By Heidi Waleson

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“Don Juan in Prague,” adapted by David Chambers from “Don Giovanni,” in a 2006 co-production from Beth Morrison Projects, the National Theater of Prague, and Struny Podzimu Festival (photo: Petra Hajska)

The expansion of the American opera scene, which began in the post-World War II period and kicked into high gear in the 1970s, continued steadily through the 1990s. New opera companies were launched and existing ones expanded. In 1990, sixteen OPERA America member companies had budgets exceeding $3 million; in 2000, that number had doubled.

During the decade of 2000–2009, however, the industry encountered significant roadblocks. The first obvious dividing moment was the terrorist attacks of 9/11. …


By Fred Cohn

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Lawrence Brownlee in “La fille du régiment” at the Metropolitan Opera in 2011 (photo: Marty Sohl)

In 1970, the year of OPERA America’s founding, emerging American singers encountered a landscape vastly different from that greeting their counterparts today. For many, the path to a career pointed toward Europe. Quite a few cut their teeth in Germany, which had a huge network of local companies. In a typical pattern, singers like Tatiana Troyanos and Jessye Norman would establish careers in Europe and garner valuable credentials before returning home as stars.

There were far fewer homegrown options in those days. New North American companies — like Lyric Opera of Chicago, The Dallas Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Canadian Opera Company, San Diego Opera, and Seattle Opera — had sprung up in the 1950s and 1960s, but the field’s coast-to-coast expansion had not yet kicked into high gear. Another phenomenon not then in place: the young artist program (YAP). San Francisco Opera and Santa Fe Opera both had programs to provide training and performing opportunities for emerging singers, but they were then the exception. In strict mathematical terms, the American opera scene of a half-century ago offered singers far fewer job possibilities than soon became the norm. …


By Judith Kurnick

As the pandemic began disrupting artists’ livelihoods earlier this year, concerned colleagues quickly mobilized to help those who were hardest hit by the sudden loss of income. Hundreds of efforts — local, regional, and national — sprang up. And while individual grants have often been limited to $250 or $500, these relief funds created by artists, for artists, have been deluged with applications. …


By Anthony Roth Costanzo and Melissa Wegner

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Anthony Roth Costanzo, countertenor (photo: Matthew Placek)

The arts in this country have been built with a certain model for the ways we program, fundraise, market, and go about education. The past 20 years have chipped away at this a bit. Baroque and contemporary music are now a part of the firmament, and we’ve been moving toward innovative productions and smaller venues, but we still cling to the core. Now that the COVID-19 crisis has changed so much that we’ve been holding on to, it’s imperative for artists as we rebuild to be a voice for risk and innovation.

In the past, it was the job of other people to market what we do and to create community. Now more than ever, it’s our job, as well. The artists must do the job of many. We have to maintain our singing, of course, but by nature, most of us aren’t performing every day — we aren’t on Broadway. Thinking about the future of our art form should be a daily exercise. How can we articulate our voice in different ways — ways that resonate throughout our industry and through different populations? We should always be generating ideas: for a community project, a performance, an engagement strategy. The more we make ourselves valuable to our institutions, the more we can accomplish. …


By Gregory Spears

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Gregory Spears (photo: Dario Acosta)

I grew up as a pianist, so early on I focused on instrumental works, taking the cassettes out of the Virginia Beach Library. I became fast friends with the girl across the street who was also a pianist — Dolly Brown, still a friend — and she got me involved in the local arts club. We’d go hear the Virginia Symphony, and then, when I was in high school, we went to see The Marriage of Figaro at the Virginia Opera. I wish I could say something more original but: I fell in love with it.

