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January 20, 2011

Washington National Opera to affiliate with Kennedy Center in July

Ending months of speculation, Washington National Opera and the Kennedy Center announced Thursday an affiliation of the two organizations, beginning July 1.

Talk of a possible union spread last year and intensified after Placido Domingo announced he would step down as general director at the end of the 2010-11 season.

Domingo is quoted in Thursday's press release saying that he supports "fully" this "important new direction for Washington National Opera."

WNO has had its share of difficulties raising money, and a merger with the Kennedy Center was widely viewed as a wise business move. Having Michael Kaiser as Kennedy Center president is seen as another bonus; he has a remarkable track record of helping to turn around arts organizations, including the Royal Opera in London.

The Kennedy Center already has the National Symphony Orchestra under its administrative wing. Having an opera company, too, makes the center

seem more than ever the cultural hub of the region.

Here are excerpts from statements in the press release:

"This affiliation will ensure that the Washington area will forever have a strong, vibrant and world-class opera, and that is a plus for the Kennedy Center, WNO, and lovers of opera everywhere." -- Kennedy Center chairman David M. Rubenstein.

"[By] formally affiliating, we and our audiences will reap the benefits. The Kennedy Center is a world-class arts institution, and WNO is thrilled at the endless possibilities that such an association will enable. WNO is particularly pleased to work with Michael Kaiser, a former trustee of the Opera, a long-time supporter and opera lover, and one of the most accomplished and respected arts managers of our day.” -- WNO president Kenneth R. Feinberg.

"This affiliation will allow greater possibilities for opera productions in multiple venues throughout the Center and I look forward to building on the Opera’s foundation of artistic excellence with diverse and energizing programming.” -- Kennedy Center president Michael M. Kaiser.

There's no word yet on how much of the WNO staff will be retained. WNO will maintain its status as a separate nonprofit -- 501(c)3 -- organization and retain its board of trustees. The Kennedy Center will take over responsibility for the company's "administrative and business functions, including marketing, communications, finance, sales, and information technology operations," according to the release. Artistic programming will be "developed jointly" by opera staff and Kaiser and "will be approved by the WNO Board of Trustees." Fundraising operations will be combined.

Like the NSO, the opera company will be under the umbrella of a financially stable parent organization that enjoys significant backing from the government as well as private sources. That stability, along with the assorted advantages of being a major component in a thriving arts center, should allow the opera company to grow considerably in the future.

The opera's 2011-12 season is expected to be announced early next month. Meanwhile, the company has set up an FAQs page on its Web site for patrons wondering what the new affiliation means.


Posted by Tim Smith at 9:57 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Opera

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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