News Column

A midsummer night at the opera ... and more

July 24, 2014

By Dan Craft, The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Ill.

July 24--NORMAL -- Carmen the ill-fated gypsy girl will be getting a real factory workout at this summer's edition of the Midwest Institute of Opera.

Bizet's doomed heroine is being served up in three incarnations during the festival's string of public performances, which begin Friday in Illinois State University'sCenter for the Performing Arts Concert Hall and continue there through Tuesday.

In Version One of "Carmen," at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, the opera will be presented as an all-singing concert version, in which all of the Bizet arias and music are retained, along with costumes and props, but minus some of the fully staged version embellishments, including kids' chorus and USA ballet dancers.

In Version Two, at 2:30 p.m. Sunday and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, we get the full-monty "Carmen," meaning costumes, sets, kids' chorus, USA Ballet dancers, and the whole score and narrative, conducted by the Metropolitan Opera'sJoshua Greene, a veteran of MIO's 2011, 2012 and 2013 seasons.

Direction will be by James Marvel, associate professor of opera at the University of Tennessee -- Knoxville, and an alum of MIO's 2012 staging of "Don Giovanni."

This version will be sung in French, with English supertitles projected, says MIO's artistic director John M. Koch.

Unlike past MIO productions, including a "Mad Men"-style spin on "Le nozze di Figaro" (2013) and sexy/steampunk "Don Giovanni" (2012), "Carmen" is being staged along "pretty traditional" lines, set in Seville and retaining its 1820s setting, notes Koch.

In Version Three, "which we are most excited about," says Koch, the festival stretches its legs in a new direction, thanks to an assist from a Town of Normal Harmon Arts Grant and Illinois Prairie Community Foundation Mirza Arts Fund Grant.

Dubbed "MIOperatunities," the outreach program will bus several hundred local summer camp students to a special 11 a.m. Monday matinee performance of a specially abridged, hour-long version of "Carmen."

Also invited, says Koch, are senior citizens and hearing-impaired opera fans, with signing provided by Shannon Morrow, of ISU's Disability Concerns.

Koch estimates around 500 kids, seniors and special needs opera fans had been signed up by mid-week.

The performance also will feature Flamenco dancing by performers from Bloomington-Normal's USA Ballet troupe (they are also part of the fully staged "Carmen" performances).

As if all of that factory production weren't enough, MIO has another fully staged opera up its fourth-season sleeve: The Midwest premiere of Dan Shore's "The Beautiful Bridegroom," at 7:30 p.m. Friday.

The one-act comic opera, which clocks in at a trim 45 minutes, is a girls'-night-out affair based on an 18th-century play by Ludvig Holberg and described as a "Mozart pastiche."

The action turns on a widow who has been searching for a young husband ... not for her two marriageable daughters, but for her middle-aged self.

The result is a family crisis that also sucks in a local matchmaker and the widow's own maid.

Tracy Marie Koch, who with husband John founded MIO four summers ago, directs.

Rounding out the evening will be a short performance by the MIO kids' choir, comprised of local singers.

There is a flat $10 admission rate for all performances except the MIOperatunities matinee, which is free but requires registration, available by emailing

For more information, go to


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Source: Pantagraph (Bloomington, IL)

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