Video Published: 22 Jun 2022

An Oral History with Francesca Zambello

On August 10th, 2021, director Francesca Zambello sat down with OPERA America's President/CEO Marc A. Scorca for a conversation about opera and their life.

This interview was originally recorded on August 10th, 2021. 
The Oral History Project is supported by the Arthur F. and Alice E. Adams Charitable Foundation. 

Francesca Zambello, director

An internationally recognized director of opera and theater, Francesca Zambello’s work has been seen around the world. She serves as Artistic & General Director of the Glimmerglass Festival and Artistic Director of Washington National Opera. She has begun major commissioning programs for new works at both companies. Zambello has received many awards for her work, including the San Francisco Opera Medal for Artistic Excellence.

Oral History Project

Discover the full collection of oral histories at the link below.


Marc A. Scorca: Francesca Zambello. Thank you so much for being with us today. We were celebrating our 50th anniversary when COVID hit and we ended our celebration. But we are continuing now with our oral history project and we want to talk to 50 people who have really made an indelible impression on American opera over the last half century and you certainly are one of those people. So thanks so much for being with us.

Francesca Zambello: Thank you, Marc. A pleasure to be with you.

Marc A. Scorca: Cesca: who brought you to your first opera?

Francesca Zambello: My father brought me to Madama Butterfly at Covent Garden, when I was about seven years old. And I just remember more having the experience with him, than being transformed by music or something. I think real transformation came for me more in college actually, when there was a music listening room in the library of my university, and I used to study in there and they played mostly classical music, but in colleges it was the Brandenburg Concertos or something. But one day, they were playing Parsifal and I was like, "What is that amazing music? It's like soul bending." And I think that was really, for me the first time I became really amazingly aware of opera as an art form.

Marc A. Scorca: In an auditorium-like way?....

Francesca Zambello: I know. It's weird that it was that, isn't it? But it really did for me; that was really the kind of door opening. And then, my family lived abroad then, and so I started going actually to the opera a lot in Vienna, (where my family lived) and my mother loved opera. My father sort-of liked it. He was Italian, but my mother was an actress and she really loved opera, and so I started going with her a lot and it's like one thing leads to another: you move to New York; New York City Opera; you start working. I guess I met you early on then too?

Marc A. Scorca: Absolutely. And before we move on from that, when you said that your first live experience was at Covent Garden, I was going to say: why London? Why seven years old in London?

Francesca Zambello: My father worked for TWA - a now defunct airline, and we lived in New York City and he had taken me to London with him on a business trip, and that was why we went and I do remember feeling some amazing sound wall and being in a beautiful space. And that's the thing that I remember most. It wasn't like, "Oh, I heard, singer X and I was transformed." And I did try and look back and see who that was at one point. And I think it was the then general director, Nick Payne, who said, "Oh, I know exactly who was singing in that performance and conducting and blah, blah, blah." But it was later in college where I really became fascinated by the words and the music and the power of it all.

Marc A. Scorca: Given the fact that it was listening to Parsifal that you thought that this is an amazing art form: you might've become a conductor, but you wound up becoming a stage director. How did you get into stage direction?

Francesca Zambello: I mentioned my mother before. She was an actress, and growing up she worked my entire life. So I spent a lot of time backstage, and a lot of time backstage in different theaters, where she was working in many places: from Broadway summer stock...then we moved abroad...we moved to Europe, when I was a kid, to Paris, first. She did a lot of work touring, and, when you're a kid and you could wait backstage for your parents...That's illegal now; we can't have kids around the theaters anymore, which is a shame because I fell in love with the big backstage life. I always got to sit with a stage manager and I think that was a very seminal experience. I saw everything from the wings, whether it was sitting backstage during Who's afraid of Virginia Wolf to Oklahoma and being transformed by watching scenery moving and the stage manager controlling everything, and I'm talking about like when I'm 5, 6, 7 years old. And by the time I was in high school, I was already really interested in directing, like a lot of other people who turn out to be directors. I was putting on plays in the apartment, under the piano. I had a puppet theater and blah, blah, blah. It seemed to be a foregone conclusion for me that I wanted to be a director more than being interested in performing. And by the time I got to university, I was directing...(I did perform some) a lot of what we would now call more experimental things. And I didn't think about opera as a career because I didn't make that connection yet. And it was really when I started seeing things particularly abroad in my early twenties, that I realized that opera was a very powerful medium for storytelling and this amazing thing that draws all of us to it: that incredible nature of the sound experience and the scale of the stories and the depth of human emotion. And so I became interested in that and also because it was less naturalistic than a lot of theater was in the early eighties in New York City (where) a lot of things felt like TV. So it was an intersection of working as an intern in Germany...there was something called the National Opera Institute in my early twenties, which I got a year's stipend to follow Nathaniel Merrill, who was a very important director at The Met.

