Townsend Opera was founded in 1983 by Modesto native Erik Buck Townsend, a graduate of Modesto High School, who had a successful international career as an opera singer. 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 Music Director. Both worked with Buck until his passing in September 2008 to secure the Company’s place in the community. In the past month Townsend Opera has appointed Ryan Murray as Artistic Director and Charla Jeanne Lawson as Managing Director.
As its artistic profile has expanded over the past decade, the Company has been fortunate to welcome to our community some of the greatest artists and personalities in the field, including legendary composers Jake Heggie (Dead Man Walking) and Ricky Ian Gordon (The Grapes of Wrath), author and advocate Sister Helen Prejean, singers like Leah Crocetto and Irene Roberts, who are now gracing the stages of the finest opera houses in the world, and some of the leading stage directors working today.