The Washington National Opera has named conductor Robert Spano as the company’s new music director, filling a position that has been vacant since 2018. Spano, who is currently the music director of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra and the Aspen Music Festival and School, will officially begin his three-year term in fall 2025, but he will immediately hold the title of music director designate. Spano will also continue as the music director laureate of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, a position he has held for 20 years and earned four Grammys during his tenure. Additionally, he will serve as the principal conductor for the Rhode Island Philharmonic as they search for their next music director.
This marks Spano’s first time leading an opera house, but his experience with operatic productions, including Nico Muhly’s “Marnie” at the Metropolitan Opera in 2018 and multiple “Ring” cycles at Seattle Opera, demonstrates his proficiency in the genre. His dedication to developing and performing new music from living composers makes him a particularly fitting choice for the Washington National Opera.
Spano recently conducted the four-part “Written in Stone,” commissioned for the Kennedy Center’s 50th-anniversary celebrations, marking his first appearance leading the Washington National Opera Orchestra. General director Timothy O’Leary expressed that Spano was the unanimous choice of all stakeholders, emphasizing the company’s mission to shape the future of the art form.
In a phone interview, O’Leary highlighted Spano’s gift for leading new works and giving them life, noting the importance of selecting a music director who personifies the company’s mission. From his home in the mountains of northern Georgia, Spano expressed his excitement about his forthcoming tenure in Washington, emphasizing that he plans to allocate more time to opera in his calendar as he takes on his role with the Washington National Opera.
When discussing his role and responsibilities, Spano indicated that he will be answerable to artistic director Francesca Zambello, with his primary responsibility being the care of the orchestra. While collaborative in nature, the ultimate programmatic and casting decisions will remain under Zambello’s domain, but Spano looks forward to working closely with her.
Looking ahead to the future of opera, Spano acknowledged the challenges facing the performing arts, particularly in light of the pandemic. However, he expressed confidence in the collective desire to keep opera in people’s lives, asserting that the art form has always been valued historically. With a positive outlook and a resilient attitude, he aims to persist in trusting the value of their work, drawing inspiration from the “Phoenix” attitude that has permeated his perspective after living in Atlanta for so long.
In conclusion, Spano’s appointment as the new music director of the Washington National Opera signifies the company’s dedication to shaping the future of the art form and maintaining a commitment to new and innovative works in the world of opera.