Back in 1959, when he was campaigning for the Presidency, Senator John F. Kennedy insisted that, "after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle (or in politics), but for our contribution to the human spirit. The new frontier for which I campaign in public life can also be a new frontier for American art. I look forward to an America which will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business or statecraft."
A quarter century after Kennedy's death, the fertilization and nurturing of operatic talent by such apprentice programs as Texas Opera Theater, the Exxon Arts Endowment Conductors Program, Affiliate Artists, and various components ofthe San Francisco Opera Center have pro-duced thousands of skilled American artists. But these talented men and women all need jobs. Throughout their careers they are confronted by enormous expenses (the financial overhead most commonly known as "the costs of doing business") and, having invested an extraordinary amount of blood, sweat, tears, and money to develop their professional skills, should not be expected to perform for less than adequate financial compensation.
The dwindling of the dollar's value outside the United States amounts to an opportunity to reinvest in American artists. Foreign singers continually cancel their engagements, and various impresarios are casting many roles with Americans, who are happy to accept payment in American dollars while singing on their home turf. And each American hired by one of our opera companies joins ranks with an army of native professionals who can help prevent the industry from being held hostage by foreign artists whenever the dollar loses ground against the yen, pound, or Deutsch mark.
Just as the auto industry rallied behind Lee lacocca's cry to "Buy American," we urge readers to invest their time, money, and energy to support opera in America. Investing in America's opera scene can mean bypassing the automatic snob appeal of a foreign name to validate the work that is being offered by so many American artists. Sometimes it means resisting the temptation to be swept off our feet by intensely hyped but artistically mediocre one-night stands with international superstars. Most important, regularly attending performances in cities throughout the United States will prove to anyone that what we present on our stages is often as good as (and frequently better than) what is produced in many European opera houses.
Thanks to competitively reasonable airfares, it is now more practical and economic for Americans to schedule weekend jaunts to cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston, St. Louis, New York, San Francisco, and Washington than it is to fly abroad to attend opera. The pickings are plentiful, the artistic standards are most im¬pressive, and in many cases, the product itself is even home-grown.
We urge you to rediscover America and explore its many operatic frontiers.
* * * * * * * * * *
This article originally appeared in the June 1988 issue of Opera Monthly magazine.