Opera Theatre of Saint Louis was founded in the spring of 1976 by a small group of opera lovers determined to bring festival-quality opera to the St. Louis area. With a budget of $135,000 they presented an 11-performance season of familiar and unconventional operas sung in English by outstanding artists. The company has grown enormously since then, but its dedication to high-quality productions of a varied repertory accompanied by members of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra continues to this day. Following founding general director Richard Gaddes, the company was led from 1985 through 2008, by general director Charles MacKay, with OTSL’s famed late artistic director Colin Graham and music director Stephen Lord. Timothy O’Leary was appointed general director when Charles MacKay was named to lead the Santa Fe Opera in October 2008,and acclaimed stage director James Robinson was appointed to succeed Colin Graham. Under the leadership of O’Leary, Lord, and Robinson, Opera Theatre continues its commitment to the following company hallmarks:
Adventurous Repertory: As of 2015 Opera Theatre has presented 24 world premieres and 24 American premieres—which may be the highest percentage of new work in the repertory of any US company. Important revivals of American operas like Emmeline, The Death of Klinghoffer, The Ghosts of Versailles, and Nixon in China help keep us in the musical spotlight.
Outstanding Artists: Opera Theatre has a long tradition of discovering and promoting the careers of the finest operatic artists of the current generation. The roster of the Metropolitan Opera includes more than 60 artists who appeared in St. Louis early in their careers. Among the artists who had important early opportunities at Opera Theatre are Christine Brewer, Susan Graham, Nathan Gunn, Patricia Racette, Thomas Hampson, Jerry Hadley, Dawn Upshaw, Sylvia McNair, Erie Mills, Dwayne Croft, Kelly Kaduce,Corinne Winters, Christine Goerke, and Lawrence Brownlee. Famed directors Graham Vick, Jonathan Miller, and Mark Lamos made American operatic debuts at Opera Theatre.
Intimacy: 94% of the seats in our 987-seat theater are closer to the center of the stage than the front row at the Metropolitan Opera, so the audience is close to the action.
Drama: This scale, combined with an emphasis on text – OTSL’s commitment to singing in the language of the audience with titles projected at the sides of the stage – help make beautiful music into powerful theater.
Bringing the music world to St. Louis: Each season, Opera Theatre’s audience includes visitors from as many as 45 states and 12 foreign countries, with critics from the Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, The Dallas Morning News, Opera News, London’s Financial Times, London’s Opera magazine, and more.
An International Profile: Opera Theatre’s productions have been cheered around the world almost from the outset. In 1983, OTSL became the first US company ever to appear at the prestigious Edinburgh Festival. We took our late artistic director Colin Graham’s production of Minoru Miki’s Jōruri to Japan in 1988 after its world premiere in St. Louis (the first performance of a Japanese opera by a US company in Japan) and in 2001 we took our world premiere production of Miki’s The Tale of Genji to Tokyo. More recently The Golden Ticket had its European premiere at the famed Wexford Festival Opera in Ireland after its world premiere in St. Louis. 2009’s Salome went on to the San Francisco Opera and The Ghosts of Versailles to Vancouver Opera and Wexford. After its premiere here in 2004, artistic director James Robinson’s Nixon in China was presented by seven other companies, most recently the Canadian Opera Company.
Reaching the Next Generation: Beyond our regular season, OTSL reaches a year-round audience of 13,000 young people and adults with programs like Monsanto Artists-in-Training Program, Opera on the GO!, Music! Words! Opera!, Emerson Behind the Curtain, and many more, whose quality is just as high as what is seen on our main stage.
Contributing to the St. Louis Economy: Each year, approximately 25% of contributed revenue comes from national or international sources. Opera Theatre is one of only a handful of opera companies that builds each production in scene, costume and prop shops on-site, employing 30 people year-round and nearly 500 at the height of the spring opera season. The company attracts substantial numbers of artists, contributors, and visitors who patronize St. Louis hotels and restaurants.
Financial Stability: Because our theater is so small we earn only 27% of our budget at the box office, but even with an unconventional repertory, OTSL has never accumulated a deficit since its founding in 1976. The Sally S. Levy Opera Center, OTSL’s rehearsal and office space, was completed in 2006 without debt.
Affordable Performances: Tickets cost as little as $25, and the whole audience is welcome to join the artists after the performance every evening for cocktails under the stars.