February 28, 2024
Questions with... Robert Spano, WNO Music Director Designate

What are you most excited about becoming the music director of WNO?
When I left Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, where I was a music director for 20 years, one of the things I hoped for in my calendar was more opera. So for this to happen is a kind of miracle. Conductors get labeled symphonic conductor or opera conductor. But I’ve been very lucky in my life. I’ve always managed to keep operatic engagements as part of my calendar every season.

Another factor is WNO Artistic Director Francesca Zambello. The first time I worked with Francesca was in the ’90s. We did a very special production of Billy Budd, a return of the original four-act version to Covent Garden. I've loved working with her forever. I just have so much admiration for her work. So the opportunity to collaborate with her more is fantastic.

What do you like particularly about conducting opera?
Oh, there are so many things. One is the beauty of the human voice. I love singers. And collaborating and performing with singers is a special kind of joy. I also love the extension of the art form into so many things. I love the attentions paid to the visuals of set design, of costumes. There’s so much richness to the full spectrum of what happens in an opera. And then just as a musician, I am fascinated with how dramatic time works in relationship to musical time. Sometimes those things are hard to reconcile. But in opera there are different ways of addressing that problem. I mean, in a sense, the invention of recitative and aria was a way to address that.


What do you like about the WNO Orchestra?
The first time I worked with this orchestra was Written in Stone during the 2021–2022 season. That was four commissioned works. It’s not every orchestra who would be so committed to bringing new work to life like that. They were absolutely wonderful. They play all kinds of music at the Kennedy Center. I think having that kind of schedule makes the orchestra very versatile and capable of many things. That to me is a virtue.

I also think Evan did a wonderful job with the Orchestra in the past few years. None of us come into anything like this without building on the work of who was there before. And I’m so honored to be following him. I’ve known him for many, many years. We worked on the Ring cycle together in 2009 in Seattle. He’s remained a wonderful colleague and friend.


You are most identified with Atlanta. And now you are coming to D.C. What do you think of that prospect?
The most time I ever spent in D.C. was when I was doing Written in Stone. It was wonderful because I didn’t know the city. I had worked with the National Symphony Orchestra and I had visited as a tourist and done those kinds of things. But to be there, and to just be in the city—I just had the most wonderful time. D.C. is unique. It’s certainly not a New England city. But it’s not really a southern city. It has a really different feel. I am happy to explore more.

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