Marc A. Scorca: I didn't realize that you were an NOI Fellow..

Francesca Zambello: Yes. I think that was 1981. And so that was very important because I got to follow him all over to a number of European theaters and to The Met. And so I was exposed to these incredible theaters, with a wonderful director. And then I met other important directors and like a lot of people, I started my career as an assistant director and began working at the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the San Francisco Opera.

Marc A. Scorca: It's always so funny when I prepare for these conversations: in the course of the conversation, I discover so many things to explore and talk about, so let me peel these apart for a second. National Opera Institute was an organization that was started back at the same time the Kennedy Center was founded. So National Opera Institute predates OPERA America. It was kind of a think tank about American opera, led by John Ludwig, who is no longer with us. And they had this wonderful sort of master apprentice program as they called it, back at that time. The National Opera Institute closed its doors in 1989. So you were one of these apprentices, and you had a year long experience. What was the apprenticeship for you?

Francesca Zambello: Well, I remember it quite specifically because it was really... I had met Nathaniel Merrill and he had hired me to work for him on a sort of instant opera production at New Jersey State Opera, which in those days was run by a wonderful conductor, Alfredo Silipigni. And he and I did three operas for him in a month. I remember it was Don Carlo, Lucia and L'amico Fritz, an opera we never do now, of course. And then he made a recommendation for me to this NOI grant. And it was invaluable, because it was a year stipend. I remember it was $12,000, a thousand dollars a month. And that was enough to certainly live on and travel and follow. And I worked for him and I went to Germany and Savonlinna with him, and then The Met and Chicago Lyric Opera. And then I ended up being hired the next year at the Lyric Opera. And then I went from there to San Francisco, and then I met a next big mentor for me, Jean-Pierre Ponnelle. And then I went to Europe for a number of years and worked as his assistant or associate, whatever you want to call it.

Marc A. Scorca: And I want to talk about some of these incredible personalities, who you spoke about. You also mentioned a minute ago, New York City Opera, and as the memory of the old City Opera fades, I try to ask folks to remember what City Opera was like in those days when you were learning about opera; what it gave to New York; what it gave to the opera industry.

Francesca Zambello: Well, in the early '80's, I was based in New York, even though I started working in these other places. And of course City Opera: you could go to the opera for $5. But what was really important for me was Beverly Sills was the general director, and I shared an apartment with a very well-known lighting designer, Gilbert Hemsley. And he was a remarkable teacher in production management and lighting, and he has a theater named after him at Madison, University of Wisconsin, and he was my roommate in New York City. And because we both traveled so much, we usually weren't in the apartment the same time. And he was the director of production and lighting at City Opera. So I sat in rehearsals of so many productions with him when I would be home. I remember Nabucco and Attila with Sam Ramey; and Carol Vaness, Ashley Putnam, Gianna Rolandi, Jerry Hadley: so many of the key Americans that Beverly really navigated their career. And I worked actually for him; I would be like a note taker and I did that for many, many rehearsals, and of course I made many contacts, and that was really my City Opera time in between these other jobs. And which was amazing because working at San Francisco for a number of seasons, you had the great Europeans who were coming: Leonie Rysanek, Eva Marton and this level of artist, and then City Opera, you had these great American singers. And it was a big washing cycle in my brain at that time, but it was wonderful because you were empowered by seeing Americans like that creating opera, and it was very popular; it sold very well at that time. There was a huge audience for City Opera of people who loved opera. They were, of course, many first and second generation people who had come to this country who really loved opera. And now we talk about, "Why aren't young people going to the opera?" There were a lot of young people at the opera then, or I felt like a lot of my peers went to the opera.

