Washington National Opera (WNO) General Director Timothy O’Leary and Artistic Director Francesca Zambello announce the appointment of conductor Robert Spano as Music Director of the WNO, beginning in the 2025–2026 season. Spano becomes the music director designate, effective immediately, until his initial three-year term begins in September 2025.
As WNO Music Director, Spano will provide musical leadership for the company, overseeing the Washington National Opera Orchestra, Chorus, and music staff. Spano’s extensive experience conducting world-renowned orchestras position him to continue the excellent artistic work of the orchestra and chorus under its current Principal Conductor Evan Rogister. The role also includes working closely with WNO Artistic Director Francesca Zambello on artistic matters, mentoring the next generation of conductors through WNO’s partnership with the Solti Foundation, and providing musical inspiration to WNO’s acclaimed Cafritz Young Artist Program through coaching and masterclasses.
After his scheduled WNO debut with Beethoven’s Fidelio in 2020 was postponed due to the pandemic, Spano made his debut in 2022 with the world premiere of Written in Stone—WNO’s commission to celebrate the Kennedy Center’s 50th anniversary. Written in Stone combined short operas by Carlos Simon, Huang Ruo, Kamala Sankaram, and Jason Moran into a single evening. Spano joins an eminent group of former WNO Music Directors including Heinz Fricke (1993–2010), Paul Callaway (1956–1967), John Mauceri (1980–1982), and Philippe Auguin (2010–2018). Evan Rogister debuted with Washington National Opera in 2014 and was appointed as principal conductor in 2018. Rogister continues in this role through the end of the 2024–2025 season.
“Robert Spano is one of the world’s most respected and beloved conductors, and he has a particular talent for leadership as a music director, a position he has held to acclaim several times in the symphony world, but not yet in the opera world,” said General Director Timothy O’Leary. “When our WNO Orchestra musicians worked with him on Written in Stone—an ambitious, complex, and meaningful project for our company—there was an instant rapport and musical bond. We are thrilled to welcome him to the WNO family.”
O’Leary continued, “Francesca and I are so grateful to Evan Rogister for his extraordinary work and collaboration. He is in high demand at the major houses and festivals of the world, and WNO has been fortunate to have him for seven seasons as our Principal Conductor. Since 2018, Evan has led the WNO Orchestra and Chorus, performing at a tremendously high levels in acclaimed productions of Elektra, Roméo et Juliette, and many others. During his tenure, he auditioned and appointed 15% of the orchestra’s membership, including six musicians in leadership roles, presiding over a period of sustained artistic growth and recognition for the caliber of the orchestra. Evan has also prioritized the mentorship WNO’s Cafritz Young Artists and he initiated WNO’s partnership with the Solti Foundation to develop operatic experience in young conductors. He is also one of the great colleagues in this business, whose conscientious leadership during the pandemic was especially invaluable. We look forward to cheering on his continued success on the international operatic scene.”
“I’ve known Robert’s work for decades, when we were both emerging artists at BAM in the ‘90s. One of our first collaborations was in 1995 in the Covent Garden production of Billy Budd. I have always been impressed by his mastery of navigating the most complex forces in opera, from the Seattle Opera Ring cycle to Gruppen to our most recent collaboration on Mozart’s Idomeneo at Aspen Music Festival,” said Artistic Director Francesca Zambello. “At Aspen, I have seen Robert’s fierce commitment to mentoring the next generation of singers and conductors—this same commitment is embedded in WNO’s DNA and is an important aspect of our mission. He has also spent his career building and developing orchestras and I know he will continue that tradition here. I look forward to an artistic partnership that not only nurtures the artists within the company but develops deeper connections to our audiences and community.”
Music Director Designate Robert Spano said, “I am thrilled to be joining the Washington National Opera as its next music director. In 2022, I had the opportunity to work with the company and its excellent orchestra in the extraordinary commissioning project, Written in Stone. This company is well known for its vision, and I am tremendously excited to collaborate with both Timothy O'Leary and Francesca Zambello in what I know will be an exciting future.”
Robert Spano’s decades-long career includes success in conducting the world’s most prestigious orchestras and opera companies, including the New York and Los Angeles Philharmonics, the Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Minnesota Orchestras, and the San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, and New World Symphonies, among many others. He is also the music director laureate of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, where he was music director for 20 years and won four Grammy Awards® and eight Grammy® nominations. He is currently the music director of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra and Aspen Music Festival and School, and he was recently appointed principal conductor of the Rhode Island Philharmonic while the organization searches for a new music director.
Spano made his acclaimed Metropolitan Opera debut in the production of Nico Muhly’s Marnie in 2018 and has led productions with the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Covent Garden, Houston Grand Opera, and Seattle Opera, where he conducted both the 2005 and 2009 Ring cycles. Abroad, Spano has led the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, BBC Symphony, Orchestra Filarmonica della Scala, the Sydney Symphony, and many others.
Spano also recently returned to his early love of composing. His newest work is a song cycle on Rilke’s “Sonnets to Orpheus” that he wrote for mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor. In 2016, he premiered his Sonata: Four Elements for piano at the Aspen Music Festival, and a song cycle, Hölderlin-Lieder, for soprano Jessica Rivera.