February 28, 2024


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Washington National Opera names Robert Spano as new music director

Washington National Opera on Tuesday announced the appointment of conductor Robert Spano as the company's new music director, filling a position that has been vacant since 2018. Spano's initial three-year term will begin in the fall of 2025, but he is adopting the title of music director-designate. Immediately. (WNO Principal Conductor Evan Rogester will continue in his role until his departure at the end of the 2024-2025 season.)

Spano, 62, is a well-known bandleader and music director Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra And also Aspen Music Festival and School. He spent 20 years (and four Grammy Awards) as music director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, where he continues to serve as award-winning music director. As the Rhode Island Philharmonic searches for its next music director, Spano will also serve as its principal conductor.

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The Washington National Opera gig will be Spano's first opera house, though his operatic resume is rich with highlights such as Nico Muhly's “Marnie” at the Metropolitan Opera in 2018 (his first appearance for that company), and two cycles of “Ring” at Seattle Opera , in 2005 and 2009. Spano's special penchant for developing and performing new music from live bandleaders makes him an auspicious choice for WNO.

Spano made his debut conducting the Washington National Opera Orchestra in 2022, conducting the four-part “Written in Stone” commissioned for the Kennedy Center’s 50th anniversary celebrations. WNO general manager Timothy O'Leary says Spano was “the unanimous choice of all our stakeholders.”

“Part of our mission as a national opera company is to shape the future of this art form,” O’Leary said in a phone interview. “And [Spano] He was kind of personified by this knack for leading new businesses and giving them life.

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In an interview from his home in the mountains of north Georgia, Spano offered some thoughts about his upcoming term in Washington.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

s: This is her first time leading an opera house. What does that mean to you at this point in your career?

a: When I was planning my departure, one of the things I was thinking about was making more time in my calendar for opera. Because I'm one of the lucky ones. We all get our titles, and throughout my life, I've always been considered, I think, not as an operatic conductor, but as a symphonic conductor. Of course, many of us don't care about being one or the other. I've been very lucky, because I've been able to keep my operatic life alive all the time with two or three productions a year. But this will be the first time with the opera house. It's like a miracle.

s: So why is this? Aside from the fact that it requires a distinct set of skills, why is the distinction between symphony and operatic conductor so widespread that it requires luck to overcome?

a: The only explanation I can come up with is our love of stickers. You know: she specializes in Mozart's music. He's a new music major. He's a symphony conductor. She is the conductor of the opera. You kind of have to make your way through other people's labels for what you do.

s: The first time I “met” the WNO Orchestra was when I came to conduct “Written in Stone.” How did he do it? They beat you?

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a: Oh, they were great. I think one of the things I found most impressive about them is their willingness and engagement in new businesses. Not every orchestra is accepted for this task. It's different to be involved in a new work, because you kind of have to figure out what it is as you're living it, especially, you know, for world premieres like that. Their interaction with her was really great. For me, having done a lot of new music in my life, I find that playing old music goes well with new music and vice versa. You know, again, another branding issue, but they were great at diving into this stuff and making it come to life.

s: What are the broad outlines of your work, and to what extent is the musical director involved in the programming of WNO productions?

a: I am responsible for [artistic director] Francesca Zambello. My direct responsibility is to take care of the orchestra. I've known Francesca forever. I love working with her. So of course we'll talk about everything, but the final programmatic and casting decisions are definitely her domain. But I like this collaborative role. I think it's very healthy, when it comes down to it, for certain authorities to invest in an individual.

s: What are your thoughts on what it will take to bring opera to more people and give it a new boost of energy when the art form seems to be struggling?

a: I think everyone is grappling with this in the performance world, because people are no longer behaving the way they were before the pandemic. Many of us compare notes. But I have great confidence that we collectively want that in our lives. There has never been a time historically when it didn't matter. I've heard about the “death of classical music” since I was a kid. I think this is the time to keep going and persevere. Not in a rigid way, but insisting on trusting that what we do is of value to all of us. Maybe it's because I've lived in Atlanta for so long, but I have Phoenix behavior.

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An earlier version of this article listed the incorrect years for Robert Spano's debut with the Metropolitan Opera and his debut conducting the Washington National Opera Orchestra. The article has been corrected.