June, 1967: an age of iconic headlines. The conflict in Vietnam was a shadow across the American psyche. The ink on the Voting Rights Act was still fresh. The first presidential election open to all Americans loomed large. America was intent on reaching the moon, but our first grasp at the cosmos ended in tragedy. These were times of upheaval and promise: a perfect epoch for opera.
In such heady eras, we look to the arts to elevate, to animate and transform us. We rely upon those practicing their crafts patiently and out of sight to pull us into the theater, to remind us of our own souls’ capacity. To feel the tumult of the world melt away, as a pleasant chill ascends the spine beneath a blooming aria.
The founders of Opera Grand Rapids knew that passion is best when shared with the world. Nevertheless, it was a bold proposition: to build a professional opera company that would put Grand Rapids on the map for a very discerning audience.
They would have to assemble the city’s most prodigious musical talents and create something greater together than they could alone. They must prove that risk and perseverance could shatter obstacles and win the day—a lesson worthy of Figaro himself.
The performers’ nerves were wild that hot night in early June. Peeking out at the house as it filled up—the steady, giddy pressure of it building with the noise. The pantheon of Grand Rapids high society, sparkling with finery taking their seats. The audience bubbling with expectation and chatter, fans fluttering amongst the sea of faces.
The excellent Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra would uphold its reputation, so a deft overture was certain. But what of the performers, the staging? Figaro takes the stage and counts off the paces—five, ten, twenty—and in an instant, a legacy is born. Couples exchange smiles beyond the footlights, and connoisseurs sit up in their chairs. In the hours that follow, a timeless tale unfolds, with a consoling idea at its heart: no matter how madcap our days, they may end with love. They are witnessing the birth of an institution, and the papers the next day are bold in saying so: real grand opera has come to Grand Rapids.
Over the next five decades, the country would change, and so would Opera Grand Rapids—keeping the grand tradition alive while embracing innovation. We are humbled to be the modern bearers of classical standards and modern ingenuity. The contemporary opera landscape is an exciting place. In 2017, you can watch opera composed for online audiences. You can watch a miniature opera in the intimacy of a small theater. You can even enjoy opera over a craft beer in a local brewery. We plan to honor our bold beginnings by embracing the future of contemporary opera and bringing modern stories and eclectic programming to new and familiar venues alike.
That spirit will be evident this January, when we stage I Dream: a truly unique musical fusion of blues, jazz, gospel, and opera that tells the story of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
As an integral part of our city’s artistic fabric, it’s our responsibility to see to its continual flourishing. Please consider donating to Opera Grand Rapids to ensure our artistic excellence for the next 50 years and beyond. You’ve already made us great. With your support, there’s no limits to the height our voices can reach together.
Help to support our next 50 years.