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Cincinnati Opera

Cincinnati Opera


Inducted in 2020

On June 27, 1920, Cincinnati Opera Association began its life as the second oldest opera company in the United States with a sold-out performance of Martha. For over 50 years, the Opera performed at the Cincinnati Zoo Pavilion and, at its peak, offered 18 productions over 61 performances in a ten-week season. During the years at the Zoo, a number of now famous opera singers frequented the stage: Norman Treigle, Beverly Sills, Sherrill Milnes, Montserrat Caballé, James Morris, and Roberta Peters, to name a few.

In 1972, Cincinnati Opera moved from the Zoo Pavilion to its present venue, Music Hall, a 3,417-seat theater listed as a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior. The move to the newly renovated Music Hall signaled production and artistic changes and new sets became an immediate focus because of the larger stage. James de Blasis staged rarer operas such as Resurrection and Schwanda the Bagpiper and introduced musical theater into the season to diversify the repertoire and develop new audiences. De Blasis also achieved national recognition with a new interpretation of Donizetti's L’Elisir d’Amore set in “Wild West” 19th-century Texas. This production proved to be so popular it was filmed by PBS and televised in 1968.

When James de Blasis announced his retirement in 1995, Cincinnati Opera launched an international search for a new Artistic Director. Nicholas Muni, a renowned stage director, was appointed in June 1996. With his appointment, Cincinnati Opera embarked on an overall transformation of every aspect of the company. Numerous company premieres have been presented since 1998, including Janácek’s Jenufa, Britten’s The Turn of the Screw, Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, Osvaldo Golijov’s Ainadamar, and many more. In 2005, the company celebrated the triumphant premiere of its first-ever mainstage commission, Richard Danielpour’s Margaret Garner, presented in honor of the opening of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, located on the banks of the Ohio River in downtown Cincinnati.

Celebrating her 20th anniversary with the company in 2005, Patricia K. Beggs was promoted from Managing Director to General Director & CEO. And during the final weekend of its 2005 season, the company announced the appointment of Evans Mirageas as The Harry T. Wilks Artistic Director.

Widely considered one of the most talented and respected artistic leaders in the classical music industry today, Mirageas has brought to Cincinnati Opera a broad range of experience in both opera and symphonic music, as well as a long history of successful partnerships with many of the world’s leading singers and conductors, including Seiji Ozawa, Renée Fleming, Angela Gheorghiu, Cecilia Bartoli, Luciano Pavarotti, and Sir Georg Solti among numerous others. Following Mirageas’s first season with Cincinnati Opera, industry publication Opera News listed him among its “25 Most Powerful Names in U.S. Opera” in its August 2006 issue.

Beginning with its 2013 season, Cincinnati Opera entered an exciting new era with the launch of the “Opera Campus.” The company expanded beyond the walls of its long-time home at Music Hall and offered performances in nearby, newly-established venues, including in the beautifully-renovated Washington Park and the new School for Creative and Performing Arts.

The company has continued its commitment to presenting an intriguing mix of beloved classics alongside new—or new-to-Cincinnati—operas. In 2016, the company presented the newly commissioned opera Fellow Travelers by composer Gregory Spears and librettist Greg Pierce. Based on the 2007 novel by Thomas Mallon, Fellow Travelers is set in Washington, D.C., during the height of the McCarthy-era “lavender scare,” in which gay men and lesbians were persecuted as presumed risks to national security. The opera opened to extraordinary critical and audience acclaim. Cincinnati Opera later released a commercial recording on the Fanfare Cincinnati label.

The 2017 season marked the launch of CO Next: Diverse Voices, an initiative committed to showcasing new or existing works by diverse composers or librettists, or works that prominently feature diverse characters in the storyline. The first opera presented as part of this initiative was Missy Mazzoli’s Song From the Uproar.

In 2018, Cincinnati Music Hall reopened after an extensive, $143-million renovation, and Cincinnati Opera marked its return with a thrilling season that included the U.S. premiere of Another Brick in the Wall, based on Pink Floyd’s legendary album The Wall. The following year signaled more change for the company, as Patty Beggs announced her plans to retire at the end of the company’s 100th Anniversary Season in 2020. After an international search, Chris Milligan, then Cincinnati Opera’s Managing Director, was named to succeed Beggs. His tenure began in March 2020, with Beggs transitioning to the role of General Director Emerita.

The company’s 100th Anniversary Season, years in the planning, was poised to make history. But fate had other plans: a near-complete shutdown of all performing arts activities throughout Cincinnati and the nation due to the rapid spread of a novel coronavirus. In response, Cincinnati Opera launched its digital opera hub, Opera at Home, and produced a robust series of engaging online performances and events. Likewise, the company offered several safely-distanced outdoor performances, bringing the joy of opera to neighborhoods throughout the region.

In September 2020, Cincinnati Opera announced its plans to return to live performance during the summer of 2021. While the future may be uncertain, the company is looking ahead with optimism and a bold vision for creating and sharing inspiration in the months to come.