Washington National Opera Has Announced its 2020–2021 Season

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Washington National Opera Has Announced its 2020–2021 Season

Washington National Opera's (WNO) 2020-2021 season offers an ambitious mix of sweeping political epics and intimate stories of interpersonal relationships, centered on human pursuits of justice, power, and love. Led by General Director Timothy O'Leary and Artistic Director Francesca Zambello, WNO announces the six mainstage titles in the 2020-2021 season: Fidelio, Nixon in China, Boris Godunov, Rigoletto, Così fan tutte, and La bohème. Of these, five are productions new to WNO, including the company premiere of Nixon in China, and all feature internationally acclaimed artists, many in much-anticipated WNO debuts. Embarking on his third exciting season as WNO Principal Conductor, Evan Rogister leads performances of Musorgsky's monumental Boris Godunov (not seen in D.C. for more than 20 years) and Puccini's poignant La bohème.

Critically acclaimed soprano Renée Fleming makes her opera directorial debut with Così fan tutte, as does esteemed director Elkhanah Pulitzer in her WNO debut in Nixon in China. Celebrated conductors Robert Spano, David Robertson, and Dalia Stasevska make their first appearances with the company leading the WNO Orchestra. WNO's American Opera Initiative continues for its ninth season of offering world premieres by a new generation of American composers.

Debuts by both rising young stars and recognized talent-in roles, with the company, and in the U.S.-include Anna Caterina Antonacci, Angel Blue, Ryan Speedo Green, Elza van den Heever, Christopher Maltman, Adam Plachetka, Sergey Skorokhodov, Alexandros Stavrakakis, Kang Wang, and many others.

This season will also see the return of many WNO favorites including: conductor Roberto Abbado, singers Brandon Jovanovich, Ryan McKinny, Eric Owens, Sean Panikkar, Andrey Zhilikhovsky, and many more.

"This is a season of our dreams," says WNO Artistic Director Francesca Zambello, "with a range of opportunities to confront the complications of human existence, from spectacular historical dramas (Fidelio, Nixon in China, and Boris Godunov) to beloved stories of the human soul (Così fan tutte, Rigoletto, and La bohème). Each of these operas, which span five centuries and four countries, offers a distinctive musical style, and we have assembled some of today's leading artists to bring them to life. As always, we strive to bring casts and creative teams who reflect the diversity of 21st-century America."

"We are deeply grateful to the WNO family of supporters for making possible such an ambitious lineup of productions and such an acclaimed roster of artists," says WNO General Director Timothy O'Leary. "I am also so grateful to Francesca for her vision-for giving us a season that represents not only the highest levels of artistic excellence, but also a wide range of works from great musical and dramatic minds that inspire conversations about the world in which we live today."

"The breadth of repertoire this season presents a thrilling opportunity for the Washington National Opera Orchestra and Chorus," says WNO Principal Conductor Evan Rogister. "From Musorgsky's epic dimensions to Mozart's sublimely balanced proportions, the season's unique styles and virtuosic demands require great flexibility on the part of an opera company's musical forces. We can't wait to share this musical journey with our audience."


WNO opens the 2020-2021 season with a new production of Beethoven's timeless ode to love's capacity to triumph over tyranny in Fidelio, October 24-November 9, 2020, in celebration of the composer's 250th birthday in 2020. Renowned conductor Robert Spano-who serves as Music Director of both the Aspen Music Festival and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra-makes his WNO debut with Fidelio.

Acclaimed South African soprano Elza van den Heever brings her signature vocalism-which the Associated Press described as "blessed with a plush, dramatic voice capable of formidable power and dazzling high notes"-to the challenging role of Fidelio (Leonore) in her WNO debut. Praised for his "ardent, heroic tenor" (The Wall Street Journal), highly sought-after tenor Brandon Jovanovich stars as the prisoner in need of rescue, while baritone Brian Mulligan-in his role debut-portrays Florestan's villainous nemesis, Don Pizarro. The stellar cast features Marian Anderson Award winner and rising star bass-baritone Ryan Speedo Green in his WNO mainstage debut as Rocco, former WNO Young Artist tenor Joshua Blue, and celebrated bass-baritone and WNO favorite Eric Owens in a cameo return as Don Fernando.

Nixon in China

The fall repertory period continues with the WNO premiere of John Adams's celebrated 20th-century classic Nixon in China, October 31-November 14, 2020. A noted champion of contemporary American classical music, conductor David Roberston makes his WNO debut with Nixon in China, as does director Elkhanah Pulitzer.

