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From Our Collection: Andrews Opera Co.

From Our Collection: Andrews Opera Co.

Andrews Opera Co.
Friday, August 1, 2014

One can't overstate the importance of the Red Cloud Opera House to a young Willa Cather. In a 1929 letter to friend and journalist Harvey Newbranch, she wrote about the Opera House and the Andrews Opera Company:

"How good some of those old traveling companies were, and how honestly they did their work and tried to put on a creditable performance. There was the Andrews Opera Company, for example; they usually had a good voice or two among them, a small orchestra and a painstaking conductor, who was also the pianist. What good luck for a country child to hear those tuneful old operas sung by people who were doing their best: The Bohemian Girl, The Chimes of Normandy, Martha, The Mikado. Nothing takes hold of a child like living people."

During the restoration of the Red Cloud Opera House, we were fortunate to find a number of promotional posters from the heyday of these traveling companies; those have become a part of our permanent collection. The Andrews Opera Company, pictured here, was a Minnesota-based troupe with a fascinating history.

The Andrews began as a vocal concert troupe in 1875, reimagined in 1884 as Andrews Opera Company. All told, their repertoire included roughly thirty operas, both light opera (like The Bohemian Girl) and grand opera (like Faust and Carmen), but they sang all of these in English. According to a family story, Enrico Caruso himself was refused a place on the stage with the Andrews Opera Company-because he didn't sing in English!

For reasons unknown, the company disbanded in 1901, though some family members continued to perform. Its decline coincides with the slow disappearance of the midwestern opera houses. "When I go about among little Nebraska towns (and the little towns, not the big cities, are the people), the thing I miss most is the opera house," Cather wrote. "No number of filling stations or moving picture theatres can console me for the loss of the opera house. To be sure, the opera house was dark for most of the year, but that made its events only the more exciting."

Currently on view now in the Red Cloud Opera House Gallery are some of the posters from the Andrews Opera Company, as well as other events, held at the Opera House in the early years.