Modesto native Erik Buck Townsend founded Townsend Opera in 1983. A graduate of Modesto High School, he had a successful international career as an opera singer before returning to his hometown to follow his passion. Buck Townsend worked tirelessly to lead the company for 25 years, often directing, conducting or singing in performances, building sets, and organizing costumes. After being diagnosed with cancer in 2007, Buck and then-Board President Carl Bengston led an initiative to establish second-generation leadership to ensure the company would continue beyond his lifetime and thrive in its new home at the Gallo Center for the Arts.
In February 2008, the board appointed Matthew Buckman as the company’s first Executive Director and Ryan Murray as Principal Conductor, followed in December 2008, by the appointment of Dr. Joseph Wiggett as Artistic Director. In 2013, Ryan Murray was appointed Music Director and Matthew Buckman was appointed General and Artistic Director. In February, 2017, Ryan Murray was appointed Artistic Director and Charla Jeanne Lawson was appointed Managing Director. Later in 2017, following the departure of Mr. Buckman and Ms. Lawson, The Board of Directors appointed Carl Bengston as interim Executive Director, with Ryan Murray continuing as Music Director and Principal Conductor.
With the appointment of new leadership in this, our 34th season, the Board of Directors hopes to continue the legacy of founder Buck Townsend by delivering traditional operas, contemporary works, intimate recitals, and other exciting musical and educational events to our community and the region. Over the next few months, the Board will be developing the offerings for our 35th anniversary season, as well as a new vision for the company that will serve Townsend Opera of Modesto, its followers and supporters, and all the opera lovers in our community and the region for many seasons to come.