70 years of singing

Tulsa Opera Club’s first production of Verdi’s “La Traviata,” with Burch Mayo, Ione Sassano, Leona Wise and Ralph Sassano, in December 1948


Tulsa Opera, the 12th-oldest opera organization in the U.S., kicks off its 70th anniversary season this month with Charles Gounod’s "Faust," Oct. 20 and 22 at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center.

The organization was founded as Tulsa Opera Club in late 1948 by five original trustees: Bess Gowans, a well-known and highly respected piano teacher and accompanist, and professional opera singers Ralph and Ione Sassano, Mary Helen Markham and Beryl Bliss.

The five performed in the club’s first production, "La Traviata," at the downtown Central High School auditorium. Joining the cast was local high school senior (and eventual world-class opera tenor) William Lewis; Burch Mayo, son of Mayo Hotel owner John Mayo; and a 36-member volunteer chorus. Tickets started at 50 cents.

Since its founding, Tulsa Opera has hosted world-renowned opera stars in approximately 150 productions. Its headquarters have never left the corner of 1610 S. Boulder Ave.

Editor’s note: John Mayo planned for Burch Mayo to take over the hotel business, according to "Tulsa Opera Chronicles," a history of the Tulsa Opera through 1992 written by Laven Sowell and Jack Williams. Burch made a deal with his father that he would stay in the hotel business and never pursue opera again if he could sing the part of Germont in "La Traviata." He kept his promise, as his name was never seen again in the Tulsa Opera.


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