Ellie Caulkins Opera House

Ellie Caulkins Opera House

The Ellie Caulkins Opera House, which opened on September 10, 2005, is located in Denver, Colorado as part of the large Denver Performing Arts Complex. It seats 2,225.

Background of Caulkins family support

The Caulkins family pledged $7 million towards the enhancement of the lyric opera house and adjacent public spaces which were constructed inside of the Newton Auditorium.

History of the theatre

The Municipal Auditorium, the largest in America except for Madison Square Garden in New York, was completed in time to host the Democratic National Convention in 1908. Mayor Speer and the Chamber of Commerce raised $100,000 to celebrate the July 7 grand opening of the Auditorium with Denver's first national political convention, when William Jennings Bryan was nominated the third time for President.

Originally, the building was a multi-purpose structure: it accommodated concerts, operas, theatrical shows, conventions, basketball, auto shows and even circuses, with flags flying from its domes and light bulbs outlining its pediments, cornice, and corners. The proscenium of the original building was designed to be portable so as to create different-sized spaces for different events. When the proscenium was in place, the building was a 3,326 seat theatre with an extraordinarily large back stage area. When the proscenium was raised, increasing the seating capacity to 12,000, the stage and backstage area became large enough to hold circuses and rodeos.

In the 1920s and 30s, Music Week was an annual event in Denver for several years. Various communities of the state presented musical programs and most of the performances were in the Auditorium. An opera or operetta was commonly included in the offerings.

In 1921, a company of Denver musicians performed Flotow's Martha in May; of special historical significance was the fact that the two performances were broadcast by radio station 9ZAF, the first time ever that a full-length opera was broadcast.

The Auditorium became the "de facto" opera house for Denver, and the most enduring. For more than 75 years, until the 1980s and 90s when other halls opened in an adjoining complex, the Auditorium hosted almost all visiting opera companies and opera concerts, as well as local opera productions.

In 1955 the Auditorium was closed and renovation was begun to make the grand old house a modern theatre. In September 1956, the project was completed and the seating capacity was decreased to 2,240.

In the 1980s other theaters were constructed next to the Auditorium, including Boettcher Concert Hall, Bonfils Theatre Complex and the Denver Center Theatre, to which the Seawell Ballroom was added in the 1990's (these now make up the Denver Performing Arts Complex). The Auditorium arena received another makeover in the early 1990s when the Temple Hoyne Buell Theater was built into it. This theater was a reincarnation of the Municipal Auditorium's old theater and basketball and wrestling arena.

In 1992, after the construction of the Buell Theatre, the facade of the Municipal Auditorium was renovated and the seating capacity became 2,065. The Auditorium was renamed Quigg Newton Denver Municipal Auditorium in 2002.


In need of major work, the Newton Auditorium underwent a renovation funded primarily through seat tax revenues collected at city-owned facilities and the proceeds of a bond issue approved by Denver voters in 2002."Caulkins Family Makes Generous Contribution to the City of Denver's Newton Auditorium Renovation" (see below)]

In all, the city spent $75 million, while private donors provided $17 million more. The gift from the Caulkins family was used to fund additional enhancements to the lyric opera house and adjacent public spaces inside the Newton Auditorium.

The “Ellie” opened as Opera Colorado's new home on 10th September 2005 with a gala benefit for the Colorado Opera Foundation and featured some major singers from the world of opera. Opera Colorado's first season in the new opera house opened on November 3, 2005 with a production of "Carmen" starring internationally-known mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves in the title role.

The historic shell of the old Auditorium Theatre was rebuilt and named the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, honoring "Denver's First Lady of Opera".

Architect Peter Lucking created the performance space, described as "three tiers of balconies curve like lyres; uninterrupted sight lines from every seat focus viewers onto a deep, wide stage.... Sleek staircases and flying bridges pull patrons into the hall [Chris Shull, "Opera Now"] . Ellie Caulkins herself is quoted as saying "They say it was like building a ship in a bottle" [Ellie Caulkins in Shull, "Opera Now"] .

The Chambers Grant Salon

The Chambers Grant Salon one of the building's other facilities which can be accessed from the Ellie's main lobby. Holding up to 750 people, it can be used for meetings or refreshments.

References and External links

* [http://www.operapronto.info/exhibitions/exh_audit/exh_audit.html Detailed information and photos on the evolution of the “Ellie” from Municipal Auditorium to Newton Auditorium]
* [http://www.denvergov.org/Mayor/PressReleases/PressReleases8/tabid/390489/Default.aspx "Caulkins Family Makes Generous Contribution to the City of Denver's Newton Auditorium Renovation", Press Release of Mayor John Hickenlooper, 5th January 2004]
* Shull, Chris, "Once in a Lifetime", "Opera Now" Magazine, London, January/February 2006
* [http://www.operacolorado.org/ Opera Colorado's official website]
* [http://coloradoballet.org/ Colorado Ballet]

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