In the wake of Paul McCartney's respectable attempt at classical music, Carly Simon will try her hand at operatic composing. The Grammy and Oscar-winning singer-songwriter has been commissioned by the Kennedy Center and the Metropolitan Opera Guild to compose an opera for young people that will premiere in New York and Washington in the spring of 1993.

"It's the kind of thing I hate to talk about because I have no idea if I'll be able to do it," said Simon in a telephone interview last week. "The idea of writing an opera is just amazing."

Since she won a Grammy as Best New Artist in 1971, Simon has released more than 15 albums, scored several films such as "Postcards From the Edge" and "Working Girl" (for which she won an Oscar, a Grammy and a Golden Globe Award) and authored three children's books. Despite her successes, Simon said that writing an opera will be a big challenge. "For example, when I think about {the opera}, I'll be thinking with a different voice singing," she explained. "When I write pop songs, I think of it with me singing. This time I'll have to think of some operatic voice."

Simon said she's already written most of the story, which is about "a kid who's an athlete, a discus thrower," with collaborator Jacob Brackman (who wrote Broadway's "King of Hearts" and the movie "Days of Heaven").

"I'm sort of unnerved by the prospect," she said. "I think once I've written a few songs I'll be okay."

In the meantime, it's all anticipation.

Budget Cuts

Money for the arts, not surprisingly, is tight and getting tighter, according to surveys released by the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA) and the Business Committee for the Arts Inc. (BCA).

The NASAA survey shows that 36 of the 56 member agencies (50 states and 6 territories) suffered budget cuts for fiscal year 1992, for an overall decrease of 21.6 percent. That's only the fourth decrease since 1966, when most state art agencies were created. According to the NASAA survey, the average per capita spending for the agencies decreased from $1.08 to 85 cents. The legislative appropriations for five states -- Alabama, Connecticut, Montana, Nevada and Wisconsin -- were increased; the remaining members stayed at the same level.

NASAA Executive Director Jonathan Katz said there's still hope despite the gloomy figures. "In a given state, in a given year, it is not unusual for dollars to be cut back and then be restored in the following year or in the following five years," he said. "I have every reason to believe that when the economy turns around, the {arts} budget will start growing."

The BCA surveyed 45 businesses that support the arts and found that 57 percent had decreased their support in 1991. The recession and a "shift away from giving to the arts towards education and human services" were the main reasons given for the decrease, according to the study.

No Supper to Sing For

None of this bad financial news came as a surprise to the board of the Prince George's Opera, which last week voted to dissolve the organization due to a shortage of funds. According to Muriel Von Villas, PG Opera artistic director, the group was no longer able to continue because the remaining $20,000 of a three-year $30,000 grant from the Maryland State Arts Council was recently rescinded because of budget cuts. Von Villas said most of the opera's corporate support also had dried up in the past year.

"The {board} is devastated," Von Villas said. "What it means now is that the only thing the county has to offer is Wild World in the summer and the Capital Centre for sports."

The three-year-old company, which performed at the Queen Anne Fine Arts Auditorium at Prince George's Community College, is an offshoot of the Prince George's Civic Opera and had an estimated yearly budget of $200,000, according to Von Villas. The opera's most recent production was Donizetti's "Don Pasquale."

"Even the people who want opera can't help," she said. "The choice is, do you support an opera company or do you pay your mortgage? What was an expensive hobby has now become an impossibility."

On the Brighter Side

The cash register was ringing rather nicely at the Washington Project for the Arts last week for the gallery's 12th annual art auction. The WPA sold 124 works for a total take of $99,390, the gallery's largest auction gross ever. The net profit was $55,328 after the artists' share was paid. More than 500 supporters attended the event, which brought in another $46,255 in ticket sales ... Soprano Roberta Peters has been confirmed by the Senate to serve on the National Council on the Arts, a presidentially appointed body that advises the National Endowment for the Arts. Peters, who was nominated by President Bush last month, will begin her term immediately and will serve through September 1996.