Now regarded as America’s most exciting opera company, The Minnesota Opera was founded as Center Opera in 1963 when the Walker Art Center commissioned an opera for its performing arts program. Known as a progressive, “alternative” opera company through the early 1970s, The Minnesota Opera merged with the St. Paul Opera in 1975, and through the 1980s, began to shift its focus to include more “traditional” repertoire.
In 1985, The Minnesota Opera became a founding tenant of St. Paul’s Ordway Center, and in 1990, opened its own Opera Center in Minneapolis, combining scenic and costume shops, rehearsal facilities and administrative offices into three renovated warehouses on the Mississippi riverfront.
In the two decades that followed, the company earned its reputation as an industry-leading producer; articulated an artistic vision based on the Bel Canto philosophy; developed its highly competitive Resident Artist Program; and added artist housing to its campus in the historic Minneapolis Warehouse District. At the same time, recognition for The Minnesota Opera’s progressive and far-reaching educational programs grew.
At the start of the 21st century, The Minnesota Opera is enjoying unprecedented stability and unity of mission. Now the 15th largest opera company in the nation, The Minnesota Opera prides itself in creating a new, dynamic opera company model based upon innovation, world-class artistic quality and strong community service.
The Minnesota Opera's mission is to produce opera and opera education programs at the highest artistic level that inspire and entertain our audiences and enrich the cultural life of our community.
Minnesota Opera’s roots were planted in 1963 when the Walker Art Center commissioned Dominick Argento to compose an opera (The Masque of Angels) for its performing arts program, Center Opera. Center Opera focused on the composition and performance of new works by American composers, and, under the influence of the Walker Art Center, emphasized visual design.
The company grew steadily, and in 1969 became an independent entity, changing its name in 1971 to The Minnesota Opera.
Throughout the first 12 years of its history, The Minnesota Opera was known as a progressive, "alternative" opera production company, a complement to the traditional orientation of the annual Metropolitan Opera tour and the productions of the St. Paul Opera. In 1975, The Minnesota Opera merged with the St. Paul Opera, adding a focus on traditional repertory to its program of contemporary opera.
In January 1985, The Minnesota Opera entered a new era with the opening of the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in St. Paul, one of the nation’s most respected performance halls. Today, the company presents its entire season at the Ordway.
In September 1990, the company moved its scenic and costume shops, rehearsal facilities and administrative offices to the 51,000 square-feet Minnesota Opera Center, which comprises three renovated warehouses on the Mississippi riverfront in Minneapolis. Winner of a 1990 Preservation Alliance of Minnesota Award, the Minnesota Opera Center is one of the finest opera production facilities in the nation and has served to strengthen the company both artistically and institutionally.
Throughout the 1990s, the company gained a national reputation for its high-quality, innovative productions of standard repertoire operas like Aida, Carmen and Turandot, which were seen on stages across the nation and firmly established Minnesota Opera’s reputation as a lead co-producer in the industry.
In that decade, Minnesota Opera also grew institutionally, launching an artistic development campaign to establish a foundation for the expansion of its season and increased artistic quality.
In 1997, the company launched its Resident Artist Program to bridge the gap between an artist's academic training and their professional life on the world stage. The RAP is acclaimed for its exceptional, intense and individualized training as well as the elite group of young artists it produces. Alumni have earned engagements at prestigious houses such as the Metropolitan Opera, the Salzburg Festival and Covent Garden.
In 2000, Artistic Director Dale Johnson articulated a new artistic vision for the company inspired by bel canto (“beautiful singing”), the ideal upon which Italian opera is based. Bel canto values, which emphasize intense emotional expression supported by exquisite technique, inform every aspect of the company’s programs, from repertoire selection, casting and visual design to education and artist training. As one manifestation of its philosophy, Minnesota Opera committed to producing one work from the early 19th-century Bel Canto period each season, attracting luminary singers like Bruce Ford, Vivica Genaux, Brenda Harris and Sumi Jo to its stage.
Minnesota Opera is also recognized for its progressive and far-reaching educational programs. Residencies in schools, opera education classes and pre-performance discussions are building an audience for tomorrow and enhancing the enjoyment of audiences today.
Throughout its history, Minnesota Opera has attracted international attention for its performances of new operas and innovative productions of masterworks. Among its most renowned world and American premieres are: Dominick Argento’s Postcard from Morocco, The Voyage of Edgar Allen Poe and Casanova’s Homecoming, Mayer’s A Death in the Family, Libby Larsen’s Frankenstein, The Modern Prometheus, Oliver Knussen and Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, Conrad Susa’s Transformations and Black River, PDQ Bach’s The Abduction of Figaro, Moran’s From the Towers of the Moon, Evan Chen’s Bok Choy Variations, Poul Ruders’ The Handmaid's Tale, Petitgirard’s Joseph Merrrick, The Elephant Man, George Antheil’s Transatlantic and Keiser’s The Fortunes of King Croesus.
Building on the legacy of its commitment to new work and following the overwhelming success of its commission of The Grapes of Wrath in 2007, Minnesota Opera launched the New Works Initiative, a landmark program designed to invigorate the operatic repertoire through the production and dissemination of new commissions and revivals of contemporary American works. The seven-year, $7 million program includes an international coproduction (The Adventures of Pinocchio, 2009), three revivals (including Casanova’s Homecoming in 2009-2010 and Wuthering Heights in 2010-2011) and three commissions (Silent Night, which premiered in 2011-2012; Doubt in 2012-2013 and a third to be announced.)
On the Minnesota Opera stage, talented national and internationally known artists are brought together to create productions of the highest artistic integrity, emphasizing the balance and total integration of theatrical and musical values. Throughout the past four decades, the company has presented such artists as Tim Albery, Isabel Bayrakdarian, John Lee Beatty, Harry Bicket, Richard Bonynge, William Burden, John Conklin, Roxana Constantinescu, David Daniels, Bruce Ford, Elizabeth Futral, Vivica Genaux, Colin Graham, Denyce Graves, Greer Grimsley, Nancy Gustafson, Brenda Harris, Jason Howard, Judith Howarth, Robert Indiana, Robert Israel, Sumi Jo, Kelly Kaduce, Antony McDonald, Catherine Malfitano, Daniel Massey, Johanna Meier, Suzanne Mentzer, Erie Mills, Sherrill Milnes, Julia Migenes, Fernando de la Mora, James Morris, Suzanne Murphy, Maureen O’Flynn, Susanna Phillips, Ashley Putnam, Patricia Racette, James Robinson, Neil Rosenshein, William Shimell, James Valenti, David Walker and Keith Warner.
Minnesota Opera, now the 13th largest opera company in the nation with an annual budget of $10.2 million (Fiscal Year 2012), is guided by Managing Director Kevin Ramach and Artistic Director Dale Johnson.
Today Minnesota Opera is enjoying unprecedented stability and unity of mission, working toward its vision to create a new, dynamic opera company model based upon innovation, world-class artistic quality and strong community service.