Think of American art forms, and opera doesn't typically spring to mind. But now the federal government is setting out to change that.
Yesterday the National Endowment for the Arts announced the four winners of the first annual NEA Opera Honors, the first new program of national arts awards since the Jazz Masters awards were established in 1982. The first opera honorees are the great soprano Leontyne Price, conductor James Levine (who has led the Metropolitan Opera for 32 years), composer Carlisle Floyd ("Susannah") and administrator Richard Gaddes, who will retire this year from the Santa Fe Opera. Each will receive $25,000 in a ceremony on Oct. 31 at the Harman Center for the Arts in Washington, since the Washington National Opera is the NEA's partner for this first presentation.
"I would say at the moment American opera is really second to none in the world," NEA Chairman Dana Gioia said in a telephone interview before yesterday's announcement. "Opera has become a thriving, growing American art form."