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The Magic of Wolf Trap: Highlighting The Heart Of A One-Of-A-Kind Opera Community

By Lee Anne Myslewski


ve been obsessed with a Tennessee Williams quote from a letter that he wrote to James Grissom since stumbling across it a few years ago, “what should matter most to you, is the rare and gorgeous experience of reaching out through your work and your actions and connecting to others.”

This resonates with me particularly at this point in the year. My work is highly cyclical, and I am currently in the middle of my first season leading Wolf Trap Opera, a residency program for emerging opera singers. We are lucky to work within the umbrella of Wolf Trap Foundation, the programming arm for the only National Park for the Performing Arts; in any week we will have the most eclectic mash-up of artists on our stages: symphonic music, Broadway musicals, ballet dancers, pop stars, rappers, and of course, opera singers. The cross-pollination of artists, those moments of connection are truly woven into our everyday life, and at no other time of the year is it more apparent than in the thick of the summer season. 

Lee Anne Myslewski

Our singers are in residence for four to ten weeks every summer, and sing roles that we programmed specifically with them in mind. (We’re the only company in the country who programs this way, and it is integral to our mission and the quality of our productions.) It’s a funny thing, our business. We ask artists to uproot themselves for roughly two months at a time. They’re away from their support networks and are thrown into a rehearsal process where they are expected to be extremely prepared (they arrive having committed all their assignments to memory), extremely professional (because they’re working with a large team that is largely new to them), and also extremely vulnerable (the likelihood that you’re either going to have to kiss or kill a colleague onstage is high). While the artists are trying to figure out how best to present themselves professionally, they’re also learning to navigate a new role, a new group of colleagues, a new physical area, and the culture of a new company. It’s a lot to do one every year – or every several yearsTo say that they are a flexible, generous bunch is to possibly make the understatement of the year.

I find the relationships that these artists build while they’re here even more transcendent than the rehearsal journey or the performances, to be honest. Somehow, in the process of discovering the ways that their characters work together, they forge deep bonds that in many cases help to sustain them throughout their career. They meet each other where they are: color, gender, sexuality, personal history are by default a part of the conversation. By bringing that openness, that authenticity to the process, they build a web of support that maintains them through the gigs in foreign countries, through personal hardships and professional dry spells. They connect strongly with each other, and in doing so are able to even more openly connect with their audiences.

Photography by Scott Suchman for Wolf Trap Opera

Photography by Scott Suchman for Wolf Trap Opera

As someone who facilitates these rehearsals, these convening of artistic perspectives and personalities, the effect is life-affirming. Each summer they role-play into existence those everyman desires that lie at humanity’s core: to be known, to be heard, to create something larger than oneself, to collaborate and laugh and cry in company. Even as I get bogged down in the minutiae that is necessary for this very process to flourish, I’m relishing the energy, the openness and the excitement. It’s an amazing viewpoint, and one that I feel lucky to have. 

I’ll put the entire quote here, hoping that it and my short tale of the artists I summer with will inspire you to connect. 

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But I’m old now, and I’ve walked a long and rocky road, and what really mattered, what should matter most to you, is the rare and gorgeous experience of reaching out through your work and your actions and connecting to others. A message in the bottle thrown toward another frightened, loveless queer; a confused mother; a recently dejected man who can’t see his way home. We get people home; we let them know that we’re here for them. This is what art can do. Art should be the arm and the shoulder and the kind eyes–all of which let others know you deserve to live and to be loved. That is what matters, baby. Bringing people home. 

— Tennessee Williams to James Grissom in 1982

Lee Anne Myslewski

Lee Anne Myslewski


Lee Anne Myslewski is Vice President of Opera and Classical Programming for Wolf Trap. She joined Wolf Trap Opera in 2006, and since her addition has cultivated new partnerships and programs to uphold the company’s widespread acclaim as the country’s most venerated summer training program for emerging artists. She conceived of the Untrapped series of programming in 2016 which has featured artistic partnerships with the Shakespeare Theatre, Taffety Punk, Halcyon, AMP at Strathmore, Children’s National Medical Center as well as ongoing partnerships with The Phillips Collection, the Library of Congress and the National Orchestral Institute. As the Director of Artistic Administration for Opera and Classical Programming, she created the Artistic Advisor position for Chamber Music at the Barns, has participated in the casting and programming of operatic productions for over a decade, and has heard over 7,500 live auditions. Now the recently appointed Vice President of Opera and Classical Programming, Lee Anne oversees all aspects of Wolf Trap Opera, an artist-centric program whose alumni are not only singing in every opera house in the nation, but also in the most prestigious houses in the world–including The Metropolitan Opera, La Scala, Vienna Staatsoper, Komische Oper Berlin, Sydney Opera House and Deutsche Opera Berlin. In addition, she also serves as the executive producer and co-host of Center Stage from Wolf Trap, a nationally-syndicated radio program aired on public radio stations across the country. Lee Anne holds degrees in opera performance from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Maryland, and has been selected for several elite leadership programs, including Opera America’s Leadership Intensive and Leadership Fairfax. Connect with Lee Anne at, on LinkedIn and on Instagram @rahree. 

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