Mission & History
Kentucky Opera seeks to reach and reflect our entire region through opera, promoting a more empathetic, compassionate, and just community through the power of the arts.
Moritz von Bomhard founded Kentucky Opera in 1952. During his tenure, Bomhard made it a practice to present at least one premiere each year. During the 1950s alone, Kentucky Opera presented five world premiere works. That spirit of innovation survives today.
Under Bomhard’s direction, Kentucky Opera grew from a small organization, one of the first in the nation, to become a strong, innovative and respectable company that presented quality productions for appreciative audiences. After 30 years of tenure, Bomhard retired in 1982. The Bomhard Theater at the Kentucky Center for the Arts is named in his honor.
Theaters & Opera Houses
Kentucky Opera has had several performing homes during its 70-year history. The first performances were presented in the Columbia Auditorium. Even though this venue had no orchestra pit, it remained Kentucky Opera’s home for over ten years. In 1963, the company moved into the Macauley Theater, now known as the Brown Theatre, which had completed a major refurbishment.
The Kentucky Center for the Arts, opened in 1983, became a part-time home for the company. Larger works were performed in Whitney Hall, medium scale productions were presented in the Brown Theatre, and small chamber pieces were often performed in the Bomhard Theater. Beginning with the 2000-2001 season, all of Kentucky Opera’s productions were presented in Whitney Hall. Kentucky Opera returned to its “home” at the Brown Theatre in the 2009-2010 season.
In 2021, Kentucky Opera moved its administrative offices to the new Opera Center located at 708 Magazine Street, in downtown Louisville. In 2023, thanks to a gift from Christina Lee Brown, the center was named the Kentucky Opera Center for Cultural Health. This space also serves as the rehearsal facility for all Kentucky Opera performances, as well as a second performance venue for chamber operas.
The State Opera of Kentucky
In July 1982, the Kentucky General Assembly designated Kentucky Opera as the state opera of Kentucky to, among other objectives, enhance the reputation of the Commonwealth as a major area of arts activity in the United States and throughout the world.
Kentucky Opera is a frequent collaborator with arts organizations in and around Kentucky. Kentucky Opera partners regularly with the Louisville Orchestra, Louisville Ballet, Bourbon Baroque, and other arts organizations.
Developing Emerging Artists
Committed to increasing its young audience, Kentucky Opera developed several educational initiatives including Bravo Time, Overture, and Youth Opera Project.
As early as 1998, Kentucky Opera was committed to serving apprentices with the implementation of the Rudd Program for Young Artists. Kentucky Opera serves as a training ground for young artists now through the Barbara & Halsey Sandford Studio Artist Program. The Studio Artist program provides unique training experiences and career guidance for emerging opera singers. Sandford Studio Artists take part in mainstage productions singing or covering principal roles, singing comprimario roles, or singing in the chorus. In addition, Studio Artists have the opportunity to sing in recitals, concerts, participate in master and studio classes, and represent Kentucky Opera in various community and patron cultivation programs.
Kentucky Opera is financed by ticket sales, corporate sponsors and individual donors, the Fund for the Arts, the Kentucky Arts Council, and local fundraisers. From its humble beginnings in 1952 — when the budget of $10,000 produced three operas — Kentucky Opera has grown to a respected professional regional company with an annual budget in excess of $2.4 million. With the addition of the Kentucky Opera Studio Artists Program and other growing outreach educational programs, the company is well positioned to take its place as a leader in the region and the nation in the dynamic landscape of modern opera.
Moritz von Bomhard (1952-1982)
Kentucky Opera General Directors
Barbara Lynne Jamison (2018-present)
Ian Derrer (2016-2018)
Bill Blodgett (interim, 2015-2016)
David Roth (2006-2015)
Deborah Sandler (1998-2005)
Thomson Smillie (1982-1997)