Placido Domingo's successor at Washington opera has hard act to follow

Francesca Zambello faces a tough challenge as she replaces Placido Domingo as artistic adviser to the Washington National Opera.

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While we're not exactly sure of his foot size, it's fair to say they're going to be pretty big shoes to fill. After 15 years with the Washington National Opera, Placido Domingo is stepping down as artistic adviser and the acclaimed stage director Francesca Zambello will be taking on the role.

Along with an excellent track record with the WNO since her 2001 debut of Carlisle Floyd's Of Mice and Men, based on the Steinbeck book, Zambello - a sprightly 54 years old compared with Domingo's 70 - appears committed to expanding opera's reach beyond its traditional fanbase, as indicated with her Covent Garden production of Carmen (which was made into a 3D film) or her version of The Little Mermaid, which ran on Broadway for more than a year.

Zambello's arrival in the post comes just as the WNO prepares to start its first season as an official affiliate of the John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, a merger that was made in response to the opera's financial troubles and which comes into effect on July 1.

The move could mean that the WNO finally gets its full showing of an Americanised version of Richard Wagner's four-opera cycle The Ring that Zambello is currently directing in San Francisco. Zambello's The Ring (or The Ring of the Nibelungs in full) began in Washington several years ago, but ran out of funding and was forced to throw in the towel after Siegfried, completing just three of the four parts of the cycle. Perhaps now it will get its Götterdämmerung, although probably without as many mythological references to German nationalism.