Robert Spano. (credit: Jason Thrasher)

Robert Spano named music director of Washington National Opera

EarRelevant Staff | 12 FEB 2024

Washington, DC— The Washington National Opera (WNO) has appointed conductor Robert Spano as its music director, who will commence his tenure in the 2025–2026 season. The company’s general director, Timothy O’Leary, and artistic director, Francesca Zambello, made the official announcement last Tuesday.

Spano assumes the role of music director designate effective immediately, then will commence his tenure as music director in the 2025–2026 season. He will lead the company’s musical endeavors, overseeing the Washington National Opera Orchestra, Chorus, and music staff. With a wealth of experience conducting world-renowned orchestras, Spano is poised to continue the artistic legacy of the orchestra and chorus, building upon the groundwork laid by current principal conductor Evan Rogister, who will continue in his role until the end of the 2024–2025 season.

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In addition to his conducting duties, Spano will collaborate closely with Zambello on artistic matters and play a pivotal role in mentoring the next generation of conductors through WNO’s partnership with the Solti Foundation, while offering musical inspiration to WNO’s Cafritz Young Artist Program through coaching and masterclasses.

Although Spano’s planned WNO debut in 2020 was canceled due to the pandemic, he debuted with the company in 2021 with the world premiere of “Written in Stone” — a commission by WNO to celebrate the Kennedy Center’s 50th anniversary featuring short operas by various composers.

“I am thrilled to be joining the Washington National Opera as its next music director, And have the opportunity to collaborate with the inspired and inspiring leadership of Francesca Zambello and Timothy O’Leary. I can’t wait to get started. I know we’re in for an exciting future,” said Spano in a Facebook video, expressing his enthusiasm for the future collaboration with the company.

Spano’s illustrious career spans decades, marked by successful engagements with leading orchestras and opera companies worldwide. Noteworthy among his achievements is his 20-year tenure as music director laureate of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, where he won four Grammy Awards® and garnered eight Grammy® nominations.

He is currently the music director of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra and Aspen Music Festival and School, and he was recently appointed principal conductor of the Rhode Island Philharmonic while the organization searches for a new music director.

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Spano made his acclaimed Metropolitan Opera debut in the production of Nico Muhly’s Marnie in 2018. He has led productions with the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Covent Garden, Houston Grand Opera, and Seattle Opera, where he conducted both the 2005 and 2009 Ring cycles. Abroad, Spano has led the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, BBC Symphony, Orchestra Filarmonica della Scala, the Sydney Symphony, and many others.

Expressing excitement over Spano’s appointment, general director Timothy O’Leary remarked, “Robert Spano is one of the world’s most respected and beloved conductors, and he has a particular talent for leadership as a music director.”

Artistic Director Francesca Zambello echoed O’Leary’s sentiments, highlighting Spano’s extensive experience and commitment to nurturing emerging talent within the opera community.

“I’ve known Robert’s work for decades when we were both emerging artists at BAM in the ‘90s. One of our first collaborations was in 1995 in the Covent Garden production of Billy Budd. I have always been impressed by his mastery of navigating the most complex forces in opera, from the Seattle Opera Ring cycle to Gruppen to our most recent collaboration on Mozart’s Idomeneo at Aspen Music Festival,” said Zambello. “At Aspen, I have seen Robert’s fierce commitment to mentoring the next generation of singers and conductors—this same commitment is embedded in WNO’s DNA and is an important aspect of our mission. He has also spent his career building and developing orchestras, and I know he will continue that tradition here. I look forward to an artistic partnership that not only nurtures the artists within the company but develops deeper connections to our audiences and community.”

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