Founded in 1979, the Long Beach Opera is the oldest (and still youngest) operatic producing company in the metropolitan Los Angeles/Orange County region.
Long Beach Opera's success helped provide the stimulus for the subsequent founding of opera companies in Los Angeles and Orange Counties. The Long Beach Opera and San Diego Opera, along with these companies, have made Southern California one of the major operatic centers in the United States. With a repertoire of over ninety operas, including early and late Baroque works, twentieth century works, and operas of special interest from the standard repertoire, Long Beach Opera is well known for its world, American and west coast premieres of new and rare operas. Long Beach Opera is a recognized member of the American operatic community, enjoying funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, the California Arts Council, the County of Los Angeles, and the City of Long Beach.
Long Beach Opera's history demonstrates that its essential purpose is the advancement of the frontiers of opera, in repertoire and in production style. Our artistic vision is to present unconventional works - repertoire which is neglected by other, more mainstream opera companies - ranging from the very beginnings of opera to modern, avant-garde works, emphasizing their theatrical and musical relevance to our time. By performing in a variety of local theaters and alternative spaces, LBO highlights opera’s power to move hearts and minds in the most unexpected ways.
The company, originally known as Long Beach Grand Opera, was a venture sponsored by the Long Beach Symphony Association to mark the inaugural season of the city’s Terrace Theater. Michael Milenski, formerly of the San Francisco Opera and San Jose Opera, was tapped to mount the first production in March, 1979, Verdi’s La Traviata starring Metropolitan Opera stars Benita Valente and Louis Quilico. The success of that production led to the company’s formal incorporation independent of the Long Beach Symphony with Milenski as its executive director.
Following a period of early growth marked by the presentation of repertoire staples, Long Beach Opera took a radical departure from the operatic mainstream. Under Milenski’s guidance, the company developed an alternative vision for opera – to present striking visual drama that would speak directly to contemporary audiences while maintaining the highest musical standard. That new era was launched by two important productions in 1983-84: Britten's Death in Venice and Monteverdi's Coronation of Poppea starring Catherine Malfitano, a production the Los Angeles Times' chief music and dance critic Martin Bernheimer called LBO's "wild, wonderful Poppea." Both operas were staged by the maverick director Christopher Alden, whose career was given major impetus by his partnership with LBO.
In 2003, LBO’s leadership transitioned from founder, Michael Milenski, to Andreas Mitisek, LBO’s former Artistic and General Director. Under Andreas’ leadership, LBO’s annual productions grew from two to five. Since 2008, LBO’s audience has grown consistently each year, and season subscriptions have increased from 120 to 901. In 2012, Andreas expanded his role by becoming the general director of both Long Beach Opera and Chicago Opera Theater. By forging this new connection, Andreas built a bridge to share unexpected operas with audiences in two major metropolitan regions.
In September 2012, LBO launched a new series called Outer Limits (made possible by a generous grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation), which features LBO’s most adventurous repertoire yet. In addition to reaching more people, LBO has collaborated with leading contemporary composers including Philip Glass, John Adams and David Lang, who made appearances at LBO Coincidences to discuss their music with the public.
Significant LBO productions have included Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen (abridged version by Jonathan Dove), Powder Her Face by Thomas Adès, Richard Strauss’ Elektra (which was televised in Germany), The Beaumarchais Trilogy, Adams’ Nixon in China, and Glass’ Ahknaten. In addition, several American premieres have been presented on the LBO stage, including: King Roger by Karol Szymanowski, Mozart’s Lucio Silla, Schoenberg’s Die Jakobsleiter, Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s Turning, I Saw Great Injustice, John Cage’s Europeras 3&4 (issued in a commercial recording), Astor Piazzolla’s Maria de Buenos Aires, Gavin Bryar’s The Paper Nautilus, Gabriela Ortiz’s Camelia la Tejana, and Ernest Bloch’s Macbeth.
Celebrated singers who have sung with LBO include Jerome Hines, Ruth Ann Swenson, James Morris and Jerry Hadley, but the company has a longstanding tradition of tapping talented singers on their way up (including some of the above named).
LBO's reputation for artistic excellence extends far beyond the boundaries of Long Beach. The company has received praise from the Wall Street Journal (“Highly innovative”), New York Times (“Daring”), Opera Now, London (“Beloved wildcard of a west coast opera company”), LA Times (“LBO deserves a medal for its unequalled history of operatic innovation in America”) and LA Weekly (“opera at its most imaginative”).
In 2021, James Darrah joined the company as Artistic Director & Chief Creative Officer which has marked a new, bold, and innovative era for the company. His work is building out opera for a new era, and has been seen in recent productions such as Les Enfants Terribles (2021), Giustino (2022), and is reaching into the cinematic opera realm with recent works such as desert in (2021).
Long Beach Opera defines its OPERA experiences as: Outside of the box, Provocative, Engaging, Relevant and Adventurous.