In 2008, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) established the NEA Opera Honors to celebrate outstanding achievement and individual excellence. The awards are the highest honor the government bestows in opera. OPERA America, the national nonprofit service organization, is the NEA partner in the Opera Honors program.
The honorees each receive a one-time award of $25,000 in recognition of their significant lifetime contributions to opera in the United States. NEA Opera Honors recipients are nominated by the public and chosen by an NEA-convened panel of opera experts.
In 2011, its fourth year, the awards were presented at an award ceremony on Thursday, October 27, at the Sidney Harman Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. OPERA America was the planning and production partner for the 2011 awards ceremony and also created personalized video tributes for each honoree.
"These artists represent the highest level of artistic mastery and we are proud to recognize their achievements," said NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman. "Through their contributions, we have been challenged, enlightened, and charmed, and we thank them for devoting their careers to expanding and supporting their art form."
NEA Director of Music & Opera Wayne Brown said, "These four individuals have contributed significantly to opera in the United States, lending their talents and commitment to enhancing what we see, hear, feel, and think about opera."
's conceptual design style has had an enormous influence. He is one of the principal figures in American stage design, both for opera and for theater, and his set and costume designs are seen in opera houses, theaters, and ballet companies around the world. Concurrent with his work as a stage designer, Conklin has taught many aspiring designers through his courses in design for stage and film at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.
is recognized nationally as a leading authority on opera and an accomplished arts administrator. Appointed general director of the Seattle Opera in 1983, he strengthened and expanded the company as a Wagner center in the United States. Jenkins also is known for his prolific writing about opera through reviews and articles.
Mezzo-soprano Risë Stevens
virtually owned many of the great mezzo roles such as Gluck's Orpheus
and Saint-Saën's Delilah
. She appeared at the Metropolitan Opera in the title role of Bizet's Carmen
124 times. But many more fell in love with Stevens through her frequent radio appearances and through the films The Chocolate Soldier
(1941) with Nelson Eddy and Going My Way
(1944) with Bing Crosby.
is admired for his career as an American composer. A respected conductor, administrator, and publishing executive, Ward is equally admired as an academic, having served as chancellor of the North Carolina School for the Arts and as music professor at Duke University. Among his compositions are eight operas–including The Crucible, for which he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize–seven symphonies, three concerti, two cantata, and songs for solo voice with accompaniment.
Past NEA Opera Honorees are John Adams, Martina Arroyo, Frank Corsaro, David DiChiera, Carlisle Floyd, Richard Gaddes, Philip Glass, Marilyn Horne, James Levine, Lotfi Mansouri, Leontyne Price, Eve Queler and Julius Rudel.
For more information, visit www.arts.gov/honors/opera
Join the conversation online with the Twitter hashtag #neaopera! Follow the NEA on Twitter @NEAarts and OPERA America @OperaAmerica and help us celebrate the recipients of the 2011 NEA Opera Honors.
John Conklin – Courtesy of Boston Lyric Opera
Speight Jenkins – Rozarii Lynch
Risë Stevens – David W. Martin
Robert Ward – Robert Kolt