The cast features a diverse ensemble of important International Artists led by "rich bass-baritone" (The Wall Street Journal), Ryan McKinny making a return to WNO in the titular role of Richard Nixon. Proclaimed as "one of the stars of his generation" (Opera News), tenor Sean Panikkar returns to WNO to make a role debut as Mao Tse-tung. The cast is rounded out by a host of notable company debuts including American soprano Joélle Harvey-a favorite of the Glyndebourne Festival and having recent appearances at such important houses as Covent Garden and the Metropolitan Opera sings First Lady Pat Nixon; coloratura soprano So Young Park-who has sung frequently with the Metropolitan Opera, LA Opera, and others-takes on the virtuosic role of Madame Mao; American bass-baritone Craig Colclough, fresh off successes with the Metropolitan Opera, LA Opera, and Oper Frankfurt, marks yet another role debut in his appearance as Henry Kissinger; and baritone Joo Won Kang as Chou En-Lai.

Boris Godunov

The mainstage offerings continue in the spring with Modest Musorgsky's telling of Pushkin's epic story of politics come-to-life in Boris Godunov, February 20­-March 17, 2021. WNO's own Artistic Director Francesca Zambello and Principal Conductor Evan Rogister lead the massive forces of this new production whose story traverses the sweep of Russia's rich tapestry in a towering tale of deception, guilt, and revolution. These performances of Boris Godunov mark its return to Washington after more than 20 years.

Russia's native son and highly sought-after Wagnerian bass-baritone Evgeny Nikitin takes on the title role for the first time in North America in this work of conflict between a ruler and his people. In his role debut as Pimen, acclaimed bass Kwangchul Youn brings his "charismatic and dynamic" (The New York Times) performance style to the production. Both artists make their WNO returns after a more than a 15-year absence. Internationally acclaimed tenor Štefan Margita makes his WNO debut in his signature role, Shuisky. A WNO favorite, American mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Bishop makes an overdue return to WNO after her most recent appearance in Le nozze di Figaro, and star tenor of Russia's Mariinsky Theatre Sergey Skorokhodov and emerging bass David Leigh make their WNO debuts in this production.


The trio of spring offerings continues with Verdi's exciting and gritty tale of a court jester Rigoletto, February 21-March 20, 2021. In a long overdue return to the WNO Verdi specialist Maestro Roberto Abbado leads this Italian masterpiece with a cast made up almost entirely of company debuts. Having regularly performed at leading international opera houses, including the Metropolitan Opera, Vienna State Opera, Bavarian State Opera, renowned Grammy®-nominated baritone Christopher Maltman takes on the title role for the first time in North America. Operalia prizewinner and rising star tenor Pene Pati brings his "lustrous" (San Francisco Chronicle) voice to the role of Duke of Mantua , while South African soprano Vuvu Mpofu-also an Operalia prizewinner-brings her "sumptuous tone" (The Guardian) to the role of Gilda. Internationally acclaimed bass Stanislav Trofimov, and rising mezzo-soprano Alisa Kolosova, fresh from successes with the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Bayerische Staatsoper, and more, will also appear on the WNO mainstage for the first time in the conniving brother/sister duo of Sparafucile and Maddalena.

Così fan tutte

An all-star cast offers a lively performance of the cynical Don Alfonso and his friends Ferrando and Guglielmo by impugning the constancy of their fiancées, sisters Dorabella and Fiordiligi, in Così fan tutte, February 27-March 19, 2021.

"One of the most beloved divas of our day" (Opera Now) and Kennedy Center Artistic Advisor at Large Renée Fleming makes her directorial debut and Principal Guest Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra Dalia Stasevska makes her WNO and American operatic debut in Mozart's Così fan tutte.

"Radiant" (Opera Today) soprano Laura Wilde and one of the most exciting mezzo-sopranos singing today Anna Stéphany take on the roles of sisters Dorabella and Fiordiligi in their WNO debuts. While highly sought-after lyric tenor Kang Wang and "impressive" (Opera Wire) baritone Andrey Zhilikhovsky take on the roles of the cynical friends. Renowned for her singular, indelible performances over three decades, Italian soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci makes a significant role and company debut as Despina in a rare U.S. appearance. Internationally acclaimed and award-winning baritone Paulo Szot brings his "commanding presence" (The Guardian) to the role of Don Alfonso

La bohème

The season concludes as WNO mounts a spectacular production of Puccini's beloved classic La bohème, May 15-29, 2021, led by Principal Conductor Evan Rogister. Widely considered one of the most popular operas in the repertoire, the story of Bohemian artists in Paris tangled up in love's highs and lows will feature grand sets evoking the city of love.

Produced with two spectacular casts, La bohème features a range of exciting WNO debuts. Established as one of the most impressive and versatile artists singing today, soprano Angel Blue makes her company debut. With her "killer high notes and killer theatrical instincts" (Los Angeles Times), Blue will bring "her honeyed timbre" (The New York Times) to the tragic role of Mimì. Since receiving the Richard Tucker Award in 2009, tenor Stephen Costello has appeared at many of the world's most important opera houses-including Royal Opera, Covent Garden and Lyric Opera of Chicago; he returns to WNO in the role of Rodolfo. Making his company and role debut as Marcello, Czech bass-baritone Adam Plachetka has performed at the Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Wiener Staatsoper, Paris Opera, and Covent Garden. A graduate of the WNO's Young Artist program, Jacqueline Echols sings Musetta, having recently made her Metropolitan Opera debut in Massenet's Manon, quickly followed also by Musetta. Baritone Adrian Timpau, another WNO debutant who has been praised by critics as possessing vocal glamour and a magnetic stage persona sings Schaunard. Significantly, these performances mark the North American debut of the recent first prize winner of the 2019 International Tchaikovsky Competition, bass Alexandros Stavrakakis who sings Colline. WNO veteran Arthur Woodley makes a cameo appearance as Benoit/Alcindoro.

