Cassia County Judge B.P. Howells constructed the Howells Opera House in Oakley in 1907, but as far as anyone can figure, the first opera didn’t actually take place there until 80 years later in 1986.
Opera House Beginnings
Howells built the impressive building because there were no movies, television or radios in the early 1900s. Traveling troupes of actors were the only sources of outside entertainment available to small-town residents.
However, theaters and playhouses in those days were considered risqué because burlesque acts were performed in them. But Howells wanted to own a high-class theater that only would present wholesome plays such as melodramas and farces, so he named his building Howells Opera House to show a touch of class.
A one-act production entitled Amahi and the Night Visitors by Gian Carlo Menotti was the first opera ever staged there, in December 1986.
Opera House Today
The Oakley Valley Arts Council, current owner of the historic building, sponsored that initial operatic event. And it was the arts council who saved the building in the 1970s when its then-owner – the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints – was faced with demolishing the landmark due to financial woes. The council purchased and renovated the facility, and today it once again serves as a popular venue for the performing arts.
The city of Oakley has a population of only 700, so audiences for the performance season come from throughout the Southern Idaho region. The building on North Blaine Street has seating for 300, and its high dome ceiling, sloped stage and ideal seating arrangements assure that each spectator can hear every word that the performers speak, and see all of the action.
The nonprofit Oakley Valley Arts Council schedules 4-5 plays each year, and annually contributes two scholarships to local high school seniors who have participated in the arts.
Learn more about the arts in Twin Falls, ID.