Leah Crocetto | Meet the Artists

Soprano. Aida in Aida and Elisabeth of Valois in Don Carlo.


Leah was born in Adrian, Michigan and studied vocal performance at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. She made her WNO debut as Madame Lidoine in 2015’s Dialogues of the Carmelites.

She returns to WNO in the 2017-2018 season to take on not one but TWO Verdi classics! She made her role debut as Aida in the fall of 2016 with San Francisco Opera opposite Brian Jagde, and her role debut as Elisabeth of Valois in Opera Philadelphia’s 2015 production of Don Carlo, where she sang alongside Eric Owens. Of her performance in Aida, the San Francisco Chronicle raved her singing “emerged with ease and purity…and she could deliver the most crystalline thread of sound with equal mastery.” Philly’s Broad Street Review said Leah “was impressive as Elisabeth with fine-spun Verdian phrasing, haunting pianissimi, and a perfectly-placed high C at the finale.”

Read more

RETNA | Meet the Artists

Concept designer for Aida.


Born Marquis Lewis in Los AngelesRETNA drew inspiration for his name from a Wu Tang Clan lyric.

Deriving his style from the influences of illuminated manuscripts and other text-based art forms, RETNA has become an established contemporary street and studio artist.

Tidbit! RETNA has developed a unique constructed script with roots in calligraphy, hieroglyphics, Hebrew, and Native American typographies that is consistently seen throughout much of his work.

Read more

Carl Tanner | Meet the Artists

Tenor. Radamès in Aida.


Carl was born in Arlington, Virginia and attended Shenandoah Conservatory of Music.

He made his debut as Samson to rave reviews in Washington National Opera’s 2004 production of Saint-Saëns’ Samson et Delilah. Additionally, he has previously sung Radamès with the National Symphony Orchestra at Wolf Trap’s 2015 concert performance of Aida.

Fun Fact! Carl has worn a huge variety of different hats throughout his career, including but not limited to that of a big rig trucker, bounty hunter, singing waiter, and jewelry designer!

Read more

Yonghoon Lee | Meet the Artists

Tenor. Radamès in Aida.


Yonghoon Lee

Yonghoon was born in South Korea, and studied at Seoul National University and the Mannes College of Music.

This will be his first time with the Washington National Opera, as well as his first time playing the role of Radamès.

Notable moment: In his first professional appearance as Carmen’s Don José with the Opera Company of Middlebury’s debut production, Yonghoon pulled a banana in lieu of a prop knife due to low funds…to a great audience reception!

Read more

Tamara Wilson | Meet the Artists

Soprano. Aida in Aida.


Tamara was born in Arizona and brought up in the Chicago area. She attended the University of Cincinnati – College Conservatory of Music.

A veteran artist with Washington National Opera, Tamara has previously performed in WNO productions of Un Ballo in Maschera as well as Falstaff. The role of Aida will also be a familiar one; she has taken on the beloved role at both the Metropolitan Opera and Opera Australia.

Fun fact! Tamara runs a YouTube channel called Exit Stage Left, in which she gives advice for budding artists and vlogs about her various experiences as a professional opera singer.

Read more

For Further Reading: Aida

Aida performs in the Kennedy Center Opera House September 9-23

Written in an engaging and accessible style, William Berger’s Verdi with a Vengeance: An Energetic Guide to the Life and Complete Works of the King of Opera provides an overview of the composer’s life and the cultural context in which he worked, along with plot descriptions, commentaries, and recommended listening for individual operas.

In the three-volume The Operas of Verdi, Julian Budden offers a comprehensive composition history and musical analysis of each of Verdi’s operas, complete with musical illustrations. Volume Three of this indispensable series covers Don Carlos, Aida, Otello, and Falstaff.

Peter Conrad’s Verdi and/or Wagner considers two cultural giants of the 19th century: “a native son attached to the soil versus a wandering exile; a tribune of the people versus a dictatorial aesthete; a man of progress versus an atavistic myth-maker; a spokesman for afflicted humanity versus a creator of gods, giants, dragons, dwarves, and fairies.”

For Verdi’s Aida: The History of an Opera in Letters and Documents, Hans Busch collects and translates materials related to the unusual genesis of Verdi’s Aida, which was commissioned by and first performed at Cairo’s Khedivial Opera House.

Crossover Artist: RETNA

Aida performs in the Kennedy Center Opera House September 9-23

Artists from many disciplines—painters, architects, sculptors—have been inspired to “cross over” to the world of opera. Last season, Washington National Opera presented Jun Kaneko’s vison for Madame Butterfly, which originally premiered in Omaha, where the Japanese sculptor and ceramicist now makes his home. The production, Kaneko’s first foray into theatrical design, was a natural fit; after its successful premiere, Kaneko went on to design scenarios for The Magic Flute and Fidelio. Other modern artists who have made their mark in opera include Marc Chagall, David Hockney, and William Kentridge, among many others.

