Meeting our local Opera stars

Tuesday, May 20, 2014
Singer Caitlan Seacrest lays it on thick as she croons to Harrison eighth-grader Russell Murdock during a presentation of OIO's Opera Informance program.

EUREKA SPRINGS -- Opera in the Ozarks is poised to swing into high gear this week as the nationally recognized workshop begins its 64th season.

Based at Inspiration Point west of Eureka Springs, OIO provides emerging opera professionals the opportunity to hone their craft and expand their repertoire under the guidance of some of the most outstanding teachers in the nation.

The young singers will begin arriving this week, with rehearsals beginning by the end by the weekend. After four weeks of rehearsals performance will begin with a gala opening on Friday, June 20 with a performance of Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte" with curtain time at 7:30 p.m.

Stepping into the shoes of general director this year is Stephen Rushing, taking over the reins from Jim Swiggart. Rushing is an alumnus of Opera in the Ozarks and a tenured professor of vocal arts in the department of fine and performing arts at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, La.

Swiggart served as general director for more than 20 years and will serve as OIO's general director emeritus.

Opera singers held classes for area students as part of OIO's Opera Informance program last week, including a junior high choir in Harrison.

One of the innovative ideas Rushing has instituted is an opera community and school outreach program called "Opera Informance." The program was conceived by and put together by Rushing, and executed by Swiggart to send OIO participants to schools, civic clubs and other places where people can learn about opera from some of the participants first hand.

In the last week-and-a-half, three OIO singers arrived early and have criss-crossed Northwest Arkansas to not only promote the current season but also provide education about opera as a musical art. Schools and civic clubs in Berryville, Harrison, Bentonville, Springdale and Fayetteville have had programs.

Opera singers Caleb Ashby, Rachael Colman and Caitlan Seacrest talk to groups and classes about their own personal goals and dreams as part of the OIO Opera Informance program.

Schools are a major beneficiary of the educational program as singers speak to and perform for students of various ages. The singers have held the children in rapt attention as they perform arias and songs from operas and musicals.

"[A program like this] helps a young child see a depth of music that they've never seen before," Swiggart said. "We want to help teachers motivate their students to be the best they can be. What they learn in music classes can carry over into their other classes."

Returning as OIO's artistic director is Dr. Thomas Cockrell. Cockrell has served as director of orchestral activities at the University of Arizona School of Music in Tucson, where he is professor of music, holds the Nelson Riddle Endowed Chair and is the director of the Rogers Institute of Orchestra and Opera Conducting.

Harrison music teacher Beth Walters takes a picture of singer Caleb Ashby and a new opera fan, ninth-grader Kayla Nicholas.

Visitors to the opera this year will notice something new, especially on hot July evenings. A new air conditioning system will ensure a comfortable experience for not only patrons but also for the performers. Sliding curtains can be opened on cool evenings for the traditional open-air experience. But on hot days the curtains will be closed and the theater cooled down to a comfortable temperature.

All in all it should be a memorable season. This year's productions are "Cosi fan tutte" by Mozart, "Gianni Schicchi" and "Suor Angelica" by Puccini and "Into the Woods" by Sondheim.

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