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Francesca Zambello named artistic director of Washington National Opera

When Francesca Zambello was named artistic advisor to Washington National Opera last year, after the company became an official part of the Kennedy Center, a widely held assumption was that she would eventually emerge as artistic director.

The assumption proved correct.

On Thursday morning, WNO made it official that Zambello, one of the opera world's most respected and in-demand stage directors, has been named WNO's artistic director, effective Jan. 1.

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She joins an administrative team that includes Kennedy Center president Michael Kaiser, WNO executive director Michael Mael and WNO music director Philippe Auguin. She will also direct one production per season, as well as oversee the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program and the American Opera Initiative, a project recently launched by the company to commission new works.

In a statement, Zambello said that she will aim to maintain "the high standards set by my predecessors" and "will respect what appeals to our long-time patrons and supporters while at the same time ...

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work hard to attract new audiences to opera."

"This is a challenge I embrace unequivocally, and I look forward to sharing more of my plans in the coming months," Zambello said.

As stage director, she has been responsible for some of WNO's most memorable productions of the past 11 years, including Carlisle Floyd's "Of Mice and Men," her company debut in 2001; Britten's "Billy Budd" in 2004; Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess" in 2005 and 2010; and, especially, her imaginative and incisive version of Wagner's epic "Ring" Cycle, dubbed the "American Ring," which was aborted after "Siegfried" in 2009 due to funding concerns, but is scheduled to be presented complete in 2016.

The 2012-2013 season, which opens this weekend with Donizetti's "Anna Bolena," will feature a Zambello-directed production in the spring: Jerome Kern's "Show Boat" (this staging was introduced last season by Chicago Lyric Opera).

Prior to the fusion with the Kennedy Center, the primary artistic force for the company was mega-tenor Plaicdo Domingo, who began as the company's artistic director in the mid-1990s and was named general director in 2003. He stepped down in 2011.

Also playing a major role at WNO has been director of artistic operations Christina Scheppelmann, who departs this fall after a decade with the company to become CEO of the Royal Opera House Muscat in Oman.

PHOTO BY CLAIRE McADAMS

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