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 plans for expanding its season in the future. The production history boasts an amazing breadth of repertoire, including a commissioned world premiere in 1993 and a co-commission Midwest premiere in 2005. 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 of the Opera upon the retirement of Roland Johnson in 1994.

In 1993, Madison Opera gained special recognition when it commissioned its first world premiere work, 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, not only was the work itself deemed an important 20th century opera, but Madison Opera received countless national accolades including, from The New York Times, a reference to "that plucky little company that dared to take a risk." The premiere attracted an audience from around the world.

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.

Madison Opera extended its artistic reach again in 2005 with a co-commission with Houston Grand Opera and Seattle Opera of The End of the Affair, a new opera by American composer, Jake Heggie (libretto by Heather MacDonald).

Upon the July 2005, retirement of long-time General Director Ann Stanke, Allan Naplan, a former professional opera singer and artistic administrator, 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 recent press reviews championing our efforts.

Ever eager to broaden the audience for opera, Madison Opera launched its education and outreach initiative, Creating OPERAtunities, offering unique educational programming for every age. The adult education series, Opera Up Close, continues to grow in popularity. The Student Matinee, now over 30 years old, annually offers thousands of middle and high school students a rare opportunity to experience the operatic art form through fully-produced performances of the season repertoire. The A Night at the Opera program partners with youth service organizations, bringing the opera experience to young people and their mentors at no charge, and the Pre-Opera Talks are now presented to standing room only crowds. In addition, the High School Apprenticeship Program offers 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. New technology and media relationships have made Madison Opera performances available via Wisconsin Public Radio broadcasts and streaming online. In addition, Madison City Channel features the Opera Up Close series on TV broadcasts and internet webcasts. Through Facebook, Twitter, and the MadOpera Blog, 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 Greater Madison and the State of Wisconsin 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