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As we’ve covered in previous posts, the art of opera was created and primarily cultivated in Europe, yet there is no denying that this vocal performance art of storytelling has secured a spot in the hearts of many Americans. While some claim that opera made brief stints on American soil before the United States gained their independence, the first opera on the books was performed in New Orleans in 1796 when it was still ruled by Spain.

Two hundred and twenty years later this specific art form has made its way from sea to shining sea. Here is a list of some of our favorite American opera houses.


1. 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 Kleeb in 1970. It took two years but Kleeb 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 Kleeb and Shuman got together to from the Petaluma Summer Music Festival.

Currently, the conductor at the Cinnabar Theatre 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.


2. 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 sing 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 by 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.


3. Mobile Opera

Located in 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 Wilson was appointed to replace Tenser.

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

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.


4. 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.


5. Opera in the Ozarks

Located at Inspiration Point this 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. The engineer used stones extracted from his own land to design that castle and integrated Egyptian Rock Work. He went back to Texas after the stock market crash of 1929 and left the castle unfinished.

It was then 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.


6. 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 they 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 at the Central City Opera in 2007.


7. Hawaii Opera Theater

The only major opera company on an island of Hawaii this theater is on the main island of Honolulu and 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.


8. Hillhouse Opera Company

This Connecticut opera company located in New Haven is a not-for-profit that has been giving in the area since 2008. It was founded by not long ago 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.


Looking for opera in European cities? Check out the opera houses – and several other things worth visiting/doing – in cities such as Prague or Bordeaux!

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