Marc A. Scorca: At $5 a ticket; that helped.

Francesca Zambello: It certainly did. And Beverly was very much a people's general director. I remember her and I've been fortunate to work for so many great general directors and learn from them. And I always remember her standing on the steps, greeting people. And I, as a general director, always do that, and always wait and greet people, because the personal touch is important, but you also learn your audience.

Marc A. Scorca: And I've told so many people about the way your style corresponds to my memories of Beverly; for that matter Ardis (Krainik) and others. But, another name that I would just like you to...Nat Merrill. Today, I don't think many people realize how important Nat Merrill was to the American opera scene in those years before and after you were working with him.

Francesca Zambello: Well, Nat Merrell was a great American stage director, and he, in the years of Bing running The Metropolitan Opera, was - with Robert O'Hearn, a designer who later went on to teach at Indiana University - was really key in being the first American team to direct a lot of repertory. And his list at The Metropolitan Opera is long. And some of the most famous productions are Meistersinger, Tannhäuser, Rosenkavalier, Frau ohne Schatten. They used The Met machinery to its incredible abilities at that time, which were certainly mind-blowing and eye-catching, and he was really a genius at crowd organization. Directing, you need an enormous amount of creative abilities, but you also have to have craft. There was a craft associated with this and directing choruses and supers and dancers (the numbers part of opera) which is a big part of the storytelling. And I learned a lot of that from him. I have to give him a lot of credit for that. He was a great people mover and storytelling with people. And I really learned from him how to make each chorister feel like an individual: particularly in a piece where you wanted characters. So he was invaluable for that, and how you organize it. There's a lot of skill how you organize groups and how you do it in a way that is reasonable in a rehearsal time. And so I feel that I really learned different things from different people, and that was one of the best things that I learned from him: was that ability to organize and to put together the planning and the movement of people.

Marc A. Scorca: Jean-Pierre Ponnelle.

Francesca Zambello: There's a huge generation of directors who were his associates, proteges, whatever. And I consider myself fortunate to be in that group. There are many, many more Europeans than there are Americans, although he did direct a great deal at San Francisco, and, of course, at The Met, particularly under the Joe Volpe era, where it was very much Zefferelli and Ponnelle (for) many of their productions. I was introduced to him first by Sarah Billinghurst, who was really, for me, very key as a woman director. She hired me when I was an assistant director from Chicago to come to San Francisco and where she gave me many great assignments. And later she introduced me to Jean-Pierre, and I met him at a time, which unfortunately for him, he was not very well. But fortunately for me, I went to Italy with him and started working with him in Italy, on a number of productions where, because of his health, he could only participate in part of the rehearsals. And he entrusted me to do a lot of the work and from Jean-Pierre, I definitely felt that I learned about directing people: characters, individuals. It's a difficult part of directing. It can't all be production; you have to get inside of characters. And even though he himself was a designer, he was so character centric, and character centric driven by the music. And he did bring the orchestra score to rehearsal with him. And he really always was about what is making this work musically and character wise. And every story for him was character driven. And he was always very truthful to the narrative. And so in that sense, I was very fortunate to work on a number of productions with him, in a number of European houses, and to just meet a lot of people. And, you know, these jobs are so much about making contacts and I directed a number of revivals of his productions, and he was very generous. I think anybody who ever worked for him...he said certain things that I still think are true today: always hire an associate who you want to have dinner with, 'cause that's who you're going to have dinner with a lot. Or: you, as a director, if you haven't finished your job by the piano dress rehearsal, it's not going to get done. I knew that he liked me a lot, and he said to me, "The thing that I love about you is you're American, and you have that American spirit, but you speak a lot of languages." He spoke many languages, and he really respected people who had capabilities in this. And he loved that. He was a Francophile, but he really loved Italy more than anything. And so I was very fortunate to have a number of productions with him in Italy and France, which were really the two countries. I did go to Germany and Switzerland with him a few times. But my tenure with him was really more in the Francophile Italian repertory. And he was a great mentor. And he treated you very well, if he liked you and you did a good job. And he was also quick to...not criticize...but I mean, it's not like he was a cozy, warm, fuzzy person. I mean, he was wonderful and funny and brilliant, but he was very generous. I felt like I received a lot of his generosity of spirit, and I learned a great deal from him. And I also got a lot of jobs because of him, because, if you direct a revival in a theater and you're directing a revival of somebody like that, and then you have that sort of imprimatur of coming from that, I was very fortunate to step up and get a lot of other productions because of him.

