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Even though opera was first created nearly four hundred years ago in Italy the elite form of art made its first appearance in the United States in 1796.

Since then hundreds of opera houses have popped up from sea to shining sea. So we would like to take some time to introduce you to some heavy hitters and other smaller lesser known companies throughout the United States.

So here we go with a list of some reputable opera houses across the U.S.


1. Mobile Opera

Located in Mobile, Alabama the Mobile Opera is a company that has been performing opera longer than most. It is the oldest opera company in the state. Originally named the Mobile Opera Guild in 1945.

It was founded by Madame Rose Palmai-Tenser. She was a concert artist from Czechoslovakia and she remained the General Director until 1971. Katherine Willson was appointed to replace Tenser.

In 1995 the Mobile Opera celebrated its 50th Anniversary and Willson’s thirty-fifth with the company. She was named the first female President of the Board that same years.

The opera company moved locations in 2002 to a new facility in the downtown arts district that is shared with the Mobile Symphony. This pairing helped to rejuvenate the arts area.


2. Opera in the Ozarks at Inspiration Point

This is an annual opera festival and training program founded in 1950 that only occurs in the summer.

In 1900 ­­a German engineer and creator by the name of Charles Mowers relocated to the Ozark Mountains for wild game hunting. In 1928 he purchased a piece of land called Big Rock Candy Mountain. Mowers immediately began to build on it and worked on constructing a castle that resembled the buildings he would see on the Rhine back in Germany. Mowers used stones extracted from his own land to design that castle and integrated Egyptian Rock Work.

Mowers went back to Texas after the stock market crash of 1929 and left the castle unfinished. That’s when the Reverend Charles Scoville came along and completed the building in 1932. The idea was to use it as a sanctuary from his work. It was he who named the site Inspiration Point.

Scoville died and his wife endowed the land and the castle to Phillips University in Enid, Oklahoma. It was then intended as a retreat and conference center. But that project didn’t take off either.

That’s when the former dean of fine arts at Phillips, Henry Hobart, and director of music as Eureka Springs High School, Gertrude Stockard got together to create the Inspiration Point Fine Arts Colony. It’s first session was in the summer of 1950 and thus was created Opera in the Ozarks.


3. Phoenix Metropolitan Opera

Originally called the Phoenix Metropolitan Opera this company was founded in 2006. John Massaro and Gail Dubinbaum were the co-founders and he is artistic director while she is creative director.

Massaro and Dubinbaum are husband and wife. Each have had their own accomplishments in the opera world like performing at the Metropolitan Opera.

Held in the Orpheum Theatre, The Phoenix Metropolitan Opera produced Puccini’s La Bohéme in 2007. In 2008/09 they staged Verdi’s Aida and Puccini’s Tosca. The next season this company performed Carmen and Madama Butterfly. In 2010/11 they presented The Magic Flute and La Traviata.


4. The Cinnabar Theatre

This opera house is located in Petaluma, California. It seats one-hundred and twenty people and is a non-profit theater. The building is also home to the Young Repertory Theater.

It all began with a 1908 schoolhouse purchased by Marvin Klebe in 1970. It took two years but Klebe converted it into a theater to produce musical theater and opera.

Nina Shuman joined the company in 1986 as Conductor and Music Director. Her father is Davis Shuman, professor of trombone at Juilliard.

Two years later Klebe and Shuman got together to from the Petaluma Summer Music Festival.

Currently the conductor at the Cinnabar Thaeatre is Mary Chun. She has worked for Hawaii Opera Theatre and contributed to conducting staffs of the Los Angeles Music Center and San Francisco Opera.


5. Central City Opera

As the fifth oldest opera company in the United States this group was founded by Julie Penrose and Anne Evans in 1932. The venue in which they perform is the Central City Opera House in the town of Central City, Colorado. This theater holds five hundred and fifty seats and was erected in 1878.

This company was commissioned to perform The Ballad of Baby Doe, an American classic opera composed by Douglas Moore. It premiered in 1956.

In 1978 this company premiered Henry Mollicone’s The Face on the Barroom Floor and in 2003 it produced the world premiere of Gabriel’s Daughter, also by Mollicone.