Figaro was so different from what I had expected. I thought I’d be seeing some kind of fairy tale with long love duets. Instead, I was struck right away by the realism of it. The dialogue moved almost at the pace of what you’d hear in a play; then, when the singers would come together in ensembles, it was like the conversation was moving in four directions at once. When the second act started, “Porgi, amor” took by surprise. The farce stopped, and suddenly I was hearing this melancholic aria that made time stop, and opened the opera up into areas that I hadn’t expected. I loved the idea that a so-called comedy could have so much humanity and weight, along with all that wit and social commentary. …


By Steven Jude Tietjen

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Rhiannon Giddens Tapes “Aria Code” (photo: WQXR)

Think of any subject, and there’s probably a podcast about it. Whether talk radio, panel discussions or intellectual deep dives, the intimacy of podcasts makes it easy to engage directly with an audience. In recent years, opera companies of all sizes have turned to podcasts to enhance their creative content and to deepen connections with dedicated opera fans and attract new audiences. Meanwhile, a number of independent “fancasts” have sprung up, in which devotees add their own voices to the conversation.

WQXR and the Metropolitan Opera’s Aria Code, which debuted during the 2018–2019 season, was one of the first opera podcasts to receive widespread media attention. Produced by Merrin Lazyan of WQXR and hosted by soprano Rhiannon Giddens — whose career as a performer encompasses several genres, including opera — Aria Code shows how opera podcasts can reach beyond traditional audiences. Each episode uses an aria as the starting point for an in-depth discussion with Met artists about the music and the story of an opera. “We wanted to challenge misconceptions about opera and break down barriers that prevent people from seeing opera as relevant to their lives,” says Lazyan. “If you look at this one piece of an opera, the whole performance can come to life in a new way.” …


At OPERA America’s Backstage Brunch, an annual fundraiser for the Mentorship Program for Women, Francesca Zambello discussed her career journey and the role of female leaders in opera. Her remarks, excerpts of which are reproduced here, were greeted with enthusiastic applause.

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Zambello at the Backstage Brunch (photo: BAM & Co. Photography)

I didn’t have a lot of mentors when I started my career. I learned a lot by getting knocked over and criticized, and I think most women in my age range had the same experience. But there have been many people, unlikely and unexpected, who have helped open doors for me. My first professional gig was at the New Jersey State Opera, on a production of Don Carlos. This company was run by one Maestro Alfredo Silipigni, and he hired me because I could speak with him in Neapolitan slang, which I can thank my grandmother Zambello for. The company did what was called instant opera. …


By Judith Kurnick

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Fort Worth Opera’s “sensory chew bracelets” (photo: Tim Walker Jr./Highlight U Photography)

Most of us know that Mozart was a child prodigy with a perfect musical memory. But did you know that loud sounds would make him physically ill? Or that he had repetitive body motions and facial expressions and struggled with impulse control? Today, those would all be recognized as symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The term refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, speech, nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors, along with, in some cases, special gifts. According to the advocacy group Autism Speaks, autism affects an estimated 1 in 59 children in the United States today. …


By Marc A. Scorca

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Valdez

Mark Valdez is a theater director, writer and producer who for more than two decades has developed partnerships to address community needs and amplify community voices and stories. Since 2016, he has collaborated with OPERA America on regional workshops to teach opera companies about civic practice and help them adapt its principals to their work both onstage and off. Valdez recently talked to Marc A. Scorca, OPERA America’s president and CEO, about the process and aesthetics of civic practice.

MARC A. SCORCA: Before you began working with OPERA America, what was your impression of the opera field and our readiness to participate in our communities as good cultural colleagues?


By Julia Bullock

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Julia Bullock (photo: Allison Michael Orenstein)

Growing up in Saint Louis, I was really only interested in musical theater. During my summers, I performed in the youth chorus at The Muny, the largest outdoor theater in America, and was proud to be a Muny Kid. They suggested we all get voice lessons, so starting at age nine, I took a 30-minute lesson each week. I didn’t practice, and at that age, I just wasn’t physiologically able to coordinate my body, so I soon became disenchanted with the whole process. I started a cycle of becoming enthusiastic about singing, taking voice lessons and then writing a break-up letter to whichever teacher I had at the time. This continued until I was about 16, at which point I was just getting excited by the act of singing itself. …

About

OPERA America

OPERA America is the national nonprofit service organization for opera, dedicated to the creation, presentation and enjoyment of opera since 1970.

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