Marc A. Scorca: David Gockley.

Francesca Zambello: Well, David Gockley was one of the impresarios who I certainly learned a great deal from - being an impresaria -, but as a director first and foremost, he was a real impresario, and he hired me for one of my first new productions. I was fortunate in the sense that I never...and this was John-Pierre actually who said to me, "Don't go direct something in some old set from somewhere, just hang in there and only do your own productions." And he was right. And that's what I only did. And David was one of the people who gave me one of my first big new productions, which was Fidelio in Houston. It was with Hildegard Behrens and because he had fired the previous director...anyway he hired me to direct it, but he called me and he said, "I'm going to give you this amount of money." I think it was $25,000 to come up with a concept for a set and a production, and you have a week. Call me back. It wasn't a lot of money. And so, at the time, America was involved in a lot of activity in Central America, and so the production was set in Central America, and it was all chain link, fences and jeeps. And now we see that, so we're so sick of it, but it wasn't commonplace at all then, it was thrilling. And I was fortunate to have a wonderful cast with Hildegard and a true singing actress. And I remember (Julius) Rudel was supposed to conduct, who I knew a bit from City Opera and was of course daunted by that, but it turned out that he had to cancel and it was Michael Tilson Thomas. And so it was these two young people really breaking onto the scene who made a big statement with the Fidelio, and the production was incredibly successful. If you work in this medium, when the music and the singing and the drama and the production come together, it's a high. And we're always looking for that high, and it doesn't happen all the time or that much. And so in that production, it came together and David was a general director who was very faithful to me and I worked for him from that time in 1986 until his retirement, 30 years later at San Francisco Opera. And he was for me in a way, one of the most important people, because he hired me in America a lot. And at that point, I was actually getting a lot more jobs in Europe. And Americans weren't like a lot of big companies: they weren't hiring women to direct. But David was always very faithful to me, and I directed, I think, between Houston and San Francisco 20 productions together, probably including the Ring Cycle.

Marc A. Scorca: So here we are talking about Nat Merrill and opera and Jean-Pierre Ponnelle and opera and David Gockley and Fidelio through a Ring Cycle. Skylight Opera? From big to tiny.

Francesca Zambello: Well, the other thing that I think was incredibly fortunate: right place, right time, was: I had worked as an apprentice at the Peninsula Players in Fish Creek, Wisconsin, in high school, in summer. And my mother was from Chicago and I knew about the Skylight. And so I was in Wisconsin visiting her, (she was working there), in my mid twenties. And I went to the Skylight and met the then general director, Colin Cabot. And he hired me to direct, on the spot, The Makropoulos Case with an orchestra of 12. And I think that was 1987 or something, 86/87. And I did it and it went great. But the Skylight (for those who don't know) was at that time, it was in a tire-capping garage. Now we all do on-site opera and this place and that place. It was very unconventional to be in something that had been a garage, converted into a theater and was really a glorious black box. And after doing that, and then I did something else, (I can't remember ), Colin said - and at that point also Stephen Wadsworth another wonderful American director was working there a lot - "Do you want to be the artistic director?" "Oh no, that's too much responsibility." And he said to Stephen the same thing. Stephen and I were friends, and we agreed to do it together. And so we were co-artistic directors for six years. And at that point we were producing eight shows a year. So imagine programming almost 50 shows; casting them; putting them together. And I usually used to direct at least two a season, as did he. And again, this was an invaluable experience because of course, when you are working at a big opera company, you have different pressures and different creative demands, scheduling, but the Skylight was really a laboratory, in the old-fashioned sense. When you think of the histories of the Komische Oper, or The Old Vic: these companies where it was really about the people and being in a space, with very little money and you must use your creative resources to come up with ideas to create something. And so I directed many, many things and that rehearsal space and the security of that, was just invaluable to me as a career, because it was like no place else. Everything was much smaller, and we had many great, great artists who were kind of an ensemble company. Stephen and I tried to hire a lot of the same people in somewhat of the German model so that people might get: if we have six/eight shows a year, that they would get four, and that they could live in Milwaukee; have a good quality of life; have a family because - I can't believe it - we used to do like 15 to 20 performances of each opera. Now, mind you, the theater only had, I forget, 300 seats, but it was invaluable. And I did all the Mozart’s. Stephen did the Monteverdi cycle. We did a lot of completely obscure operas; we did new operas; we did everything. And for me, I feel like I learned how to direct in a big space through mentors like John-Pierre and Nat, but then really to do detail, up-close at the Skylight and to come up with a solution. I remember every show budget was $10,000 a production. And so, I remember, you know, hanging fairy lights myself 'cause we only have this much money and we really want these fairy lights for this effect. But it was a kind of ensemble company and I'm very grateful to have had the years there. And then of course, the Skylight grew and they built a theater and now it's been through several different artistic directors. But I think Stephen probably would say the same thing: that we learned to direct people. Personenregie as the Germans call it there. And we had great clay, because all the performers were so willing and vital and young. And we did do everything in English, so you often had to write your own translations and that was exciting. And then the reductions were always...there was a wonderful music director, Don St. Pierre, and everything was done with a reduction, but you were still doing the opera. And now, as we go forward...I'm in the middle of a season at Glimmerglass in the midst of COVID, where we've reduced operas, like Trovatore to 90 minutes and maybe that's what the future is going to be. I don't know. That's another conversation.

