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Opera could move – Talks underway on partnership

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By Todd Cohen

The National Opera Company in Raleigh would become part of the N.C. School of the Arts through a partnership the two groups hope to create.

The opera troupe, formed in 1948, would move to the Winston-Salem campus of the School of the Arts in fall 2001 — and would continue to receive financial support from the A.J. Fletcher Foundation in Raleigh for several years.

The opera would become a center at the school, which is a campus of the University of North Carolina System.

A goal of the partnership is to establish a nationally recognized opera training program, says Tom McGuire, executive director of the Fletcher Foundation and of the Fletcher School of Performing Arts, which operates the opera company.

“It’s really a marriage of two equal partners who want to create something that is greater than the sum of the parts,” he says.

The opera would continue to perform in the Triangle, particularly at the new A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater. The theater is scheduled to open in spring 2001 as part of the city’s expansion of Memorial Auditorium into a performing arts complex.

The Fletcher Foundation has given $2 million for the new theater.

The opera was created in 1948 as the Grass Roots Opera by the late A.J. Fletcher, a lawyer and amateur opera singer who wanted to make opera available both to schoolchildren and adults, particularly in areas with little access to opera.

Fletcher, who founded Capitol Broadcasting Co. Inc. in Raleigh, created the foundation in the early 1960s as a supporting fund for the opera.

In 1986, the foundation began making major grants to nonprofits groups after selling $26 million of Southern Life Insurance Co. stock and more than doubling its assets, which now total $55 million.

In the year ended June 30, 1999, the foundation gave $800,000 to support the opera company. [The foundation also publishes Nonprofitxpress.]

The opera company stages two productions a year that are performed evenings, plus a third that is performed in about two dozen Wake and Durham schools.

All local performances are free, although the company generates some revenue from performances it gives on tour. It also receives small grants from arts agencies.

The troupe consists of a small administrative staff, plus 12 singers in the early stages of their careers who spend nine months in Raleigh.

The singers are paid, as are the musicians, many of them drawn from the North Carolina Symphony and other local groups.

McGuire says the proposed partnership, which has been the subject of talks for the past year, would give the opera company access to the full resources of the School of the Arts, including faculty, production facilities and fundraising.

And the School of the Arts, he says, has been looking for ways to strengthen its opera program.

“We’re creating a partnership,” says McGuire, a former executive director of the North Carolina Symphony. “They’re bringing as much in resources to the table as we are.”

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