There has been another conductor change at the Washington National Opera. A look at the company’s website reveals that Michael Christie is no longer conducting “Aida,” which opens the company’s season Sept. 9. Instead, Evan Rogister, who conducted “Carmen” and “Moby-Dick” here in recent seasons, will take over as conductor of this Francesca Zambello production, designed by the graffiti artist RETNA, which opened in San Francisco last November.
Reached in his office on the final day of his WNO tenure earlier this week, Michael Mael, the company’s now-departed executive director, said the change in “Aida” conductors was the result of what he called a mutual agreement between Christie and the company. There was no public announcement of the change, he confirmed. “We just did it,” he said.
Given that the company last week announced that the contract of its current music director, Philippe Auguin, would not be renewed when it expires at the end of the 2017-18 season, is this a sign that Rogister is the next music director? “Unless you’ve heard something that I haven’t heard, no,” Mael said, laughing.
A search committee to find Auguin’s replacement is being formed, and several sources support Mael’s statement that Zambello, the company’s artistic director, will not be serving on it. However, the Kennedy Center’s president, Deborah Rutter, will, according to emailed statements Rutter sent Wednesday, while she was traveling, in response to questions.
An informal search may have been ongoing.
“The moment you start looking for a new music director is the moment you hire somebody as music director,” Mael said, meaning that an informal search begins as soon as the new guy is in place. (Not everyone might agree.) “Clearly everybody who comes to conduct … can be considered candidates.”
Christie, the music director of the Minnesota Opera widely bruited as a new-music specialist, was one of the first names that came to mind; this spring, he conducted both “Dead Man Walking” and a young-artist production of “Don Giovanni” with the Washington National Opera. Several people both within and outside the company, however, say that the orchestra strongly disliked him.
The other conductors in 2017-18 include Jane Glover, Maurizio Benini, Nicole Paiement, James Lowe and Auguin, who will return in March to lead “Don Carlo.” Of these, Rogister is certainly among the likeliest candidates: He’s capable, young (37), flexible and at least half American (he has dual U.S.-German citizenship), all characteristics that have seemed desirable to the current artistic leadership. The company, Zambello said in a phone interview last week, is looking for someone “more involved in American work, more in residence.”
WNO finds itself at a time of major transition. It is being run on an interim basis by three administrators now that Mael has left; a search for his replacement is ongoing. It is searching for a new music director, and it has a new board chair, Ellen Berelson, replacing Jacqueline Badger Mars (who remains chairman emeritus). Zambello’s current contract also is up at the end of 2018; a verdict on that is expected in the fall.
Unclear, too, is the exact role of Rutter in the various decisions about the company’s future. In Wednesday’s emailed statements, Rutter said that she was on the review committee that considered Auguin’s contract extension but that “the Executive Director has responsibility for personnel matters.” As for Zambello’s potential contract extension, Rutter wrote, “As is traditional with a role that reports to the board and in this case the President of the Kennedy Center as well, we have a process for considering her contract that will include trustees as well as myself.”