The McCleave Project

The McCleave Project

Opera Memphis is excited to announce the McCleave Project! Funded by Opera America's Innovation grant (supported by the Ann & Gordon Getty Foundation) and beginning in 2017, Opera Memphis will undertake a number of new initiatives organized around the legacy of African-American soprano Madame McCleave. Through facilitated community conversations and free performances of The Telephone, Opera Memphis will begin a conversation about how best to serve communities of color in Memphis and other parts of the Mid-South. These conversations will shape and inform future engagement with these communities as well as the creation of a McCleave Fellowship for singers, directors and coaches of color.

Madame McCleave

Florence Cole Talbert-McCleave was a Detroit-native whose voice and passion took her all over the world. From the beginning, she was destined to be a singer; her mother Sadie Chanler Cole was a member of the famed Fisk University Jubilee Singers. Her early life foreshadowed her trailblazing career. She was the first African American student to attend Los Angeles High School, and after attending University of Southern California, she was the first woman of color to be involved in the commencement exercises of the vocal department of Chicago Musical College. After graduating with honors, McCleave toured the US solo and with Hann's Jubilee Singers and recorded with record companies including Paramount. In the interest of pursuing operatic training, McCleave moved to Europe to study under Delia Valeri. In 1927 Florence McCleave sang Aida at the Teatro Comunale in Cosenza, Italy. While her trip included critically acclaimed appearances in Paris, London and Rome, this performance of Aida was significant because she was the first African American singer to perform the role in Europe. In the US, however, she had few options in opera, though she gave recitals and recorded. In 1930, she moved to Memphis, where she not only taught voice, but brought artists like Leontyne Price and George Shirley to sing at LeMoyne College (now LeMoyne Owen), a historically black Memphis university. While The Met was touring to Memphis in a white-only venue, McCleave was spreading a love of opera to generations of young black Memphians, and ensuring her community heard some of the best singers in the world.

The Telephone

Love is patient, right? But just how patient? Ben is about to ask the most nerve wracking question a person can ask, Will you marry me? Just as he works up the courage to pop the question to Lucy, he is interrupted by a phone call. His nerves continue to ware because he is just as much in a hurry as he is in love with Lucy; he's got a train to catch! Comedy and heartache ensue as a string of phone calls keep Ben from his would-be betrothed. In the age of constant communication, The Telephone is just as relevant today as when Gian Carlo Menotti premiered it in 1946. This approachable one-act opera will make for the perfect cornerstone of our community conversation performances.  


The McCleave Project is made possible by the Opera America Innovation Grant.