In 1963, the commission of a world premiere sparked the creation of a small Twin Cities opera company spotlighting the rare and avant-garde. Fifty years later, Minnesota Opera is one of the nation’s largest and most distinguished opera companies, known for its world-class artistry and innovative productions.
Minnesota Opera’s roots were planted 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. Known as a progressive, “alternative” opera production company throughout the 1970s, Minnesota Opera merged with the St. Paul Opera in 1976, and through the 1980s, began to shift its focus to include more “traditional” repertoire.
In 1985, Minnesota Opera became a founding tenant of St. Paul’s Ordway Center, still home to its mainstage season, and in 1990, opened the Minnesota Opera Center in Minneapolis, combining scenic and costume shops, rehearsal facilities and administrative offices into three renovated warehouses on the Mississippi riverfront. From that full production facility, Minnesota Opera created large-scale, innovative productions that built the company’s national reputation as a leading producer.
The two decades that followed marked a period of institutional and artistic growth. The company expanded its season, increased the quality of its artistry and launched its Resident Artist Program. At the same time, recognition for Minnesota Opera’s progressive and far-reaching educational programs grew.
In 2000, Minnesota Opera further expanded its season, advanced its production capacity and articulated an artistic vision inspired by early 19th-century Italian Bel Canto (literally “beautiful singing”) values, which emphasize intense emotional expression supported by exquisite technique. Minnesota Opera became a destination for audiences and artists interested in Bel Canto-period operas, and these artistic values now inform every aspect of the company’s programs, from repertoire selection and visual design to casting and artist training.
The 2007 world premiere of The Grapes of Wrath inspired the landmark New Works Initiative, which spawned the commissions of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Silent Night (Kevin Puts/Mark Campbell, 2012), Doubt (Douglas J. Cuomo and John Patrick Shanley, 2013) and The Manchurian Candidate (Puts/Campbell, world premiere 2015). These efforts set the stage for Minnesota Opera to become what it is today – one of America’s largest opera companies, admired as an innovative creator of compelling operas, programs and new works.