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National and Local Funders Provide Major Support for Three-Year Cycle of New American Operas in St. Louis


The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation leads support with $1 million commitment, which is the largest challenge grant for production support in the history of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis

October 29, 2012 – Opera Theatre of Saint Louis General Director Timothy O’Leary announced today the award of a $1,000,000 challenge grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in support of a three-year cycle of world premiere operas.  The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation provides grants on an invitation-only basis to a small number of leading performing arts companies in the United States.  The grant complements the local and national funds already secured for the first year of the cycle, including a $260,000 gift from the Whitaker Foundation to Opera Theatre and its commissioning partner, Jazz St. Louis, for the 2013 world premiere of Champion by five-time Grammy Award-winning composer Terence Blanchard and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Michael Cristofer.

This financial support from the Mellon Foundation will help enable Opera Theatre to expand American operatic repertoire through a cycle the company has entitled New Works, Bold Voices, which includes Champion (2013), Twenty-Seven by composer Ricky Ian Gordon and Michael Korie (2014), and Shalimar the Clown by composer Jack Perla based on the novel by Salman Rushdie (2015).  The attached release provides more information about the operas.

The Mellon Foundation awards grants based on artistic merit and leadership, concentrating on companies that demonstrate a commitment to advancing an art form by presenting ambitious new works.  The Foundation’s gift to Opera Theatre is structured as a challenge grant: Opera Theatre’s goal is to raise an additional $1.5 million from its donor base to secure the Mellon Foundation’s $1 million challenge, the largest ever to support Opera Theatre’s productions.  Qualifying gifts must represent new or increased support, and must be designated for Opera Theatre’s productions in its 2013, 2014, and 2015 seasons.

“We are profoundly grateful to The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for this leadership support,” said Timothy O’Leary.  “From the beginning, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has been committed to opera as a living, breathing, contemporary art form.  We are excited to be presenting new works by great American composers and librettists – we believe in opera from and for our own time, and we deeply appreciate the generosity that makes this work possible.”

Each season, about 25% of Opera Theatre’s contributed revenue comes from sources outside the St. Louis metropolitan area, including national foundations such as The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, as well as members of Opera Theatre’s National Patrons Council.  Opera Theatre’s budget for 2013 is $9.2 million.

The 2013 world premiere of Champion has already inspired considerable support from donors in St. Louis and beyond.  In addition to support from the Mellon Foundation, Opera Theatre has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and OPERA America’s Opera Fund.   Locally, the Whitaker Foundation’s leadership gift of $260,000 to Opera Theatre and its commissioning partner Jazz St. Louis provided the funding needed to launch Champion, helping to underwrite the commissioning and development of the piece, as well as the production itself. 

“When two organizations of the caliber of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and Jazz St. Louis join forces on a single project, one needs to take notice.  Opera and jazz share much musically – from the talent of their creators to the passion of their audiences.  It is natural to be curious about how artists negotiate a common vision that guides their work. The Whitaker Foundation is pleased through our support to help enable this exciting collaboration,” says Christy Gray, Executive Director of the Whitaker Foundation, about the project. Further underwriting for the production is provided by a member of Opera Theatre’s board of directors, Phoebe Dent Weil.

Champion also marks the start of New Voices for Opera, a program designed to grow new audiences for Opera Theatre, with an emphasis on building an audience as culturally diverse as the St. Louis community.  This effort is funded with grants from OPERA America’s Opera Fund and PNC Arts Alive.  The support from PNC is part of The PNC Foundation’s two-year, $1 million investment in St. Louis that supports visual and performing arts groups with the goal of increasing arts access and engagement in new and innovative ways.

Opera Theatre’s announcement of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant came shortly after the company closed its books on the fiscal year ending September 30, 2012.  During the fiscal year, Opera Theatre increased subscribership, increased single ticket sales, achieved a record for new and diverse audiences, and exceeded its goals for both earned and contributed revenue.  In addition to artistic excellence, Opera Theatre is known for its tradition of fiscal health and stability, having operated for 37 years without accumulating a deficit.

About Opera Theatre of Saint Louis

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis is one of the leading American opera companies, known for a spring festival of inventive new productions, sung in English, featuring the finest American singers and accompanied by members of the St. Louis Symphony.  As of 2012 Opera Theatre has presented 22 world premieres and 23 American premieres – which may be the highest percentage of new work in the repertory of any U.S. company.  Described by The Sunday Times of London as “one of the few American companies worth the transatlantic fare,” Opera Theatre of Saint Louis annually welcomes visitors from nearly every state and close to a dozen foreign countries. Although the size of the theater typically limits box office income to less than a quarter of the budget, the company has consistently produced work of the highest quality while never accumulating a deficit.

Opera Theatre also has a long tradition of discovering and promoting the careers of the finest operatic artists of the current generation.  Among the artists who had important early opportunities at Opera Theatre are Christine Brewer, Susan Graham, Nathan Gunn, Patricia Racette, Thomas Hampson, Jerry Hadley, Dawn Upshaw, Sylvia McNair, Erie Mills, Dwayne Croft, Kelly Kaduce, and Lawrence Brownlee.  Opera Theatre has always been known for distinguished leadership: founding general director Richard Gaddes was succeeded in 1985 by general director Charles MacKay, with famed British stage director Colin Graham as artistic director and Stephen Lord (1992 – present) as music director.  Timothy O’Leary was named general director in October 2008 with acclaimed stage director James Robinson succeeding Colin Graham.  For more information, visit

Opera Theatre gratefully acknowledges season presenting sponsor Wells Fargo Advisors.

 Opera Theatre is a sustaining member of the Arts and Education Council of Greater Saint Louis, and receives major support from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Regional Arts Commission, and the Missouri Arts Council