Tony Winner Jeanine Tesori at WNO Rehearsal

Tony-Award winning composer Jeanine Tesori visited WNO this week as the company rehearses her holiday opera, The Lion, the Unicorn and Me , a work commissioned by WNO Artistic Director Francesca Zambello that originally premiered at the Kennedy Center in 2013. “You never know what’s around the corner.” Jeanine Tesori discusses how a three-year old piano student grew up to be an award-winning composer. 


WNO Artistic Director Francesca Zambello is directing her revival production when Jeanine stopped by to hang-out with members of the
WNO Children’s Chorus. (Photo credit: Francesca Zambello)

How did you get started in music?
I started playing classical piano when I was three. My piano teacher made sure that I did a lot of improvisation and played in a lot of keys. He would let me play pop music, so I had fluency in many different styles. I learned how to play from a lead sheet, which is what a lot of bands play from. A lead sheet has just one line for the melody, plus an indication of the chord, and I had to fill in the rest—my right hand might stand in for the guitar, my left hand the bass.

When did you know you wanted to be a composer?
Very late. For a long time, I never even knew you could go into music as a career. I thought it was something you did as a hobby. I went to school to study science so that I could be a doctor. It wasn’t until I got to college that I realized people could “do” music full-time. When I graduated, I started working as a pianist, then as a conductor, then I wrote music for dance, and then I wrote music for shows. I did all of these things without having any knowledge of what would come next, which just goes to show that you never know what’s around the corner. 

When you are working on a new piece, how do you get started?
The way I work, I like to have the skeleton of an idea to start with. Then it’s my job to add the heart and the soul and the brain. Hopefully you come up with a person—I think of my shows like people—you can put into the world and watch walk away. Sometimes it may stumble, and sometimes it actually takes flight. Francesca Zambello, who is the director of the show, brought me this book—The Lion, the Unicorn, and Me—and I loved it immediately. It was a story I thought I knew, but retold from the vantage point of someone very small. As grownups, we sometimes forget what it’s like to be so small. When my daughter was younger, I always appreciated when people would get down on their knees to talk to her, because otherwise all she ever saw was kneecaps. In this story, you have this small child, this small animal, and this mother, and in a way, they are all carrying each other, all protecting each other.

What was it like to create music for so many different kinds of characters—humans, an angel, and an ark’s worth of animals?
Sometimes I will go to an opera in another language and realize that, even though I don’t know what the words mean, I can understand everything I need, just because of the music. I wanted that to be true for my animals, too. For the Lion, I chose a bass clarinet, which sounds deep and scary, and I used the harp in a way that made it sound like an African thumb piano. For the Unicorn, I thought of the harp in a different way—celestial and mysterious, like it might vanish at any moment. I also used a celesta, which looks like a piano but has bells inside. It has a magical sound. The Donkey’s music has a very plodding, patient quality. For the Flamingo, and especially the Cat, I had a lot of fun looking at videos on YouTube to see all the funny things these animals did, and I tried to put that kind of personality into the music.

What advice do you have for a young person interested in pursuing a career in music?
Try to step away from the computer as much as possible. Listen to as much different music as you can, and go to hear music live as much as you can. The things that happen in real time are so different than things that are recorded. It is different to be in the room with a musician, or with a teacher, or to be in a church, or in a sports arena. Things happen when we are together, and then they go away. We need to cherish those moments in our lives that can’t be played back by hitting a button. They can only be played back in your mind’s eye, which is an important thing for an artist—for
anyone—to develop.

—Kelley Rourke

Two AOI commissions selected for NY Times “The Best Classical Music of 2018”

AOI’s An American Soldier

AOI’s Proving Up

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WNO’s American Opera Initiative (AOI) is a comprehensive commissioning program that provides emerging composers and librettists with mentorship and opportunities to write for the opera stage. AOI’s mission is to ensure the future of contemporary American opera, and we’re succeeding! Washington National Opera is very proud to have two of its original AOI commissions, An American Solder (2014) and Proving Up (2018), selected by the New York Times as “The Best of Classical Music 2018” for individual productions held nationally this past year. Click to read the full article. 

WNO Choristers Dress for Success

WNO Choristers in La Traviata/photo by Scott Suchman

Washington National Opera benefits from having a chorus that includes some of the finest singers in the Mid-Atlantic area, adding musical depth and dramatic or comedic flair to each production. These opera singers are more than just background—they deftly add important elements to the story unfolding on stage. WNO’s chorus, drawn from an established pool of about 100 very accomplished artists, who sing in seven languages: English, Italian, French, German, Russian, Spanish, and Czech—no small feat! Three WNO Chorus members got dressed up for La traviata and stepped out onto center stage in small roles during the production: Spencer Adamson (baritone) performed as Flora’s Servant; Aurelio Dominguez (tenor) portrayed Giuseppe; and Rob McGinness (baritone) served as the Messenger. Here, the talented trio share their tricks of the trade for success: Read more

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.

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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.

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Venera Gimadieva named “40 Under 40: A New Generation of Superb Opera Singers”

Russian soprano Venera Gimadieva stars as Violetta Valery in WNO’s production of Verdi’s La traviata helmed by Artistic Director Francesca Zambello. Named one of the “40 Under 40” by Operavore, WQXR’FM’s popular digital 24/7 audio stream devoted to Opera, Venera’s debut in Washington is one not to miss! Also featuring tenor Joshua Guerrero and baritone Lucas Meachem, La traviata runs for 11 performances from October 6-21. For more information, please visit our website.

Read Fred Plotkin’s full article on the new generation of superb opera singers on Operavore.

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Welcome Timothy O’Leary!

Washington National Opera welcomes our new General Director Timothy O’Leary! We also extend our congratulations to Tim who was just re-elected to an additional two-year term as chair of the board for OPERA America, the national service organization for opera. We are so pleased to have this national arts leader as a member of our WNO family. Read more

Join us for Opera in the Outfield on September 29, 2018

#OperaInTheOutfield

PRESENTING SPONSOR

Mars, Incorporated

Free community event allows fans to lounge in the outfield

and watch an opera broadcast of Rossini’s laugh-out-loud rom-com

Washington National Opera (WNO) celebrates the eleventh season of free opera broadcasts at Nationals Park with Opera in the Outfield® on Saturday, September 29, 2018. Gates open at 5 p.m. for pre-show activities with the highlight of the evening, Rossini’s comic masterpiece, The Barber of Seville, broadcast on the high-definition Nationals Park scoreboard at 7 p.m. This popular free event is guaranteed to have fans belt out, “Figaro, Figaro, Figaro!” The opera is performed in Italian, with easy-to-follow English captions shown on the scoreboard. The approximate running time of the opera is three hours, including one 25-minute intermission.

Ample free seating will be available in the stands and access to seating on the outfield grass will be limited on a first-come, first-served basis. Patrons wishing to sit on the outfield grass will receive a free wristband, which will be distributed near the Family Picnic Area (at sections 141–143) beginning at 5 p.m. Accessible seating is available throughout Nationals Park, and assistive listening devices are also available. The event will be fully captioned. More information is available at OperaintheOutfield.org.

 

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