Musical Cheers

The NEA Launches Great American Voices Military Base Tour


Two singers face each other, microphone in hand. In the background is the band

Robin Follman and Scott Ramsay give a preview performance of the Great American Voices Military Base Tour at Camp Lejeune, July 4, 2005. Photo: Leslie Liberato.

The usually hushed voices of visitors to the Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery gave way to soaring sopranos and tender tenors this past September as the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) launched a new national initiative, Great American Voices Military Base Tour: Unforgettable Melodies from Opera and Broadway. With major support from The Boeing Company, 24 professional opera companies will present free performances for military personnel and their families at 39 military bases nationwide through 2006.

At the September 28 launch event, held in the Renwick's Grand Salon, vocalists from the Domingo- Cafritz Young Artist program of The Washington National Opera performed against a backdrop of painting- filled walls. More than 200 guests were treated to a selection of work including "The Watch Duet" from Johann Strauss's 1874 opera Die Fledermaus and "Sing for Your Supper" from Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's 1938 musical The Boys from Syracuse. In the second half of the program, soprano Harolyn Blackwell, a Washington D.C. native, performed "Chacun le sait" from La Fille du Regiment by Gaetano Donizetti and "Glitter and Be Gay" from Richard Wilbur and Leonard Bernstein's Candide.

NEA Chairman and opera aficionado Dana Gioia emceed the event, noting that the Great American Voices initiative was built on the nation's strong tradition of opera and musical theater performance. He added that the program directly supported the Agency's mission to bring quality arts programming to underserved populations such as the military.

"Through Great American Voices, the NEA is building bridges between the military and arts community," said Chairman Gioia. "This tour gives singers a chance to perform for new audiences and brings great music in live performance to military families."

A man in uniform talks to another dressed in a dark suit.

Boeing’s Shep Hill with Col. James D. McGinley at the Great American Voices launch. Photo: Keith W.Wood, The Boeing Company.

Great American Voices is the third in a series of historic partnerships between the NEA and the Department of Defense. Previously, the agencies have partnered for the Shakespeare in American Communities Military Base Tour and Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience.

The Boeing Company, the world's leading aerospace company, also partnered with the Arts Endowment on the Operation Homecoming initiative, supporting writing workshops, educational activities, and a tour of Beyond Glory, Stephen Lang's one-man play about Medal of Honor recipients.

In the original announcement of the Great American Voices program, Jim Albaugh, president and CEO ofBoeing Integrated Defense Systems, said "We,re honored to support the National Endowment for the Arts and its work in bringing such outstanding programs to our servicemen and women and their families."

Shep Hill, Vice President of Business Development for Boeing Integrated Defense Systems, was a special guest at the Great American Voices launch event. Another initiative partner, OPERA America, the national service organization for opera, was represented by President and CEO Marc Scorca.

Also present at the well-attended event were Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Representative Kay Granger of Texas, and Representative Donald Manzullo of Illinois. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales attended with his wife Rebecca, the NEA's former Director of Development. Several senior military officials also attended.

Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed, Julia Hart Reed, and the NEA's Eileen Mason at the launch

Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed, Julia Hart Reed, and the NEA's Eileen Mason at the launch. Photo: Keith W.Wood, The Boeing Company.

The opera community was well represented by guests from program participants Ft.Worth Opera Association, Atlanta Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Pittsburgh Opera, San Diego Opera, and Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. Also on hand were famed coloratura soprano Mattiwilda Dobbs and National Council on the Arts member Mary Costa, whose four-decade career as an opera singer included performances with New York's Metropolitan Opera.

Earlier this year, personnel at North Carolina's Camp LeJeune received a sneak peek at Great American Voices when Opera Carolina and the Winston-Salem Symphony performed at the base's Fourth of July celebration. An estimated 16,000 people attended the performance.

Opera Carolina will perform again at South Carolina's Fort Jackson in February 2006. By summer 2006, military bases in 24 states will benefit from the program including Los Angeles Air Force Base, Fort Campbell, Naval Station Pearl Harbor, and the United States Military Academy at West Point, which will host performers from Washington Opera's Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program.

The 24 participating opera companies hail from all regions including Alaska's Anchorage Opera, Illinois's Lyric Opera of Chicago, Texas's Fort Worth Opera Association, and Florida's Pensacola Opera. Each company's Great American Voices program will draw from a diverse repertoire ranging from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's comic opera Cosí fan tutte to Leonard Bernstein's urban classic West Side Story to Giuseppe Verdi's epic Aida.

The program also features free educational material such as a program booklet, which includes a timeline of important dates in opera and musical theater, a glossary of opera and musical theater terminology, and fun facts about famous works of opera and musical theater. An accompanying free CD further illustrates concepts specific to both genres through select musical excerpts.