Who We Are

The Wagner Society of Washington, DC, is one of the city’s most vibrant cultural institutions.  We are proud to serve the Washington community in many ways – through monthly lectures, semi-annual concerts, and special events through a network of collaborating institutions such as the Smithsonian Institution, the German Embassy, and the Kennedy Center.

Now in our 20th year, the Wagner Society is dedicated to two principal goals:

1. To enrich the cultural life of the Washington Metropolitan area, by regularly providing the general public with lectures, concerts, opera performances, trips, and special events;

2. To assist the development of American singers who have demonstrated the potential for successful careers singing opera.

In May of 1998 a small group of Wagner enthusiasts met to create a Wagner Society for Washington DC. Aurelius Fernandez, who became our first president, Barbara Karn, Janice Rosen and R. G. Head asked Jim Holman to join the steering committee as Chairman; in short order they recruited John Edward Niles, Phil Raines, Tom Arthur, and then Betty Byrne and John Pohanka, among others. The first meeting was held in the back room of Middle C music store. Prof. Don Crosby, a Wagner Award recipient, presented "The Literary Sources of Tristan und Isolde." Fewer than 20 were in attendance.

It was our good fortune that Wolfgang Wagner, Artistic Director of the Bayreuth Festival and Richard Wagner’s grandson, and his wife Gudrun were in Washington in February 1999 to attend the Washington National Opera’s Tristan und Isolde. Wolfgang gave an address to WNO, and afterwards Jim invited the Wagners to lunch with Aury, Barb, and RG. The conversation turned to Bayreuth and in a stunning act of bravado our group asked the Wagners for an allotment of tickets. Without blinking an eye, Gudrun said yes. In a few months, sets of tickets for the Ring plus other Bayreuth productions arrived in the mail. In our twenty years over 400 members and friends have made the Bayreuth pilgrimage in a relationship now carried forward through the Richard-Wagner-Verband International Association.

The Emerging Singers Program was founded a year later when John Edward Niles proposed a partnership between the Society and the famous Wagnerian baritone Thomas Stewart and his wife, soprano Evelyn Lear, who had recently moved to Washington. With Jim Holman they created a program to nurture Americans with the potential to sing the Wagner canon.

Alumni of the ESP and its successor the American Wagner Project include Jay Hunter Morris (2001), Siegfried in the recent San Francisco Opera and Metropolitan Opera Rings; Jennifer Wilson (2001, 2004), Brünnhilde in the Valencia and Florence Rings; Daniel Brenna (2005), Siegfried in the recent WNO Ring and Alwa in the recent Metropolitan Opera Lulu; Rebecca Teem (2005, 2007), Brünnhilde in the Lübeck, Germany Ring and Berlin’s Deutsche Oper; Issachah Savage (2012-13), who won first prize at the 2014 Seattle International Wagner Festival; and Soloman Howard (2015) Fafner in the recent WNO Ring.

Wagner in der Wildnis formed in 2001 when member Barb Karn suggested a scholarly retreat to explore a single Wagner opera. Her idea was championed by Aurelius Fernandez and Betty Byrne. Barb and Betty secured the Cacapon, WV site. Today, coordinated by Lynne Lambert and Jackie Rosen, Wildnis draws 70 enthusiasts to Cacapon Resort State Park in Berkeley Springs, WV, to hear presentations by Simon Williams, Professor of Dramatic Arts at UC-Santa Barbara, and Jeffrey Swann, concert pianist and esteemed Wagnerian. Wildnis enters its 18th year.

We have presented The Wagner Award to 15 scholars and artists who have made extraordinary contributions to the enjoyment and understanding of Wagner’s art. The most recent honorees are Prof. Donald Crosby, John Pohanka, Jay Hunter Morris, Jennifer Wilson, and Francesca Zambello. Previous honorees include Jeffrey Swann, Saul Lilienstein, baritone James Morris, and Thomas Stewart and Evelyn Lear.