Martina Arroyo to Receive Kennedy Center Honors, 12/8

Martina Arroyo to Receive Kennedy Center Honors, 12/8

In recognition of her outstanding lifetime contribution to American culture, Martina Arroyo will be one of five recipients of this year's Kennedy Center Honors on Sunday, December 8 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. Seated with President and Mrs. Obama, as well as with her fellow Honorees (actress Shirley MacLaine and musicians Herbie Hancock, Billy Joel, and Carlos Santana), the pre-eminent American soprano will be saluted with performances and tributes during the star-studded gala celebration that will be broadcast nationwide as a two-hour prime time special on CBS-TV (Dec 29 at 9pm, EST). The honor is a fitting one, for Arroyo has devoted herself to opera over the course of a decades-long career. Since retiring from the stage, where her voice was heralded by the New York Times as "among the most glorious in the world," the Harlem-born soprano has continued to serve the art form through the Martina Arroyo Foundation, the non-profit cultural organization she established ten years ago to provide new generations of talented young singers with the tools to pursue careers in opera and prepare them for the stage.

The primary criterion in the Kennedy Center Honors selection is excellence. "The Kennedy Center celebrates five extraordinary individuals who have spent their lives elevating the cultural vibrancy of our nation and the world," said Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubenstein at the announcement of this year's recipients in September. "Martina Arroyo has dazzled the world with her glorious soprano voice and continues to share her artistry with a new generation of opera singers."

Tenor Taylor Stayton, an alumnus of the Martina Arroyo Foundation Prelude to Performance program, was thrilled to hear the news of her Kennedy Center Honors:

"Martina Arroyo's Prelude to Performance program helped mold me into the artist I am today. Ms. Arroyo's mission is not only to help train young singers, but more importantly to help spread the passion of performance to a new generation of opera lovers. I cannot give enough praise to Ms. Arroyo for sharing her love and joy of this wonderful art form, as well as her constant support throughout my limited years of training and professional career. It is my deep privilege to congratulate Martina Arroyo on this tremendous honor!"

Born in 1937 and raised in Harlem, Martina Arroyo went on to conquer the opera world, from the Metropolitan Opera to the Vienna State Opera, Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires to La Scala in Milan, Paris Opera to the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, and the great concert halls from Salzburg and Berlin to her hometown of New York. Few in her generation have been so fearless or so successful across the repertory, from Mozart, Verdi, Puccini and Strauss to Barber, Bolcom, Schoenberg, and Stockhausen. Her extensive recorded legacy reflects her inspired collaborations with conductors Leonard Bernstein, Karl Böhm, Rafael Kubelík, Zubin Mehta, Thomas Schippers, Colin Davis, and James Levine, and her numerous awards and accolades include a 2010 Opera Honors Award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

A most persuasive ambassador of opera, the soprano remains committed to teaching and to young artist development, and in 2003 she established her own non-profit cultural organization. Now celebrating its tenth anniversary season, the Martina Arroyo Foundation offers two intensive programs of study, coaching, and performance, both of which provide immersive preparation of complete operatic roles.

As Arroyo explains:

"Having been fortunate to have a long wonderful career, I saw things that I found a young person needed to have in a career and that I hadn't received because they weren't available - and one of the most important points was the development of the character. ... Few of us had had role study where you started on page one...to learn about your character and to develop the character from beginning through end. And not only your part, but also your colleagues' parts. I think a thorough study of your character and the opera makes you a far better performer."

Prelude to Performance offers a tuition-free, six-week intensive training program that culminates in four fully staged opera performances sung in the original language with supertitles - complete with sets, costumes, and orchestra - at a prominent New York venue. The foundation has offered masterclasses by such artists as Stephanie Blythe, Eric Owens and Tito Capobianco. Similarly, in Role Preparation Class, which takes place over twelve weeks each spring, each participant learns a complete operatic role for performance in a public recital of operatic ensembles.

Alumni of the Martina Arroyo Foundation may be found performing on leading professional stages around the world; they include soprano Eleni Calenos; tenors Michele Angelini, Taylor Stayton, Won Whi Choi, and Noah Stewart; baritone Steven LaBrie; and bass-baritone Ryan Speedo Green. By offering tuition-free training, the foundation is able to select and support talented artists from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds; past participants have come from Europe, Asia, South America, and Africa as well as the United States. Green, one of five winners of the Metropolitan Opera's prestigious National Council Auditions, recalls:

"Participating in the Martina Arroyo Foundation's Prelude to Performance program gave me the tools to prepare my transition from college to the professional world as an artist. Being able to spend up to six weeks studying every nuance of an operatic role - in its original language, with coaches, linguists, directors, and conductors in the business, and then to perform it in a fully staged production with other great young singers and orchestra - is priceless. The program truly helped bring my artistry to the next level."

After a Prelude to Performance presentation of Offenbach's Tales of Hoffmann at the Kaye Playhouse in July 2013, the New York Times observed: "The foundation has offered reliably high-quality productions since its founding almost a decade ago; standards were particularly impressive here," and the Huffington Post pronounced the program "not only the future of opera, but a strong way to build younger audiences." As NY1 News concluded, "The program is a unique opportunity for these young talents to hone their skills and learn from someone who sang in many of the world's leading opera houses."

Photo by Steve Sherman