The Townsend Opera was founded in 1983 by Modesto native Erik ‘Buck’ Townsend. The Modesto High grad returned home after a successful international career as an opera singer. Over the next 25 years Buck devoted all his considerable energies to leading the company, 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 Buck’s lifetime. In February 2008 Matthew Buckman was appointed as the company’s first Executive Director and Ryan Murray as Principal Conductor, followed in December 2008 by the appointment of Dr. Joseph Wigget as Artistic Director.
In the 2011/12 season Townsend Opera launched Opera Remix, an artistic initiative to connect opera with 21st century audiences. Offerings ranged from ‘Musical Worlds Collide,’ pairing some of the best opera arias with classic rock tunes, to ‘Music and Verse,’ a unique live performance combining opera and slam poetry, and the Central Valley premiere of the Philip Glass and Allen Ginsberg chamber opera Hydrogen Jukebox. In 2013 Ryan Murray was appointed Music Director as Matthew Buckman was appointed General and Artistic Director. In February 2017 Charla Jeanne Lawson was appointed Managing Director partnering with Conductor Ryan Murray who shortly thereafter received the American Prize for Opera Conducting in March 2017.
Over its history, the company has been able to welcome some of the greatest artists and personalities in the field. The likes of legendary composers Jake Heggie (Dead Man Walking) and Ricky Ian Gordon (The Grapes of Wrath), and author/advocate Sister Helen Prejean. The company’s mainstage performances have featured guest artists such as Leah Crocetto, Irene Roberts, Carrie Hennessey, and Sarah Shafer who are now gracing the stages of the finest opera houses in the world.