Now we know: Central City Opera is an entirely different—and entirely wonderful—way to see opera.
Usually, opera necessitates being in a big city. Central City is a small mountain town (elevation 8,496’) where cozily restored brick buildings and darling bed and breakfasts line the hilly streets—and the surrounding rugged landscape reminds visitors: this was once a rough and ready mining town.
Because The Magic Flute is such a long opera, we arranged to stay overnight at Skye Cottage, a truly lovely B&B, where our utterly charming room inspired an afternoon nap. At 6 pm, we strolled down the hill, turned right—and there was the Opera House! Everything in such pleasant proximity!
A few doors down from the Opera House, we had a marvelous dinner at the historic Teller House—then across the street to hear the (free), pre-opera talk—then back across the street to wait in the gardens surrounding the Opera House for the doors to open.
Sitting there in the dusk, in the sweetly landscaped gardens, a sense of enchantment grew—and deepened considerably when a beaming young woman walked onto the patio and rang a large gold bell. “The Magic Flute, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, will begin in 15 minutes!” she announced joyfully.
The town might be tiny, the theater might seat only 550—but productions are first-class. This Magic Flute was the best we’d ever seen: the director shaped the tale creatively, using three young boys as guides.
Over breakfast the next morning, we talked Central City history with our hosts. It was a Gold Rush town! After gold was discovered in a gulch in 1859, more than 10,000 people rushed in to make their fortune—and Central City was born. (A young man pitching his tent on the ground with all the others was William Byers, the future founder of The Rocky Mountain News!)
By 1861 Central City was a typical Wild West town, recording 217 fist fights, 97 revolver fights and 11 Bowie knife fights. (No one killed!) In 1878, the town built the Opera House. But around 1900, mining veins showed signs of depletion; by WWII, gold mining shut down altogether. By the 1950s,Central City’s population—and that of its sister city, Black Hawk—fell to a few hundred.
Then in the early 1990s, the two towns’ fortunes rose with casino gambling. The current Opera Company, founded in 1932, expanded—and now is renowned for world-class productions and outstanding training programs for young artists.
“Our mission is to sing extraordinary stories to … open minds to the breadth of human experience,” says Judith Grant, Chairman of Central City Opera Board.
She adds, “We stand on the shoulders of those Welsh and Cornish miners who built the Opera House in 1878 and those… who restored it in 1932.”
Links to the past—and investments in the future—are everywhere in this town.
You won’t ever regret coming to Central City Opera. The fresh mountain air, the feeling that you’ve gotten-away-from-it-all; performances of the highest—and innovative—quality enjoyed in an intimate, meticulously restored Opera House … it doesn’t get any better.