Washington National Opera artistic director to leave

Washington National Opera - Christina Scheppelmann, courtesy of Washington National Opera

The other shoe has dropped at the Washington National Opera: Christina Scheppelmann, the company’s director of artistic operations, announced Thursday that she will step down at the end of November.

She is taking on a new position, although she cannot announce what it is until her new employer makes it official at the end of the month.

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Scheppelmann was responsible for selecting repertories, directors and casts for the company. In short, she has been largely, if not exclusively, responsible for WNO’s artistic profile in the past few years, particularly as Placido Domingo’s tenure drew to a close. Since WNO’s merger with the Kennedy Center in 2011 and the appointment of Francesca Zambello as artistic adviser, there has been some question about how well two women with divergent artistic visions would be able to work together.

Scheppelmann’s departure paves the way for Zambello to take an even more active role at WNO — starting with conferring with the Kennedy Center’s president, Michael Kaiser, and WNO’s executive director, Michael Mael, on the choice of Scheppelmann’s successor.

Zambello “is the artistic adviser, and this is the key artistic position” at the company, Mael said Thursday morning. “It’s critical that she be involved in the decision.”

Don’t look for big changes soon; Scheppelmann says she’s overseen repertory and casting through the “Ring” cycle in the 2015-16 season.

At the same time, WNO has announced details for the first season of its American Opera Initiative, the new program it announced in January to provide opportunities for young American composers. The first works — three operas of 20 minutes each — will be performed Nov. 19 at the Terrace Theater by members of the Domingo-Cafritz young artist program. In June, an hour-long work, “The Tao of Muhammad Ali (A Ghost Story)” by D.J. Sparr, will have its world premiere.

Both the 20-minute operas and the one-hour work are conceived as regular components of future WNO seasons.

The young artists will be mentored by composer Jake Heggie, librettist Mark Campbell, and conductor Anne Manson.

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