Francesca Zambello is an internationally recognized director of opera and theater, as well as the Artistic Director of Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center since 2013. She is also the Artistic & General Director of the Glimmerglass Festival, emerita. Both organizations have thrived artistically and financially while increasing their national and international profiles because of her vision and leadership. She also served as the Artistic Advisor to the San Francisco Opera from 2005-2011 and as the Artistic Director of the Skylight Theater from 1987-1992.
Her U.S. directing debut took place at the Houston Grand Opera with a production of Fidelio. She debuted in Europe at Teatro la Fenice with Beatrice di Tenda. She has staged new productions in Europe, Asia, Australia, Russia, and the USA at opera houses including the Metropolitan Opera, Teatro alla Scala, the Bolshoi, Covent Garden, the Munich Staatsoper, Paris Opera, New York City Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago and English National Opera. She has staged plays and musicals on Broadway, at the Royal National Theatre, BAM, the Guthrie Theater, Vienna’s Raimund Theater, the Bregenz Festival, Sydney Festival, Disneyland, Berlin’s Theater des Westens and at the Kennedy Center.
She has been named a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French government and a Knight with the Order of the Star of Italy, and she is a recipient of the Russian Federation’s Arts Medal. Other honors include three Olivier Awards from the London Society of Theatres and two Evening Standard Awards. She has twice received the French Grand Prix des Critiques for her work at the Paris Opera. She also received the Medallion Society Award from San Francisco Opera, recognizing 30 years’ of directing and leadership work for the company.
In her role at the WNO she has programmed ten full seasons including important works such as a complete Ring Cycle, Appomattox, Lost in the Stars, Don Carlo, Aida, and La Traviata. She founded the American Opera Initiative, which engages emerging composers and librettists to write operas under the mentorship of experienced professionals. Through AOI, WNO has commissioned and premiered more than thirty new operas, and many participants have gone on to have significant careers.
At Glimmerglass, Ms. Zambello transformed the celebrated opera company into a multi-arts festival, complementing its opera offerings with musical theater, concerts, seminars, lectures, and an annual youth opera. She has directed more than twenty new productions at Glimmerglass, including three world premieres. She established the annual Artist-in-Residence position, bringing in such renowned figures as Eric Owens, Christine Goerke, Bill Burden, Nathan and Julie Gunn, and John Corigliano, who not only featured in Festival programming but also served as mentors to the company’s Young Artists Program. She launched and expanded an Apprenticeship program for all non-performing collaborators in opera.
Ms. Zambello believes opera is for everyone, and under her leadership WNO has undertaken several new community initiatives, ranging from Opera in the Outfield, an annual live broadcast to Nationals Park, to a Pop-Up Opera Truck. When theaters were closed due to COVID she commissioned and produced multiple online original and standard works, including filming in virtual reality.
An American who grew up in Europe, Ms. Zambello speaks French, Italian, German, and Russian. She attended Moscow University in 1976 and graduated cum laude in 1978 from Colgate University, where she also holds an honorary doctorate. She has taught at Yale University, The Juilliard School and Indiana University. Zambello lives in New York City, Washington, DC and Cooperstown, NY with her wife, Faith Gay, a founding partner at Selendy & Gay, and their son, Jackson.