Opera in the Ozarks begins summer season Friday

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Opera in the Ozarks (OIO) will be following fools in love for its 2018 summer season, which begins this Friday, June 22.

General director Nancy Preis said the 2018 season repertoire features Johann Strauss Jr.’s “Die Fledermaus,” Giacomo Rossini’s “Il Barbier di Siviglia” and Douglas Moore’s “The Ballad of Baby Doe.”

“The most exciting offering is ‘The Ball of Baby Doe’ because it’s never been done by Opera in the Ozarks,” Preis said, “and I suspect it’s never been done in Arkansas.”

She said it is an American opera about historical figures Horace Tabor, Elizabeth “Baby” Doe Tabor and Augusta Tabor.

“The opera is about 60 years old, and it concerns real people,” Preis said. “It’s the story of Horace Tabor, a silver baron who falls a** over teakettle in love when he hears a voice coming out of his hotel.”

She continued, “Horace dumps his longstanding wife, Augusta, who isn’t happy about this. It’s a great love story. He hears this voice and falls in love with Baby Doe, but it’s not exactly ‘happily ever after.’ ”

The pair has a long marriage, Preis said, but Horace loses all of his money. She said the opera ends with his death.

“Baby Doe herself actually lived another 25 to 30 years,” she said. “She froze to death. She was penniless when she died. She was living in a cabin outside of Horace’s last silver mine.”

Preis continued, “The opera has beautiful music. It’s so different. I think people will really like it when they hear it.”

She said “Il Barber di Siviglia,” or “The Barber of Sevillie,” features the foolishness of Dr. Bartolo, an old man who believes he can marry his ward, Rosina.

“He makes a fool of himself, saying he’s going to marry her,” Preis said. “Rosina falls in love with Count Almaviva. Figaro is the character who makes everything happen. He makes a fool out of Bartolo. Almaviva makes a fool out of Bartolo. Everyone tries to fool Bartolo.”

“Die Fledermaus,” the title of the third opera, means “the flying mouse,” she said.

“It’s the same thing as a bat. We have bats, barbers and babies this summer,” Preis said, laughing. “The plot of ‘Die Fledermaus’ revolves around a practical joke that happened before the opera, in which Gabriel von Eisenstein got Dr. Falke drunk, dressed him up in a bat costume and left him on a park bench overnight.”

She said the opera is about Dr. Falke’s revenge.

“It’s another big joke. The basic plot is he convinces Eisenstein to attend a party at Prince Orlofsky’s,” Preis said. “He also invited Eisenstein’s wife, Rosalinde, who is in disguise. His wife has a lover she’s trying to keep under wraps.”

She continued, “Eisenstein goes to this party thinking he’s going to pick up a girl, so there’s a lot of foolishness. Eisenstein ends up flirting with his wife, who’s in disguise, and trying to get her.”

Preis said Rosalinde’s maid, Adele, is also at the party, pretending to be a starlet.

“Eisenstein recognizes his wife’s maid, and she says ‘Oh, no no. I’m not a maid. I’m a star,’ ” she said. “There’s a lot of silliness. There’s also a drunken jailer who’s always funny when he’s on stage.”

In addition to the 19 performances at OIO’s own mountainside venue in Inspiration Point, Preis said there will be three Sunday matinees at the Arts Center of the Ozarks in Springdale. This season also includes special opera events and outreach productions taking place at a variety of venues across Northwest Arkansas, including children’s outreach productions of “Cinderella” at area libraries and community venues.

“It offers people an opportunity to see a show for free because the libraries don’t charge their patrons,” Preis said. “From the standpoint of our students, it’s a

tremendous opportunity for our youngest singers who are not experienced enough to get main stage big roles to have a role in these operas for children.”

She continued, “They get acting instruction, musical instructions and a lot of coaching. It’s their opportunity to settle in and perform the role multiples time because we’re doing 13 performances of Cinderella. Everything is double-cast, so each cast gets six or seven performances.”

This experience makes a huge difference for young singers, she said, because it allows them to work through their nerves and improve their performance skills.

“The first time, you’re scared to death. The second time, you’re starting to get a feel for it,” Preis said. The third and fourth time, you’re starting to get good at it. By the end, they’ve learned a tremendous amount.”

This year, she said OIO has 39 students from across the country, including Washington, California, Michigan, Texas, Massachusetts and New York.

“This year, we have a particularly wide geographic mix,” she said. “We basically touch every corner of the United States. It has been a very successful program. We have graduates of our program on the stage of every major opera house in the world.”

Preis said OIO has also been making improvements to its campus to make visiting a better experience for both the students and the audience.

“I’m on a big safety kick,” she said. “The theater is considerably more audience-friendly than it was in the past. We’re trying to make the campus look a little bit more attractive. All of those things are designed to enhance the visitor’s experience.”

Preis continued, “We changed the steps to the dining hall and women’s dorm to make them safer. We added railings in the theater to make it safer. We added a few steps here and there to make it easier to negotiate. There’s just 100 little things constantly happening.”

The idea, she said, is to improve the audience’s experience and make things safer for the students.

“Eventually, we’d like to grow into the 21st century before it’s over,” Preis said.

One of the most important learning experiences that OIO’s young artists encounter, she said, is the value of collegiality.

“These are people they’re going to encounter for the rest of their opera careers,” she said. “Something we try to impress on people here is that in the opera world, as in the theatrical world, the first question that gets asked when you try to get a job is ‘What is this person like to work with?’ ”

Preis continued, “People will hear your audition and say ‘OK, fine. Their voice is good.’ But when they’re starting to check people off, they will ask ‘Is she a pain in the butt or is she OK to work with?’ It’s the first thing people ask about singers. It makes all the difference in hiring decisions.”

Not all students who attend OIO pursue opera careers, she said.

“What we’re offering here is a transformational experience,” Preis said. “For some, they will leave here fired up, saying ‘I want to sing opera. I want to do everything it takes to have a career.’ ”

She concluded, “Others will leave here saying ‘That was fun, but I don’t want to do this for a living.’ As far as I’m concerned, that’s fine. They’ve had the experience of the collegiate atmosphere and striving for excellence. Whether they become an opera singer or a lawyer, they’ve had a good experience that teaches them a great deal about who they are as people.”

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