Central City Opera Flower Girls and their fathers waltz in front of the Opera House during the "Yellow Rose Ball," opening night, 1997 Photo: M. Martin
Central City Opera
The 1878 Central City Opera House has survived
the boom and bust periods of this former mining town, about an
hour west of Denver. The Central City Opera House Association
was founded in 1932 by volunteers who worked to restore and
maintain the 550-seat opera house. Today Central City Opera
festivals present opera and operetta, mixing beloved standards
with regional premieres of new work.
Central City became a boom town when gold was
discovered there in 1859. By building a majestic opera house,
townspeople hoped Central City would become "first city" for the
new state of Colorado. New wealth enabled the city to commission
the prominent Denver architect, Robert S. Roeschlaub, to design an
elegant, understated opera house in harmony with the surrounding
mountains, using granite from a local quarry. Among interior
highlights are elaborate trompe l'oeil murals by San
Francisco artist John Massman and a chandelier, featuring one
hundred kerosene lamps.
Central City Opera's early glory days were short
lived, when city mines played out a few years after the opera house
had opened. After struggling for several decades, the opera house
closed in 1927. But hope was not gone. Heirs to the opera house
donated it to the University of Denver, then started fund raising
efforts to renovate the building, netted $12,000.
In the summer of 1932, the Central City Opera House
reopened its season with a gala production of
starring the legendary Lillian Gish. Summer festivals have become
an annual tradition at Central City Opera, attracting opera and
stage stars, such as Beverly Sills, Jerome Hines, Helen Hayes, Mae
West, Samuel Ramey and Catherine Malfitano. The season is always
kicked off with the Yellow Rose Ball, a popular social event.
Tradition requires a blast of miner's dynamite from a nearby
hillside and ringing of the opera bell to mark the season's
The American opera, "The Ballad of Baby Doe," based
on the true love story of a rich miner and his much younger second
wife, had its world premier at Central City on July 7, 1956. Baby
Doe has since become Central City's signature piece. Central City
commissioned "The Face on the Barroom Floor" to open the opera's
house 1978 centennial. The work has become one of America's most
frequently performed cabaret operas. Central City Opera has played
a significant role in the growth of Colorado's flourishing arts and
cultural scene, and in preserving the state's colorful past. The
opera association nurtures professional development for young
singers through its annual 10-week program, the Bonfils-Stanton
Foundation Artists Training Program, established in 1978. The opera
company also provides educational, outreach and community service
programs on a year-round basis.
Project documentation includes twenty slides, an
eight-page report, two anniversary programs, and the 2000 season
Originally submitted by: Mark Udall, Representative (2nd District).
The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.