Tony Winner Jeanine Tesori at WNO Rehearsal

Tony-Award winning composer Jeanine Tesori visited WNO this week as the company rehearses her holiday opera, The Lion, the Unicorn and Me , a work commissioned by WNO Artistic Director Francesca Zambello that originally premiered at the Kennedy Center in 2013. “You never know what’s around the corner.” Jeanine Tesori discusses how a three-year old piano student grew up to be an award-winning composer. 


WNO Artistic Director Francesca Zambello is directing her revival production when Jeanine stopped by to hang-out with members of the
WNO Children’s Chorus. (Photo credit: Francesca Zambello)

How did you get started in music?
I started playing classical piano when I was three. My piano teacher made sure that I did a lot of improvisation and played in a lot of keys. He would let me play pop music, so I had fluency in many different styles. I learned how to play from a lead sheet, which is what a lot of bands play from. A lead sheet has just one line for the melody, plus an indication of the chord, and I had to fill in the rest—my right hand might stand in for the guitar, my left hand the bass.

When did you know you wanted to be a composer?
Very late. For a long time, I never even knew you could go into music as a career. I thought it was something you did as a hobby. I went to school to study science so that I could be a doctor. It wasn’t until I got to college that I realized people could “do” music full-time. When I graduated, I started working as a pianist, then as a conductor, then I wrote music for dance, and then I wrote music for shows. I did all of these things without having any knowledge of what would come next, which just goes to show that you never know what’s around the corner. 

When you are working on a new piece, how do you get started?
The way I work, I like to have the skeleton of an idea to start with. Then it’s my job to add the heart and the soul and the brain. Hopefully you come up with a person—I think of my shows like people—you can put into the world and watch walk away. Sometimes it may stumble, and sometimes it actually takes flight. Francesca Zambello, who is the director of the show, brought me this book—The Lion, the Unicorn, and Me—and I loved it immediately. It was a story I thought I knew, but retold from the vantage point of someone very small. As grownups, we sometimes forget what it’s like to be so small. When my daughter was younger, I always appreciated when people would get down on their knees to talk to her, because otherwise all she ever saw was kneecaps. In this story, you have this small child, this small animal, and this mother, and in a way, they are all carrying each other, all protecting each other.

What was it like to create music for so many different kinds of characters—humans, an angel, and an ark’s worth of animals?
Sometimes I will go to an opera in another language and realize that, even though I don’t know what the words mean, I can understand everything I need, just because of the music. I wanted that to be true for my animals, too. For the Lion, I chose a bass clarinet, which sounds deep and scary, and I used the harp in a way that made it sound like an African thumb piano. For the Unicorn, I thought of the harp in a different way—celestial and mysterious, like it might vanish at any moment. I also used a celesta, which looks like a piano but has bells inside. It has a magical sound. The Donkey’s music has a very plodding, patient quality. For the Flamingo, and especially the Cat, I had a lot of fun looking at videos on YouTube to see all the funny things these animals did, and I tried to put that kind of personality into the music.

What advice do you have for a young person interested in pursuing a career in music?
Try to step away from the computer as much as possible. Listen to as much different music as you can, and go to hear music live as much as you can. The things that happen in real time are so different than things that are recorded. It is different to be in the room with a musician, or with a teacher, or to be in a church, or in a sports arena. Things happen when we are together, and then they go away. We need to cherish those moments in our lives that can’t be played back by hitting a button. They can only be played back in your mind’s eye, which is an important thing for an artist—for
anyone—to develop.

—Kelley Rourke

Kylee Hope Geraci & Holden Browne | Meet the Artists

Sopranos. Angels in The Lion, the Unicorn, and Me.

Meet our two talented angels in WNO’s heartwarming family opera!

Kylee Hope Geraci

Kylee, 11, makes her WNO debut with The Lion, the Unicorn, and Me. She’s loved singing and music ever since she started talking, and has performed in area musical theater productions and vocal recitals since she was four years old. Two of her favorite songs to sing are “The Lonely Goatherd” (The Sound of Music) and “Quiet” (Matilda). When she’s not performing, Kylee loves writing, reading, swimming, and arts & crafts.

Holden Browne

Holden, 13, made his WNO debut in 2017 as the title character in The Little Prince. Holden says that performing is “exhilarating, because I get to become a different character.” He enjoys a wide variety of songs and plays the clarinet in his school’s symphonic band. In his spare time, he likes to play ultimate Frisbee.

Soloman Howard | Meet the Artists

Bass. Lion in The Lion, the Unicorn, and Me

“Hometown favorite” (Washington Post) Soloman Howard returns to D.C. to reprise the title role of Lion in The Lion, the Unicorn, and Me. Soloman is an alum of the Manhattan School of Music and Morgan State University and a 2014 graduate of our Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program. He was last seen on the WNO stage as The King in 2017’s Aida.

