Mission and History

The mission of Madison Opera is to produce opera of the highest artistic standards.

In support of this mission, Madison Opera will:

• Advance appreciation of the operatic art form to the widest audience.

• Use the uniqueness of opera to enrich the culture of the community.

• Provide the Madison Opera audience with proven, new and culturally diverse works.

• Ensure the present and future of the Company through responsible fiscal and organizational management.


Madison Opera was founded in 1961 under the Madison Civic Music Association (MCMA). Originally called The Opera Workshop, by 1962 it was renamed the Madison Civic Opera Guild. As a part of the MCMA, the Opera joined with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Madison Symphony Chorus under the guidance of Roland Johnson (MCMA Music Director). Maestro Johnson and his wife, stage director/singer Arline Johnson energized Madison's singers and music lovers to bring Madison Opera into existence. In the beginning years, there was one opera per year, featuring local artists and a budget of merely $6,000.

The Opera is now considered to be a leading regional company in the US, producing three operas annually, a free operatic event in the summer, and a range of education and outreach activities. The production history boasts an amazing breadth of repertoire, including a commissioned world premiere in 1993. Madison Opera now regularly presents singers known throughout the world's leading opera houses.

In the mid-80's, after years of work as the company's pianist, Ann Stanke assumed the role of the organization's first General Director. John DeMain became Artistic Director upon the retirement of Roland Johnson in 1994.

In 1993, Madison Opera commissioned its first world premiere, Shining Brow. Composed by Daron Aric Hagen (libretto by Irish poet Paul Muldoon) and based on a period in the life of Wisconsin-born architect Frank Lloyd Wright, the work was deemed an important 20th century opera and attracted an audience from around the world.  The New York Times called Madison Opera "that plucky little company that dared to take a risk."

In September 2004, Madison Opera stepped onto a new stage with the opening of Overture Hall in the magnificent new performance center donated by Madison businessman W. Jerome Frautschi. The Opera's first full production in the new hall was its most lavish ever, a sold-out bravura Turandot that dazzled audiences with David Hockney's opulent sets and costumes.

Upon the July 2005, retirement of long-time General Director Ann Stanke, Allan Naplan, a former professional opera singer, became the company's second General Director.  In July 2011, Kathryn Smith became the company's third General Director.

Madison Opera is in the midst of exciting times. Thanks in large part, to the creation of the Overture Center for the Arts, Madison Opera has reached new heights in the artistic excellence of the organization, and these accomplishments have clearly been recognized by audiences and press alike, with attendance at an all-time high, and press reviews championing our efforts.

Madison Opera has a broad array of engagement activities, offering unique educational programming for every age.  Programs for adults include Opera Up Close, Opera Novice, Pre-Opera Talks, and more.  Programs for youth include the Student Matinee, now in its fourth decade; A Night at the Opera with Big Brothers Big Sisters; and the High School Apprenticeship Program, offering talented local students the opportunity to enter the world of opera for a year.

With innovative programming, strong community enrichment programs, and increased community collaboration, Madison Opera now has the ability to reach more people than ever, including broadcasts of Overture Hall performances on Wisconsin Public Radio.  Through various social media platforms, Madison Opera fans have the opportunity to learn more about the music and production process from behind-the-scenes.

Now, more than ever, Madison Opera is thriving due to its enhanced ability to serve more members of our community through the presentation of world-class opera, the expansion of outreach and education activities, and the cultivation of strong partnerships that lead to the stability of the company. Madison Opera continues to grow artistically while furthering its mission of engaging, inspiring, and enriching the greater community through the presentation of opera.

Madison Opera is a Professional Company Member of OPERA America.
La Bohème
Nov. 13 & 15, 2015
Feb. 5 & 7, 2016
April 15 & 17, 2016