A Brief History of the St. Louis Municipal Theater Association (as written in 1943)
These pages from the 1943 St. Louis Municipal Opera program include the Municipal Opera Productions Directory (from 1919-1942), and a brief history and facts about the Municipal Theatre Association.
Advertisers in these pages included:
- Marlboro Cigarettes
- Cook’s Champagne and wine
- Mrs. Frederick Nussbaum personal training
- Oldani’s Restaurant
- St. Louis Band Instrument Co
- Miss Julia’s Cafeteria
- Acme Flower Shop
- Karl Bissinger French Confectionaries
- Embro Popcorn
- New Hussman Stamp Co.
- Senor Martinez Beauty Service (at the Congress Hotel)
- An ad for upcoming performances at the Muny (the rest of the planned shows for the 1943 season)
- Rose Exterminator Co.
- Krummenmacher’s Vital Food Stores & Russel’s Vital Food Stores (“simple as ABC to make your precious Rationing Units go farther, see our complete line of non-rationed foods”)
- Akron Truss Appliances
- Kris-Art Letter Service
I’ve posted the scanned pages below, and below that I’ve attempted to extract text with help from the NewOCR.com (the best free online optical character recognition program that I’ve found yet, but excuse any typos that I didn’t catch).
Municipal Opera Productions Directory (from 1919-1942)
In 1919: ”Robin Hood,” “Bohemian Girl,” “El Capitan.” “The Mikado,” “Wizard of the Nile,” and “The Chimes of Normandy.”
In 1920: “The Firefly,” ”Robin Hood.” ”The Waltz Dream,” “The Mikado,” ‘Tho Mascot,” “The Gondoliers,” “Babes in Toyland,“ and “Katinka.”
In 1921: ”The Chocolate Soldier,” “Fra Diavolo,” “The Fortune Teller,” “San Toy.” “‘I’he Beggar Student.” ”The Pirates of Penzance,” “The Chimes of Normandy,” and “Sari.“
In 1922: “The Highwayman,“ “Sweethearts,” “Sari,”The Yeoman of the Guard,“ “The Geisha,” “The Spring Maid,” “The Queen’s Lace Handkerchief,” and “Miss Springtime.”
In 1923: “Naughty Marietta,” “Wang,“ “The Fencing Master,” “The Prince of Pilsen,” ”Die Fledermaus.” “Sweethearts,” “The Gypsy Baron,“ “The Merry Widow.” “Gypsy Love,” and “The Spring Maid.”
In 1924: “Princess Chic,” “Firefly,” ”Florodora,” “Chinese Honeymoon,” “Bohemian Girl,” “Prince of Pilsen,“ “Fortune Teller,” “The Lilac Domino,” “Naughty Marietta,“ and “The Beggar Princess.”
In 1925: ”A Night in Venice,” “Mlle. Modiste,“ “Rudigore,“ ”Her Regiment.” “Rob Roy,“ “Dolly Varden,“Erminie,” “Cavalleria Rusticana,” “H. M. S. Pinatore,” “Count of Luxembourg,” “Martha,” ”Naughty Marietta,” and “Mary Widow.“
In 1926: ”Eileen,” “The Red Mill,” “The Chocolate Soldier,” “The Spring Maid,” “The Pink Lady,” “II Trovatore.” “Sweethearts,” “Iolanthe,” “The Count of Luxembourg,” “Woodland,” “Fro Diavola,“ and “Babes in Toyland.”
In 1927: “Robin Hood,“ ”Princess Pat,” “Sari,” ”The Song of the Flame,” “The Red Mill,“ “Rose Marie,” “The Mikado,” “The Dollar Princess,” “Katinha,” ”Serenade,” “Gypsy Love,” and “Tales of Hottman.“
In I928: “The Princess Flevia,“ ”The Merry Widow,” “The Vagabond King,“ ”No, No, Nanette,” “Rose Marie.” “The Student Prince,” “The Lady in Ermine,“ “The Song of the Flame,” “Countess Maritza,” “The Love Song,” “Mary,” and “Aida.”
In I929: “The Love Call,“ “The Student Prince,” Castles in the Air,” “I’he Chocolate Soldier,” “The Bohemian Girl,” “Rose Marie,“ “The Prince of Pilsen,”The Enchantress.” “The Vagabond King,“ “Babes in Toyland,” and “Golden Dawn.”