Marc A. Scorca: A lot of people thinking about that. You've mentioned Nat Merrill, Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, David Gockley, Sarah Billinghurst, Beverly Sills: role models, reference points, as you have advanced your career. Even today, do you ever take out the Ouija board and say, "What would so-and-so do in this circumstance?" Any other people who are in that personal board of directors?

Francesca Zambello: I feel fortunate that I spent in the nineties, every summer at Santa Fe and John Crosby was the general director. I had no aspirations then of being a general director, but I had many, many conversations about the things that I directed with him. And I think a lot of its sunk in because he ran that festival with an iron fist, in a great way - even though sometimes I - in my soul - disagreed with him and he was hard to disagree with. But now I swear, there are many times in this job where I think, "Oh, that's like a John Crosby moment. Just say no to that." It's come up a number of times in my mind thinking about him, and that I'm grateful to him. And then, Bruce Crawford, who of course was the chairman of the board of The Met and also ran The Met as general director has been a very close friend for a number of years and is often somebody who I go to with a budget or with a marketing idea and say, "What do you think about this?" Even though he's not working in this now, he was the chairman of Omnicom until two or three years ago. He has a broad world perspective and has been a wonderful mentor to me. And then Hugues Galle, who ran the Paris Opera until he retired: I worked for him at the Geneva Opera, and then at the Paris Opera: many productions over a 20 year span. He was an amazing general director, and there are many things that he said to me that I do think about, like: "You have to be in the theater 24/7 or available." And I remember him saying that to me and he was so right. A lot of things that he said about programming. I learned a lot about programming from him and balance of repertory. Those have all been important impresarios. Nick Payne, who ran Covent Garden said so many different, wonderful things to me over time. And I just think I've been fortunate to hear from a lot of those great leaders over time. People say what about female role models? I did work for Ardis Krainik for a few seasons at the Lyric, and she was very strong. I don't know if she was a role model so much as she was an amazing iconic person. And I was always in awe watching her, but I think, for me, more, Sarah Billinghurst has been very important my whole career: a sounding board; somebody to go to and share ideas with She was the San Francisco Opera head of casting and then a similar position: director of artistic administration at The Metropolitan Opera for years and years, and still a close friend and colleague. And I still go to some of these people to say, "What do you think about this? And what do you think about that? Does that seem like a bad idea?" But I also sometimes talk to a lot of my colleagues and peers who are much younger and say, "Does this seem like Fudzville?" Or, "What do you think?" The thing that I definitely learned is, as you get older, you're much more comfortable listening to everybody's opinions and filtering them for yourself.

Marc A. Scorca: So true. So is it musical theater versus opera, or is it musical theater and opera?

