Keeping it Old School: Meet the Foundation Prepping Opera Singers for the Big Time

What do baseball and opera have in common? Not much. But hear us out anyway.

Baseball season kicked off in early April, and with it a new rule change designed to minimize the "takeout slide," whereby a player aggressively slides into second base and in the process, runs the risk of injuring the opposing fielder.

Many baseball purists are up in arms. The "takeout slide" is an integral part of the game, they argue. But time marches forward, leaving the purists to wring their hands and pick their next battle against the forces of modernity.

We see similar dynamic is many sectors of the arts world. Take opera, for example. We continually hear that the field must modernize to reach new audiences. Organizations like American Opera Projects and the Minnesota Opera and their New Works Initiative (NWI) exist for this very purpose — and grantmakers like Andrew W. Mellon enthusiastically support them.

In doing so, there's a tacit admission at play. The current state of opera, grantmakers and organizations seem to be saying, is a bit stale, musty, hopelessly anachronistic. To which the purists reply, "And that's exactly how it should be!"

So while we certainly don't want to put words in the mouth of grantmakers (actually, we do it all the time) we nonetheless feel inclined to place the Richard Tucker Foundation in the "purist" camp.

Founded in 1975, the foundation is dedicated to perpetuating the artistic legacy of the great American tenor through the support and advancement of the careers of talented American opera singers by bringing opera into the community. To that end, the foundation seeks to heighten appreciation for opera by offering free performances in New York Metropolitan area and by supporting music education enrichment programs.

The foundation provides professional development for singers at several levels of career-readiness through two grants and one award. They include: 

  • The Sara Tucker Study Grant for singers, selected through a vocal competition, who are recently out of the university or conservatory and considered to be at the beginning of promising careers.
  • The Richard Tucker Career Grant for singers, selected through a vocal competition, who have begun professional careers and who have already performed roles with opera companies nationally or internationally. 
  • The Richard Tucker Award, conferred annually upon a single artist who has reached a high level of artistic accomplishment and who, in the opinion of a conferral panel, is on the threshold of a major international career. 

The foundation recently announced the latter award, which comes with a $50,000 cash prize and a gala concert in New York, went to soprano Tamara Wilson.

Labels aside, at the end of the day, grantmakers like the Richard Tucker Foundation and Mellon — whose aforementioned gift to the NWI funds, among other things, the production of Stephen King's "The Shining" — may have different approaches, but they all share the same goal: heightening appreciation for opera.

And that's something both purists and reformists can applaud (albeit politely. It is opera after all.)