National Endowment for the Arts Statement on the Death of NEA Opera Honors Recipient Richard Gaddes

Portrait of Richard Gaddes in a suit and bowtie

Photo by Henry Grossman

Washington, DC—It is with great sadness that the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) acknowledges the passing of opera advocate Richard Gaddes, recipient of a 2008 NEA Opera Honors Fellowship. Gaddes spent most of his professional life guiding and raising the profile of two important regional American companies, the Santa Fe Opera and Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. 

Born in Wallsend, England, in 1942 and later a permanent resident of the United States, Gaddes studied at London's Trinity College of Music. In the 1960s, he launched a program of lunchtime concerts by young musicians at Wigmore Hall, an initiative that was emblematic of his work after: in both Santa Fe and Saint Louis, he championed young singers. 

In 1969, at the age of 25 and at the invitation of Santa Fe Opera founder John Crosby, he became the company's artistic administrator. During his tenure, he brought New Zealand soprano Kiri Te Kanawa to the Santa Fe Opera for her U.S. debut in 1971; he also helped to launch Dutch conductor Edo de Waart and American mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade—all of whom went on to have illustrious careers. 

Gaddes founded the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis in 1976 and ran it until 1985, but remained a consultant to Santa Fe Opera. He returned to Santa Fe full-time in 1994 and later succeeded John Crosby as only the second general director in 50 years. He retired from Santa Fe Opera in 2008. At both companies he was known for staging American premieres—among them Tea: A Mirror of Soul, The Tempest, The Postman Always Rings Twice—and also rarely performed operas, such as Káťa Kabanová, Cendrillon, and The Impresario

When his NEA Opera Honors Fellowship was announced, Gaddes said, “Both [Santa Fe Opera and Opera Theatre of Saint Louis] companies also took risks by staging many premieres and rarely performed operas, challenging us and our audiences to think about opera's future as well as its past. I like to think that this award reflects this commitment to a vital and dynamic art form.” 

Throughout his tenure at both companies, Gaddes made a reputation for programming much adventurous repertoire, both old and new, imaginative casting and productions, building audiences and spotting emerging stars before others did. A former vice president of OPERA America, he served on many arts boards and was a member of the board of directors of the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts. His list of honors included the National Institute for Music Theatre Award and the Young Audiences' Cultural Achievement Award. 

When Gaddes was honored in 2008 by the NEA, director Peter Sellars spoke about Gaddes’ impact on the Santa Fe Opera: “[Richard]’s done so much to make sure that the Santa Fe Opera is a profoundly social gesture—that it is inclusive, that it is engaged in community work and education, that the sense of real communication is what we're here for. The sense of reaffirming the identity of the community at the same time as we're redefining it and expanding it.”

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