Antony Walker of Washington Concert Opera: ‘It’s All About the Music’

You read about him, you talk to him, you see his life and resume, and you think life probably couldn’t get much thicker and fuller for Washington Concert Opera Artistic Director and Conductor Antony Walker.

Here we were, on a long distance call from Australia, where he was raised, and where he would return to conduct a production of “Carmen” at the Sidney Opera House, directed by Francesca Zambello, the artistic director of the Washington National Opera, thinking out loud about home, hearth and the WCO’s next production, Giuseppe Verdi’s “Il Corsaro,” on March 9 at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium.

“I understand you’re having a bit of snow,” he said. “It’s not too bad here. But being so far away, even though I love it here, you miss Georgetown.” Walker lives in Georgetown with his partner Lauren, their daughter, Genevieve, who is not yet one-year-old, and their 10-year-old border collie mix named Sadie.

“I love Georgetown,” he said, “I love the sense of history here.”

Walker is also a rising presence in the world of opera and classical music. In his early forties, he got high marks from the Sidney critics on “Carmen.” They wrote: “It’s a joy to be carried along by his [Walker’s] zesty reading of a score that in lesser hands can sound over-familiar or routine.”

“ ’Carmen,’ in a way, is the exact opposite of what we do at Washington Concert Opera,” Walker said. “It’s the most familiar of operas, even to people who don’t often go. And it’s a full-scale dramatic piece, the whole of opera, sets, and costumes galore.”

Walker has been artistic director and conductor of the Washington Concert Opera since 2002 and also serves as music director of the Pittsburgh Opera and artistic director of the Pinchgut Opera in Sydney. Since his professional debut in Sydney in 1991, he has conducted more than 200 operas, large and smaller scale choral and orchestral works as well as symphonic and chamber works with companies all over the world. On the opera stage, he has led performances by the Metropolitan Opera and numerous major opera companies.

He is big and getting bigger and is very much in demand, but you also suspect that the work he does with the WCO is close to heart. “We have a slogan,” he said. “It’s all about the music. It’s not an either-or thing. It’s a different way of seeing, experience and hearing opera, for that matter. It’s the stage, the singers, the orchestra, the conductor, performing a full opera, no sets no costumes. In a way, you ‘see’ a different sort of opera. It’s much more intimate. And, as a conductor, you’re very much exposed. You’re a part of everything in a way that everyone can see.”

“We’ve also specialized in doing operas that are rarely performed, works by composers everyone knows, but works that aren’t done often,” Walker said. “It’s not because they’re obscure or because they’re not good. I think ‘Il Corsaro’ is a masterpiece or very near to it.”

“It’s very characteristic Verdi,” he added. “This was a time of revolutionary passion in Europe and Italy. It was Byron’s time, too, and you can hear and feel that in this opera.”

Tenor Michael Fabiano takes on the title role of the pirate and corsair Corrado, with the noted lyric soprano Nicole Cabell, starring as Corrado’s great love, with Tamara Wilson, named Washington’s singer of year in 2011, as Gulnara, in the the Washington Concert Opera production of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Il Corsaro,” March 9 at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium.


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