In I930: “Nina Rosa,” ”The Circus Princess,” “The Desert Song,” “The New Moon,” “Blossom Time.“ ”Alone at Last,” “The Red Robe,“ “Maytime,” ”Madame Pompadour,” “The Student Prince,” and “Show Boat.“
In I931: “Three Little Girls,” “The Street Singer,“ “Music in May,” ”Nina Rosa,” “Rose Marie,” “The Countess Maritza,” “The Three Musketeers,” “A WonderfulNight,” ”Irene,” ”The Circus Princess,” and “Rio Rita.”
In 1932: “The New Moon.” “The Riviera Girl“ “‘The Last Waltz,” “Blossom Time,“ “T he Desert Song,” “The Rose of Stomboul,” “The Honeymooners,” “The Blue Paradise,” “Sari,” “The Land of Smiles,” “The Love Call,” and “Cyrano de Bergerac.”
In 1933: “Bitter Sweet,” “Florodara.” ”White Lilacs,”Rip Van Winkle,” “Nina Rosa.” “The Student Prince,”The Nightingale,” “Naughty Marietta,” “My Maryland,”Beau Brummell,” “The Cat and the Fiddle,” on: “The Desert Song.”
In 1934: “Sweet Adeline,” “Sweethearts,“ “Cyrano de Bergerac,” ”Yhe Last Waltz,” ”East Wind,” “Mlle. Modiste,” “Music in the Air,“ “Rose of Algeria.” “Sally.” The New Moon.” and “Show Boat.”
In 1935: “Teresina,” “Rio Rita,” “Madame Sherry,“The Chocolate Soldier,” “Good News,” “The Vagabond King,” ”Sunny,” “The Beloved Rogue,” “The Cat and the fiddle,” “The Desert Song,” “Roberta,“ and ”Whoo-pee.‘
In 1936: ”Kid Boots,“ “The ‘l’hree Musketeers,” “No, No, Nanette,” ”Sons 0‘ Guns,” “The Bohemian Girl,”Oh Boy,“ ”The Merry Widow,” “The New Moon,“ “A Connecticut Yankee,” “Bitter Sweet,” “The Red Mill,” and “Glamorous Night.”
In 1937: “The Great Waltz,” “The Fortune Teller,”Music in the Air,” “Louie the 14th,“ “The Mikado,“Salute to Spring,” “The Prince of Pilsen,” “The Bartered Bride,” “The Pink Lady,” “Robin Hood,“ “Babes in Toyland.” and “Wild Violets.
In 1938: “Gentlemen Unafraid,” ”Of Thee I Sing,“ White Horse Inn,” “Roberta,” “Virginia,” “Lost Waltz,”“Chimes of Normandy,” “Rosalie,” “Knights of Song,”Gingerbread Man,” and “Show Boat.”
In 1939: “Rose Marie,” “Queen High,“ “Lost Waltz,”Katinka,” ”Waltz Dream,” “On Your Toes,” “Firefly.”The Battered Bride,” “Mary,“ “Babette,” “Song of the Flame,” “Victoria and Her Hussar.”
In 1940: “The American Way,“ “Naughty Marietta.”Apple Blossoms,” “Rio Rita,“ “The Chocolate Soldier,“Good News,” “Knickerbocker Holiday,” “Anything Goes,” ”East Wind,” ”Rosalie,” “Babes in Arms,” “The Great Waltz.”
In 1941: “New Orleans,” “Sweethearts.” “Too Many Girls,” “Firefly,” “The Three Musketeers,“ “Irene,” “Nina Sosa,” “The Merry Widow,” “Bitter Sweet,” “The Desert Song,” “The Red Mill,” “Balalaiko.”
In 1942: ”Glamorous Night,” “Sally,” “Song of the Flame,” “Hit the Deck,” “No, No, Nanette.” “New Moon,“Girl Crazy,” “Wildflower,” “Roberta,” “Wizard of Oz,” and “Show Boat.“
A Brief History of the St. Louis Municipal Theatre Association
To many it comes as a surprise that the world’s foremost summer theatrical enterprise is not a part of New York’s Broadway. nor even situated in Chicago’s Loop district. It is not to be found in Hollywood. The once-gay population centers of Europe have long since been counted out. To find this. the No. 1 summer footlights venture of all the world. one has but to go to the heart of St. Louis’ spacious and beautiful Forest Park. There Alone in Its Greatness” . . . stands the Municipal Opera.
It is truly the realization of a dream-the cul- mination of years of planning. effort and civic attainment. The sweep and size of the great sky- canopied amphitheater. the vastness of the stage with its panoramic expanse of massive and skillfully wrought settings. the number and size of backstage facilities. the tall and architecturally beautiful towers flanking the stage-all these. and many other aspects of the Municipal Theatre’s physical plant. yield a persuasive clue to the Municipal Opera’s status as an institution meriting such a designation.
