Williamson replaces founding artistic director Leon Major, who in January announced that he would step down at the end of Opera Cleveland's first season in October, citing artistic differences with the new company's board. Opera Cleveland was formed in 2006 from the merger of the city's two then-existing companies, Lyric Opera Cleveland and Cleveland Opera (where Major had been artistic adviser).
An experienced vocal coach as well as a conductor, Williamson was for 12 years principal coach and pianist for Seattle Opera, where he was music director of the Young Artists Program from 1998 to 2002. He has conducted at a number of regional companies in North America, among them Boston Lyric Opera, Minnesota Opera, Opera Colorado and Opera Theatre of St. Louis, and he serves regularly as a regional- and district-level judge of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. He made his Seattle Opera mainstage conducting debut in 2005 with Les Contes d'Hoffmann and returns to the company this coming winter for Pagliacci.
"I'm excited about the opportunity to create brilliant and theatrical opera onstage in Cleveland," said Williamson in a statement. "It's a city with dual traditions of classic and experimental opera, and I want to combine those in one company."
Opera Cleveland's 2008 season will be announced next month, and the company's inaugural season (planned to run from spring to fall) concludes with Tosca October 19 _27. More information is available at www.operacleveland.org.