Francesca Zambello: Oh, I think it's 'and'. I've always felt that at Glimmerglass and to some degree at the Washington National Opera, where we've done a number of different musicals: it's always thrilling to me to do the classical pieces with great opera singers. Whether it's Candide, West Side Story with opera singers, because Americans grew up on musicals. So there is no such thing as an American opera singer, who was not in a musical in high school, or at least in their church choir. Most of them were all in the musicals. And somehow somebody on the way told them, "You know, you could sing opera," and that led them to that. And I think as a director, it's the same thing. Having done many musicals, they share a lot with opera, particularly in terms of finding the core; finding the character; finding the passion that is exploding through these great classical works. Is music theater America's opera? In some ways, yes. But we've also witnessed now, certainly our generation has seen the explosion of American opera, not just in composition, but in stories, inspiration, artists, everything. And that's so exciting to watch. It's so thrilling to me to see so many generations of composers or to work with these programs we have in WNO, where we're working with emerging composers, now. It's been over 10 years and it's no longer just the same little intellectual cadre of people, but really composition now, because of the way that we produce opera, that it doesn't just have to be one style, but all different styles.

Marc A. Scorca: And I wanted to explore that, because over the roughly 40 years you've had a career in opera, the journey of American opera, new opera has just been transformed. So, were you really interested in new work back in 1981 and or did the commitment to new work awaken in you over the last four decades?

Francesca Zambello: Well, in the Skylight, it started. We did, I remember, several commissions and I remember working with Lukas Foss on a piece. And then, John Crosby at the Santa Fe Opera, when he hired me: I directed new works every single (season). I did one standard opera in my whole time there, and he kept hiring me, and they were often by German composers. And I remember in conversations with him and the, then artistic administrator, Brad Woolbright talking more about American composers. And so we did commission several American composers that I worked on the pieces, which was thrilling: Tobias Picker, David Lang, Judith Weir, (British, but you know, writing in English). And so that was a great experience as was working at Opera Theatre of St. Louis, where I worked with Judith Weir, so I feel like in the '90's, I really was: "We have got to be commissioning more of our own voice; our stories." And I since then, I've worked on well over a hundred new works, and I'm very proud of that, because I do think we should be doing our own stuff. And a lot of that has been pieces that have ranged from The Metropolitan Opera to these 20 minute jewels that we do at WNO, to a big commitment to creating new works for youth. I think that's one huge way to get kids in. So having worked on pieces like Robin Hood, The Odyssey, The Little Prince, helping create all of those more contemporary works that are about social impact issues, like Blue. I think it's realizing that opera can have a bigger voice; the ripples can be bigger.

Marc A. Scorca: It was the next question that I had for you, because when I think of the many accomplishments that you had at Glimmerglass, it is this incredible amplified commitment to civic practice; to really making a difference in your community, in your region. We have covered in our magazine so many times your work at Attica, and your determined pursuit of social and racial justice through opera. And when you first started in opera, you probably didn't think of it as a platform to strengthen the civic fabric of our country. And here you have emerged as a real leader in this work. What's your journey into this real commitment to social/racial justice at Glimmerglass?

Francesca Zambello: Well: not just here, but I hope also WNO. People don't always like comparing this, but of course, being a woman, I faced a number of hurdles and I realized early on...I remember working at Wolf Trap in the late '80's and in the cast, there were a number of artists of color. And I think I started to wake up then and go, "Wow, they're facing a lot of the same prejudices that I am, in terms of the job market." And I was so young. Now, we think every twelve year-old has a social conscious. I look at my son and he corrects me sometimes when he says, "No, that's a binary statement, Cesca: don't do that." So I think that began my awareness, and then over the many years of being a director, I tried to always make sure when I was in a position of casting or whatever in a company, I could really say, "Let's try and get more diversity in the cast, or can we get more gender parity? Other women in leadership here; female conductor, designers, et cetera.” And in a way, I think, when I took these jobs at WNO and Glimmerglass, it was really part of my plan that I was going to put - and even if people don't like hearing this - a kind of affirmative action in place and being in a position where to be the decision maker and the buck stops here, I just made a plan with both companies and - full disclosure to the board and the staff and everybody on board: we have to have at least a third to a half of the company has to have diversity. We have to have equal number of women and men creating the stories that we're telling and leading this. And so that was really part of the reason to be involved in these jobs. And then of course, it becomes more specific, when you start to deal with big, strong issues, like you mentioned Attica, where we've had a program for a number of years from Glimmerglass to try to commission and produce works that are really about social change. And opera can be a platform and those issues aren't for everybody, but what they do, I always say to people is: "Let's just look at it and try it, and then we can talk about it." The best thing that we have, (particularly in the last decade where we're witnessing such fervent dissension and division in our country), is that we're lucky that we work in the arts because we've got a bridge; we've got something that is not always a hot button, but something that you can share with people and say, "Okay, let's talk about any issue through this." Carousel: you can talk about domestic violence. It's just about how to use this art form, which does draw in people and allows you a chance to talk to people in a way that hopefully is not threatening and hopefully makes them change. And I think for myself and many others like me, (practitioners in the arts), having the ability to produce something that is going to change people is beyond gratifying. And it just takes our world and makes it exponentially greater.

