Behind the Curtain: Forty Years Old & Much To Look Forward To

By: Greg Carpenter, The Ellie Caulkins General & Artistic Director

Many people ask me how I put together each season, and often they assume I just present a season of my favorite operas. Likewise, I frequently get asked what my favorite operas are and why. As we head into this celebratory 40th Anniversary Season, I’d love to draw back the curtain and share some answers.

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How do we choose a season?

We have lists of operas that fall into several categories, like blockbuster pieces, standard repertoire, lesser-known works, new works, and rarely performed works. I work collaboratively with Music Director Ari Pelto to choose from these lists to create a season that has something for everyone—from the knowledgeable opera fan to the first-time attendee, to the adventurous music lover.

What is my favorite opera?

The answer is that there are A LOT of operas that I love for different reasons. Oddly enough, our 40th Anniversary Season does include four of my favorite operas and represents that perfect mix of categories. Here’s why I’m excited about what we are presenting this season.

Cavalleria Rusticana

This opera was the perfect way to open our season on September 10! Cavalleria rusticana is often overshadowed by the greater popularity of its mate Pagliacci. These two seventy-minute one-act operas are traditionally performed as a double bill. For me, Cavalleria Rusticana is such an important work of verismo opera. Its gritty plot makes you feel like you are in a small Sicilian village where everyone knows everything about everyone—gossip and intrigue run wild. It’s the Nineteenth Century’s version of a primetime TV drama. Think about Dallas and Falcon Crest! The music is gorgeous, full of passion and drama, and the characters are people you love, hate, and sympathize with. In our semi-staged production to celebrate the opening of this monumental season, we focus on the incredible music, great singing from our artists and chorus, and our orchestra’s superb music-making under Maestro Pelto’s leadership.

Mezzo-Soprano Kira Dills-DeSurra on stage at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House.
Kira Dills-DeSurra along side the Opera Colorado Chorus and Orchestra in the 2022 production of Cavalleria rusiticana.


A man in 16th century jesters grab frowns into the camera while protectively grasping his daughter. Text reads: Rigoletto | Nov. 5, 8, 11, 13, 2022What’s not to like about Rigoletto? It has some of Verdi’s greatest music wound around an incredible story where revenge goes terribly wrong. While in many operas, the bad guy ultimately gets his just desserts, in this piece, he gets away with murder. The twists and turns in this opera, coupled with the great music, always keep me on the edge of my seat. And, with singing from the cast we have assembled, you’ll have chills and thrills all evening long.

Die tote Stadt

An artist at an easel paints the portrait of a young woman with her back to the camera, a ghostly portrait of another woman looks on from above. Text reads Die tote Stadt (The Dead City) Feb. 25, 28, Mar. 3, 5, 2023Die tote Stadt is my all-time favorite opera, the one I listen to incessantly. I’m moved to tears by the cinematic scope of the lush, romantic score Korngold wrote, coupled with a surreal psychological drama that holds you in between dreams and reality. It’s a true Freudian drama. Erich Korngold was an Austrian Jew who fled Vienna just before the Anschluss and landed in Hollywood. While he wrote incredible symphonies, concertos, chamber music, and operas, Korngold is best known for his film scores of the late 1930s and 1940s. Errol Flinn’s Robin Hood is a perfect example of his dramatic, pictorial writing. Die tote Stadt sounds much like Puccini, Wagner, and Strauss. It demands a great deal from the singers and orchestra. Our production will be a feast for your eyes and ears and leave you wanting more!


A woman stands in profile with an elaborate blue, green, and silver costume. She wears an ice-like crown and is surrounded by a stark spotlight. Text reads: Turandot | May 6, 9, 12, 14, 2023In the fall of 1987, fresh out of my Master’s Degree in vocal performance, I joined the chorus of Cleveland Opera. That winter’s production was Turandot. The great Allen Charles Klein designed the sets and costumes for a brand-new production, and the incomparable Bliss Hebert directed the production. The set featured a grand, art deco gold dragon that took up the entire stage. The costuming was opulent, and I remember when the curtain went up every night, the audience went wild. That was my first experience on the stage of a major opera company. It’s so exciting that thirty-five years later, the same set will be on stage at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House for our production, directed by the amazing rising talent of Aria Umezawa. We’ve assembled a world-class cast to deliver some of Puccini’s most passionate and heart-stopping music. I cannot think of a better way to wrap up a major anniversary year for Opera Colorado, except don’t miss our May 13, 2023, Gala featuring the superstar Joyce di Donato!

We look forward to celebrating this landmark anniversary with you all season long. Join us and share in a grand season of spectacular songs and stories.


If you would like to attend more than one production during the 40th Anniversary Season, consider joining us as a subscriber. Subscriptions are on sale now and are your chance to reserve the best seats at the best price! Save 20% off single-ticket prices and enjoy additional subscriber benefits all season long!

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