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Opera Memphis Wins Innovation Grant

June 8, 2017 - articles -





June 1, 2017 (New York) — OPERA America, the national service organization for opera and the nation’s leading champion of American opera, is pleased to announce that Opera Memphis is among the first-ever recipients of Innovation Grants, generously funded by the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation.
Launched last fall, Innovation Grants support exceptional projects that have the capacity to strengthen opera’s most important areas of practice, including artistic vitality, audience experience, organizational effectiveness, and community connections. These grants invest up to $1.5 million annually in OPERA America’s Professional Company Members, enabling organizations of all sizes to increase their commitment to experimentation and innovation, as well as contribute to field-wide learning.

Opera Memphis’ funding will be dedicated to a new initiative, The McCleave Project, launching in fall 2017. Seeking deeper engagement with people of color, Opera Memphis will undertake a number of initiatives organized around the legacy of African-American soprano Florence Cole Talbert McCleave.

Madame McCleaveBeginning in 1916, McCleave (left) – a Detroit native – had a successful operatic singing career in Europe, including as the first black woman to sing the title role of Aida. When she returned to the United States, McCleave became one of the first black women to record commercially, for labels including Black Swan and Paramount Records. After retiring, she became a singing teacher, settling first in Los Angeles but later relocating to Memphis, where she taught music lessons from her home on Vance Street. She also wrote articles for the Tri-State Defender, gave recitals to raise money for schools and churches, and brought such luminary African-American singers as Marian Anderson and George Shirley to sing at Lemoyne College (now Lemoyne-Owen.) 

While The Met was touring to Memphis in a whites-only venue, Madame McCleave was spreading a love of opera to generations of young black Memphians and ensuring her community heard some of the best singers in the world. Decades later, opera still struggles with a potent racial divide, and it is thus fitting that Madame McCleave’s life inspired Opera Memphis’ latest grant-winning new initiative. Through facilitated community conversations, performances, and the creation of a McCleave Fellowship for singers, directors and coaches of color, Opera Memphis seeks to move beyond the “opera bubble” and more fully engage its home city. 

Joining Opera Memphis on the prestigious list of Innovation Grant recipients are Houston Grand Opera, Seattle Opera, Opera Philadelphia, and New York’s American Lyric Theater. In all, twenty-seven companies received awards totaling $1.411 million in this first granting cycle.

“Thanks to the tremendous generosity of the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation, our member companies receive support to pursue new thinking and experimentation — to expand the boundaries of their current practices and adapt to an ever-changing field,” stated Marc A. Scorca (left), president and CEO of OPERA America. “These grants benefit not only the recipients but the entire art form: Through the lessons gleaned from the funded initiatives, companies throughout North American will be able to borrow and adapt good ideas, spreading the learning field-wide.” 

This grant adds to a long list a recognition that Opera Memphis has received from OPERA America, the national voice of the opera industry. In addition to grant-based financial support, Opera Memphis’ longtime Trustee Marsh Gibson was recently awarded National Opera Trustee Recognition, Opera Memphis General Director Ned Canty was elected by his peers to a seat on OPERA America’s Board of Directors (a body that is independant from OPERA America’s grant making activities), and no fewer than four Opera Memphis staff members have been identified by OPERA America as future leaders in the field.

For more information, see OPERA America’s original press release below or contact Tierney Bamrick.

Opera Memphis General Director Ned Canty, Trustee Marsh Gibson, and Board Chair Paul Guibao at the 2017 National Opera Trustee Recognition Dinner.


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.