Our History

Portland Opera—Celebrating 50 Years of Opera In Portland

Situated near the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia rivers, the city of Portland attempted, with varying degrees of success in its early years, to build its own opera company.  Touring troupes and a variety of local companies provided the city with interesting, if sporadic, operatic entertainment until Portland Opera was firmly established in 1964.  From 1964 to 1966, the organization’s general director and conductor was Henry Holt.  At his departure, the baton was passed to Herbert Weiskopf, and after his death in 1970 to Stefan Minde, whose tenure extended through the 1983-84 season.  Robert Bailey led the company until his retirement in 2003, when Christopher Mattaliano was named the company’s fifth general director.

Portland Opera has established itself as a vibrant and vital part of the region’s cultural activity and identity.  With its commitment to producing operas that invigorate the future of the art form and are dramatically and vocally compelling, Portland Opera has earned a devoted public following throughout the state of Oregon and southwestern Washington.

The company has long been a leader in making opera more accessible to a diverse audience.  In 1984, Portland Opera was the second company in the U.S. to use projected English translations, a revolutionary means of enhancing the theatrical experience for patrons at operas sung in a foreign language.  Since then supertitles have become indispensable to virtually every opera company in the nation. Ten years later, Portland Opera became the first opera company in the United States to develop a separate subscription series of nationally touring Broadway shows.  Today it is the only company to offer full seasons of both Broadway and opera productions, using this additional Broadway revenue stream to enhance its ability to produce increasingly sophisticated opera productions.

Portland Opera also enjoys a reputation for innovative, groundbreaking productions.  In 1982 the company presented the world premiere of Wuthering Heights, and in 1990 the company attracted attention for the world premiere of Lucy’s Lapses, the opera’s first commissioned work.  In 1996, the North American premiere of Reynaldo Hahn’s The Merchant of Venice brought the company international acclaim, followed shortly by Prokofiev’s The Love for Three Oranges.  In 2001, Portland Opera celebrated its first successful international collaboration with a production of La Belle Hélène, in collaboration with Klagenfurt Opera of Austria. The 2003 season included the west coast premiere of William Bolcom’s A View from the Bridge.  In 2004, the Company created a new production of Rossini’s The Journey to Reims, followed in 2006 with a co-production of John Adams’ Nixon in China and an all-new production of Verdi’s Macbeth.  In 2009, the Company produced the West Coast premiere of Philip Glass' Orphée, which was recorded by Orange Mountain Music and later released as Portland Opera's first ever commercial recording.

In recent years, many prominent artists have appeared on Portland Opera’s mainstage, having been drawn to appear in our productions because of the staggering beauty of our community and the heightened creative standards our company has embraced.  Many renowned performers have enthusiastically agreed to appear on Portland Opera’s stage because of its reputation for providing stellar treatment to guest artists and due to their warm, ongoing relationships with General Director, Christopher Mattaliano.

Portland Opera’s Community Outreach and Education efforts have expanded dramatically in recent years with the establishment of Portland Opera To Go, the touring division of Portland Opera.  This group performs in schools, community centers and other venues throughout the region.  From opera previews and public presentations to fully staged productions of shows such as Cinderella, The Night Harry Stopped Smoking, La Bohème, The Magic Flute, and Hansel and Gretel, this arm of Portland Opera reaches nearly 30,000 students, teachers and parents each year.

In July, 2003, the company moved into its new eastside facility – The Hampton Opera Center – where, for the first time in company history, music and staging rehearsals, coaching facilities, costume shop, and administrative offices are all housed under one roof.

In 2005, the Company established the Portland Opera Studio Artist Program, designed to train the next generation of opera singers by providing a “bridge” from the conservatory world to the professional stage.  Selected at auditions around the country, young singers join the company for a rigorous nine-month training program, during which they are featured in their own production.  Productions of The Rape of Lucretia in 2005, The Return of Ulysses in 2006, and Albert Herring in 2007 were so successful that the Studio Production was moved to the Newmark Theatre where the Company could accommodate the quickly growing audience while maintaining the all-important intimacy associated with these productions.  The program was renamed the Portland Opera Resident Artist Program to reflect the growth of the program.  The Resident Artists perform on the mainstage along with Portland Opera’s internationally renowned artists, and each Resident Artist also gives an intimate recital of Art Song at the Portland Art Museum in a recital series that Oregon Arts Watch called, “cause for hope in classical music’s future.”  The annual chamber opera production has become a highly-anticipated event in Portland.  In 2012, the production of Galileo Galilei at the Newmark Theatre broke box office records and will become Portland Opera’s second commercial recording.