Washington slams lid on the Domingo era

Washington slams lid on the Domingo era


norman lebrecht

May 25, 2011

In a manoeuvre that has been conducted with the pace of a lame tortoise, Washington National Opera has finally divested itself of an absentee director and appointed an artistic advisor of energy and commitment.

Francesca Zambello will be planning the show, with Michael Mael as executive director and Kennedy Center chief Michael Kaiser involved more closely than before. Zambello and Kaiser worked together when he ran Covent Garden and have remained in close contact. This appointment was Kaiser’s call but it took him years of tact and diplomacy to bring it about.

She has a day job at Glimmerglass Opera Festival but the two roles are complementary and will give her plenty of room to manoeuvre – and, boy, does Washington manoeuvre. Domingo, who was also running Los Angeles, singing all over the world and conducting whenever asked, was seldom there. He ran the company along the lines of a 1970s state enterprise, on stale repertoire and a steady flow of cash to cover crises. It was not a highlight of his illustrious career and he should be glad to put it behind him.

Zambello, a busy stage director, was in line to become director of New York City Opera a few years back only to be rejected over a weekend by a sexist board. That, in retrospect, seems a lucky escape. Washington is in for a good time.


Press Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:Wednesday, May 25, 2011Francesca ZambelloAppointed Artistic Advisor for Washington National OperaMichael L. Mael Named Company’s Executive Director(WASHINGTON, D.C.) –

Washington National Opera (WNO) today announced that Americandirector Francesca Zambello has been appointed the company’s Artistic Advisor. Simultaneously,Chief Operating Officer Michael L. Mael has been named Executive Director. With theseappointments, WNO enters into its affiliation with the John F. Kennedy Center for the PerformingArts (effective July 1, 2011) with a complete roster of artistic and administrative executives.As Artistic Advisor, Ms. Zambello will offer advice and expertise related to opera repertoire, casting and creative teams, working in close collaboration with Kennedy CenterPresident Michael M. Kaiser, WNO Director of Artistic Operations Christina C. Scheppelmann,WNO Music Director Philippe Auguin and newly appointed Executive Director Michael L. Mael.The Artistic Advisor position is designed to further develop WNO’s artistic profile.

“Francesca Zambello is a highly respected, creative artist, known for her forward-thinking,innovative style. Her deep experience in the international opera community, coupled with herintimate knowledge of Washington audiences, make her an ideal advisor as we work to extend therange of artistic opportunities for WNO,” stated Mr. Kaiser.

Ms. Zambello responded, “I am proud to join the team led by Michael Kaiser of such aworld famous cultural center in our nation’s capital. This is a city I love; I love the architecture, thediversity, the atmosphere, the drama. For me, this is the right job at the right time, and I will work topresent a rich range of international and national programming and use all of the various venues toproduce the finest standards in opera and musical theater. I look forward to working with MichaelKaiser, and the Kennedy Center and WNO staff, to carry on and further the tradition of qualityestablished by Martin Feinstein and continued by Plácido Domingo.”

