Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Auguin out at WNO

As though we didn't have enough news to fret over, WNO announced today that Phillipe Auguin would make the move to "emeritus" status after next season, concluding his eight year run with the company.

Mind you, eight years is a respectable tenure, I don't know the details, and with only 5 shows a year one is bound to feel a bit shortchanged and disappointed when one likes the principal conductor in question. The more unsettling part of the article is how artistic director Francesca Zambello describes the break:

WNO has turned in solid work over the past 8 years (about the period I have been in DC), mostly commensurate with companies of similar import. There have been a lot of competent, well-cast, somewhat forgettable productions of the standard rep, some decided misfires, and some noble if usually unsuccessful delving into more adventurous work. But when one thinks of moments when this company punched above its weight and created work of a superior musical value, those moments, last year's Ring chief among them, are largely associated with Auguin's leadership. I have no idea how things have gone down behind the scenes, but for WNO's public and its critics, I think its safe to say Auguin has been synonymous with WNO at its best in recent years.

So it is jarring to find Zambello taking a lukewarm stance toward Auguin in her quotes above, suggesting his superior handling of the most ambitious works WNO has tangled with lately is different than what WNO is looking for in a music director. And more jarring still is what she offers as where the company is headed instead: American works and mini-commissions. WNO's efforts on these fronts are laudable enough but the company has shown little talent in picking contemporary American works in recent years, while its new commission program is nice but decidedly a side show for the holiday months while big traveling musicals take over the opera house. I'm sure all those stuffy WNO subscribers from McLean are going to love this new plan.

Anyhow, this does not feel like a serious comment, but rather a dodge papering over a less than amicable parting. What's worrying is what this unceremonious explanation says about the organization's investment in shoring up its musical future. Auguin's time with WNO has meant a lot to this organization and its audience and giving him the ol' "we've decided to go another direction" brush off betrays a worrying lack of appreciation for that fact.

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