‘Tying The Knot’: Love celebrated at 70th Opera in the Ozarks

‘Tying The Knot’: Love celebrated at 70th Opera in the Ozarks

In the world of Opera in the Ozarks, it’s not a covid-19 bubble. It’s a covid-19 jelly doughnut.

That’s how General Director Nancy Preis describes the plan the Eureka Springs opera company created so its 70th anniversary season could happen this year.

Every performance is a party at Opera in the Ozarks, with fully staged and costumed productions accompanied by a chamber orchestra. The summer opera camp was founded in 1950 by Dr. Henry Hobart, former dean of fine arts at Phillips University in Oklahoma, with the support of Gertrude Stockard, director of music at Eureka Springs High School. (Courtesy Photo/OiO)

“I never, ever thought we would all be fully vaccinated,” she marvels. “So in November, we came up with a bubble concept — like the NBA did. But we called ours a jelly doughnut. The jelly was all the performers and people on campus; the doughnut was the people who would have to go out in public, to buy groceries and so forth. And they’d be separated from the jelly.”

It wasn’t going to be a cheap jelly doughnut. Preis was anticipating motel rooms, so each performer could stay alone, and a lot of covid tests at $25 to $50 each.

“And bless their hearts, the governing board said do whatever it takes. I was really kind of surprised,” she marvels.

With that mandate in hand, Preis reached out to faculty and staff — and almost everyone said they’d come.

“However, we lost maybe half the student body,” she says, explaining some had changed direction with their lives; some had been cast in “The Crucible,” which was removed from the 2021 summer schedule; and some weren’t willing to be quarantined. But the response was positive enough to allow Opera in the Ozarks to return to the business of training opera singers from across the nation, which it’s been doing since 1950.

Then vaccines started to become available in January, Preis says, which made everything easier. Changes were still required, though. Dormitory rooms needed walls that went from floor to ceiling, not just part of the way. Fans with UVC lights were purchased for the dining hall and rehearsal hall to clean the air. UVC units were added to all the air conditioning systems. And portable UVC units cleanse each dorm room each week.

When the students and faculty arrived for the nine-week rehearsal and performance period, they came with covid-19 tests in hand, Preis says, and quarantined for a week. At the end of the week, everyone was tested again. And those who are on campus are asked to stay on campus.

The first Fine Arts Colony session was held in 1950 for four weeks. It was patterned after most any other camp across the country, with a little of everything in vocal and instrumental music and dramatic art. However, the founders wanted something different and distinctive, and decided to make Inspiration Point into an opera workshop … all opera roles performed in their entirety by the students. (Courtesy Photo/OiO)

“Anybody who has left campus to go to Walmart or whatever has to get tested again,” Preis says. “We’ve asked our kids not to go into town, not to go to the coffee shop or to the bars. They can run, they can go to the lake, they can do drive-through pickups or curbside at Walmart and Target, but we’re trying to keep them out of public crowds. So far, so good.”

The result of all this mandated caution is that a cast of 35 singers and 13 orchestra members will be able to present 19 staged and costumed live opera performances this summer in a season Opera in the Ozarks is calling “Tying the Knot.” The repertoire includes Massenet’s “Cendrillon,” the retelling of Cinderella with what Preis calls equal parts madcap comedy and heartfelt romance; Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor,” the tragic tale of the bride of Lammermoor; and an abridged family version of Mozart’s fantastical yarn “The Magic Flute” with an environmental twist.

Opera in the Ozarks Artistic Director Tom Cockrell says the return to the stage will be especially enjoyable after canceling the 2020 season due to the coronavirus.

“Our engagement has been extended for a year, but we are now ‘Tying the Knot,’ and the wait will make the musical nuptials all the sweeter,” Cockrell says. “At long last, Cendrillon will get her Prince Charming, Pamina her Tamino, Papagena her Papageno and Lucia, well, Arturo — but it is complicated because she kills him on their wedding night. After all, love is at the heart of opera — even when that heart is stabbed by an unhinged soprano.”

The season opens July 2 with “Lucia di Lammermoor,” which will continue on selected nights in repertoire with “Cendrillon.” “The Magic Flute,” an Opera in the Ozarks original adapted by stage director Robert Swedborg, is intended to introduce children and the young at heart to some of the best tunes from the opera, wrapped in all the colorful costumes and scenery of a full production.

