Opera in the Ozarks celebrating 55th year in Carroll County

Monday, July 18, 2005
After the spell is broken, the Witch, played by Esther Hougham, returns to her once-beautiful self, but, alas, without her former powers.

EUREKA SPRINGS --While everyone knows the thrum of guitars and twinging fiddles have long been part of Ozarks music, few realize that the rising aria of a soprano is also firmly planted in Carroll County history. This year celebrates Opera in the Ozarks' 55th season at Inspiration Point Fine Arts Colony, and each year, young artists flock to the Ozarks to hone their skills and go on to stages around the world.

Inspiration Point began in 1928 as a tribute to architectural engineer Charles Mowers' memories of castles from his native Germany. The unfinished castle and grounds, located on U.S. Hwy. 62 just a few miles west of Eureka Springs, was purchased in 1932 by Rev. Charles Reign Scoville, a missionary and evangelist who finished the castle and named it Inspiration Point, because the location was "a mountainous place not too many miles from Heaven."

After Rev. Scoville died, the property passed to a Christian university in Oklahoma, where it languished, unused, for decades until 1950, when Dr. Henry Hobart saw the potential of Inspiration Point as a creative center, and started a summer music camp on the site.

That first Fine Arts Colony session lasted for four weeks, with a nearly equal number of teachers and students. An idea of something special was born with that first brief camp, a program for an annual opera workshop conducted under the highest professional standards and carefully planned for the young voices of talented artists. All opera roles would be performed entirely by the students; no lead singers would be brought in to sing the principal roles. The theme of IPFAC would be "the students are the stars," a theme that continues to this day.

"The artists are the stars," said Jim Swiggart, general director for Opera in the Ozarks. "We've had so many talented young artists learn here and then go on to stellar careers in opera."

In the decades following that first workshop, artists such as Gwendolyn Jones, Hei-Kyung Hong, and internationally renowned tenor William Johns. IPFAC alumni have performed in opera companies in New York, including the famed Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco, and Paris, among many, many others.

Competition is fierce to land a spot in the program, and hundreds of worthy singers must be whittled down to just a few. While at Opera in the Ozarks, young artists learn not only about operatic performance, but also about all elements of stage production in their immersion into the program, giving them a balanced view of the talent and dedication that goes into every opera around the world. And while the students are indeed the stars, it's the season of performances that keep many opera fans coming back year after year.

Under the direction of Swiggart and artistic director Vern Sutton, the young artists have presented such diverse fare as "Carmen," "House of the Sun," and "La Traviata." The elaborate productions are a far cry from those first few workshops fifty-five years ago, and each night the performers step out not only to wow the audience, but to add their voices to a little corner of Carroll County history.

This year, the shows are equally captivating: Mozart's "The Magic Flute," "Elixir of Love," a romantic comedy by Donizetti, and Stephen Sondheim's Broadway twist on traditional fairy tales, "Into the Woods." All are fun, easy-to-understand works, and the summer season lasts through July 22, so check out a bit of Ozarks history you may have never seen before. Tickets are available by calling (479) 253-8595 or by visiting www.opera.org.

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