Music Director, 2010-2018
To replace the cancelled 2009 production of Götterdämmerung, a concert version was programmed instead. The French conductor Philippe Auguin was engaged to replace an ailing Heinz Fricke. After leading two electric performances, Auguin was an instant success with the orchestra, and upon Fricke’s retirement he was hired to be the next music director of the KCOHO.
Maestro Auguin, who had conducted opera and symphonic orchestras all over the world, immediately thrilled Washington audiences and critics. Philip Kennicott wrote of his Tristan: “Conductor Philippe Auguin and the orchestra…were the real stars of the afternoon. I’m not sure I’ve heard the opera orchestra play this well.”
Maestro Auguin’s impact on the orchestra over his eight-year tenure has been profound. He has hired thirteen of the current members—filling eight of the orchestra’s principal and assistant principal positions—and his demand for perfection in rhythm, dynamics, and intonation has brought the orchestra to an even higher level of musicianship.
In 2011 Plácido Domingo ended his 15-year tenure with the company, and Francesca Zambello became Artistic Director, along with Michael Mael as Executive Director. (St. Louis Opera General Director, Timothy O’Leary officially will assume the re-titled position of WNO General Director in summer 2018.)
Under Zambello, the WNO introduced two new projects. The Holiday Family Opera offers short family friendly productions, and the American Opera Initiative (AOI) is a commissioning and workshop program for new American composers and librettists, which presents four short new works each season. These performances utilize small ensembles from the KCOHO and singers from the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program.
Additionally, in recent seasons the WNO has championed contemporary American operas, including Jake Heggie’s Moby Dick and Dead Man Walking, Terrance Blanchard’s jazz opera Champion, the Pulitzer Prize winning Silent Night by Kevin Puts, to be staged in 2018, and the 2015 premier of a revised and expanded version of Appomattox by Phillip Glass. Representative John Lewis, who is represented in the opera, was present at the premiere to the great honor of all in attendance.