Marc A. Scorca: In my interview with the extraordinary Simon Estes, he was telling me about his great sadness early in his career that he had worked in Europe, but was not finding any work in the United States. And then he began to rattle off the first companies in the US where he was engaged as a singer. And then he pointed out to me that all of the general directors who engaged him early in his career in this country were women, whether it was Sarah Caldwell or Carol Fox or Ardis Krainik. And he noted it, as if it were obvious, and it struck me so powerfully, that the people who gave him an opportunity as a great black singer were women. And it feels so obvious: of course, because women understand. So how do you react to that story, that it was the women who gave him his break?

Francesca Zambello: I find I have my own parallels in that; that there were many women who hired me, particularly in Europe. When I made my Met debut with Lucia in the early '90's, which was - I would say a rather revolutionary production - and really caused...there hadn't been booing and cheering like that in The Met in some time. What was great about it was that it catapulted me into a lot of jobs in Europe, and a lot of the companies that hired me were run by women: Renée Auphan, Elaine Padmore, several women running Italian theaters of that time in Parma and Bologna and Rome and Pesaro, and I think there was a connection through that. I do think that, and I can't generalize, but of course many men have hired me over time. It just sometimes took time to come back. And I do think that there is a parallel; it's not exactly the same. And I think any woman would say that in this profession, as well as any BIPOC person would say, "It's not exactly the same," but in terms of the broader picture, there are similarities. And I think initially it was just about an awareness. A lot of people didn't have awareness and still don't have awareness. And I get certain comments all the time, when people say things to me, like, "Why did you have a black Radames?" And I said: "Well, he was the best person for the part. So that's it." And people still say those things, and so I politely explain certain things. And I just think nothing changes overnight. We've been through a year of incredible social change and upheaval, but there still is a lot of catching up to do in our art form. And, our art form, as I think we all know...we're passionate about it. I feel like an evangelist. I actually didn't come up with that Speight Jenkins, another great general director emeritus who hired me a lot and who was so important for my career: he was somebody you could really wrestle with an idea with him, but he was also someone who gave extraordinary opportunities to artists of color. And there were certain people like that who I just really respected and wanted to follow in their footsteps. And you know, these jobs, you try to do the best that you can at all times. And you have to please yourself. Of course, you want to please others, but you have to believe in it and you have to feel it in your heart.

Marc A. Scorca: Cesca, I have such respect for you and I think you are an incredible force for good in our field as an artist. You are not only an opera company leader, but you are a community leader in both your communities: Washington, Glimmerglass, and elsewhere too. You really epitomize what we are trying to achieve, and I'm so grateful to you for your work and for taking the time from the middle of your festival season, to sit down and talk about it. I know others will really value the lessons that are embedded in your remarks today. So with great congratulations and with all best wishes for the rest of your season, I say, thank you.

Francesca Zambello: And I say, thank you to you, Marc, for all your leadership and all that OPERA America has done, really to help propel a lot of these programs and ideas because OPERA America is I say, 'the good housekeeping seal of approval.' And now we can go to this foundation and say, "OPERA America gave us money for this idea. Why don't you do it?" So thank you, Marc for your leadership. It's been a pleasure talking to you.

Marc A. Scorca: It's a team effort. Take care.

Francesca Zambello: Bye.