The Washington National Opera announced today that the contract of its music director, Philippe Auguin, will not be renewed beyond the 2017-2018 season. He will become music director emeritus.
“Philippe has done wonderful things for the orchestra and for the company,” said Michael Mael, WNO’s outgoing executive director, who steps down July 1, in a telephone conversation on Monday morning. “I think we are ready to look for something else.”
The company said that the normally voluble Auguin, who is in Paris, was not available for comment.
Auguin, 56, will have completed eight seasons with WNO by the time he steps down from his post. Having made his company debut in 2009 as an 11th-hour replacement for his ailing predecessor, Heinz Fricke, in a concert version of Wagner’s “Twilight of the Gods,” he has particularly excelled in Wagner, leading “Tristan and Isolde” in 2013 and Francesca Zambello’s “Ring” cycle in 2016, which counts as one of the company’s great triumphs.
“After conducting a somewhat low-voltage Rheingold, WNO music director Philippe Auguin made magic of the subsequent orchestral music,” wrote Scott Cantrell in the Dallas Morning News.
He has not been equally comfortable in everything he conducted here — for instance, “Cosi fan tutte” in 2012. But he has been in peak form this spring, conducting a second production of “Madame Butterfly” here, as well as “Justice at the Opera,” featuring Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the Opera Ball.
“I think he served the company very well,” said Zambello, WNO’s artistic director, by phone on Monday. “Eight years is a good tenure to have.” She also said, “I think he is evolving toward a different aspect of his career, and we are evolving toward different needs from a music director.” The company is focusing, she said, more on American works and projects such as the American Opera Initiative, which involves 20-minute and hour-long new operas. The big Wagnerian repertoire, she said, “is not really in our financial ranges right now.” But Auguin “will stay part of our music family. He’s back this season, and in future seasons.” He will conduct Verdi’s “Don Carlo” — the final opera of his official tenure — at WNO in March.
Zambello’s current contract also runs through 2018; she had no comment about its extension. Both Zambello and Auguin reported to Mael, whose replacement has yet to be named.
Though there had been rumors about his contract for some time, Auguin had recently said in conversation that he hoped to stay on in Washington. With regard to the current announcement, his only official statement was made in WNO’s news release. “The artists of the WNO Orchestra and I can look back at the eight most extraordinary years,” he said. “My close connection to them, as well as to the chorus members and the members of the music staff, from the very first day, never ended. I thank them all for this and for all the triumphs we celebrated together — bringing the magic of our art to the music lovers.”