Hitting The High Notes

Hitting The High Notes

Opera in the Ozarks enjoys its niche

Courtesy Photo Romance shares the stage with song at Opera in the Ozarks.

Courtesy Photo
Romance shares the stage with song at Opera in the Ozarks.

“What they expect to get is some time on stage — that’s our big claim to fame.”

That, says General Director Nancy Preis, is what makes Opera in the Ozarks attractive to performers that are “emerging” — those with finished bachelor’s or master’s degrees — as well as “studio artists,” younger singers usually still studying their craft.

“To sing with an orchestra is very rare,” Preis goes on. “The single most expensive element in opera is the orchestra, so you marshal those resources very carefully.”

In fact, she says, it is possible to complete a college degree without ever singing a role on stage. At Opera in the Ozarks, now in its 67th year, “emerging artists get most of the mainstage roles, but the studio artists sing in the chorus on the mainstage and do the children’s opera. They expect to get a lot of coaching. They expect to be working with people that know what they’re talking about. And we give them stage time with an orchestra.”

This is Preis’ second year as the summer company’s director, and she is eloquent about what makes the program work — and how she’d like to see it grow. She came to Eureka Springs with a quarter century of experience running companies in corporate America, but she also had a background in opera with the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Opera Co. She’s proud not just of this year’s selections — “The Marriage of Figaro,” “Carmen” and “Susannah” — but of changes intended to make the 42 singers, 25 musicians and another 20 or so staff more comfortable.

“We built a new rehearsal hall over the winter — our first dedicated facility for rehearsing,” she says. “No more breaking down the tables and chairs after dinner so we can rehearse in the dining hall.”

Renovations also took place in the boys’ dorm. Preis laughs and says the walls now go to the ceiling, and the rooms have doors — mandatory in 2017, one would think.

Still, it’s the operas that bring both singers and patrons to Eureka Springs every summer, and Preis has a plan to keep everyone coming back.

“We’re programming two years as a time,” she says. “At the end of last summer, we laid out the next two seasons. There are certain operas we have to do in fairly regular rotation — ‘La Boheme,’ ‘Carmen’ — because the singers need them. ‘Marriage of Figaro’ is one they need in their tool belt. ‘Susannah’ is the second most popular American opera, and right now it’s enjoying a flurry of productions. Every year, we’re trying to do at least one thing that’s a step up, as it were.”

And like all arts organizations, Opera in the Ozarks has an outreach effort for children, this year “Jack and the Beanstalk,” a reimagining by John Davies, known for his “tremendous sense of humor” in combining stories and, in this case, scenes from the operettas of Sir Arthur Sullivan.

“I believe you have to expose kids to opera, to classical music, to the arts in general, in the hope that out of a class of 30, one of them will catch on,” Preis says. “It’s a very long development cycle, and hardly anybody tracks it. In medicine you would do that, but I don’t know of any studies. We just sort of hope for the best.”

She isn’t leaving the future to hope, however.

“My goal is to make this an opera destination,” Preis says eagerly. “I want people to think of it in same way they think of Des Moines Metro Opera or Opera Theatre of St. Louis, or Santa Fe or Chautauqua. We’re a long way from being in the same realm — all of those are opera made by professionals. But I think we are doing very good work, and I want people to say ‘Hey, lets go to that Ozarks place and see the young stars of tomorrow.’”





Opera in the Ozarks

WHEN — Through July 21

WHERE — Performances at Opera in the Ozarks in Eureka Springs plus July 2, 9 & 16 at Bentonville’s Arend Arts Center

COST — $10-$30; a three ticket package is $60-$80

INFO — 253-8595 or opera.org


“In ‘The Marriage of Figaro,’ Count Almaviva tries to exercise his feudal right to sleep with his servant, Susanna,” Opera in the Ozarks General Director Nancy Preis explains. “He gets outsmarted by the servant, but not before he has emotionally abused his loving wife.”

July 1, 6, 13, 19


“Carmen uses her power over Don Jose to further her own wants, but ultimately, her abuse of him ends in her death.”

June 30, July 5, 8, 12, 14, 21


“And in Susannah, the townspeople use their communal power fueled by narrow-minded religious fervor to try to control the free spirited girl who wants to see the world.”

June 29, July 7, 11, 15, 20

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