In addition, two special performances are planned:

July 17 — Crazy Mixed Up Opera: What would happen if Lucia attended Prince Charming’s ball? Could Cinderella’s fairy godmother make Lucia’s brother let her marry the man she loves? Crazy Mixed-Up Opera is a hilarious mash-up of the season’s two mainstage operas.

July 21 — Scenes: Opera & Broadway: The 2021 singing artists stretch their craft with staging and performing several short scenes from opera and Broadway.

The effectiveness of training received at Opera in the Ozarks has been demonstrated many times over by the successes by alumni in their opera careers. Many have sung on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera company as well as opera companies in Chicago, New York City, San Francisco, Houston, Switzerland and Germany. (Courtesy Photo/OiO)

Fans of Opera in the Ozarks are also invited to an engagement party for Lucia at 2 p.m. June 27. Preis says the preview event is free.

“We are so excited to be returning to the stage,” Preis says. “While this season is a bit shorter than we usually do, what will be on stage is the same glorious music and dramatic entertainment we’ve been producing for more than 70 years.”


Opera in the Ozarks

WHEN — 7:30 p.m. most days July 2-23

WHERE — Inspiration Point Fine Arts Theater, 16311 U.S. 62 West, Eureka Springs

COST — $10-$30

INFO — 253-8595, opera.org

COVID — Masks and social distancing are required for audience members.


Opera Synopses


By Jules Massenet

French with English supertitles

Massenet’s retelling of Cinderella has all the fairy tale’s favorite characters: the horrible stepmother Madame de la Haltière, stepsisters Noémie and Dorothée, Cendrillon’s kind-hearted father Pandolfe, Fairy Godmother La Fée, and, of course, Le Prince Charmant.

When Cendrillon is left behind by her stepmother and stepsisters as they go off to a ball with the Prince, La Fée hears her sadness and wants to make her happy. She brings spirits and elves and instructs them to weave a dress out of star-silk and color it with moonlight so that Cendrillon can also go to the ball. The finishing touch is the enchanted glass slipper, which will protect Cendrillon’s identity should she run into her family at the ball. There is only one rule: She must be back by midnight.

This well-known tale set to Massenet’s sparklingly magical score includes beautiful vocal writing, French court dances, processional marches for the princesses, and lullabies for the sleeping Cendrillon and her Prince.

Opera in the Ozarks celebrates its 70th anniversary this summer with productions of “Cendrillon,” “Lucia di Lammermoor” and a new retelling of “The Magic Flute.” (Courtesy Photo/OiO)

‘Lucia di Lammermoor’

By Gaetano Donizetti

Italian with English supertitles

Based on a novel by Sir Walter Scott, “Lucia di Lammermoor” is one of the great doomed love stories. The lovers die, but not before engaging in beautiful music and one of opera’s best “mad” scenes.

Lucia and Edgardo are members of feuding families in Scotland so, of course, they are secretly in love. Enrico, Lucia’s brother, is broke and needs Lucia to marry money. He forces her to marry Arturo by saying that Edgardo has betrayed her and married someone else. Lucia is crushed and starts to lose her sanity. Edgardo bursts in on Lucia’s wedding to Arturo and curses her for betraying him.

In her despair, Lucia kills Arturo in their wedding bed and then imagines herself going to heaven as she dies. As her coffin is carried past him, Edgardo kills himself to be with her in heaven.

‘The Magic Flute’

By Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Abridged family version by stage director Robert Swedberg

Performed in a new English translation

In this Opera in the Ozarks original, State Park Ranger Sol tells the story of a young man, Tamino, who has just pitched a tent, set up camp with his buddy Papageno, and then falls asleep by his campfire where he has a very odd dream: He imagines a monster and its minions spewing trash all over and ruining the forest.

Suddenly, three ladies appear and beat back the monster. They ask Tamino to help find Pamina, daughter of the Queen of the Night, who has been abducted by the evil Trash Monster. Papageno, a geeky bird watcher who had gone for firewood, comes back and he and Tamino are given a magical flute and set of bells to help them find Pamina.

They also must recover the Circle of the Sun — a powerful symbol that had been stolen and broken by the Trash Monster. Tamino accepts the challenge, rescues Pamina, and together they find and repair the broken Circle of the Sun, defeat the Trash Monster and his Minions, and restore beauty to the forest. Oh, and Papageno also uses the magical bells to help him find a girlfriend, Papagena.

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