Arizona Opera was established in 1971 as the Tucson Opera Company, under founding general director James P. Sullivan, and presented its first production, of Rossini's The Barber of Seville, in 1972. By 1976 the company had expanded to include performances in both Tucson and Phoenix. Arizona Opera is now permanently headquartered in Phoenix. The company has a subscriber base of approximately 10,000 drawn from the two metropolitan areas, and an annual expenditure of $5.8 million, according to the company's 2011 IRS Form 990.
The appointment of Glynn Ross as general director in 1983 initiated a period of growth during which the company expanded its season from three to five productions. In 1996 and 1998 the company gained notice by staging Wagner's Ring Cycle as a summer festival in Flagstaff, Arizona. Ross retired in 1998 and was succeeded by David Speers, who increased spending on rehearsals, chorus, and orchestra in an effort to improve the quality of the company's productions. Under Speers' leadership subscriptions and single-ticket sales increased. In addition to the company's regular productions, Speers brought singers Samuel Ramey, Kiri Te Kanawa, Denyce Graves, and Jerry Hadley to Arizona for recital performances.
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