Voss-FrancescaZambello-21FINAL_cropEvery day from 10:30 in the morning until 10 in the evening, many of us are slaving away like Nibelungs in D.C.’s Takoma neighborhood, where the WNO rehearsal studios are located. In a sort of industrial building, we are fortunate to have three large rehearsal rooms the size of the Kennedy Center stage.

As a director, often these are my favorite times. You are in a rehearsal space with the performers and you can really talk and dig into the meaning of each scene, each word that Wagner wrote. With Wagner, we start by dissecting every scene together, usually around a table, investigating the words, the meanings of the “leitmotifs,” and how the characters interact. So many Ring scenes are just two or three people, so you have to really get on a wave together to find the meaning in the words and music – and then be able to bring the power of it all forward.

– Francesca Zambello, WNO Artistic Director and Ring director

Spotlight on Aleksandra Romano, Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist

Romano Aleksandra Headshot 2Mezzo-soprano Aleksandra Romano returns for a second season with the WNO Domingo-Cafritz Young Artists. Read even more about her here.

Where were you born?  Did you grow up in a musical household?

I’m originally from New Haven, CT. I grew up playing violin, but no one in the house was classically trained. I grew up on a healthy diet of folk and rock music, sprinkled with a little gospel. My brother is also a musician, though of more electronic music and rock.

Is that where you consider “home” today?

CT will always be my hometown, and I relish every minute that I get to spend there, but as a traveling singer, you learn to bring home with you, either in the form of small mementos or a dog or bringing your entire family along with you. I bring a couple of pictures and small things wherever I go, so that I can feel grounded, even if I’m in a hotel for a week or two. Read more

News from Nibelheim: My “Gift” to Ring Fans

Voss-FrancescaZambello-21FINAL_cropMany drinks are consumed in Wagner’s operas—and as my personal “Gift” to you, let me introduce my series of special recipes to salute these delightful libations!

(Now, remember that “Gift” in German means poison. So some of these drinks can get you really hammered. Over the next few weeks, I will offer some that are with alcohol, and some without!)

For our first beverage, remember in those old 19th-century etchings when you see a group of hunters dressed in armor with those funny helmets, and they’re always toasting each other with big copper mugs? What do you think they were drinking? I made up a cocktail to match the image and I’ve called it the “Sturm und Drang,” which literally means “Storm and Drive” or “Storm and Urge.” It’s based on other drinks we know, but with ginger beer.

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News from Nibelheim: Open up to the Wagner Experience

Voss-FrancescaZambello-21FINAL_cropNow I am sure everyone reading my blog has a different level of how they have experienced or perceive the works of Wagner. How about we just all get on the same page of starting fresh and discovering it anew?

Naturally, we will be doing many lectures and talks leading up to our production of the Ring. But a simple and fun book to use to explore the “Master” is Wagner without Fear by William Berger, easily available on Amazon.

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Spotlight on Michael Brandenburg, Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist

Brandenburg Michael HeadshotTenor Michael Brandenburg joined the WNO Domingo-Cafritz Young Artists in the fall of 2015. Read even more about him here. 

Where were you born?  Did you grow up in a musical household?

Austin, Indiana.  I come from a completely non-musical family.

Is that where you consider “home” today?

While growing up in a small, rural town in southern Indiana was certainly instrumental in shaping who I have become, I have felt right at home here in Washington and I plan on making this city my home.

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Spotlight on Timothy Bruno, Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist

Bruno Timothy J HeadshotBass Timothy Bruno joined the WNO Domingo-Cafritz Young Artists in the fall of 2015. Read even more about him here. 


Where were you born? Do you consider this home today?

I was born in Williamsport, PA: home of the Little League World Series. However, I lived in Toledo, OH from my sophomore year of high school until I came to Silver Spring for the Young Artist program.

What was your first transformative musical experience? How old were you?

Frankly, I had never been very into the popular music culture. Before I got into opera, and before opera, barbershop quartet music, I didn’t really connect to music. The one exception was, for some reason, when I was around 10 years old, I became obsessed with Jesus Christ Superstar. So obsessed, in fact, that I wore out my VHS copy of it.

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News from Nibelheim: What Exactly is Nibelheim?

Voss-FrancescaZambello-21FINAL_cropNibelheim is a place inhabited by people called the Nibelung. One of the defining characteristics of the Nibelung is their short stature. (Some of you may also know them from your kids’ video game called Final Fantasy). Here in the Domain of Alberich, who has renounced love to take possession of the gold, the Nibelung are working to forge the actual, ultimate power-giving ring.

But wait a minute… who really are our Nibelungen? You know, I’m always happy for any opportunity to get young people involved in the opera, so for WNO’s production of the Ring, we’ll be casting children dressed as the slaves of Alberich. Sometimes, I playfully call them the Munchkins. (Fun fact: Did you know there were 124 original Munchkins in Oz?!)

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Spotlight on Joel Ayau, Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist

AyauJoelheadshotJoel joined the WNO Domingo-Cafritz Young Artists as a pianist and coach in 2015. Read even more about him here. 


Where were you before you entered the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist program?

In the army! My first job after finishing my doctorate at Michigan was as the pianist for the Army Chorus, a part of the United States Army Band, “Pershing’s Own”. It was a great first job; interestingly, it was also the position that my piano teacher Martin Katz held during the Johnson administration. I was stationed at Fort Myer in Arlington, VA, and performed for visiting dignitaries, military ceremonies, and concerts. I also performed at Betty Ford’s funeral services, played for all of the former living presidents, accompanied Frederica von Stade and George Shirley, and travelled to China twice to assist in joint concerts between the US Army Band and the band of the People’s Liberation Army.

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News from Nibelheim: Creating the World of the Ring

Voss-FrancescaZambello-21FINAL_cropMany different inspirations went into the designs for WNO’s production of the Ring. Some of the inspirations used by the set, costume, lighting, and projection designers along with myself are right here in Washington and will be fun to share with you. Why not start with the first image? It’s the perfect, pure creation of the world suggested by Wagner in the opening chords of The Rhinegold.

We thought of the perfection of the natural world captured by the great German American painter Bierstadt.

There are four of his works in the National Gallery. Most importantly, there is Mount Corcoran, which was one of the opening inspirations for the natural world of the Rhine. And do not miss Frederic Church’s evocative Niagara (see below). 

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News from Nibelheim: Valhalla-luja!! The Ring Cycle is Coming!

Voss-FrancescaZambello-21FINAL_cropThe Ring Cycle is coming this season to WNO April 30–May 22. Many of you have already booked tickets and special benefits, but “News from Nibelheim” is a new blog series created just for you!

I’m starting this blog for our Ring-goers to give you updates and thoughts on what’s going on as we make our way on the “Road to Valhalla.” My deep and passionate love for all things Ring will be coming your way in this regular communication. It’s my way of personally staying in touch with you by sharing backstage life. Some of the comments will be light and fun, and some will touch on the powerful content and ideas that the Ring conveys. There will be a variety of topics, fun stuff, and even special cocktail recipes to salute the many drinks consumed in Wagner’s operas!

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