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America Supports You: 'Voices' to Tour Military Bases

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 29, 2005 – The National Endowment for the Arts launched its "Great American Voices Military Base Tour: Unforgettable Melodies from Opera and Broadway" during a special performance Sept. 28 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Renwick Gallery here.

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Wayne S. Brown, director of music and opera for the National Endowment of the Arts, stands by a map showing the 39 military installations across the country that will have performances of "Great American Voices Military Base Tour: Unforgettable Melodies from Opera & Broadway," which is slated to start in October. Photo by Rudi Williams

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The kick-off event featured a performance by soprano Harolyn Blackwell, and a preview performance by the Washington National Opera's "Domingo-Cafritz Young Artists Program," which will visit the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and Picatinny Arsenal in Wharton, N.J., as part of the tour.

The Great American Voices Military Base Tour is presented in coordination with the Defense Department and OPERA America. OPERA supports the creation, presentation and enjoyment of opera. The Boeing Company is sponsoring the tour.

This is the latest in a series of partnerships between the NEA and the Defense Department, NEA officials said. The first was "Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience," which brought distinguished writers to 16 domestic military bases and offered an open call for writing submissions from troops worldwide. The initiative will result in a federal archive of troops' writings and an anthology, to be published next year. NEA has more than 10,000 pages of submissions from troops.

The NEA's "Shakespeare in American Communities Military Base Tour" brought performances by four Shakespeare companies to 18 military bases across the country.

"Through Great American Voices, the NEA is building bridges between the military and arts community," NEA Chairman Dana Gioia said in a news release about the tour. "This tour gives singers a chance to perform for new audiences and brings great music in live performance to military families."

"We're delighted to have 24 opera companies performing on 39 installations across the country," Wayne S. Brown, the NEA's director of music and opera, said during an interview before the kick-off performance at the Renwick Gallery. "We're launching a tour that will focus on bridging the connection between opera companies and military installations. The program will include excerpts from operas and musical theater for members of the military and their families."

The tour, which runs from October through August, will feature selections from popular operas, such as George Bizet's "Carmen" and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's "Don Giovanni," as well as highlights from classic American musicals, including Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Oklahoma!"

"We've recognized that for a number of years, military installations throughout this country represent defined communities, and, quite often, we only think of the arts and its reach through our traditional cities and outline areas," Brown noted. "Our chairman, Dana Gioia, came to the conclusion that there's an audience we're not reaching. So we approached the Department of Defense about our interest in developing relationships. It began with Operation Homecoming. As a result of that experience, our project, which we will launch tonight, will move into another art form. We're moving from literature into the area of opera and musical theater."

Brown said participating opera companies have developed programs that will not only address evening performances for members of the military and their families, but also will provide tailor-made programs in the schools.

"The educational component is an essential part of each presentation at all 39 installations," Brown noted. "In each case you want to find an appropriate hook between the performance and a holiday or a particular observance to celebrate. Each program is tailor-made to address the needs of the base as perceived by the base commander and his or her appointed delegation along with the participating opera company."

He thanked the Defense Department for helping make the tour happen and the great cooperation NEA has received from bases across the country.

"We've had more interest in the program than we could possibly respond to in the first year, and we hope to build on that with other projects," Brown said.

Through Great American Voices, young artists perform opera and Broadway classics. The performances are open and free of charge to military personnel and their families popular opera and musical theater to military installations nationwide.

The NEA, which was established by Congress in 1965, is a public agency dedicated to supporting excellence in the arts -- both new and established, bringing the arts to all Americans, and providing leadership in arts education.

Gioia pointed out in the special performance program that opera was for centuries the most popular art form in the world. "Opera singers were the first international superstars, and opera composers like Giuseppe Verdi and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart became national heroes," he said. "Legendary tenor Enrico Caruso was the first musician ever to sell records in the millions."

He also noted that opera appears in many aspects of popular culture and was featured in such films as "The Godfather," "The Shawshank Redemption," "Moonstruck" and "Pretty Woman."

In Bugs Bunny cartoons, Elmer Fudd sings, "Kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit," as he searches for Bugs. The melody comes from Richard Wagner's opera "Die Walkuere," part of his famous Ring cycle.

"It's a tremendous idea," Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Cornell A. Wilson Jr. said. "When troops can see this kind of support from the American public -- from all facets of life -- it really makes them feel proud because of all the sacrifices they've had to go through to keep this country free. So I'm excited about the opportunity for the operas to go to the bases. I look forward to them coming to Quantico and other Marine bases."

Wilson, director of Reserve Affairs Division at Quantico Marine Corps Base, Va., said he's an opera fan, "even more so after tonight."

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Related Sites:
National Endowment for the Arts
America Supports You

Click photo for screen-resolution imageMarine Maj. Gen. Cornell A. Wilson Jr., director of Reserve Affairs Division at Quantico Marine Corps Base, Va., poses with soprano Harolyn Blackwell after her performance in the kick off for the National Endowment of the Arts "Great American Voices Military Base Tour: Unforgettable Melodies from Opera and Broadway," at the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Renwick Gallery in Washington. Blackwell received a standing ovation after performing two songs at the event. Photo by Rudi Williams  
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