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A Quarter Century of Funding New Works
Megan Young, Artistic Services Manager, OPERA America
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Opera America Magazine4/1/2008

Editor's Note:
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Some may think that spending money is the surest way to find happiness. OPERA America, conversely, finds the greatest joy comes from giving money away. Since 1983, OPERA America has awarded over $10 million for the express purpose of encouraging the creation and subsequent production of new opera and music-theater works. The Opera Fund, a permanent Fund endowment from which OPERA America directly supports the creation, presentation and enjoyment of new and North American opera, was created with the benefit of OPERA America’s experience from three previous re-granting programs.

OPERA America’s first effort to fund new works was Opera for the 80s and Beyond (OFTEAB), a response to the low level of activity among opera companies in producing new work. With lead funding from The Rockefeller and Ford Foundations, OPERA America was able to award nearly $3 million to member companies through OFTEAB. Grants included exploration fellowships, which covered some of the costs incurred when company representatives traveled to see new works and meet creators and performers; team-building grants, which enabled opera companies to hold meetings with creative and producing artists; development grants, which supported some of the costs of creating enough of the proposed work for the company to determine whether to produce it, as well as workshop costs; and commissioning/production grants, which contributed substantially to the costs of actually producing the work.

Notable works funded by OFTEAB include John Adams and Alice Goodman’s Nixon in China (Houston Grand Opera) and Philip Glass and Allen Ginsberg’s Hydrogen Jukebox (Spoleto Festival).

The Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Opera for a New America (LWRD/ OFANA) program built on experience from OFTEAB to provide technical and financial support to OPERA America Professional Company Members and their partners as they produced new work. The goals of the program included developing new audiences for opera, creating more diverse audiences for opera, deepening audiences’ understanding and appreciation of new work and increasing the participation of audiences in a company’s activities. The project focused on the unique relationship between audience development and new or existing North American works to advance these goals.

Through OFANA, OPERA America awarded nearly $4 million to projects including Dangerous Liaisons by Conrad Susa and Philip Littell (San Francisco Opera); Emmeline by Tobias Picker and J.D. McClatchy (The Santa Fe Opera); Grendel by Elliot Goldenthal, J.D. McClatchy and Julie Taymor (Los Angeles Music Center Opera); Harvey Milk by Stewart Wallace and Michael Korie; and Orphée by Philip Glass.

As a result of OFTEAB and OFANA, OPERA America created an environment in which more and more companies made commissioning part of their regular activity. However, because companies were not particularly interested in presenting second or third productions of works that had premiered elsewhere, new works quickly disappeared. With the help of the Pew Charitable Trusts, OPERA America created The Next Stage to increase the number of North American works in the standard repertory by providing financial support — a total of more than $1 million — to professional opera companies for productions of existing, under-performed works by North American creative artists.

Among the numerous works that received support from The Next Stage, the most prominent include Philip Glass’s Akhnaten, Shulamit Ran and Charles Kondek’s Between Two Worlds (Lyric Opera of Chicago), Daniel Catán and Marcela Fuentes- Berain’s Florencia en el Amazonas (Houston Grand Opera), Virgil Thomson and Gertrude Stein’s The Mother of Us All (Glimmerglass Opera) and Martin David Levy and William Henry Butler’s Mourning Becomes Electra (Lyric Opera of Chicago).

The Opera Fund was launched in 2000 with the assistance of a cooperative agreement from the National Endowment for the Arts and leadership support from the Helen F. Whitaker Fund. Established in conjunction with’s Canadian Opera Creation Fund (COCF), The Opera Fund represents the next logical step after nearly two decades of supporting new works. While previous programs were developed around limited-term contributions from foundations, Opera Fund/COCF awards are supported by a permanent and growing endowment. The programs represent an ongoing effort to enhance the quality, quantity and creativity of new opera and music-theater. The goals are to enhance the vitality of opera and music-theater through the creation and production of new works, to encourage creative artists who will write and interpret new works and to develop a deeper and broader appreciation on the part of the general public for opera and music-theater companies. To date, awards from The Opera Fund/COCF total $2.7 million.

This year, OPERA America and accepted applications within the Repertoire Development and Production categories of The Opera Fund and the Canadian Opera Creation Fund. Repertoire Development Awards provide financial assistance for companies’ endeavors in assessing and refining a work in progress or revising a work after its recent premiere. Production Awards provide a portion of the direct costs of producing a work. They are intended to reduce the financial risk of a new work and are designed to offset costs above and beyond the production of a work from the standard repertoire. The panel reviewed proposed projects in the context of established program criteria:
  • Project merit: the excellence of the proposed project.
  • Quality and distinction in concept and planning: the degree to which applicants have effectively designed or employed an appropriate and thorough planning process to guide the proposed activity.
  • Artistic merit: the quality and distinction of the opera or musictheater work associated with the project.
  • Robust partnership/collaboration (if applicable): the ways project participants have been or will be involved in the design, planning and implementation of the proposed activities.
  • Evaluation: plans for assessing the impact of the activity beyond ticket sales and reviews.
  • Organizational resources: the degree to which the applicant organization is able to carry out the proposed process and/or activity.

  • 2008 AWARDS

    The Opera Fund
    panelists came from all facets of opera; their varied experiences and areas of expertise made for lively discussion and thorough consideration of proposals. The U.S. panel included: Susan Carlyle, founder, The Carlyle Fund; Rinde Eckert, writer/director/composer/performer; Daron Hagen, composer; Wendy Hill, soprano; and Lowell Liebermann, composer. The panel met in New York City to decide upon the recipients of the 2008 Opera Fund awards. Through two days of careful deliberation, OPERA America granted $180,000 to six deserving projects.

    Florentine Opera
    Río de Sangre
    Donald R. Davis and Kate Gale

    Houston Grand Opera
    Brief Encounter
    André Previn and John Caird

    The Minnesota Opera
    Joyeux Noël
    Kevin Puts and Michael Korie
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