Connecticut Operas Past

As of February 2009, the doors to the sixth oldest professional opera company in the United States closed. The economic downturn took its toll after sixty-seven seasons. The history of the Connecticut Opera was eventful.

Frank Pandolfi took the reins when the Connecticut Opera company was formed in 1942. Pandolfi stayed on board as the general manager for thirty-two years. During the Pandolfi era, the company brought most of the major international opera stars of the times to Hartford. The first season brought the opera, Carmen, to the Bushnell Theater. Mezzo-soprano great, Winifred Heidt was in the title role. Other Opera greats that found their way into the Connecticut Opera were Beverly Sills, Mary Dunleavy, Ris Stevens, and Placido Domingo.

After thirty-two years as the General Manager, Pandolfi decided to part ways with the Connecticut Opera. During the post-Pandolfi era, the Connecticut Opera began to look in a new direction. The focus was on restructuring the company to a total theatrical company. Changes to stage, costumes, musical direction, lightening, and even the sets took place. The goal was to showcase young and talented rising artists instead of focusing on all the current opera stars.

In the mid-1970s, the Connecticut Opera wanted to extend its base. The touring company, Opera Express was founded. This group became an award-winning educational company. Opera Express’ goal was to bring operatic programs to disadvantaged citizens, seniors, and youths. It traveled through the region earning national and international recognition during the early 1980s. For more than thirty years, Opera Express traveled to schools, theaters, libraries, and even assisted living facilities. The company enjoyed making the magic of the opera come alive for everyone.

A desire for re-invention hit the Connecticut Opera once more in 1999. A change in the management structure led to this change in direction. During the spring, the Board of Trustees wanted to head down an aggressive path to become one of the leading regional opera companies in the country. Instead of just focusing on the well-known artists or the emerging artists, the focus was on presenting a balance between the two.

Unfortunately, the re-inventions could not save the magic of the opera. After sixty-seven seasons, the economy bested the magic. The ticket sales only covered about 40% of the costs of production. The remainder had been covered through charitable contributions. With a lack of charitable contributions, the Connecticut Opera did not have the funds to continue. The question remains if this opera company will ever be resurrected.