Quality opera is historically found in the world’s biggest cities: Vienna, New York, Paris, Milan and more. All have thriving cultural centers where opera is a staple. Would you be surprised to know that Boise has enjoyed a blossoming opera community for more than 50 years that shows no signs of stopping?
By Jon Lamoreaux
Photos by Peter Bumbarger, Courtesy of Opera Idaho
Though it’s changed names and leadership many times over the years, the roots of Opera Idaho go back to the early 1960s when the Boise Philharmonic began staging modest productions that showcased the gifts of local performers. Year after year, the popularity of the productions steadily increased, creating a strong fan base and a growing talent pool of singers relocating to Boise.
“I love that Opera Idaho is an ever-growing presence in our community and, even while expanding its offerings over the last several years, has stayed very intimate,” says baritone Jason Detwiler, originally from Boise and a mainstay of Opera Idaho. “Opera is becoming more entwined with Idaho’s cultural landscape. And Opera Idaho is sharing the beautiful, magical and diverse art that is opera.”
An Expanding Audience
Where does the interest in opera come from in a small city like Boise? As it turns out, people from big cities across America continue to move there seeking a less-hectic lifestyle. With them comes a love of the arts and a desire to support ventures like this. In addition, Opera Idaho devotes thousands of hours in community outreach programs in local schools, appearances at public events and recitals on top of the three main stage productions, and smaller operettas it produces every season. And of course, the opera company has many longtime local supporters.
Big City Talent
Today, most of the main performers are recruited from around the country while locals typically fill smaller roles. Directors often travel to bigger cities like New York to see opera auditions, and now have a strong pool of prior performers from which to draw. Performances run from August to May and are staged at the new Egyptian Theater, with a large-scale opera most often performed at Boise State University’s Morrison Center.
From Classics to Contemporary
Audiences are always treated to at least a couple of benchmarks such as “Carmen,” “Rigoletto” and “Tosca” every season. Oftentimes, Opera Idaho will pull out music less familiar in an effort to educate people on what else is out there.
“Everyone knows the classics, but every now and then we try to showcase a new piece,” says Opera Idaho Marketing Manager Fernando Menendez. “Last season we put on a newer opera called ‘Glory Denied’ by Tom Cipullo, which captures America during the Vietnam War and was very well-received.”
Unfortunately, the arts aren’t cheap. Opera Idaho has continued to flourish thanks to the activism and philanthropy of individuals and institutions like the Pauline Becker and Dorothy Simplot Memorial Endowment Foundation that established a $3 million endowment at the Idaho Community Foundation to permanently fund the work of Ballet Idaho, Opera Idaho and the Boise Philharmonic. With generosity like that, these much-needed creative institutions won’t be going away anytime soon. For more information, visit them online at operaidaho.org.