Memphis, Tenn. May 21, 2018- Opera Memphis is proud to announce the launch of The McCleave Fellowships, a first-of-its-kind program designed to identify and nurture emerging artists of color in opera. Memphis-based stage director Dennis Whitehead Darling will be the first to receive one of the fellowships, which will ultimately be open to singers, directors, coaches, and conductors of color.
The fellowships are the next phase of The McCleave Project, a collection of initiatives named for Florence Cole Talbert McCleave, the groundbreaking African-American soprano who spent three decades singing and teaching in Memphis. The project addresses issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion in opera–onstage, backstage, and in the audience. In the first year of the project, the company engaged in a city-wide listening tour, based around a short opera with an African American cast. Each free performance took place in a primarily African American area of the city and was followed by a moderated community conversation about race and opera. In 2018, these performances will expand into Latino communities, presenting Spanish language content in partnership with Latino Memphis.
The first phase of The McCleave Project attracted nationwide attention and support, including from OPERA America and the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation. The newest phase of the project, The McCleave Fellowships, seeks to address the underrepresentation of people of color, both onstage and in key artistic positions. In keeping with the legacy of Madame McCleave, the fellowships are dedicated to providing emerging professionals of color with the tools to be successful, impactful artists.
The fellowships officially launch in the 2018-19 opera season with the appointment of inaugural McCleave Fellow, Dennis Whitehead Darling. Dennis is an award-winning stage director and music director, familiar to Opera Memphis audiences through his two previous productions with the company (2017’s Blue Viola and 2018’s Movin’ Up in the World.) In addition to his work with Opera Memphis, he has directed for Playhouse on the Square, Circuit Playhouse, Hattiloo Theater, Harrell Theater, and others, while also serving as Music Director at Cooper Young’s First Congregational Church.
Dennis Whitehead Darling”My goal is to use my artistic voice to tell passionate and moving stories that invite, encourage and inspire audiences to feel and discover a new social or political perspective. By understanding these unique views, we can better understand our world and takes steps toward positive change,” says Whitehead Darling. “The McCleave Project is an essential step forward in advancing the careers of artists of color, and I am profoundly honored to be named the first McCleave Fellow for Stage Direction.”
As a McCleave Fellow in directing, Whitehead Darling will direct multiple projects over the course of the next two seasons. These will include productions in the Midtown Opera Festival, the Masterworks series, education programs, and the award-winning “30 Days of Opera”. Moreover, he will act as an Associate Director throughout the season and will join Opera Memphis staff at industry events and convenings, starting with the 2018 OPERA America Conference. Whitehead Darling will also will take part in observerships at major opera companies in the US and abroad, beginning with the English National Opera in London.
“We believe we have a unique opportunity to address one of opera’s most pressing issues–the shockingly low numbers of directors and conductors of color in the field,” says Opera Memphis General Director Ned Canty. “By helping Dennis advance his career, we can take a small step towards ensuring that the artists responsible for interpreting a work bring a diversity of viewpoints to the work. This is absolutely vital if opera is to continue as an integral part of cultural life not only in Memphis but across all of 21st century America.”
The McCleave Project is part of a portfolio of civic impact work Opera Memphis has built over the past several years, beginning with their award-winning “30 Days of Opera” program. The company’s work is on the cutting edge of its field, as is evidenced by prestigious invitations to take part in OPERA America’s Civic Action Group and the World Opera Forum in Madrid, Spain. The McCleave Fellowships continue this pattern of leadership, with the goal of spurring similar progress throughout the field.
Those interested in learning more about the McCleave Project & Fellowships should visit operamemphis.org/mccleave or call Opera Memphis at 901.257.3100.
**’You can read the Focus Mid-South’s story on Whitehead in the Jan+Feb 2018 issue, online at https://focusmidsouth.com/virtual-issue/
Opera Memphis was founded in 1956 and has grown into a world-class opera company. Widely respected for its innovative approach to outreach and audience development, Opera Memphis has become a nationally recognized thought leader on the process of evolving to meet the needs of 21st century audiences. For more information on upcoming Opera Memphis performances, call 901-257-3100 or visit www.operamemphis.org. To keep up with the latest news and happenings, follow Opera Memphis on facebook.com/operamemphis or on Twitter as @operamemphis.
CONTACT: Tierney Bamrick
o: 901.202.4535 / c: 901.827.1929