Tulsa Opera, located in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is the 18th-oldest opera company in the United States and was ranked by Opera News magazine among the 10 favorite regional opera companies in the nation. The company produces three operas each season performed at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center.
In 1948, five Tulsans, Bess Gowans, Ralph and Ione Sassano, Mary Helen Markham and Beverly Bliss, formed the Tulsa Opera Club. On December 4 of that year, the organization performed Giuseppe Verdi's La traviata, with local singers.
By 1953, after already changing its name to Tulsa Opera, Inc., it became evident that the format of presenting light operas and operettas twice yearly with one or two paid professional singers was no longer sufficient for an increasingly sophisticated Tulsa audience. With the presentation of Madama Butterfly in November 1955, featuring imported professional singers for all principal roles, Tulsa Opera successfully completed the transition to grand opera and made a giant step toward national prominence. In 1977, the Tulsa Performing Arts Center was built. Since that time, nearly all operas have been presented in the Center's Chapman Music Hall. Former directors of Tulsa Opera include Carlo Moresco, Edward Purrington, Bernard Uzan, Nicholas Muni and Carol I. Crawford. From 2008 until 2016 the company’s Artistic Director was Kostis Protopapas, who had previously served as Associate Conductor and Chorus Master under Carol I. Crawford. Currently (July 2016) the company's General Director and CEO is Greg Weber and its Artistic Director is Tobias Picker.
Singers such as Licia Albanese, Carlo Bergonzi, Jussi Björling, Harolyn Blackwell, Judith Blegen, Stephanie Blythe, Joy Clements, Sarah Coburn, Muriel Costa-Greenspon, Michael Devlin, Marisa Galvany, Greer Grimsley, Andrea Gruber, Jerry Hadley, Jerome Hines, Kelly Kaduce, Alfredo Kraus, Dorothy Kirsten, Frank Lopardo, Chester Ludgin, Cornell MacNeil, James McCracken, John Macurdy, Sherrill Milnes, Anna Moffo, Herva Nelli, Maralin Niska, Luciano Pavarotti, Roberta Peters, Marguerite Piazza, Paul Plishka, Leontyne Price, Ashley Putnam, Louis Quilico, Samuel Ramey, Sylvia Sass, Renata Scotto, Nancy Shade, Rita Shane, Neil Shicoff, George Shirley, Beverly Sills, Diana Soviero, Dame Joan Sutherland, Harry Theyard, Norman Treigle, Tatiana Troyanos, Richard Tucker, Giuseppe Valdengo and Leonard Warren have performed with the company.
- Pavarotti received a horse as partial compensation for his performance with the company.
- Allegedly, only a few weeks before her scheduled performances with the company in March 1978, Sills requested the scheduled opera, Anna Bolena, be changed to I puritani. The company complied.
- The ghost of Enrico Caruso is said to haunt the Brady Theater. He is supposed to have caught a cold there which led to his later death by pleurisy.
- During the Great Depression, the first Tulsa Opera performances were held in Skelly Field. Admission for some seats was very affordable, allowing for people who normally couldn't attend to have the opportunity to watch the performance. The heart of this was to bring joy to citizens who were hurting badly from the Depression.
In addition to its mainstage operas, Tulsa Opera maintains an extensive education and outreach program that provides opportunities for adults and children statewide. These programs include Opera on Tour!, a statewide school tour; the Studio Artist Program, an apprenticeship program for young professional singers; Student's Night @ Tulsa Opera, three annual full-length opera performances for schoolchildren; and teacher workshops. Additionally, Tulsa Youth Opera, a tuition-free training program for students in grades 3-12, performs youth opera productions and serves as the company's resident children's chorus. In recent years, Tulsa Youth Opera has mounted productions of Daron Hagen's Little Nemo in Slumberland and Susan Kander's operatic version of Lois Lowry's novel, The Giver. In 2016, the company will produce Dean Burry's "The Hobbit."
- Brian Kellow (October 2001). "Growing Season: Tannhäuser in Tulsa?". Opera News.
- Tulsa Opera Chronicles, by Jack A. Williams & Laven Sowell, 1992.