Carroll County history: UA opens Opera in the Ozarks archives

Tuesday, March 6, 2018
The Opera in the Ozarks archives can be accessed by visiting the University of Arkansas Libraries Special Collections Department in the Mullins Library.
Photo by Tavi Ellis/Carroll County News

Visitors to the University of Arkansas can now explore the legacy of Opera in the Ozarks (OIO).

The university libraries, the department of music and Opera in the Ozarks partnered to host a three-part series of events on Wednesday, Feb. 28, and Thursday, March 1, to celebrate the opening of the Opera in the Ozarks archives. Events included a voice master class, a drop-in viewing of the archives and a free concert of opera arias and other vocal music in the Faulkner Performing Arts Center.

The archives are held in the University of Arkansas Libraries Special Collections Department in the Mullins Library.

Nancy Preis, general director of OIO, spoke before the concert on Thursday, saying the opening of the archives was a celebration of OIO’s past and giving a preview of its future.

“We’re doing three tremendous operas this summer,” she said.

Preis said this year’s theme is “Fools in Love” and will feature “The Barber of Seville” in Italian, “Die Fledermaus” in an English translation and “The Ballad of Baby Doe” in English.

“The one I’m most excited about is ‘The Ballad of Baby Doe,’ a premiere for Opera in the Ozarks,” she said. “Baby Doe is an opera that doesn’t get done a lot. I’m really happy we are going to be doing it. I think it’s something that’s going to come back into fashion. Opera in the Ozarks has been kind of a vanguard of doing operas before they come back into vogue.”

Preis said OIO added a new rehearsal hall last summer, which was named for board president and treasurer Carol and Duane Langley.

“One of the rooms is also named for Jim Swiggart, our longtime general director whose big shoes I have the job of filling,” she said. “It was really exciting to have that new rehearsal hall, and we have more plans for new things to happen on our campus.”

Preis continued, “Our campus is not known for being particularly audience- or student-friendly in terms of the facilities, but we’re going to change all of that.”

She said OIO will be a major participant in the Walton Arts Center’s Artosphere Festival this year.

“We’ll be performing as part of the garden party at Crystal Bridges,” she said. “That’s a new connection for us that I’m really happy about. I’m all about collaboration, so I’m very happy that we are here today in the school of music and performing arts. I’m a big believer in the importance of the performing arts.”

Preis said Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art put Northwest Arkansas on the map in regard to visual arts.

“I challenge you today. Let’s bring performing arts to the same level,” she said. “Let’s make this a destination for people all over the world to say ‘Oh, I have to go to Arkansas because so and so is performing.’ ”

Eureka Springs Mayor Robert “Butch” Berry said OIO has enriched countless lives since its founding.

“Even since I can remember, Opera in the Ozarks has been enriching not only my life but the lives of thousands and thousands near and far,” he said.

Venues like Opera in the Ozarks and Crystal Bridges are making Northwest Arkansas a mecca for the arts, Berry said.

“Sixty-eight years later and as mayor of the beautiful Eureka Springs, my appreciation of Opera in the Ozarks is even deeper,” he said. “The opera is an essential part of our greater community, and it enriches lives through the sharing of the arts.”

Berry continued, “Looking back and seeing those photographs brings back a lot of memories for me, but it’s also bringing the vibrancy alive for so many today and in the future. I want to thank the special collections department for your work to memorialize this collection of Opera in the Ozarks.”

Librarian Janet Parsh, who processed the collection, said the materials in the archives cover the years from 1950, when Opera in the Ozarks was founded, to current days.

“It makes up 103 linear feet,” she said. “There are 1,700 file folders, 400 audio visuals, 3,500 photos, a dozen scrapbooks from the ’50s to ’70s and lots of correspondence from students, scholarship applicants, board members, artistic directors, administrators and donors.”

Parsh said the archival collection offers a multitude of research ideas for students and local historians, including comparing vocal techniques over time, how costumes have changed over time and histories of Opera in the Ozarks.

“In broad and very impressive terms, this archive is a testament in two respects,” she said. “The first is a testament to the vision of founder Henry Hobart and all those who came after him for what Inspiration Point could be and has become.”

Parsh continued, “The second is a testament to the legacy that preserving this collection records for a 68-year-old performing arts organization in the middle of these beautiful Ozarks.”

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