singers to appear in Colorado may have
been Mr. and Mrs. Gruenwald from San Francisco. Mrs.
was described as "the celebrated prima donna" from San
Francisco. Her husband also sang but apparently was not
"celebrated." They appeared in Denver on December 8 and 9, 1864,
but not in an opera house; such a named structure was almost twenty
years in the future. The Gruenwalds then traveled to Central City
for a few performances, apparently in the Montana Theatre, before
continuing travel eastward to the states, supposedly by overland stage.
The Howson Opera Troupe, an Australian family composed of Emma Howson, her
father, Francis (a
baritone and conductor), and her brothers,
June and July, 1869, in Denver
in what could be considered the first operas. They were traveling
west, coming from San Francisco on the newly completed transcontinental
railroad. They had previously performed in the Salt Lake City
Theatre, accompanied by a recently formed SLC Theatre orchestra of
seven players. The Howsons were the first opera
troupe seen by the Mormons. Upon reaching Cheyenne on June 24, the
Wells Fargo stage for Denver. Records indicate that they occupied
six seats, so obviously they were a company of only six singers and not
accompanied by their own orchestra. After
the Denver appearances, the Howson Opera Troupe performed at the
Theatre in Central City for two weeks. The Grand Duchess of
Offenbach was their opening performance on
July 5 and that, presumably, was the first
professionally performed opera in Central City. On July 26 they took the
stage back to Cheyenne, again using six seats. Emma's father died
during this tour, before the family eventually arrived in New York.
of many professional opera productions in Colorado to be
and with orchestra was provided by the Richings-Bernard Opera Troupe
in 1877. Caroline
Richings-Bernard was a capable soprano who was
nearing the end of a long career. An accomplished pianist, her
operatic debut was in The Daughter
of the Regiment on February 9, 1852, in Philadelphia.
Subsequently she sang with her father's English Opera Company in the
early 1850s. She married a tenor in the Company, Pierre Bernard,
and they took it over when her father retired.
Troupe, which included seven other lead singers, offered Flotow's Martha in Pueblo's Chillicot Hall
on July 13, 1877. The following night they sang Wallace's Maritana in Colorado Springs
stop was in Denver where they
presented Maritana on July
16, Verdi's Il Trovatore on
July 19, Auber's Fra Diavolo on July 20, Martha in a matinee and Balfe's The Bohemian Girl in
the evening of
Saturday, July 21. The Denver appearance concluded with Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro Sunday
night, July 22. Figaro
was sung in Turner Hall; all the previous performances were in the
Guard Hall. Neither venue was adequate for an opera
performance. Originally there was to be no opera on Sunday
evening, but Fra Diavolo was
added to the Denver schedule after arrival in Denver.
Troupe was scheduled to perform the next evening, Monday July 23,
in Georgetown, and they made it there in time, singing Il Trovatore in Cushman's Opera
House, the Company's first "opera house" in Colorado. Still in
Cushman's, Richings-Bernard offered The
Girl on Tuesday and finished their Georgetown
appearance with Martha on
Wednesday. They were in Central City on July 27 and 28.
The Company stayed five nights in Cheyenne, Wyoming, August 2-6, after
which it boarded the transcontinental train for performances in Laramie
and Evanston, Wyoming, Salt Lake City and Ogden, Utah, before reaching
proficient opera companies-- and some less-- were to appear in Colorado
and the Rocky Mountain area in the next few decades. But the
Richings-Bernard Opera Troupe typified most of the traveling opera
companies during the 1870-1900 period in many respects:
• It had about six operas in its repertoire for a nine-month season.
• When not singing a lead role, one usually sang with the small chorus.
• The orchestra was minimal and added local talent when available; the
combined orchestra's rehearsal, then, usually was the company's first
• Most operas were sung in English, a practice the British had started
and was promoted through much of the 19th century.
• Travel was by railroad.
• All expenses were covered by ticket sales; smaller-than-expected
attendance prompted many companies to add or cancel performances,
depending on circumstances, or even disband while on tour.
• Tour schedules were very demanding, very tiring; meal times varied,
and when on the trains, food was available only from station platforms
until dining cars began to appear on western trains in the 1890s.
When a singer became ill or exhausted, he/she nevertheless was expected
to perform; no performance, no pay. Newspaper reviewers frequently
remarked about tired performers.
Just as the designation of a building as an opera house gives no
indication of its physical properties and suitability for opera
performance, so the designation of a group of performers as an opera
company gives no indication of its musical capabilities or the genres
of the music literature it performs. From the earliest appearances of
opera companies in Colorado until the waning of their popularity in the
early twentieth century, the traveling opera companies varied greatly
both in the type of opera or musical entertainment they offered and the
quality of their performers.
These pages will not include descriptions of the burlesque-type of
opera companies that toured the country, including Colorado, but will
include the stories and descriptions of opera companies that opera
devotees of today would term legitimate, including grand opera,
so-called light opera or operetta, and Gilbert and Sullivan. Of these
companies, some were consistently good, some questionable, some simply
struggling to maintain their entity. Some appeared in Colorado but
once; others performed here a number of times.
Their performances in Colorado can be described in part through old
newspaper accounts and records, published recollections, books, and
theses and dissertations. Here, in the following pages, is a sampling
of their history.