Washington National Opera Announces 2019 American Opera Initiative Festival

By Francisco Salazar

The Washington National Opera has announced its seventh season of its acclaimed American Opera Initiative (AOI) with four world premieres from Jan. 11–13, 2019, in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater.

The American Opera Initiative provides rare opportunities for emerging composers and librettists to partner and write for the opera stage.


The AOI Festival weekend begins with the world premiere of “Taking Up Serpents,” a new work by composer Kamala Sankaram and librettist Jerre Dye. In a press release, Sankaram noted, “I write opera with the goal of using musical storytelling to create empathy for unfamiliar people and places. ‘Taking Up Serpents’ is operatic as the characters’ faith imbues the world with meaning that is larger than life. To capture this world, I explored musical expressions of numerology and Christian mysticism. Each theme, chord, and rhythmic choice reflects a gnostic connection to man, God, or the devil. Through musical mysticism, I hope to provide a window into a culture that is far removed from the typical urban opera audience.”

Performance Dates: Jan. 11 & 13, 2019

The second part of the program will be AOI 20 minute operas. The three original one-act operas presented will showcase different aspects of American life and culture on the stage. Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist alumna Andrea Dorf McGray directs these two semi-staged concert performances, with Steven Osgood conducting a chamber orchestra of WNO Orchestra members. The three composer-librettist teams (Boehler/Barati, Joyce/Kennedy, and Benavides/Koch) have been collaborating on their one-act operas with distinguished mentors who have each enjoyed professional success with American operas. Their mentors have included composer Jake Heggie, librettist Gene Scheer, and conductor Steven Osgood. The works include “75 miles,” “Relapse,” and  “Pepito.”

Performance Dates: Jan. 12, 2019, at 7 p.m. & 9 p.m.