© 2024 WGLT
A public service of Illinois State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
A weekly series focused on Bloomington-Normal's arts community and other major events. Made possible with support from PNC Financial Services.

MIOpera brings a darker texture to 'The Sound of Music'


We don't usually think of the "Sound of Music" as a dark story. Sure, it has grim elements: Nazis and a harrowing escape over the mountains. But usually, it's considered lighter fare that emphasizes a newly-blended family singing together.

In contrast, a new production by MIOpera focuses on us-versus-them situations in the classic musical showing June 24-26 at the Astroth Center auditorium at Heartland Community College.

Artistic and stage director Tracy Koch said even though the events take place just before World War II, she incorporates her own views as a modern-day Black woman into the production.

“Instead of seeing Nazi Germany, and then looking at people that are living in Vienna or any other European country, I see the two elements as us versus them. You're not like us, you don't live like us, you don't look like us, you're not what we think you should be. Therefore, we don't like you,” she said.

Koch said the theme of having difficulty living in one’s own country in peace and comfort presciently addresses what is happening today with Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

“Here comes a group of people that think they should have a certain view of the world and then take over the other person's world. And that's what I think ... was happening in the Von Trapp household — on a political level was that these two forces were butting heads,” she said.

Yet inspiration remains, she said. It is a production about hope, and the ability of music to inspire change in outlook and life.

Classic and cliché are two sides of the same coin for the music in the show. General director John Koch said trying to be true to the music keeps the coin classic side up. He said this is the Broadway version, which is slightly different from the six-decade-young movie.

“The biggest difference that I disagree with a little bit is the duet between Maria and Garrick von Trapp is different in the movie. In the stage version, it’s a duet called ‘An Ordinary Couple,'” he said.

"They took the Broadway version and then made it for the people they had. So, of course, you have this amazing voice like Julie Andrews, and you're going to add songs that show off that instrument. And so I think that's why it changed over the time. But the music is timeless in a sense that like, anybody can sing it, and anybody can hum, walk away humming the tunes. And so everybody, you know, gets this immense joy because it's so accessible to them."

You can't do Julie Andrews without Julie Andrews, it will be something else. And that something else is also very fine, said John Koch.

“We have Emily Frank who is an ISU recent grad year ago in the theater program. With the pandemic, it's been very hard for a lot of actors to get work, especially live work. We asked her about a year ago to do this and we're trusting her with it. She looks a little bit like Julie Andrews, but it's Emily's voice,” said John Koch.

Tracy Koch said she directs the show to portray Maria as someone who is coming of age and discovering who she is. She based the characterization for Maria on the text Maria von Trapp wrote in a book about her life.

"We have these preconceived notions of who Maria is because of the movie. We think that (is) who she was. But she was a real living, breathing person who lived through this experience. She's not some kind of mystical figure like Julie Andrews. It's going to be real. It's going to be earthy. There are emotions in the show that are deeper than just the nanny showed up and she's so happy she changed her lives. Why is Captain Von Trapp like this? What did he go through? What are the colors that he's going to bring to that?,” said Tracy Koch.

She said including the darker emotions of grief for a wife who died can help avoid campiness against all the classical tunes and great songs.

“Actually it's a very dark story. Anytime you bring in racism and ignorance and hate, it changes the story,” said Tracy Koch.

Coming later this summer, MIOpera will present Georges Bizet's "Carmen," and then Mozart's "Don Giovanni."

WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
Related Content