Read more

The Journey to Aida

Aida performs in the Kennedy Center Opera House September 9-23

With the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, the world grew smaller. The journey from Europe to India was instantly reduced by 7,000 kilometers. To mark the opening of the waterway—and to even more closely align Egypt and Europe—the Khedive, the ruler of Egypt, hoped to have a new piece from Verdi, who initially declined. Instead, Cairo’s Khedivial Opera House welcomed its first patrons with a production of Verdi’s Rigoletto, written nearly two decades earlier.

Read more

Inside the WNO Costume Studio: Madame Butterfly

The experience of designing in the opera really added an amazing
design point of view in my visual art. Opera is definitely everything:
sound, lights, space, just the whole natural world on the stage.
—Jun Kaneko (The Washington Post)

With opening night just weeks away, the WNO’s costume team is diligently working to build Jun Kaneko’s stunning costumes for Madame Butterfly. Step inside the WNO Costume Studio for a special glimpse into the process and see these designs come to life May 6–21 in the Kennedy Center Opera House.

A Lacquered Otherness: The Origins of Madame Butterfly

Madame Butterfly offers a tantalizing glimpse into another time and place: a Europe under the spell of the East, a moment of mutual fascination and mutual misunderstanding. Although Puccini wove scraps of exotica—an American anthem, a Japanese prayer—into his score, the opera is as Italian as it gets. The composer, having written Manon Lescaut, La bohème, and Tosca, was by then a master of the coloristic possibilities of both the Western orchestra and the operatic voice. While Butterfly’s soundscape may not be authentically Japanese, the emotional life Puccini conjures for his heroine has extraordinary power and depth—a surface delicacy that belies tremendous personal strength.

The story of one man’s encounter with the East via a temporary “marriage”—a transaction at once intimate and distant—can be traced to a semi-autobiographical novel penned by a French naval officer known as Pierre Loti in 1887. The Japan he describes is picturesque and charming—a porcelain tableau that never quite feels real.

At this moment, my impressions of Japan are charming enough; I feel myself fairly launched upon this tiny, artificial, fictitious world, which I felt I knew already from the paintings of lacquer and porcelains. It is so exact a representation! The three little squatting women, graceful and dainty, with their narrow slits of eyes, their magnificent chignons in huge bows, smooth and shining as boot-polish, and the little tea-service on the floor, the landscape seen through the verandah, the pagoda perched among the clouds; and over all the same affectation everywhere, every detail… Long before I came to it, I had perfectly pictured this Japan to myself. Nevertheless in the reality it almost seems to be smaller, more finicking than I had imagined it, and also much more mournful, no doubt by reason of that great pall of black clouds hanging over us and the incessant rain.

—Pierre Loti, Madame Chrysantheme

In Loti’s story, the narrator’s marriage to a Japanese “wife” is understood by both parties to be a temporary arrangement; when officer and geisha part, amicably, we see the title character testing the authenticity of the coins she has received. But if the human relationship was rather cold, Loti’s feeling for the exotic landscape was more than enough to carry the work to success; within five years, Madame Chrysantheme had been published in some 25 editions and translated into several languages, including English.

The episode was then taken up by the American writer John Luther Long, who published the novella Madame Butterfly in 1898. Here is the origin of the story opera lovers have come to know, a story in which bride and groom mean something very different when they profess their love. Pinkerton is genuinely overwhelmed with feelings for Butterfly, even as he knows he will eventually leave her. Later, when the young officer returns to Japan with his new American wife, Cio-Cio-San contemplates suicide, but then changes her mind, disappearing with her servant and child.

The director and producer David Belasco, recognizing the theatrical possibilities of Long’s story, adapted it for the stage in 1900. In Belasco’s version, the abandoned heroine follows her late father’s example, choosing to “die with honor.” This dramatic coup, retained by Puccini, not only forces Butterfly’s so-called husband to grapple with the effects of his actions, it also implicates all of us who have shared in Pinkerton’s captivation as the story unfolds. As the London Times put it, “in any other than an exotic setting, the dramatic episode would be intolerably painful.”

Belasco—and Puccini—rely on Japan’s “otherness” to draw us into what is, otherwise, a fairly grim story. But their vision of the geisha erases any distance between her heart and ours. In Belasco’s staged version of Madame Butterfly, Kate Pinkerton, as enchanted with Butterfly as her now-husband once was, attempts to take Butterfly into her arms, calling her a “poor little thing…pretty little plaything.” Butterfly rejects her label, then rises and asks, impassively, how long Kate and Pinkerton have been married. This a woman who will have the last word—who will die with honor as she makes all others question their own.

—Kelley Rourke is dramaturg of Washington National Opera

1 2 3 6