Marc Scorca: The NEA Opera Honors is just a fantastic program. Explicitly it is to celebrate lifetime achievement in opera, and the recipients have deserved it a hundred times over. For each of the honorees, we do a video tribute which are available on the NEA website and the video tributes always involve interviewing ten or so people for each honoree from which we then create the tribute. This has become a fantastic oral history of American opera. If you look at the nearly 160 interviews that we've done, each of them between half an hour and an hour-and-a-half, they tell the story of the development of this art form in the United States. Just this year alone, Robert Ward is honored, and Bob is now 94 years old. And when we went to interview him, we were talking about his music education at Eastman in the 1930s, how he went into World War II and the musical programs of the army, and how he learned how to compose for jazz band in the army. We heard about his studying at Tanglewood from Paul Hindemith and sitting next to Leonard Bernstein who was also studying there with Aaron Copland -- a great story of American opera. Risë Stevens, she's now 98, and she went away in the 1930s to study opera and performance in Prague. And experiencing an American abroad in Czechoslovakia before the Anschluss with Hitler and in all of the people who have told the stories about Risë or Bob Ward or Speight Jenkins, John Conklin, we through these subordinate interviews are documenting the way the field came into its own, especially after World War II.
In this excerpt from the podcast, Scorca points out that these tributes have become unexpectedly rich cultural documents. [1:45]