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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Director Francesca Zambello on Don Giovanni

For this season’s showcase of the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artists, WNO presents a staged performance of Mozart’s timeless drama Don Giovanni featuring engaging set and costume design elements–with the WNO Orchestra conducted by Michael Christie and direction by WNO Artistic Director Francesca Zambello. Join us for the performance on March 17 in the Opera House.

There was a time when people used the term “Don Juan” to refer to a kind of charming rogue. Today, we see nothing charming about a man who won’t take no for an answer. How do we approach a character like Don Giovanni in 2017?

No one was giving workshops on consent when Mozart and Da Ponte wrote Don Giovanni, but that doesn’t mean the creators of the opera condoned Giovanni’s actions. The complete title of the opera is Il dissoluto punito, ossia il Don Giovanni (“The debauched punished, or Don Giovanni”). This is an opera about a bad guy who gets what he deserves.

It’s true that we can get overly comfortable with some of the great, standard operas. We bask in Mozart’s beautiful melodies, we compare interpretations, we marvel at modern stagecraft. But I don’t think that’s what the creators ever intended for this piece. We should be disturbed by the events that unfold. This is a drama with serious consequences.

I’ve directed Don Giovanni many times, but I don’t think I have ever chosen to make it so clear that the opening scene between Don Giovanni and Donna Anna is an attempted rape. I have always struggled with it, as there is textual uncertainty in the libretto, but this time I made a conscious choice with the artists. It really seemed so clear to me, directing this piece immediately after Dead Man Walking, which begins with a violent rape. I want the audience to understand from the beginning what kind of man we are dealing with.

So why spend an evening with these characters? Why put a man like Don Giovanni at the center of an opera?

Look, if you’re going to the opera to find characters to model your behavior after, you might want to reconsider. That said, I do think the great operas teach us a lot about life. I think that’s especially true of the three operas that Mozart and Da Ponte wrote together (the other two being The Marriage of Figaro and Così fan tutte). Those two didn’t just give us good guys and bad guys—they gave us an array of complicated human beings.

We opened our season with The Marriage of Figaro. The Count is a character who has some things in common with Giovanni. But everyone in that opera has some less-than-enlightened moments—as do we all. In Figaro, the Count eventually finds redemption when he admits his wrongs and asks forgiveness. It is one of the most moving moments in all of opera. Giovanni, on the other hand, refuses the Commedatore’s call for repentance. Again, it is interesting for me to consider themes that resonate across our season. In Dead Man Walking, Sister Helen pours all of her energy into getting De Rocher to confess and confront his crimes before he dies, which he ultimately does.

I believe we go to the theater to hold up a mirror to our own lives. Maybe a piece like Don Giovanni can help us recognize moments, hopefully at a less significant scale, when our desires become more important than other people’s feelings; when we enable a predator; when we are tempted to stray from a relationship; when we fail to comprehend the depth of a friend’s suffering; when we behave like victims. And with any luck, we’ll be able recognize our own failings before we get to the point where we, like Don Giovanni, are pulled down to hell.

What can you tell us about this production?

Mozart and Da Ponte’s opera is so character-driven, the words and music—in the hands of great performers—are practically enough to create the world. We are keeping it simple in terms of staging so that the focus can be on the complex psychology.

It has been a joyous and fulfilling process to work on this piece with our amazing Domingo-Cafritz Young Artists. They have really dug into their roles, and I have had a blast working on the characters with them. I cannot say enough about this group of singers. Not only am I looking forward to their WNO performances, I am looking forward to watching their interpretations of these fascinating characters evolve as they go forth to continue their careers around the world.

Our 2017-2018 Season Has Just Been Announced! — By Artistic Director Francesca Zambello

Click here for the full Kennedy Center new “classical” season announcement.

There are so many things I love deeply and passionately about our art form of opera. Opera can expose us to concepts we’ve never imagined before—it leads us to wrestle with ambiguity, multiple interpretations, and ideas that we can find soothing or jarring. Opera can be the launching pad to stimulate conversations about humanity—it can combat indifference, ignorance, and polarization. And opera can transport us from the day-to-day—showing us that its value does not lie in its utility.

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Spotlight on Robert Ainsley, Program Director of WNO’s American Opera Initiative and Domingo-Cafritz Young Artists

Before we dive into opera, tell us a little bit about yourself! When did you discover your love of the arts?

I grew up in a small city in the north of England with a lot of history – Durham, with its beautiful 1,000 –year-old Norman cathedral and castle. I was very academic and ‘nerdy’ through high school, and my big break came when I received a government scholarship to attend the private school in my hometown. Although my mum had paid for a few guitar lessons (she always harboured secret hopes that I would be the next Jimmy Page…), my first real musical experience came at 11, when the school provided me with free violin and piano lessons ‘in return’ for my singing treble in the chapel choir; it seemed like a good deal to me, and I never looked back.

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Daughters, Mothers, Warriors

wno_16-17_daughteroftheregiment_620xlongFrom the playbill for The Daughter of the Regiment

by Kelley Rourke, WNO Dramaturg

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Much of the humor and suspense of Donizetti’s The Daughter of the Regiment concerns the title character’s lack of “feminine” influence. Can a young girl brought up on the battlefield ever take her place in polite society?

For some legendary women warriors, the call to military service crowded out any other desire. Joan of Arc took a vow of chastity as a teenager and successfully petitioned against an arranged marriage. When she was captured and tried, the charges against her ranged from heresy to dressing like a man. Joan is perhaps the most notorious—but far from the only—cross-dressing patriot. In our country, Deborah Sampson served for three years in the Revolutionary War under the name “Robert Shirtliffe,” and once cut a musket ball out of her own thigh to avoid having her deceit discovered by a doctor.

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