritone)

John Singer Sargent: Matthew Pearce (tenor)

Isabella Stewart Gardiner: Suzannah Waddington (soprano)

Driver: William Meinert (bass)

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