Yet physical considerations in themselves do not necessarily imply true greatness. It is upon the loyalty and enthusiasm of the people. and the artistic integrity with which each season’s productions are invested. that the Municipal Theatre has built its reputation as the world’s outstanding starlight sum- mer entertainment. That claim. by and large. has gone unchallenged.
Night after night through the summer. overflow. capacity or near-capacity crowds fill the great amphitheater. Production after production wins the acclaim of critical and popular judgment. And season after season. rolling by with sureness and steadiness inherent to time. leaves the Municipal Opera’s legion of friends with the firm conviction that “this year, the Opera was better than ever before.”
The 1943 season, marking the Municipal Opera’s Silver Jubilee. is certain to be thus received. As befits the twenty-fifth anniversary of any enterprise. this summer’s shows are being contrived with studied effort to excel anything ever achieved in the past. That is a broad statement. especially in light of the fact that the theatre’s past has been so richly successful.
Consider these facts: In the past 24 summers. 13.738.966 persons have witnessed 1.806 perform- ances. In 267 weeks of operation, it has presented 262 separate productions. ranging in scope from grand opera to light musical romance. Among them were eight notable world premieres, and seven American premieres. The productions have been professional in the highest degree. and have fea- tured outstanding stars of the stage. screen and radio.
Let us. then. take a retrospective view of what has gone before:
In 1919. when a group of St. Louisans gathered on a hillside in Forest Park in an incompleted. unused theater. the Municipal Opera was launched- And with that first performance was born a new era in entertainment. one which was destined to be Alone in its Greatness.” From that time on. the beauty and success of subsequent seasons at the Municipal Opera have. in crescendo fashion. blazed the trail for one of the greatest advancements in the history of the theatre. with its fame known throughout the world.
But much has happened. the ambitions of many persons have been tested since that first night in 1919. The years which have passed have enabled the Municipal Opera to equip uniquely the theatre with every resource for brilliant production of re- markahle musical masterpieces.
Ten thousand seats are available nightly at ticket prices within the reach of all. Of these 10.000, 1700 seats at the top of the auditorium are free. This means that almost 150.000 seats are to be available. free of charge, for this season’s 88 performances. Also. approximately 30,000 reserved seats are distributed annually to the underprivileged through more than lOO welfare agencies.
The stage toward which these many thousands look. is 90 by 115 feet. flanked by two 70-foot oak trees which frame a background of sylvan beauty, On either side of the stage are two beautiful archi- tectural towers. illuminated and illuminating. A permanent structure of recessing cubicles provides a reflective surface for indirect lighting.
But these are only a few of the wonders of the Municipal Opera. These are only a few cogs in the wheel which has rolled steadily on since those experimental days in 1919. And experimental days they were. in every sense of the word.
The Municipal Opera was brought into being by a group of civic leaders under a charter which foreswore any possible profit to themselves.
Their decision to undertake the formation of the Municipal Opera was reached because of their experience in leadership during the \Norld War.
Out of those trying days had emerged a compact group of civic, industrial. professional and business leaders who had devoted themselves unsparingly to war work. They recalled that remarkable demon- stration of July 4. 1918. when. in a Pageant of independence created at the request of President Wilson. 1.700 foreign~born St. Louisans had reo dedicated themselves to the United States and its ideals.
That remarkable ceremony had taken place in what is now the Municipal Theater. before an audience which overflowed the hillsides. What had been a great focal point for patriotic endeavor in war time might become a common meeting ground for all St. Louisans. a rallying place for ciwc spirit in times of peace so those leaders thought. And they planned to create a theater where melody and drama and pageantrv and rollicking fun could be made available to all St. Louisans.
A fitting introduction to the glamour that was to follow had been provided in 1914 with the presentation of the epochal. ”St. Louis Masque and Pageant.” on Art Hill with which the city celebrated its 15oth birthday. with a cast of 7.500 and audiences which numbered 180.000 persons.
Out of that civic celebration. which paid its own way and had a surplus. grew the observance of the Shakespeare Tercentenary. when “As You Like It” was presented with a company of distinguished stars.
The success of such enterprises and the en- thusiasm with which they were received by St. Louisans oiiered an impetus to those leaders who on ]une 19. 1919. started the Municipal Theatre Association on its glorious way with the presenta- tion of ”Robin Hood.” That first season. threat- ened by many elements besides a raging river and many rains, finished with a small loss-as has one other Municipal Opera season-~but the guarantors
who had advanced money to make possible the beginning were repaid from the first surpluses there- after.
