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Kentucky Opera

About Kentucky Opera

Kentucky Opera, State Opera of Kentucky, was founded in 1952 in Louisville, Kentucky by Moritz von Bombard. A native of Germany who had become a U.S. citizen, Bomhard masterminded the operation. He had vast experience in not only conducting but in the early days, he also designed the sets, trained the singers and chorus, directed the staging, and until 1970, even designed the opera brochures and sometimes sold tickets.

Kentucky Opera Operas were presented in the Columbia Auditorium, which lacked an orchestra pit until the 1963-64 season when they moved to the Brown Theatre. After a major restoration, it was renamed the Macauley Theatre, and after further restoration in 1998, it is now called the W. L. Lyons Brown Theatre.

In the 1950s, five operas were commissioned by Kentucky Opera and given their world premieres. In addition to the standard repertoire, Bomhard always presented one opera a year which was new to his audience. Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex, Britten's Peter Grimes and Janacek's Jenufa were most successful, as was his first Wagnerian opera, The Flying Dutchman. He never repeated an opera more than once in five years and managed to do a Mozart opera once a year. Four operas were presented yearly.

Moritz von BombardBomhard retired in 1982 and Thomson Smillie became general director. A native of Glasgow, Scotland, Smillie had worked for the Scottish Opera for twelve years in addition to being the artistic director of the Wexford Festival of Ireland. He left the Opera Company of Boston and was available when Kentucky Opera was searching for a replacement for Bomhard. Smillie served sixteen seasons with Kentucky Opera before leaving in 1997.

In 1998, the company hired Deborah S. Sandler, the general director of the Opera Festival of New Jersey in Princeton, New Jersey. She came to Kentucky Opera after having served the Opera Festival of New Jersey for twelve years as executive director and then since 1992 as general director. During her tenure with Opera Festival of New Jersey, the company more than tripled its budget and increased programming to include the production of internationally acclaimed performances of 20th century opera as well as standard works. She is committed to presentation of a balanced repertory, with representative pieces from all periods of operatic history.

The coming of the Kentucky Center for the Arts in 1981-82 season presented a real challenge to Kentucky Opera. The new center's Whitney Hall contains 2,4000 seats - 1,000 more than the Macauley (now the Brown Theatre). Kentucky Opera met the challenge by presenting grand operas such as Aida, Turandot, and Don Carlo at the Center, medium-size works such as The Merry Widows, Cosi fan Tutte, and The Magic Flute at the Macauley, and chamber operas such as Albert Herring, The Barber of Seville, and The Impresario, in the Bomhard Theater at the Center.

The Louisville Orchestra plays for all performances and the Louisville Ballet has danced on a number of occasions when needed.

Statewide outreach and the essential cultivation of the next generation of opera lovers are the concerns of Opera-Go-Round, the educational wing of Kentucky Opera, which each year gives more than 100 performances in 20 counties to 50,000 students in the region.

The company is splendidly housed in two floors of a condominium building with custom-renovated administrative and artistic offices at the corner of Eighth and Main Streets on Louisville's Avenue of the Arts. This location is within easy reach of the theaters where the company performs.

Kentucky Opera is run by a board of 43 members, plus an Honorary Council and National Council of members. Kentucky Opera Guild is the volunteer support organization and helps with fund raising and educational events each year. An office staff of twelve manages everything from finance, marketing and development, to public affairs. A production staff of approximately ten directs the myriad details of production. A group of at least 100 volunteers regularly support these efforts.

Kentucky Opera is financed by ticket sales, corporate and individual sponsors, the Fund for the Arts, a local agency, the Kentucky Arts Council, a state agency, and local fund raisers such as the annual Guild book sale, the annual car raffles, and the fantastically successful wine auction, In Vino Veritas.

From humble beginnings with a budget of less than $10,000 the first year in 1952, Kentucky Opera now operates on a budget of more than $2 million annually and is the 12th oldest opera company in the nation.
Gerald Farrar and KET field trip director Aaron Hutchings talk about the history of opera.
Gerald Farrar and KET field trip director
Aaron Hutchings talk about the history of opera.

For more details of current and future seasons, call Gerald E. Farrar, director of public relations, at 502-561-7929 or e-mail him at gerald_farrar@kyopera.org.

600 Cooper Drive, Lexington, KY 40502 (859) 258-7000 (800) 432-0951
 Last Updated: Monday, 01-Dec-2008 15:28:23 Eastern Standard Time