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Community Roots: Selections from the Local Legacies Project
Collage of Local Legacies
"Yellow Rose Ball" in front of the Opera House, 1997
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 Camille, 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 beginning.

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 program.

Originally submitted by: Mark Udall, Representative (2nd District).

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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.

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