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From about 1870 until 1920, entertainment and civic events in most of the cities and towns of Colorado were centered in opera houses. To distinguish between the bawdy, low-class places of entertainment that Opera Beautymany theatres were at the time, it became common practice to call a town's foremost playhouse an "opera house" and thus make it known that only socially-acceptable, legitimate theatre would be tolerated there. Almost all of the towns in Colorado in the late 1800s had one or more opera houses, many of which never hosted opera performances. A mix of local talent and touring groups occupied their stages in the heyday of live entertainment. Among the variety of events taking place in the opera houses were dances, community meetings, graduations, political gatherings, performances by local actors or musicians, vaudeville acts, minstrels, lectures, roller skating, wrestling and boxing. However, in a substantial number of Colorado's opera houses, the denizens experienced real opera, either by local groups or by traveling companies, often of considerable repute. Denverites enjoyed a fairly continual procession of opera troupes from 1881 onward. In 1870, when a railroad was extended to it, Denver became a convenient and usually profitable stop-over between Chicago or St. Louis and San Francisco for the best touring artists and companies. As railroads progressively linked other Colorado cities, entertainers could travel in circuits within the state and, eventually, make traverses across the state between Denver and Salt Lake City.

The Denver Theatre (1860) and the Montana Theatre (1861) in Central City are the earliest venues in the state where operas were staged. The earliest "opera" houses we so far have discovered are Goodnight's (1874) in Pueblo, Cushman's (1875) and McClellan's (1876), both in Georgetown, and Forrester's (1877) in Denver. The oldest surviving theatre with an opera history is the Belvidere (1875) in Central City. The oldest surviving "opera house" is Central City's 1878 building.

When the Tabor Opera House in Leadville opened in 1879, it was said to be the finest theater between St. Louis and San Francisco. Architect George King with builders J.T. Roberts and L.E. Roberts constructed the Opera House in 100 days with an estimated cost of $78,000.

Golden witnessed the opening of an opera house also in 1879, but it was not as elegant as the one in Central City or as ostentatious as the one in Leadville. Typical of many such houses, its wooden folding chairs could be removed for dances, including the seasonal grand balls.

Not to be outdone by its small mountain neighbors, Denver made plans to build a better opera house. With the backing of the silver millionaire, the impressive and expensive Tabor Grand Opera House opened September 5, 1881-- two years before the October 22, 1883, opening of the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. Its total cost was in excess of $860,000, and to have been built in a city that was 600 miles west of what was then considered to be civilization, the Tabor Grand was indeed a magnificent accomplishment.

For the next 30 years opera houses sprang up in almost every town and city in Colorado. Several of the larger municipalities had two or more opera houses existing simultaneously and often a series of opera houses were built in cities where one burned or became obsolete and then was replaced by another.

This website provides an account of several of the opera companies that performed in Colorado, a listings of opera performance in early Colorado and a catalog of the 145 opera houses for which we have substantial information. To provide a more complete account of the opera venues of the time, we also have included a few halls and theatres that were the equivalent of opera houses. Additionally, there is a collection of photographs of opera singers who performed in Colorado and a page with links to websites that honor the old opera houses of America or remember the opera and opera stars of the time. Herein can be glimpsed the cultural exposure, including the way opera was experienced, at the end of the 19th century and early 20th century in the American West.


Website created and maintained by Charles Ralph, Fort Collins, CO.

Should you be interested in the current Colorado opera universe, see our other website Colorado Opera Network.