Ramsey County History – Winter 2005: “Curtain Up in 1933: The Legacy of the St. Paul Opera Association”

Steve Trimble

Curtain Up in 1933: The Legacy of the St. Paul Opera Association 
Author: Steve Trimble

Inspired by a trip to Europe, Mrs. W. Homer Sweeney successfully spearheaded the creation of the St. Paul Municipal Opera. Opening in 1933, it was a “civic opera” that chose to present quality music made accessible to a general public by low ticket prices and performances in English. The company also wanted to develop and showcase local talent, a policy that slowly changed when it moved toward a “star system.” That move pleased some, but not all, of the city’s residents. Two outsiders who had a long relationship with the organization were Phil Fein, a director and Leo Kopp, a conductor. Strapped for money, the opera became involved in summer “pop concerts,” sometimes accompanied by skaters inside the St. Paul Auditorium. It also began showing many “light operas.” World War II also had its effects on the organization. A theme of “civic pride” came in the 1950s and at the same time a Women’s Guild became active as a support group. Professionalism developed, and there was a return to a partial season of traditional opera, but costs continued to rise. The group, now minus the word “civic” in its name, gained a new home with the creation of the Arts and Sciences Center. In the face of higher expenses, charitable grants kept the opera going, but a severe recession brought a merger with the Minneapolis Opera in the mid-1970s and a name change to the Minnesota Opera.
PDF of Trimble article