Cincinnati Opera is an American opera company based in Cincinnati, Ohio and the second oldest opera company in the United States (after the New York Metropolitan Opera). Beginning with its first season in 1920, Cincinnati Opera has produced operas in the summer months of June and July with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra's providing orchestral accompaniment.
The company, originally named Cincinnati Opera Association, gave its first performance, Flotow's Martha, on Sunday, June 27, 1920. During its early years, the company was under the direction of Ralph Lyford, an American composer and conductor whose single opera Castle Agrazant would receive its world premiere at Cincinnati Music Hall on April 29, 1926, following Lyford's departure from Cincinnati Opera in 1925. From 1956-1990 the company ran a singing competition known as the American Opera Auditions.
For most of its first fifty years, Cincinnati Opera's performances were held at the Cincinnati Zoo Pavilion. During that time, many prominent singers appeared in the company's productions including Plácido Domingo, Beverly Sills, Norman Treigle, Sherrill Milnes, Montserrat Caballé, Jan Peerce, Robert Merrill, Roberta Peters, Shirley Verrett, Lawrence Tibbett, Richard Tucker, Martina Arroyo, James Morris, Elinor Ross and Barbara Daniels. In 1972, Cincinnati Opera moved its performance base to the newly renovated Cincinnati Music Hall.
James de Blasis became the company's Resident Stage Director in 1968. He then served as its General Director from 1973 to 1987. In 1988 he became its Artistic Director, a post which he held until 1996.
Under his tenure, the company produced rare operas such as Franco Alfano's Risurrezione in 1983 and Weinberger's Schwanda the Bagpiper in 1986. It also added musicals to its repertory in an effort to broaden its audience base. One of the highlights of the de Blasis era was a new interpretation of Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore which changed the setting from the Basque region of Spain in the 1820s to the "Wild West" of late 19th century Texas. The production was filmed by PBS and nationally televised in 1968.
In 1996, the internationally known stage director Nicholas Muni succeeded James de Blasis as Artistic Director of the company. Under his leadership Cincinnati Opera further enlarged its repertory with many company premieres outside the standard repertory including Janáček's Jenůfa, Britten's The Turn of the Screw, Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande, Bartók's Bluebeard's Castle, Schoenberg's Erwartung, Heggie's Dead Man Walking, Strauss' Elektra, Poulenc's La Voix Humaine, Weill's The Seven Deadly Sins, Ullmann's The Emperor of Atlantis, and the U.S. premiere of Peter Bengtson's The Maids. The company also performed its first mainstage commission, Richard Danielpour's Margaret Garner (co-commissioned with Michigan Opera Theatre and Opera Company of Philadelphia). The Cincinnati performances coincided with the opening of Cincinnati's National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and starred Denyce Graves in the title role.
In 2006, Evans Mirageas, an influential casting director and former head of Decca's Artists & Repertoire division, became Cincinnati Opera's new Artistic Director. Following his first season with the company, Opera News magazine listed him as one of the "25 Most Powerful Names in U.S. Opera".
The 2008 Summer Festival, the first to be fully programmed by Mirageas, included the French version of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor plus the company premiere of Daniel Catán's Florencia en el Amazonas. The company's 2009 season featured four operas set in Spain: Le Nozze di Figaro, Don Carlo, Carmen, and the regional premiere of Osvaldo Golijov's Ainadamar. The 2010 season presented a 90th Anniversary Gala Concert, featuring, among others, guest hosts Ryan Seacrest and Sherrill Milnes and singers Maria Luigia Borsi, Angela Brown, Christine Brewer, Denyce Graves, and Richard Leech. Following in 2011 was John Adams's A Flowering Tree, while the 2012 season offered the company's first performances of Porgy and Bess and Piazzolla's María de Buenos Aires.
In 2012 Evans Mirageas announced an expansion Cincinnati Opera's season to "festival" format featuring grand opera performances in Music Hall; lectures, films, and recitals in Memorial Hall; outdoor concerts in Washington Park; and small-scale productions in the 750-seat Corbett Theater at the School for Creative and Performing Arts.
Kevin Puts's Silent Night, recipient of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Music was presented by the company in 2014. In 2015, operas outside the standard repertoire include the world premiere of Ricky Ian Gordon and William M. Hoffman's Morning Star.