Ms. Zambello has directedten WNO productions since her company debut in 2001 with Carlisle Floyd’s Of Mice and Men.(more)2Mr. Mael, a key administrator who led WNO through the Kennedy Center affiliationprocess, stated, “Francesca Zambello’s appointment is another important step forward for WNO.She brings both continuity and an eye towards the future. I look forward to working with Francesca,as well as with Michael Kaiser, Christina Scheppelmann and Philippe Auguin, to expand uponWNO’s legacy of high artistic quality.”As Executive Director, Mr. Mael will manage all WNO activities, working closely withWNO staff and Board, as well as with Kennedy Center leadership, to meet the organization’sartistic and financial goals.Commenting on the appointments, Kenneth R. Feinberg, President of WNO’s Board ofTrustees, said, “Washington National Opera’s Board has great confidence in Francesca Zambelloand Michael Mael, and in their ability to keep the Opera moving in a positive direction.”About Francesca ZambelloNewly appointed Washington National Opera Artistic Advisor Francesca Zambello made hercompany debut with Of Mice and Men in 2001, and has returned to direct Das Rheingold, DieWalküre, Siegfried, Porgy and Bess, Billy Budd, Fidelio and mostly recently, Salome. Aninternationally recognized director of opera and theater, Ms. Zambello’s work has been seen atthe Metropolitan Opera, Teatro alla Scala, the Bolshoi, Covent Garden, Munich Staatsoper, ParisOpera, New York City Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago and English National Opera. She has stagedplays and musicals on Broadway, at the Royal National Theatre, BAM, the Guthrie Theater,Vienna’s Raimund Theater, the Bregenz Festival, the Sydney Festival, Disneyland, Berlin’s Theaterdes Westens and the Kennedy Center. She is currently in her first season as Artistic & GeneralDirector of the Glimmerglass Festival, as well as the Artistic Advisor to San Francisco Opera,where she is directing a new production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle in June 2011.Ms. Zambello has been awarded the Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French government forher contribution to French culture, and the Russian Federation’s medal for Service to Culture. Hertheatrical honors include three Olivier Awards, two Evening Standard Awards, two French GrandPrix des Critiques, the Helpmann Award, the Green Room Award, a Palme d’Or in Germany andthe Golden Mask in Russia.She began her career as the Artistic Director of the Skylight Opera Theatre and as an assistantdirector to the late Jean-Pierre Ponnelle. She has been a guest lecturer at Harvard, Juilliard andYale. An American who grew up in Europe, she speaks French, Italian, German and Russian. She isa graduate of Colgate University in Hamilton, New York. Ms. Zambello’s complete biography isavailable at www.francescazambello.com.(more)3About Michael L. MaelMichael L. Mael joined Washington National Opera in April 2008 and was appointed ExecutiveDirector in May 2011. Formerly the Opera’s Chief Operating Officer, he was responsible for allfinancial and day-to-day operations of the company, and under his leadership, the organizationreturned to financial stability with four consecutive balanced budgets. He led the effort toaffiliate with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, ensuring the long-termstability of the Opera.Previously, Mr. Mael was the Vice President of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) atStrathmore, where he was responsible for launching and managing all activities related to theBSO’s second home at the new Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda, Md. In additionto overseeing the BSO at Strathmore’s Development, Marketing, Public Relations, andCommunity Outreach, Mr. Mael was the orchestra’s main liaison to Montgomery County andkey to introducing the BSO at Strathmore’s new brand to the Greater Washington, D.C. region.He has consulted for symphony orchestras and was involved in assessment and planning projectsfor the Minnesota Orchestra, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Buffalo Philharmonic, andwas the Director of Government Affairs for the American Symphony Orchestra League. Prior tohis career in arts management, Mr. Mael held senior executive positions with several technologycompanies, including Focal Communications, PSINet and MCI Communications.Mr. Mael is a 2005 graduate of Leadership Montgomery and is currently President of its Boardof Directors. He also serves on the board of the Cultural Alliance of Greater Washington and is amember of the Finance Committee of the Washington Chorus. Mr. Mael received his A.B. fromBrown University and his M.B.A. from Stanford University.About Washington National OperaFounded in 1956, Washington National Opera is recognized as one of America’s leading operacompanies. WNO continues to build on its rich history by offering operas of a high artisticquality, balancing popular grand opera with new or infrequently performed works. In addition,WNO fulfills its mission by serving as a vital resource throughout the Washington metro area,bringing opera to a broad and diverse public through its award-winning education andcommunity programs. On July 1, 2011, WNO will affiliate with the Kennedy Center, uniting thetwo organizations’ administrative and business functions. The previously-announced 2011-12season will include full productions of Tosca, Lucia di Lammermoor, Così Fan Tutte, Nabucco,and Werther, as well as concerts featuring Angela Gheorghiu and Deborah Voigt.


  • Your comment that Domingo ran the WNO along the lines of a “1970s state enterprise, on stale repertoire and a steady flow of cash to cover crises” might need some qualifications. The WNO, of course, didn’t have a steady flow of cash and is essentially bankrupt. And state run opera companies are often much more creative and adventuresome than America’s privately funded houses. A good example would be the Stuttgart Opera. I don’t know about the 1970s, but current public funding allows Europe’s state operas to find a reasonable balance between innovation and public appeal that often makes their seasons very lively.

    An interesting example is the fulltime, year-round opera house in little Pforzheim Germany (pop. 119,000) that last season put on the usual Mozart and Co. repertoire, but also presented works like Neikrug’s “Through Roses” and Turnage’s “Blood On the Floor.” The WNO, with its private American funding system, could only dream of presenting such works, and of having a 52 week season – and even though there are 5.6 million people in its metro area.

  • That was then. This is a very different board.
    Ask Ms Zambello – she’ll give you the full horrific story.

  • Lawrence says:

    She’s overextended by all of these positions — none of them will get the care & attention they deserve.

  • Rosana Martins says:

    I believe and hope that the superstar system is becoming a thing of the past. Our theaters need working, present, directors. I am sure Washington is winning with the change.

    Unfortunately, in Brazil, Placido Domingo asks U$500.000 per concert, to sing mostly zarzuelas and Aquarela do Brasil. Some journalists even seemed to find it natural!!! In Buenos Aires he received U$150.000 to do the same. He is a great artist, but where is ART in all these talks of dollars?

  • Patricia says:

    This has the makings of an enormous organization, with far too many Washinton insiders and manipulators all putting their oars in. Considering the politics of the Kennedy Center, this may not be the best idea in the world. Unhappily for Glimmerglass, much of it is run from New York City, which seems to want to run everything in New York State. If you live elsewhere in New York, you don’t count for much.