Music History

Explore the State Through the Colorado Historic Opera Houses Circuit

Wheeler Opera House
Wheeler Opera House Hal Williams
The Colorado Historic Opera Houses Circuit is a new cultural offering that connects five mountain opera houses in Central City, Telluride, Leadville, Aspen and Ouray through a website. The circuit, which launched June 23, includes a calendar of events scheduled at each one, as well as a map of where all the venues are in relation to each other.

All of the structures are on the National Register of Historic Places, so this tour offers a historic look at Colorado. Built between 1878 and 1913, the now-reopened opera houses, which had been closed since the onset of COVID, give visitors the opportunities to enjoy live shows in the same places they were seen over a century ago, as well as music and film festivals, building tours and more.

Each opera house has a unique story, but all represent the rise and fall of Colorado's gold and silver booms, and represent important chapters of history for the mountain towns where they stand. Here are the five on the circuit:
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Central City Opera House
Amanda Tipton
Central City Opera House
124 Eureka Street
Central City

Central City Opera House remains a historic symbol of the gold-mining town. In 1877, residents of Central City organized to raise funds for a grand opera house to showcase the town's riches. After its grand opening in 1878, the house hosted decades of cultural offerings until the end of the mining boom, when it closed and began to deteriorate. Volunteers sought to restore the opera house in 1932, when it was also established as an official opera company. This year, Central City Opera House will host its summer festival, which has taken place since 1932, throughout July. Ticket prices vary based on the event, with activities like Lunch and a Song for $31.50 and the Piazza Opening Night Celebration at $150. Tickets can be purchased on the Central City Opera website. The festival includes special concerts, matinees, dinners and more.
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Sheridan Opera House
Greg Thomas
Sheridan Opera House
110 North Oak Street
Telluride

Telluride became a bustling town during the mining boom of the 1880s, with saloons, schools and churches. In 1912, the manager of the New Sheridan Hotel, J.A. Segerberg, saw a need for a large events venue, and constructed what was originally known as the Segerberg Opera House. The building's construction was completed in 1913, and it became a beautiful place to host classy events and parties. Unfortunately, Prohibition drove patrons away, and it had closed by the 1930s. It didn't open for programming again until the 1960s, when it was renamed after the New Sheridan Hotel. In 1973, the Telluride Film Festival was founded, and the Sheridan Opera House became its main home. Many renovations came along with this turn of events, including a new entryway and a third-floor bar. In 1991, the Sheridan Arts Foundation was established as a nonprofit to help restore crumbling parts of the building and to bring more art and culture to the town. Notable artists such as Jewel, Mumford & Sons and the String Cheese Incident have performed at the Sheridan Opera House.
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Tabor Opera House
Craig Hensel
Tabor Opera House
308 Harrison Avenue
Leadville

Much like its counterpart in Central City, the Tabor Opera House was built in the 1870s to bring entertainment and culture to a mining town. The opera house has gone through multiple foreclosures, owners and renamings over the years, including designations as the Weston Opera House and the Elks Opera House. In 1954, it belonged to a businesswoman named Evelyn Furman, who ran the establishment until she was 84, when it was passed on to her daughter, Sharon Furman Bland. In 2016, the City of Leadville bought the building from the Bland family, and the Tabor Opera House Preservation Foundation began raising funds to restore and refurbish the venue, which had last been remodeled in 1902. A $15 million renovation began in 2020.  Notable artists, including poet and playwright Oscar Wilde, have been hosted at the Tabor. The venue will present a Ghosts of the Tabor immersive performance and treasure hunt on July 8 and 9.
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Wheeler Opera House
Jordan Curet
Wheeler Opera House
320 East Hyman Avenue
Aspen

Jerome Wheeler was responsible for the construction of the Wheeler Opera House in 1888. After marrying into the Macy's department store family, he decided to sell his share and invest in the town of Aspen. He helped fund the construction of the Midland Railroad, as well as the construction of a four-story hotel, a bank and the Wheeler Opera House. But when the silver industry hit bottom in 1893, many businesses were forced to close, and the Wheeler Opera House wouldn't return to its former glory for decades. In 1912, the Wheeler caught fire, and much of the building was boarded up. Six years later, the City of Aspen purchased the building, but it remained vacant until the 1970s, when Music Associates of Aspen helped renovate and refurbish the building. The opera house had a grand reopening in 1984, and was restored to its status as a treasured venue for the Aspen community. Corinne Bailey Rae will perform there on July 22.
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Wright Opera House
Colorado Historic Opera Houses Circuit
Wright Opera House
472 Main Street
Ouray

Ed and George Wright built the Wright Opera House because Ed's wife wanted the residents of the isolated town of Ouray to have cultural opportunities and leisure activities beyond gambling and hanging out at the local saloon. The Opera House had its grand opening in 1888. With a courthouse, school, hospital, hotel and opera house, the town was booming — though many residents did not attend events at the opera house until the mining industry began to fade. During the early twentieth century, the venue grew in popularity and became a hub of activity for Ouray residents. Today it is still used for public events. The Ouray International Film Festival will be at the Wright Opera House through Sunday, June 26.

For more information, go to ColoradoOperaHouses.com.
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Katrina Leibee, a recent graduate of Colorado State University, is an editorial fellow at Westword, covering politics, business and culture.
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