In 1980, a group of local opera fans met at the Grant-Humphreys Mansion to discuss the need for an opera company in Denver. While there were several regional companies, the Friends of Opera wanted to establish a major production company that could bring opera to audiences in the area. The group soon attracted Nathaniel Merrill and Louise Sherman, two veterans of the Metropolitan Opera. Excited by the prospect of running an opera company, Merrill soon got to work: Opera Colorado’s first season opened on April 4, 1983, with Verdi’s Otello, which ran for three performances and featured internationally-acclaimed tenor James McCracken. The company also performed Puccini’s La Bohème, starring world-renowned tenor Plácido Domingo, during its first season.

Opera Colorado continued to present two mainstage productions each season, all taking place in the round at Boettcher Concert Hall in downtown Denver, up until 1992. That November, in celebration of Opera Colorado’s 10th anniversary season, Merrill added a third mainstage production at the Temple Buell Theatre.

In 1998, Merrill left Opera Colorado and was succeeded by Stephen Seifert, who became the company’s president and general director. During his time at Opera Colorado, Seifert appointed James Robinson as artistic director. Robinson had previously worked with Santa Fe Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Los Angeles Opera, and many other grand opera companies.

The following year, Peter Russell became the new president and general director of Opera Colorado. Prior to joining the company, Russell had led the Lindemann Young Artist Program at the Metropolitan Opera and was director of Wolf Trap Opera. Under the leadership of Russell, Opera Colorado helped push for and win the 2002 bond issue to restore and renovate the 1908 Auditorium Theater to create the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. The hall was unveiled on September 10, 2005, with a star-studded gala concert featuring Renée Fleming, Ben Heppner, and James Morris. The season that followed kicked off with a production of Bizet’s Carmen, starring Denyce Graves and Beth Clayton, who alternated in the title role.

In 2007, the company appointed General & Artistic Director Greg Carpenter, who had previously served as Opera Colorado’s director of development. Carpenter celebrated his 10th anniversary during the 2017-18 season and continues to lead the company to this day. In 2022, his role was named the Ellie Caulkins General & Artistic Director in recognition of her support. His work was complemented by the addition of Opera Colorado’s first-ever music director in 2015. Music Director Ari Pelto fills an important role at the company, collaborating with Carpenter to further Opera Colorado’s mission, increase and diversify its programming and repertory, and more.

Other recent highlights include:

  • Opera Colorado’s 25th anniversary season (2005-06) expanded the company’s offerings with a special concert version The Flying Dutchman, starring premier Wagnerian bass James Morris.
  • That same season, Opera Colorado exemplified its commitment to both new works and community outreach by commissioning a new bilingual opera for its Outreach Ensemble to perform in schools and community venues. The one-act family opera La Curandera was written by Robert Xavier Rodríguez and was based off Mozart’s Bastien and Bastienne. After opening on CU-Denver’s Auraria Campus at the King Center, this intimate chamber opera began touring schools around the state. In 2007, Opera Colorado was honored when La Curandera received OPERA America’s Diversity Award.
  • In June 2008 and as part of the National Performing Arts Convention held in Denver, Opera Colorado presented John Adams’s Nixon in China with Marin Alsop and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. A recording was subsequently released by Naxos.
  • During the 2010-11 season, Opera Colorado presented its first Czech-language production with Dvořák’s Rusalka. This was followed in 2011-12 by the company’s first Spanish-language production: the Rocky Mountain Regional Premiere of Daniel Catán’s Florencia en el Amazonas.
  • Opera Colorado produced its first world premiere opera in May 2016: Lori Laitman’s The Scarlet Letter, with a libretto by David Mason. Based on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic novel, The Scarlet Letter also became Opera Colorado’s second Naxos release.
  • In the 2016-17 season, Opera Colorado’s launched its Scene Change initiative, which is committed to presenting important new works in venues throughout the Denver metro area. That season, the company presented Laura Kaminsky’s acclaimed chamber opera As One, a moving coming-of-age story about a transgender woman.
  • Opera Colorado produced its second world premiere in 2017-18 when it presented Gerald Cohen’s Steal a Pencil for Me, featuring a libretto by Deborah Brevoort and based on the emotional true love story of two Holocaust survivors. As the season’s Scene Change opera, Steal a Pencil for Me was performed to sold-out audiences at the Elaine Wolf Theatre at the Mizel Arts and Culture Center.
  • December 2017 saw the grand opening of the Opera Colorado Opera Center in Englewood, just south of Denver. As the new home of Opera Colorado’s administrative offices and rehearsal studio, the OCOC brings together under one roof the administrative and artistic functions of the company for the first time.
  • The 2017-18 season also marked the most impactful season yet for Opera Colorado’s robust Education & Community Programs, with more than 45,000 people reached across the state through touring productions, in-school programming, school field trip opportunities, and community offerings.

