I am profoundly grateful to greet you after one of the most difficult years imaginable. It’s been a period of isolation, turmoil, and loss. Through it all, Opera Omaha strove to be a source of comfort and celebration; to share joy to the greatest extent possible and to the best of our ability. Now, with the return to large-scale live performances this spring, we offer this publication as a commemoration of the many ways Opera Omaha has endeavored to serve, create, and connect in the face of so many challenges – and to thank the many people and institutions who made it possible.
With ingenuity and innovation, Opera Omaha found new ways to serve the community. Not surprisingly during a pandemic, much of this work took place online. Through a generous act of the Douglas County Commissioners and the Omaha Community Foundation, funds from the Federal CARES Act supported the creation of a new Opera Omaha digital production studio. This new equipment enabled us to produce and share high-quality digital content for our patrons, community partners, and even opera fans around the country. It also helped us transform our free annual summer concert, Opera Outdoors, into a live radio broadcast last August in partnership with our wonderful colleagues at KVNO.
Opera Omaha’s primary conduit to the community throughout the past year remained the Holland Community Opera Fellowship. The hard-working Holland Fellows stayed in touch with, and in service to, countless others throughout the pandemic. We are so proud that the Holland Community Opera Fellowship has garnered the attention of major institutions supporting creative placemaking across the country. The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), OPERA America, Hearst Foundation, and, locally, the Peter Kiewit Foundation, the Fred and Eve Simon Charitable Foundation, and the Suzanne and Walter Scott Foundation, are currently underwriting Opera Omaha’s Fellowship. Our national funders have commissioned a formal case study about the Fellowship that will be disseminated nationwide. We are exceedingly grateful to these funders as well as the Holland Foundation who made this program, and so much of Opera Omaha’s work, possible. For more information about the Holland Fellowship, please see the article by Leo Biga on page 42.
The ban on gathering in person didn’t prevent Opera Omaha from creating new opera in the last year. We partnered with Tri-Cities Opera on Miranda, the world’s first live Virtual Reality Opera. We joined Baruch Performing Arts Center in streaming a new digital production of dwb (driving while black). Last January, Opera Omaha became the Midwest online presenter for the internationally acclaimed New York based PROTOTYPE Festival, sharing MODULATION, a compilation of new works by a diverse group of 13 composers. With the leadership of co-curators Melanie Bacaling and Chabrelle Williams (a Holland Community Opera Fellowship alumna), Opera Omaha launched a new series, Amplifying the Black Experience (A.BL.E.), recognizing that the last year not only brought a global pandemic, but a long overdue racial reckoning triggered by the murders of George Floyd, James Scurlock, and many others. The A.BL.E. series, an interactive blend of performance and conversation, will develop further this summer and into the future.
Opera Omaha’s efforts to commission, create, and present new work this year were welcomed by our audience and opera artists alike. Artists across the world are still reeling from more than a year of canceled performances and an uncertain future. Opera Omaha became an industry leader in honoring canceled contracts and striving to keep artists employed through the creation of new projects during the pandemic. Our ability to do this was only through the generosity of our ticket holders, donors, corporate sponsors like Omaha Steaks, First National Bank and Valmont, local and national foundations, as well as Opera Omaha’s Board of Directors and Advisors. A multitude of artists join me in thanking you for this sustaining support.
With as many of us as possible following health directives to shelter in place, feelings of isolation last year were common. For that reason, Opera Omaha tried to stay connected to you, our subscribers, supporters, associates and community. Within one week of closing down our March 2020 ONE Festival, we launched “Virtual Opera Omaha,” an online source of new programming to engage individuals of all ages in creative activities. This series by Opera Omaha ran for 10 weeks as the nationwide shutdown extended into the summer of 2020. The success of our online programming and coalition building blossomed into SALON: the Shared Adult Learning Opera Network. This national consortium of opera companies, spearheaded by Opera Omaha, provides original content for life-long learners on an ongoing basis. Video conferencing technology enabled us to check in on friends and patrons, as well as colleagues across the country and those right here in Omaha. Frequent “Zoom Soirees” with artists and members of Opera Omaha’s family of patrons have been true bright spots in such a dark time. While we welcome the return of live performances this spring, we value the new and deeper connections from the past year and plan to further these initiatives to build new alliances and relationships well in to the future.
In the meantime, we can’t wait to connect with you in person. I hope to see you at a performance of Opera Under the Stars. Maybe our paths will cross in one of the parks, neighborhoods, or other sites for Opera To Go, our mobile stage coming to a location near you throughout May and June. We only have a short time to wait for Opera Omaha’s return to the Orpheum Theater this fall for a spectacular 2021-2022 season featuring three brand-new “made in Omaha” productions of beloved classics. Whether on-line or in person, Opera Omaha looks forward to serving, creating, and connecting with you for years to come.