In a separate cast, "honey-toned" (Star Tribune) tenor Evan LeRoy Jonson makes his WNO debut as Rodolfo opposite Marian Anderson award winner, soprano Janai Brugger, who returns to WNO in her first-ever outing as Mimì. Recent Operalia prizewinner Gihoon Kim as Marcello marks yet another instance in this season's long list of notable North American and role debuts.

A special DCYAP Performance of La bohème takes place on Friday, May 28, 2021, and features singers from the Young Artist program in principal roles. Complete casting for this performance will be announced in the coming months.

The season also features the return of the annual American Opera Initiative, and the return of the new conversation series launched last season, Let's Go There. Other exciting events include the annual Opera in the Outfield® at Nationals Park, and future WNO programming hosted at the Kennedy Center's new annex, the REACH.

Washington National Opera 2020-2021 Season Schedule

Performance Dates, Theater, Production

October 24-November 9, 2020, Opera House, Fidelio

October 31-November 14, 2020, Opera House, Nixon In China

November 30, 2020, Opera House, Marian Anderson Vocal Award Winner

January 16, 2021, Terrace Theater American Opera Initiative Festival: Three 20-Minute Operas

February 20-March 17, 2021, Opera House, Boris Godunov

February 21-March 20, 2021, Opera House, Rigoletto

February 27-March 19, 2021, Opera House, Così fan tutte

May 15-29, 2021, Opera House, La bohème

American Opera Initiative

Guided by program director Robert Ainsley, WNO hosts the ninth season of its groundbreaking American Opera Initiative, a comprehensive commissioning program that celebrates the continuing vitality of new American opera. The popular three 20-Minute Operas, featuring the work of three new composer-librettist teams, are presented at two performances on Saturday, January 16, 2021 in the Terrace Theater. The 2021 AOI 20-Minute Operas will be mentored by award-winning composer Anthony Davis, acclaimed librettist Kelley Rourke, and renowned conductor David Neely.

Since its launch in 2012, the American Opera Initiative 20-minute commissioning program has empowered young composer and librettist teams to write short chamber operas. During the process, they are mentored by three major creative figures in the field today who guide the teams throughout the entire process: from finding a subject and fleshing out characters to pacing the drama and writing idiomatically for the voice. Through the American Opera Initiative, emerging composers and librettists gain the rare opportunity to have their works come to fruition by working alongside performers and the music staff of the Young Artist Program as well as musicians from the WNO Orchestra. More information on the three composer-librettist teams and complete casting for the 20-Minute Operas will be announced at a later date.

Other Special Vocal Events of the 2020-2021 Season

Named for the groundbreaking African American contralto, the Marian Anderson Vocal Award recognizes a young American singer in opera, oratorio, or recital repertoire with outstanding promise for a significant career. In addition to a cash prize and an educational residency at Washington's Duke Ellington School of the Arts, the winner performs in a recital co-presented by WNO and the Kennedy Center's Fortas Chamber Music Concerts. This year's recipient is Will Liverman, who gives an intimate performance on November 30, 2020, at 7:30 p.m. in the Terrace Theater. Previous recipients include Ryan Speedo Green, John Holliday, Janai Brugger, J'Nai Bridges, Soloman Howard, and Lawrence Brownlee, among others.

The Renée Fleming VOICES and Fortas Chamber Music Concerts series in 2020-2021 features "eloquent interpreter" (The New York Times) Grammy Award®-winning mezzo-soprano Susan Graham and the "excellent musicians" (Chicago Tribune) of Music from Copland House ensemble, November 18, 2020, in the Terrace Theater. The centerpiece of the evening highlights a major collaboration between Grammy®-winning composer Richard Danielpour and Pulitzer Prize-winning author and former U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove. Specifically written for the talents of Susan Graham and the ensemble, this robust song cycle chronicles our history from the pivotal 1960s to today.

The National Symphony Orchestra's 2020-2021 season features several large-scale choral works:

Beethoven's Missa Solemnis in October, Szymanowski's Stabat Mater in May, and Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex in June, led by music director Gianandrea Noseda; as well as its annual performances of Handel's Messiah, led by Fabio Biondi in December.


Subscriptions for the WNO's 2020-2021 season are available for renewal or purchase beginning February 5 at the Kennedy Center Subscription Office, online at, and via phone at (202) 467-4600; toll-free at (800) 444-1324. For all other ticket-related customer service inquires, call the Advance Sales Box Office at (202) 416-8540.

Artists and performances are subject to change.

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