The Center Opera Company was founded in 1963 when the Walker Art Center Commissioned an opera for its performing arts program. In its early years the opera company was known for its alternative and progressive programming. The company avoided star singers, instead focusing on singer-actors. They were admired for commissioning new works and their policy of presenting "opera without elephants." H. Wesley Balk was with the company from 1965-1984 and was known for his radical interpretations of opera classics. One memorable performance was Donizetti's ``Lucia di Lammermoor'' in which Balk placed heroine Lucia in a cage. The audience's response was to boo, Balk responded to the crew backstage, "I know they're awake!"
It became the Minnesota Opera in 1973. Locations of early productions included the Guthrie Theater, O'Shaughnessy Auditorium, Hennepin Methodist Church and the Prom Ballroom. In 1975 the Minnesota Opera merged with the St. Paul Opera and through the 1980s began to put on more traditional productions.
Stuck between its earlier identity as an avant-garde company and its embrace of more traditional operas, the company began a turnaround in 1986 when Kevin Smith was named general director. Smith made Dale Johnson the director of artistic planning. Johnson had an ear for new young singers and the quality and consistency of productions climbed during Smith's tenure. The dramatically intense 1990 production of "Carmen" was the breakthrough production of the new era. In 1987 there were 1,200 subscribers to the opera, by 1997 there were 6,600.
In 1985 the Minnesota Opera became a founding tenant of the Ordway Theater in St. Paul. The company continues to have a presence in Minneapolis at the Minnesota Opera Center, located at 620 North First Street in the Warehouse District of Minneapolis.
Description of Collection:
Three boxes of materials from 1963 to 2000. Included is a list of the first 25 years of productions with locations and dates. A nearly complete collection of programs from the early years to the 1980s and some clipped reviews are in the three manuscript boxes. The collection is located above the vertical file in the closed stacks where the subject of Music is housed. Included is some Board of Directors Materials donated by Barbara Flanagan including Board handbooks.
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