Did You Know? The 1932 Central City Opera House Restoration

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Experience Central City Opera with an inside look at the festival’s history, performances, and people.


This summer, the Central City Opera Festival will be celebrating its 85th season of presenting world-class opera in the historic Central City Opera House. The Opera House itself, however, has been around much longer than that. Built in 1878 by local Welsh and Cornish miners, the Opera House’s initial success was short-lived as the nearby mines stopped producing gold in the years soon after its opening. Although the Opera House was kept open as a movie house for a number of years, by 1927 it had completely shut its doors and fallen into disrepair.

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Fortunately, a passionate group of arts enthusiasts recognized the majesty of the Opera House and made plans to restore it to its former glory. Lead by Anne Evans, daughter of second Territorial Governor of Colorado John Evans, Ida Kruse McFarlane, daughter-in-law of Peter McFarlane, who had took over operations of the Opera House in 1890, and Edna Chappell, the Central City Opera House Association was founded in 1929 and began to raise money for the restoration. They were successful, and in 1932 the current iteration of the Central City Opera House reopened its doors to the public.

Crowds outside the Central City Opera House before the first sold-out performance of Camille in 1932

The first sold-out performance of Camille in 1932

Each of the women played a significant role in rebuilding the Central City Opera House that we know today. Edna Chappell, who was married at the time to New York producer Delos Chappell, attracted the attention of big names in New York theatre to the small jewel box theater in the Colorado mountains. Edna and Delos, along with renowned designer and director Robert Edmond Jones, adapted the French novel Camille by Alexandre Dumas, fils, for the stage, and in the summer of 1932 the play opened in the first season of the newly restored Central City Opera House, starring legendary actress Lillian Gish.

Ida Krause McFarlane, who’s husband’s family had assumed ownership of the theatre after Peter McFarlane’s death in 1927, saw great possibilities in the derelict theater. The head of the English Literature Department at the University of Denver, McFarlane convinced her husband’s family to donate the building to the university. The university accepted the gift in 1931 with the purpose of using it as a venue for an annual Central City dramatic festival.

Anne Evans, one of the founders of the Central City Opera House Association

Anne Evans, one of the founders of the Central City Opera House Association

Anne Evans was instrumental in raising money for the restoration, and took charge of the fundraising campaign. Throughout her life, Evans worked to establish the Denver area as a center for arts and culture, and the establishment of the Central City Opera Festival was one of her crowning achievements. “In the middle of the Great Depression, Anne Evans walked up and down 17th Street in Denver, pigeonholing every businessman she could find and asking them for money to reopen the Opera House,” said Pelham Pearce, Artistic Director of Central City Opera. “Now we’re the fifth oldest opera company in the United States.”

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Over the past 85 seasons of the Central City Opera Festival, the Central City Opera House has seen it all: superstars of the stage and screen, works that span centuries of operatic and theatrical history, and dedicated, enthusiastic patrons of the arts. For these many wonderful seasons of art and music, we have the efforts of Anne Evans, Ida Krause McFarlane, Edna Chappell, and the members of the Central City Opera House Association to thank.

 

References:

Central City Opera:

https://centralcityopera.org/about-us/history,

http://centralcityoperafestival.blogspot.com/2013/06/throwback-thursday-looking-back-on.html

Colorado Gambler:

http://coloradogambler.com/trails-end-a-colorado-classic-the-central-city-opera/

Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame:

 http://www.cogreatwomen.org/project/anne-evans/

Colorado Encyclopedia:

https://coloradoencyclopedia.org/article/central-city-opera-house

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