Francesca Zambello to Join Washington National Opera

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With her inaugural season at the helm of the Glimmerglass Festival less than six weeks away, Francesca Zambello has been appointed artistic adviser to the Washington National Opera.

Zambello, the award-winning director of Broadway's “The Little Mermaid," as well as productions at the Metropolitan Opera, replaces Plácido Domingo, who makes his exit as executive director next month. Michael L. Mael, who has been the company's chief operating officer, inherits the title of executive director.

The company also enters into its affiliation with the Kennedy Center on July 1, which means a relationship between WNO and Kennedy Center president Michael M. Kaiser. While Mael will focus on the logistical end of the company, Zambello will take the reins when it comes to repertoire, casting and creative teams in conjunction with director of artistic operations Christina C. Scheppelmann and music director Philippe Auguin.

“This is a city I love; I love the architecture, the diversity, the atmosphere, the drama,” Zambello, who has directed ten productions for WNO since 2001, said in a statement. “For me, this is the right job at the right time.” The director and administrator has a busy summer from coast to coast: In addition to Glimmerglass’s season (which includes Carmen, Cherubini’s Medea, Annie Get Your Gun starring Deborah Voigt and a double-bill of two new works), her complete Ring Cycle runs at the San Francisco Opera House from June 4 to July 3.

Such a division between artistic and business duties presents a viable solution to arts organizations that struggle between the desire to create innovative and unrivaled productions while still keeping the seats filled. While Domingo brought a prestigious name to the D.C. opera company, his overextended schedule has often left the ship without a captain. To ensure the company’s survival, they merged with the Kennedy Center (in a deal brokered in part by Mael) and have been searching for a new leader since Domingo announced last fall that he would not renew his contract.

Will Zambello make for a keen replacement to Domingo on WNO's roster? How do you think the merger with the Kennedy Center will affect the company? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.