Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Professional opera in the Great Plains began in Denver in 1864 and then was established in Lawrence, Kansas (1869), Kansas City, Missouri (1870), Lincoln, Nebraska (1874), Fort Worth, Texas (1878), Winnipeg, Manitoba (1883), Huron, South Dakota (1885), and various other locations. Its appearance depended on the size and wealth of the community and/or the arrival of the railroad. It was presented largely by touring companies such as those of the soprano Emma Abbott and the British impresario James Mapleson. Amateur local companies specialized in lighter opera. The abbreviated productions of the day often had extraneous selections introduced into them. In the United States, each Plains state boasted as many as several hundred "opera houses," but operas were performed only in a small percentage of them.

Interest in opera had waned by the turn of the century, but the Metropolitan Opera of New York appeared at Omaha in 1890 and intermittently elsewhere in the region through the 1950s. After the turn of the century, touring companies declined when economic conditions worked against their success. Local societies continued, one even presenting Verdi's Aïda in Regina in 1932.

Through the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, permanent professional opera companies with seasons of varying lengths were formed. They now number nearly ten, the more impressive ones being those in Edmonton, Tulsa, and Kansas City, Missouri. More than twenty universities and colleges of the region maintain opera activities of varying degrees of intensity and scope. Outstanding singers from the region include John Vickers, tenor, and Samuel Ramey, bass. The career of White Eagle, tenor, a Native American from South Dakota who trained in opera in San Francisco, never fully developed before his illness and death in 1995. Opera plots set in the region include Charles Wakefield Cadman's Shanewis (1918) as well as Libby Larsen's Eric Hermannson's Soul (1998), based on a story by Willa Cather.

H. Bruce Lobaugh Omaha, Nebraska

Jennings, Harlan F. "Grand Opera in Kansas in the 1880's." Ph.D. diss., University of Cincinnati, 1978.

Musical America International Directory of the Performing Arts. Hightstown NJ: Primedia Information, 1999.

Sadie, Stanley, ed. The New Grove Dictionary of Opera. London: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992.

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