In future seasons, Opera Colorado will continue the tradition established by Nat Merrill of presenting conventional performances and innovative restagings, bringing renowned stars and emerging talent to Denver, and sharing opera with audiences through live performances and educational and cultural programs.

Performance History

Falstaff (2018)

Steal a Pencil For Me (2018)

La Bohème (2017)

Lucia di Lammermoor (2017)

As One (2017)

La Fanciulla del West (2016)

The Scarlet Letter (2016)

Aida (2015)

The Magic Flute (2015)

Madama Butterfly (2014)

Carmen (2014)

Rigoletto (2014)

Don Giovanni (2013)

Romeo and Juliet (2013)

Il Trovatore (2012)

Florencia en el Amazonas (2012)

The Marriage of Figaro (2012)

Cinderella (2011)

Rusalka (2011)

La Bohème (2010)

Tosca (2010)

The Barber of Seville (2010)

The Tales of Hoffmann (2009)

Così fan tutte (2009)

The Pearl Fishers (2009)

Madama Butterfly (2008)

Nixon in China (2008)

The Flying Dutchman (2008)

Don Pasquale (2008)

La Traviata (2007)

Un ballo in maschera (2007)

The Elixir of Love (2007)

The Magic Flute (2006)

The Abduction from the Seraglio (2006)

Norma (2006)

Carmen (2005)

The Marriage of Figaro (2005)

Rigoletto (2005)

Julius Caesar (2005)

La Traviata (2004)

The Barber of Seville (2004)

La Bohème (2004)

Don Giovanni (2003)

Sweeney Todd (2003)

Lucia di Lammermoor (2003)

Eugene Onegin (2002)

Hansel & Gretel (2002)

Tosca (2002)

Orpheus & Eurydice (2001)

Ariadne auf Naxos (2001)

Turandot (2001)

Fidelio (2000)

Porgy & Bess (2000)

Madama Butterfly (2000)

Romeo and Juliet (1999)

Macbeth (1999)

The Magic Flute (1999)

Gianni Schicchi (1998)

Pagliacci (1998)

Salome (1998)

Carmen (1998)

Faust (1997)

Don Giovanni (1997)

La Traviata (1997)

Così fan tutte (1996)

Die Fledermaus (1996)

The Flying Dutchman (1996)

La Cenerentola (1995)

Aida (1995)

Tosca (1995)

Lucia di Lammermoor (1994)

Der Rosenkavalier (1994)

Madama Butterfly (1994)

The Marriage of Figaro (1993)

The Barber of Seville (1993)

Rigoletto (1993)

La Bohème (1992)

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (1992)

Otello (1992)

The Elixir of Love (1991)

Don Carlo (1991)

The Burning Fiery Furnace (1991)

Un ballo in maschera (1990)

Faust (1990)

Curlew River (1990)

Falstaff (1989)

La Traviata (1989)

Carmen (1988)

Gianni Schicchi (1988)

Pagliacci (1988)

Samson et Dalila (1987)

Manon Lescaut (1987)

Amahl and the Night Visitors (1987)

Don Giovanni (1986)

Aida (1986)

Amahl and the Night Visitors (1985)

Martin Avdeich (1985)

Il Trovatore (1985)

Tosca (1985)

Turandot (1984)

The Tales of Hoffmann (1984)

La Bohème (1983)

Otello (1983)