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NEA announces Opera Award honorees

The third crop of NEA Opera Honorees was announced today. Following the precedent of honoring someone from each area of the opera field, they go to a singer, a composer, an administrator, and a conductor (no stage directors this year): Martina Arroyo, Philip Glass, David DiChiera, and Eve Queler.

One can always carp at these awards and wonder whether there are better ways to help the field with $100,000 than by dividing it among four recognized and successful artists. But every year, there is also a sense of gratification at seeing artists recognized in their own lifetime for significant careers.
(read more after the jump)

Philip Glass, who is as prolific as ever and has written some 23 or 24 operas (I lose count), has perhaps the least need of such confirmation, given his level of activity in a range of genres and a popularity that extends far beyond the classical music world. But it’s nice to see kudos go to Arroyo, a radiant warm soprano with a voice that in her heyday (the 1960s through the 1980s, more or less) shone in Verdi and Puccini, and an active career as a teacher and mentor to young artists in the years since, who is also known in the business for a wicked sense of humor.

And it is particularly nice to see them go to DiChiera, a scholar and composer who in 1971 founded the Michigan Opera Theater and has been a cornerstone of the opera community (as well as general director of a couple of other companies) ever since. DiChiera has worked tirelessly and then had to watch, late in his career, as financial crisis worked against a lot that he’d built up. As Detroit struggles, Opera Pacific, which he ran for the first ten years of its existence (1986-96), closed altogether. (On the plus side of the balance sheet, his "Cyrano" opera, which played in Detroit and Philadelphia, will come to the Florida Grand Opera in 2011.)

Eve Queler also deserves respect, and she has trouble getting it from those in my profession. Her Opera Orchestra of New York has turned out many memorable performances and presented the debuts of a number of significant artists ever since Queler, having trouble finding organizations willing to hire a female conductor, founded it in 1971. We critics harp on the deficits in her conducting technique, but there’s no question that she wins much sympathy and affection from the singers she works with, and has offered people important chances, be it for a debut or for a comeback, as well as presenting some significant work (little-known Donizetti operas; Halevy’s complete and uncut "La Juive" before anybody else had started doing "La Juive" again; Rossini’s "William Tell" with the addition of an original aria she found in a Paris library). OONY has certainly earned a place in operatic history, and it's nice that Queler, a maverick for her entire career, is being honored by the establishment.

The awards ceremony will take place on October 22, hosted by the Washington National Opera.

By Anne Midgette  |  June 24, 2010; 8:00 PM ET
Categories:  national , news , opera  
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