Soloman has performed on opera stages around the world, from The Metropolitan Opera to Teatro Real de Madrid. Now he’s back to display his “magical voice” (Washingtonian) as the brash but endearing lion.

Listen to Soloman perform“The Grinch Song.”

Visit Soloman’s website for more information.

Two AOI commissions selected for NY Times “The Best Classical Music of 2018”

AOI’s An American Soldier

AOI’s Proving Up

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WNO’s American Opera Initiative (AOI) is a comprehensive commissioning program that provides emerging composers and librettists with mentorship and opportunities to write for the opera stage. AOI’s mission is to ensure the future of contemporary American opera, and we’re succeeding! Washington National Opera is very proud to have two of its original AOI commissions, An American Solder (2014) and Proving Up (2018), selected by the New York Times as “The Best of Classical Music 2018” for individual productions held nationally this past year. Click to read the full article. 

WNO Choristers Dress for Success

WNO Choristers in La Traviata/photo by Scott Suchman

Washington National Opera benefits from having a chorus that includes some of the finest singers in the Mid-Atlantic area, adding musical depth and dramatic or comedic flair to each production. These opera singers are more than just background—they deftly add important elements to the story unfolding on stage. WNO’s chorus, drawn from an established pool of about 100 very accomplished artists, who sing in seven languages: English, Italian, French, German, Russian, Spanish, and Czech—no small feat! Three WNO Chorus members got dressed up for La traviata and stepped out onto center stage in small roles during the production: Spencer Adamson (baritone) performed as Flora’s Servant; Aurelio Dominguez (tenor) portrayed Giuseppe; and Rob McGinness (baritone) served as the Messenger. Here, the talented trio share their tricks of the trade for success: Read more

Seeking humanity in War by Tomer Zvulun

Director Tomer Zvulun reflects on WNO’s next production: Silent Night

From the first moment I listened to Silent Night, I felt that it deeply touched a personal side in me. Kevin Puts’s music along with Mark Campbell’s libretto uniquely captures the dichotomy of love and war and creates a world that is both specific and universal at once. It captures the humanity of the characters and the comforts that friendship and music bring to the bloodiest of all human experiences—war. Read more

Alexander McKissick | Meet the Artists

Tenor. Nikolaus Sprink in Silent Night.

Hailing from Madison, Connecticut, Alexander made his WNO debut in the 2017–2018 season of the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program. This season, he returns to the Artist Program to perform his role debut as Nikolaus Sprink plus roles in Faust and The Lion, the Unicorn, and Me.

In his fast-growing career as a tenor, Alexander has won international awards and sung roles ranging from Alfredo Germont in La traviata to Monostatos in Die Zauberflöte. In May 2018, Alexander reached the finals of OPERALIA, one of the most prestigious and important international vocal competitions in the world.

Watch Alexander perform on the Millennium Stage.

View Alexander’s artist page for more information.

Kenneth Kellogg | Meet the Artists

Bass. Father Palmer in Silent Night.

Born and raised in D.C., Kenneth is quickly gaining recognition as a sought-after rising star. He’ll return to his hometown for his role debut as Father Palmer after making his WNO debut in 2010’s Un Ballo in Maschera.

Since graduating from our Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program in 2012, Kenneth has performed everywhere from Switzerland’s Opéra de Lausanne to San Francisco’s Opera Parallèlle.

Kenneth is noted by critics for his “commanding stage presence” and “rich, resonant bass.”

 “[From Silent Night] I hope audiences will grasp that the joys of life rest in the things that transcend our differences,” Kenneth told WNO.

Watch Kenneth perform Sam Bankhead’s aria in The Summer King at Pittsburgh Opera.

Follow Kenneth on Instagram or visit his website for more information.

Raquel González | Meet the Artists

Soprano. Anna Sorensen in Silent Night.

Raquel is a familiar face at WNO; she graduated from the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program in 2017 where she performed the roles of Donna Anna in Don Giovanni and Cio-Cio San in the DCYA performance of Madame Butterfly. She returns for her role debut as Anna Sørensen after a successful season as Tatiana in Lyric Opera of Kansas City’s Eugene Onegin and Violetta in Cincinnati’s Queen City Opera production of La traviata.

Critics hail Raquel as a “true artist” (Opera News) and a “marvel of voice and stage” (KC Metropoolis).

Read our Q&A with Raquel to learn about her first transformative musical experience and how she discovered she loved opera.

View Raquel’s website for more information.

1 2 3 9