Art Works Blog

History Lesson: The NEA & Opera

Washington, DC

The LA Philharmonic received an NEA grant to support The Tristan Project, a restaging of Richard Wagner's Tristan and Isolde co-produced with the Paris Opera with video art by Bill Viola. Photo couresty of Matthew Imaging

While the NEA Opera Honors is only a few years old, the Arts Endowment actually has a long history of supporting the art form. Beginning in 1967---the second year the agency awarded grants---we gave a $150,000 grant to the Metropolitan Opera National Company, a satellite of the Metropolitan Opera. Since then we?ve awarded nearly 4,500 grants to opera companies, artists, and organizations, totaling more than $167 million. Our support has benefitted everything from young artists? programs to broadcasts of television and radio programs, such as NPR?s World of Opera, to touring initiatives, such as the NEA?s Great American Voices, which presented free opera performances at military bases nationwide. The catalytic effect of this support is reflected in the growth of opera companies, from 46 companies in 1965 to 129 companies in 2005.

Key to the agency's history of opera support was the New American Works program which from 1980 to 1995 awarded more than 600 grants to encourage the creation of new repertoire. Anthony Davis' Amistad, John Adam's Nixon in China (his first opera!), William Bolcom's A View from the Bridge, and Philip Glass' Appomattox are just a few of the operas that resulted from this program.

The NEA also provided grants for professional development of emerging artists, funding programs such as the Lyric Opera Center for American Artists, the Houston Grand Opera Studio, and Merola Opera Program. Among the alumni of these programs are Dawn Upshaw, Nathan Gunn, and Denyce Graves.

The creation of the NEA Opera Honors in 2008 constitutes another milestone in the agency's long history of support for opera. Honorees to date include Leontyne Price, James Levine, Marilyn Horne, and John Adams, among others. Visit the NEA Opera Honors page to learn more. And keep an eye on the News Room where we'll announce the 2010 NEA Opera Honors in just a few weeks.

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