Italy's ambassador to U.S. honors Glimmerglass director

ContributedFrancesca Zambello is shown with Italian Ambassador Armando Varricchio at the ambassador’s residence in Washington, D.C.

A local entertainment executive received an award of knighthood from Italy last week.

Glimmerglass Festival General Director Francesca Zambello received the Knighthood of the Order of the Star of Italy from Italian Ambassador to the United States Armando Varricchio during a ceremony in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, Sept. 22.

“It’s a lovely honor in the middle of everything horrible that is going on right now,” Zambello told The Daily Star on Friday, Oct. 2.

According to a media release, the ceremony took place at Villa Firenze, the residence of the ambassador.

Zambello received the honor, which conveys “second citizenship” on her, because of “her promotion of Italian music and operatic heritage,” the release said.

In the release, Varricchio said Zambello, “has always looked to the future with particular attention to the younger generations, always keeping firm roots in the Italian opera tradition.”

In addition to serving at Glimmerglass, Zambello is the artistic director of the Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center. She has directed shows at more than 100 opera houses worldwide, she said.

Zambello said her family is from Italy and she has enjoyed the shows she directed in Italy, as she knew she was doing so in the birthplace of opera and also her grandparents.

Receiving the Order of the Star of Italy for her contributions to an Italian creation was humbling, too, she said.

“It was really very special in the sense, obviously from the place that gave us the art form, but also that it is where my family is from,” she said, “so I am grateful they honored me.”

The ceremony took place four days after the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a close friend of Zambello and a longtime season-ticket holder at the Glimmerglass Festival. In a copy of her acceptance speech, which she provided to the Star, Zambello paid tribute to her friend.

“Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg very much would have wanted to be here tonight,” she said.

Zambello also said at the ceremony that her love of opera came from her time living in Europe as a child.

“When I was a teen, we moved to France and visited Italy often,” she said. “During that time, I came to understand three key Italian values: the importance of a close-knit family that accepts you for what you are, good food and, of course, opera.”

Italy is not the first country to honor Zambello. According to her biography at, Zambello has been awarded the “Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French government for her contribution to French culture and the Russian Federation’s medal for Service to Culture.

“Other honors for her work include three Olivier Awards from the London Society of Theaters and two Evening Standard Awards for Best Musical and Best Opera. She has also received the award for Best Company Achievement. The French Grand Prix des Critiques was awarded to her twice for her work at the Paris Opera. Other awards include Best Production in Japan, the Palme d’Or in Germany, the Golden Mask in Russia and the Helpmann Award in Australia.”

“I am grateful,” she said Friday, “particularly to France and Russia, who have already given me similar things.”

Greg Klein, staff writer, can be reached at or 607-441-7218.

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