Opera Idaho seeks to build its own theater

One option is building a new theater. Another option is renovating The Egyptian.

BOISE -- Opera Idaho is tiptoeing into building its own theater, ideally suited for opera.

The 40-year-old opera, which performs statewide, has staged operas at the Egyptian Theater in downtown Boise since 2010 and at the Morrison Center for the Performing Arts. Neither is ideal.

Now Opera Idaho has brought in San Francisco theater design firm Auerbach Pollock Friedlander to write a planning study for a 900- to 1,200-seat theater, likely in downtown Boise, said Mark Junkert, general director of Opera Idaho since 2008.

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The study will also consider renovating the Egyptian, where the stage is only 18 feet deep and there is no orchestra pit, backstage area or dressing rooms. The Egyptian seats 695 for opera.

“We have to dress the chorus at the Grove Hotel,” Junkert said.

The $34,000 study is due in June to determine the feasibility and cost of building a theater with a large enough stage, orchestra pit for 50 musicians, backstage area and dressing rooms. Junkert said he has no idea how much Opera Idaho would be willing to spend on a theater.

The study is funded by Opera Idaho, Esther Simplot, and the Hardy Foundation, which owns The Egyptian Theatre.

Auerbach Pollock Friedlander also worked on the $12 million Sun Valley Performing Art Center under construction in downtown Ketchum.

At this point, there is no sense when construction could start or if the project will proceed, though Junkert said he would like to stand on the stage of a new theater before his five-year contract expires in 2022.

After the planning study is complete, Opera Idaho will consider who would own a potential theater, which other performing groups might be tenants, and how to pay for construction.

Opera Idaho has a $900,000 operating budget with a $100,000 operating reserve, which allowed the company to move forward with considering building a theater, something that opera leaders have been talking about for more than 10 years, Junkert said.

This story was originally published by the Idaho Business Review.