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Article Published: 17 Oct 2021

A Fitting Tribute

The recent passing of Carlisle Floyd was a sad event for those of us who knew him and for all of us who appreciate American opera. The next issue of Opera America Magazine will pay tribute to him, but I wanted to share my thoughts about this wonderful artist, teacher, colleague, and friend — a man who helped change the course of American opera. Several of his operas top the list of the most-produced American works, for good reason. I have witnessed audiences react with standing ovations to his deeply human stories and beautiful music. I saw his tireless travel across the continent to attend productions of his operas and participate in panel discussions, donor events, and cast parties. He was a fine composer and an indefatigable ambassador for American opera whose works and warmth took the fear out of the words “new” and “contemporary.” A true gentle man of opera.

We can honor Carlisle by redoubling our efforts to develop an American opera repertoire. I thought of him as I paged through a recent issue of The Addison Independent, a newspaper based in Middlebury, Vermont. Featured in the Arts and Leisure section was multi-page coverage of the Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival, a five-day event featuring more than 120 films by 45 filmmakers, many of whom would be present for the event. The festival brought in many local arts organizations as partners, including the Vermont Symphony, which presented an award for the Best Integration of Music into Film. It included numerous panel discussions, all of which were free and open to the public. One of these featured a panel of Vermont filmmakers, all of whom had produced and directed their films right in the state. Festival passes were reasonably priced — day passes for $40 or $100 for the entire five days — and they included Q&A sessions with artists, happy hours, and post screening parties. Middlebury is a small town in a small state, but it was able to offer an array of new films and opportunities to engage with the artists who created them. It’s from cauldrons of creativity like this — taking place all over the country — that filmmakers will be discovered who can advance the art form.

Wouldn’t an opera festival of such dimension delight Carlisle Floyd? What would it take to offer a concentrated showcase of 120 new operas of different scope and style, telling all variety of stories that connect to our histories and the world around us? OPERA America’s New Works Forum in New York in January and our Opera Conference in Minneapolis in May and online in June offer a glimpse of what is possible. Across the field, many new works will be produced in the months ahead, some of them delayed by COVID and others that have been on the calendar for years. Some will be successful, and others will fail. But this is the very creative process, filled with risk and experimentation, that would make Carlisle proud. Our recommitment to it is how we can celebrate his life.

This article was published in the Fall 2021 issue of Opera America Magazine.