Tulsa Opera was founded in 1948, but Tulsa’s love of the art form dates back to the very beginning of the town. In 1905, L. J. Martin, president of the Commercial Club and City of Tulsa founding father, famously commented, “Of course, we did not have any sewers or street paving, but these were luxuries that could wait, whereas an opera house loomed as an immediate necessity.”
The civic pride of those who made Tulsa bloom also fostered a thriving cultural heritage, of which Tulsa Opera is a cornerstone. The first record of an opera performance in Tulsa was Faust in 1904, just six years after the city had been incorporated.
In December of 1948, the Tulsa Opera Club was officially established by founders Bess Gowans, Beryl Bliss, Mary Helen Markham, and Ione and Ralph Sassano. The first performance of La Traviata at Central High School played to a sold-out crowd.
By 1953, after already changing its name to Tulsa Opera, Incorporated, it became evident that the format of presenting light operas and operettas twice yearly with one or two paid professional singers was no longer sufficient for an increasingly sophisticated Tulsa audience. With the presentation of Madama Butterfly in November 1955, featuring imported professional singers for all principal roles, Tulsa Opera successfully completed the transition to grand opera and made a giant step toward national prominence. Since 1948, Tulsa Opera has hosted opera greats such as Luciano Pavarotti, Beverly Sills, Roberta Peters and Samuel Ramey.
Today, Tulsa Opera, the 18th oldest opera company in North America, is ranked among the ten favorite regional opera companies in the United States. The company presents three grand opera productions each season at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center. Tulsa Opera draws its audiences from a five state region that includes Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Texas.
In addition to its main stage operas, Tulsa Opera operates an extensive education and outreach program that provides opportunities for adults and children statewide. Those programs include Tulsa Youth Opera (TYO), a free, auditioned chorus for singers in grades 3-12; Opera on Tour!, a statewide elementary and middle school tour; the Studio Artist Program, an apprenticeship program for young professional singers; the Student Matinee, an annual full-length opera performance for 2,300 schoolchildren; and teacher workshops.
Tulsa Opera’s educational programs had a recording-breaking season during 2010-2011, reaching over 60,000 Oklahoma students with Opera on Tour!. This traveling opera program designed especially for a younger audience visits more than 140 schools in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri and Kansas each season.
Tulsa Opera is fortunate to have many dedicated volunteers drawn from a wide variety of backgrounds. The Board of Directors currently comprises 40 members who represent various businesses and organizations in Oklahoma. They have a passion for the arts as well as a dedication to the betterment of Oklahoma. These committed advocates work in conjunction with a knowledgeable professional staff to support the programs and fundraising initiatives of Tulsa Opera.