Townsend Opera has thrived artistically under the leadership of General Director Matthew Buckman and Music Director Ryan Murray. Since both joined the Company together in 2008, there has been a dramatic increase in artistic quality, numerous new initiatives in audience development, and many community partnerships that have broadened the reach of the Company. Townsend Opera has since gone on to present numerous regional premieres of American opera, and is regarded as one of the leading opera companies in the state of California.
Townsend Opera is now in its third season of a groundbreaking partnership with Fresno Grand Opera that has the two companies co-producing each season for performances in both communities. With the appointment of Matthew Buckman and Ryan Murray as the leadership team of Fresno Grand Opera in December 2014, the two companies commenced with a full artistic and management partnership that has changed the opera landscape in the California’s Central Valley and garnered national attention from the opera industry. Together, the two companies represent the only active opera company in California outside of the San Francisco Bay Area and the greater Los Angeles area.
As its artistic profile has expanded, 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), death penalty reform advocate and author 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. The growth of the Company and the quality of its work was acknowledged by the appointment of General Director Matthew Buckman to the Board of Directors of Opera America, the national service organization for the opera field.
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. Matthew Buckman became the company’s first Executive Director in February 2008, and worked with Buck until his passing in September 2008 to establish a long-term strategic plan to secure the Company’s place in the community.