Former Chorister, Clifford D. Thomson, Bequeaths $1.1 Million to Washington National Opera

Washington National Opera (WNO) is grateful to announce the receipt of an unexpected $1.1 million donation from Clifford D. Thomson, a member of the Washington National Opera Chorus for 30 years. Thomson passed away May 6, 2016 in Naples, Florida, but his estate gift was just recently made known to the company. From 1975 to 2006, Thomson, a native Washingtonian, performed hundreds of times in more than 75 Washington National Opera productions. His first performance was in Verdi’s Otello while his last appearance was in Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore. To commemorate his generous gift, Thomson’s name will be etched on the marble walls of the Kennedy Center’s Hall of Nations.

“We are deeply moved to receive this extraordinary and unexpected gift,” remarks Timothy O’Leary, WNO’s general director. “This contribution is all the more meaningful coming from a member of WNO’s artistic family. Many WNO company members fondly remember Mr. Thomson’s sense of humor, his deep love of opera—especially Puccini—and the joy he brought to our productions. We are so grateful for his generosity, which will help us create productions of beauty and meaning on the Kennedy Center Opera House stage for generations to come.”

“Besides being a wonderful singer, Cliff Thomson cut a fine figure and wore our costumes easily and well for many, many seasons,” remembers Marsha LeBoeuf, WNO’s costume director. “Costume fittings with Cliff were our reward for surviving long work days. Always having a joke or a funny story to tell, he made us laugh so hard we forgot how tired we were. He was also notorious for divining ways to sneak out of costume quickly at the end of a show, making it a game to see how much of his own clothing he could leave on under his costume (without being detected) so he could exit the parking lot before the audience left the Kennedy Center.”

“Cliff was a long-time and much-loved chorister at WNO. Beneath his charming exterior was a very dedicated professional. He drove great distances from his home in Virginia for rehearsals and performances. I never once heard him complain in all the years we worked together,” adds Steven Gathman, WNO’s chorus master. “We all loved his wicked sense of humor and admired his tireless work ethic. Cliff loved to sing. He had a deep and abiding knowledge and understanding of beautiful music and was very respectful to those who helped create it. He was always the bright paisley shirt in a sea of tan khaki—simply irreplaceable.”

An obituary about Mr. Thomson’s life ran in his local paper, Loudoun Now, on June 14, 2016.


  • Kari Shinal (Shanley)

    Being a former student of Mr. Thompson at Loudoun Valley High School, I can safely say that he was one of the most dedicated choir teachers I had ever known. He would always tell us when we practiced for concerts that he would like to see the audience “peeing their seats” so as not to miss anything. I truly hold him dear to my heart and credit him for much during that time. He made us all strive for better than we thought we could ever be. He is and will always be greatly missed. Thank you for allowing me to leave this comment.

  • Mr. Thompson was such an awesome, caring, and oh so funny man. While teaching at Loudoun Valley High School he showed his students the joy and beauty of music. One of those students was my son, Matthew Lincoln-Bugg. Mr. Thompson helped my son and the rest of his students to want to pursue their dreams. I still remember my son as the lead in the LVHS production of Les Mis. Beautiful. I’m so very thankful for Mr. Thompson’s impact on my son and his many other students. He was a memorable teacher and an awesome man. Thank you, Mr. Thompson.

  • I loved Cliff with all of my heart. He was my teacher, my mentor, my dear, dear friend who saved me many times over during my formative years. I miss him every single day. I am not surprised by his love of and generosity to WNO.

    Miss you every day, Cliffy.

  • Mr. Thompson was the inspiration behind so many of us who had the great fortune to have him as our chorus teacher at Loudoun Valley High School . I will never forget him. I truly attribute my love of theatre and discovery of such as a young girl singing in his chorus. He was so passionate and taught me to strive for excellence as a performer. He nurtured my talent and encouraged me to pursue my dreams. I loved him. Rest in peace Cliff. You were generous with your time and shared your talent with so many. God bless.

  • We all have fond memories of singing with Cliff at St. John’s Lafayette Square – under the direction of Al Russell….slightly irreverent (well, actually…very…) he always made Sunday morning a little more fun….but inside that jocular exterior was a person who took his music-making very seriously indeed. A lovely memory: coming out of the 11:00 Christmas Eve service at St. John’s to find that the world had turned white – heavy snow falling. Cliff insisted that the entire choir clomp across the street to Lafayette Park and make snow angels – so we did, rolling around in the snow and singing…peace to you, dear Cliff.