Never in Municipal Opera’s history has any guaro antor ever lost a single cent by his faith in the Opera and in St. Louis’ appreciation of beauty. Originally in 1919. 60 guarantors put up an aver- age of $462 each to finance the season. Now. however. almost l.000 guarantors put up “00.000 to insure each season against any financial loss that might be incurred.
The guarantors knew. as did St. Louis in gen. eral. that Municipal Opera was something extraoradinary. something of which to be proud. something which would assist in making St. Louis one of the country’s leading centers of beauty and of art. The formation of this enterprise was. in reality. the culmination of several civic traditions-love ol St. Louis for the theater. love of music by its citizenship. and the city’s importance in the de- velopment of Western America which had found its expression in that mammoth masque and pageant in 1914.
So arrangements were made. directors and technical men were contacted. and stars of the stage were hired to join their talents in providing St. Louis with the cream of entertainment. But in spite of everything. that first season found the road was not a smooth one. It was only through executive efficiency that the Municipal Opera was enabled to start on the path to fame. In 1920 its repertory was extended. 32 professionals were brought from New York and a chorus of 40 St. Louis singers was added. Those St. Louis singers performed so well that never again since that time were choristers imported. They performed so well. in fact. that St. Louis determined to secure as rapidly as possible an all-St. Louis chorus.
And in line with the Municipal Opera’s progress. in keeping with the trend of improvement. the 1920 season’s presentations were witnessed by 114.000 persons who paid $139,732.50. to allow a profit of $3,819.25. But the profit. of course. was profit for St. Louisans. for it went back into the theater for improvements. That was its creed. as it is today; that was the code which enabled a growth of al- most inconceivable proportions.
lt is the policy which enabled the erection of the attractive new stone pergolas. and which eventually will provide a completely reconstructed and mod- ernized al fresco theater.
The third season. 1921. showed a profit of 321.312.87. with an increase to 151.363 paid admis» sions. In 1922. the paying attendance was 196.092. The trend was still in progress. And with 1925. grand opera entered into the repertory when Cavalieria Rusticana” was presented in English. with “11 Trovatore” following in 1926. Then in 1928. St. Louisans heralded their success with a tenth anniversary jubilee. But iubilees. even though they be brilliant and colorful and the occasion for hand-shakes all around. were not to make the Municipal Opera feel it had attained its greatness. It was still progressing. Improvements had been made in the assembling of scenery. in the mechanical details on the stage. under the stage. in back and in front of the stage: the seating arrangements had been improved.
Now. however. with the twenty-fourth season here. those improvements are regarded merely as steps toward fame. for from that time on. the Municipal Opera has risen and grown in every manner and means. its greatest advancements having been page when business conditions were at their lowest
Although Nature first designed the auditorium in which the opera is presented. man has added his touch to make the Opera what it is. The .natural hillside in the heart of beautiful Forest Park slopes 253 feet from the top of the colonnade at the rear of the auditorium to the orchestra pit at the foot of the stage. It covers an area 255 by 256 feet. The concrete bowl is arranged in a series of steps of varying levels so that every person has an unobstructed view of the stage. Splendid natural acoustics are reinforced by a flawless system of amplification developed especially for the Municipal Opera.
At both sides and at the rear of the auditorium are the beautiful new pergolas. roofed in to shelter 15.000 persons in case of a summer shower. The huge stage is built to facilitate the moving of massive settings required for Municipal Opera productions. and 8.000 feet added to its area provides a space for action which the audience never sees. It is one of the largest stages in an open air theater anywhere, and in its center is a revolving stage. electrically operated and capable of making an en- tire revolution in ninety seconds.
Beneath the stage and in what was once the river bed before the River des Peres was harnessed under- ground by man, are carpenter shops. paint shops. property studios-all necessary in the spectacular program of productions. Farther back are spacious dressing rooms with showers. required for the more than 100 members of cast and choruses employed in every Municipal Opera production. A roofed-over rehearsal stage is used in preparing the succession of musical triumphs. and a costume studio through which. in the course of a single season. more than 5.000 costumes will pass. is at the rear.
In back of all this is an executive staff without a peer. and guarantors whose faith has been bolstered by the advent of every season. Also there is a Board of Directors. no member of which receives pay for his services. yet which includes some of the most active and able business and financial execu- tives in St. Louis.
The Opera has no ”angel.” It has no subsidies. It doesn’t owe a dollar to anyone. It is entirely divorced from the old aristocratic ideal that a season of musical productions must be supported by gifts from the state. or from the rich. It is truly a people’s theater. a triumph of democratic ideals, the result of St. Louis’ vision and faith.