Roads Traveled with Linda L. Osmundson
Central City is more than a gambling mecca. Each summer the Central City Opera Festival devotes six weeks to world class performances in its intimate jewel-box theatre. Whether you “know” opera or not, you will be enthralled with your opera festival experience.
If at all possible, plan to attend the formal opening night, June 25. Reminiscent of mining history, a dynamite blast announces the festival’s opening around 5:30 pm and the Central City Flower Girl’s debutante ceremony. The girls descend staircases located between the Teller and Opera houses. Church bells ring during the father/daughter “Yellow Rose Waltz” played by a string quartet on Eureka Street. The Flower Girls hand out nosegays at intermission, a 79 year custom, and urge patrons to toss them on stage after the performance.
Building of the opera house resulted from the Welsh and Cornish miners’ love of music. It opened in 1878 as home to opera and other stage productions. As mines played out, so did the opera house. Its reopening in 1932, with Lillian Gish as Camille, birthed the summer festival of today. The festival usually includes three operas, from classic to contemporary.
The 2011 season presents Georges Biset’s “Carmen.” In 1875 Paris condemned the opera as immoral. Today, it serves as one of the most beloved and performed operas of all time.
Georg Friedrich Handel’s “Amadigi Di Gaula” premiered in London almost 300 years ago. This summer, the opera festival presents the North American premiere of the most intimate and beautiful of Handel’s operas. It features a knight in shining armor, the hand of a princess to be won, and potions/powers of a sorceress.
From comedy (Puccini’ “Gianni Schicchi”) to French farce (Poulenc’s “The Breasts of Tiresias”) to Weill’s satirical “The Seven Deadly Sins,” the three one-act, hour-long operas offer a dip-of-the-toe experience into live opera for the uninitiated. Each may be seen separately rather than purchased as a double-bill.
For matinee or nighttime shows plan to arrive early; you’ll have plenty to do. Historic buildings line the streets and Victorian homes dot the hillside - twenty-five owned by the opera association to house performers.
The Gilpin Historical Society Museum sits atop a hill overlooking the city. Go inside to learn how Central City, once known as “the richest square mile on earth,” grew from an 1859 tent city to, within a two-month period, a population close to 25,000.
“Opera extras,” held in the historic Williams Stables across the street, usually begin at 1:15 pm for matinees and 7:15 pm for nighttime with costs between zero and $12. Opera Notes, a free twenty-minute informal talk given by the current conductor, director, or other staff, happens shortly before curtain call. Check the website’s calendar for dates of “Signor Deluso,” a 30 minute comic opera based on a Moliere play.
Weather permitting, mingle with other patrons in the gardens. Otherwise, drop in the Teller house next door and see the painting of the “Face on the Barroom Floor.” Keep your ears tuned for the opera ushers’ ringing of the bell. Their chorus invites you to follow their march to the theatre doors.
While sitting in your cushy chair in the cool 550 seat theatre, read the engravings on nearby chair backs. They represent Colorado pioneers, performers, and opera supporters like Horace Tabor, Buffalo Bill, Beverly Sills, and Lillian Gish to name a few. Inspect the trompe l’oeil (fool the eye) wall paintings.
My husband and I often attend a matinee and nighttime performance in one day, stay overnight, and attend another matinee the next day before driving back to Fort Collins. That way we see three operas, save ourselves gas, and enjoy the Central City amenities.
Whether you see a single performance or squeeze all into one weekend, sit back as the ornate curtain opens and enjoy the voices, costumes, and scenery of the country’s fifth oldest opera company.
The drive alone is worth the trip. You can choose from three routes, all lasting about an hour and a half from Lyons. Google Maps lays out the directions. One route goes to Ward and Nederland. Another takes you to Boulder and Golden before turning west toward Central City/Blackhawk. The last leads you to Boulder and through Boulder Canyon. Each offers a pleasant ride and great scenery.
Before you embark on your journey, log onto www.centralcityopera.org. The left-hand column provides information on shows, lodging, dining, activities, and what to wear. Parking can be tight. However, some casinos offer limited free covered parking a short distance from the Grand Tabor Opera House. Pay lots provide more spaces. Be aware that street parking is by permit only.