WNO announces renewal of Francesca Zambello, names Evan Rogister as Principal Conductor

Francesca Zambello

Ellen Berelson, Chair of Washington National Opera’s (WNO) Board of Trustees, and Timothy O’Leary, WNO’s new General Director, announce important updates to the company’s leadership structure, laying the groundwork for a new era of bold artistic plans and service to the Washington community. WNO has renewed the engagement of Francesca Zambello as Artistic Director for three years, following a unanimous vote by the WNO Board of Trustees to extend her contract. Also announced is the appointment of American conductor Evan Rogister as Principal Conductor through the 2021–2022 season. Additionally, O’Leary and Zambello have completed the formation of WNO’s new management team through key hires for top administrative posts.

After 20 years of professional collaboration, O’Leary and Zambello, in their capacities as General Director and Artistic Director, now form an allied partnership, leading the company jointly. Since O’Leary’s start at WNO on July 1, they have begun work with WNO’s board and staff to examine WNO’s core artistic values, its relationship with the greater Washington area, and its role in the international artistic community. Their first major decision was to create the principal conductor position as they continue to develop their vision for Washington National Opera. Rogister will play an integral part of that vision as principal conductor, by holding the same responsibilities as a music director. His contract continues through the 2021–22 season, and will report to the general director.

Future seasons will build on the past successes of WNO and its commitment to large-scale, classic repertory—especially major works that have been absent from its stage for some time; the American Opera Initiative commissions; the engagement of American artists; further development of the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist program; and the continued focus on diversity and equality in every aspect of the company. O’Leary and Zambello also plan to enhance the company’s collaboration with the Kennedy Center though its programming content.

“Francesca has transformed WNO since her arrival, and her retention as artistic director was vital in serving the strategic goals of this company as we enter our next act,” says Berelson. “Francesca’s Ring Cycle was absolutely thrilling and it whetted our appetites for future insightful productions. Her dedication to both the classics and to American and other new works provides the perfect foundation for future Washington National Opera seasons. We are so delighted to welcome Evan to our WNO family, and we are excited for what is in store for our audiences.”

Timothy O’Leary

“The chance to work with Francesca is what drew me to this wonderful new job,” remarks O’Leary. “I could not be happier that we get to continue our collaboration. She is a visionary, inspiring colleague, and a great friend and partner. We are also both thrilled to welcome Evan Rogister to his new role. Evan is a dynamic, rising star, whose fresh perspective, vibrant musicianship, and collaborative style with the WNO Orchestra will help lead our company to new heights.”

“Tim and I will soon announce specifics of our bold long-term planning initiatives that explore current and relevant civic themes in classic operas and in contemporary works that exemplify the five goals and ideals commonly attributed to President Kennedy: Courage, Freedom, Justice, Service, and Gratitude,” states Zambello. “When we announce the 2019–2020 season, we will begin exploring these themes across our programming. We also look forward to a cycle of new works that expand WNO’s dedication to world premieres and America’s diverse array of established and next-generation composers and librettists.”

Following a unanimous vote by a selection committee comprising leadership from the WNO Board of Trustees, the Kennedy Center, the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra, and Washington National Opera Orchestra, Rogister will begin his work as Principal Conductor this season by hearing auditions for new players and attending rehearsals and performances. He will also conduct Washington National Opera’s 2019 gala concert, which will take place at the Kennedy Center Opera House on May 18. Rogister is scheduled to conduct two WNO productions during the 2019–2020 season.

Evan Rogister

“It’s certainly an exciting time to be at the Kennedy Center. I can’t think of two more passionate advocates for our art form than Francesca and Tim and I very much look forward to collaborating with them and being a part of all they have on the horizon for Washington National Opera,” says Rogister. “Since 2014, when I started coming to WNO as a guest conductor, I’ve felt a real affinity for the entire company’s spirit of music making—the orchestra, the chorus, the music staff, the Young Artists, the education department—everyone. So I’m thrilled at the opportunity to help shape WNO’s musical endeavors in the next years and communicate their love of opera with the entire community and nation.”

Rogister made his WNO debut in 2014 conducting Moby Dick and has returned to lead productions of Carmen (2015) and Aida (2017). Recently, he made his house debuts at The Metropolitan Opera conducting Mozart’s The Magic Flute and at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre leading Puccini’s La bohème; this past season also included Richard Strauss’s Salome at the Deutsche Oper Berlin and a new production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin at the Royal Swedish Opera. This month, he will lead the Royal Swedish Opera Orchestra and bass-baritone Bryn Terfel in a special concert to honor soprano Nina Stemme, the 2018 Birgit Nilsson Prize recipient. Rogister will also conduct Gothenburg Opera’s first ever Ring Cycle beginning in 2018 and ending in 2021 to coincide with the 400th Anniversary of the Swedish city’s founding, and will return to the Metropolitan Opera in the 2021-22 season.

O’Leary also announced important administrative updates, including the hiring of Samuel Gelber as WNO’s new Director of Artistic Planning. Currently with LA Opera, Gelber was previously with the Metropolitan Opera. Additionally, WNO has promoted two veteran WNO staff members to leadership posts: Stefanie Mercier to the role of Director of Artistic & Production Operations, and Becca Kitelinger to the role of Chief Development Officer.

During the Board’s Annual Meeting in May, Jeffrey Cunard was elected as the new President of the WNO Board of Trustees, succeeding Rob Downing. Cunard, the managing partner of the Washington office of the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, is an active participant in community activities and the arts, and has served as a WNO trustee since 2014. Jacqueline Badger Mars remains WNO’s Chairman Emeritus with Mrs. Eugene B. Casey as Washington National Opera’s Life Chairman.