The Chinese opera, Poet Li Bai, World Premiere was staged in 2007.


6. Hillhouse Opera Company

This non-profit opera company give performances in the area of New Haven, Connecticut. It was founded in 2008 by Jim Coatsworth, Nicole Rodriguez, and Victoria Leigh Gardner.

Offering productions of Alcina, Don Giovanni, Faust, Cosí fan tutte, and La Bohéme this new company also hosts concert series and master classes.

The Hillhouse Opera Company worked in conjunction with the Riverview Hospital staged works for the Riverview Opera Project. Designed after the Metropolitan Opera Guild, the Riverview Opera Project is a collaborative experience for at-risk youth in Connecticut.

Riverview Hospital in the only state-funded psychiatric hospital for youth. They were successful, with the help of the Hillhouse Opera Company in staging and performing four original operas. The response was overwhelming. The children involved learned to work together and still express their art freely.


7. Opera Tampa

In Tampa, Florida this ballet company from the United States resides at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts.

Debuting in 1996 Opera Tampa’s first staged production was Madama Butterfly. Subsequently this opera company has presented at least one full scale opera every year. The founding artistic director of Opera Tampa is Anton Coppola. He remained in that position until 2012.

Succeeding Coppola is Daniel Lipton, a French director who once ran Canada’s Opera Hamilton in Ontario. At his inception Lipton helped the company start “Florida Opera Festival”, which is a month long series of opera related events.

Opening the festival was a presentation of A Masked Ball while they closed with a staging of La Bohéme.  

The general director of Opera Tampa is Judith Lisi. She is also the president of The David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.


8. Hawaii Opera Theater

This is the only major opera company on an island of Hawaii. Based in Honolulu the company goes all the way back to 1961. They stage at least three operas in a season that lasts the length of two years. Shows begin in October and end in the early summer.

Madama Butterfly was their debut performance and was held in the McKinley High School theater. Throughout the seventies and eighties, the Hawaii Opera Theater incorporated with the Honolulu Symphony. IT wasn’t until 1980 that this opera company became its own independent entity.

The productions given in the first year after becoming its own corporation were in 1981. The troupe performed La Bohéme, Lucia di Lammermoor, and Carmen.

Since then they have performed Salome, The Mikado, The King and I, South Pacific, A Little Night Music, and La traviata.

In the eighties the Hawaii Opera Theater started an education program that grew to include elementary and high school level students. Their most prominent educational program is “Opera For Everyone”, which enables pupils to engage in every area of production.


9. Lyric Opera of Chicago

Founded in 1954, this prestigious opera company got its start from Carol Fox, Nicolá Rescigno, and Lawrence Kelly. Their first season included a performance by Spanish soprano Maria Callas in Norma.

Carol Fox also coaxed artists such as ballet legend Rudolph Nureyev to debut in the United States on the stage of the Lyric Opera House. Other notable dancers at the Lyric are Vera Zorina, Alicia Markova, Erik Bruhn, and Maria Tallchief. Legendary ballet choreographer George Balanchine staged a production for the Lyric under the influence of Carol Fox.

Fox’s contributions to the Lyric Opera of Chicago are significant and Saul Bellow, a Canadian-American writer once said, “Miss Fox will be remembered…as one of Chicago’s greatest women.”

In 1981 Fox was replaced by her assistant manager Ardis Krainik until 1996. From 1997 until 2011 it was William Mason and then in October of that same year Anthony Freud assumed the position.


10. New Orleans Opera

Boasting one of the oldest opera scenes in the United States, this type of art has been gracing stages of New Orleans since the 1790’s.

While other theaters and houses were erected and sometimes shut down throughout New Orleans, this Opera Association was not formed until 1943.

They have staged two world premieres, Markheim by Carlisle Floyd and Pontalba by Thea Musgrave.

In 2005 the Theatre was damaged from the floods of Hurricane Katrina but it has since come back and is in full operation.

Placido Domingo performed at the New Orleans Opera on January 17, 2009 at a ball marking the reopening of the Mahalia Jackson Theater of Performing Arts. Patricia Clarkson was the master of ceremonies.

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