Founded in 1956 as a modest but intrepid ensemble known as the Opera Society of Washington,Washington National Opera (WNO) is today one of America’s largest opera companies. WNO draws inspiration from a rich legacy built on the values of artistic excellence, engagement with a broad community, and a thriving future for the art form of opera and its audiences. As an artistic affiliate of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, WNO performs fall and spring seasons in the 2,200-seat Kennedy Center Opera House. WNO also offers performances on Millennium Stage and at other venues at the Center and throughout the city, and offers training, educational, and enrichment programs year-round.
WNO’s artistic profile is marked by numerous highlights, including more than 100 new productions of world and American premieres, while also commissioning 28 chamber operas through its American Opera Initiative. With a commitment to presenting dramatically compelling works executed at the highest levels of artistry, the company balances the standard repertory with new and infrequently performed works. Some of opera’s most renowned artists have collaborated with WNO, including Gian Carlo Menotti, Franco Zeffirelli, Eva Marton, and Igor Stravinsky in the company’s early years, and more recently, José Carreras, former General Director Plácido Domingo, Renée Fleming, Juan Diego Flórez and Anna Netrebko, among many others.
In the past decade, the company has stepped into the international spotlight with ambitious projects such as a company-wide tour to Japan in 2002; international broadcasts; the acclaimed “American Ring” cycle; and the inauguration of wide-reaching education, training, and community enrichment programs.
Since its inception, WNO has actively fostered the careers of promising young artists, and many major artists appeared with the company early in their careers. WNO’s commitment to young talent was formalized in 2002, when Plácido Domingo founded WNO’s Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program, which today stands as one of the premier training residencies for artists on the verge of international careers.
Beyond the Opera House, WNO engages a broad public. Free and low-cost audience development programs such as Artist Q&As, lectures, master classes, BravO (a discount ticket program for young professionals 40 and under), and partnerships with other local cultural organizations ensure that WNO performances are accessible to all. The company was among the first to simulcast its productions, bringing free opera broadcasts to tens of thousands in an annual program known as Opera in the Outfield at Nationals Park. Coupled with award-winning youth education programs serving public schools in the District, Maryland, and Virginia, WNO’s programs are a vital resource not only for opera lovers, but for students and arts educators throughout the metro region. WNO productions have been heard nationally and internationally through radio and television broadcasts on NPR, XM Satellite Radio, and PBS, as well as through commercial audio and video recordings.
In addition to the hundreds of artists who appear with WNO each season, company members include the Washington National Opera Orchestra and Chorus; singers and coach/accompanists of the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program; and a corps of dedicated supernumeraries. Prior to onstage rehearsals and performances, these artists work at the WNO Studio at Takoma, which also houses WNO’s Costume Studio. Artistic and administrative leadership includes Timothy O’Leary, General Director, and Francesca Zambello, Artistic Director. They carry on a legacy established by the company’s founders and fostered by leaders such as former General Directors Martin Feinstein and Plácido Domingo.