Datebook: Heavy Hitters Headline Opera Season | WGLT

Datebook: Heavy Hitters Headline Opera Season

Jul 29, 2019

MIOpera draws on a pair of monster classics for the 2019 season. 

Johann Strauss II offers for your pleasure “Die Fledermaus,” a tasty confection of flirtations, mistaken identities, light-hearted deceit and lavish servings of champagne. It’s running Aug. 1 and Aug. 3 in the Illinois State University Center for the Performing Arts Concert Hall. 

And on Aug. 2 and Aug. 4, it’s four acts of bittersweet tragic romance with Puccini’s much-loved standard “La Boheme,” depicting love among artists in Paris. It’s a favorite opera of MIOpera’s co-founders, John and Tracy Koch, who both took part in the classic during their performing careers. 

“It’s challenging,” admitted John Koch.

“It has some difficult roles. Mimi, Musetta and Rudolpho are all difficult roles to sing. But we thought we could make it work."

Established in 2011, MIOpera offers opportunities to emerging artists to perform professional opera in a supportive environment. 

"'La Boheme’ is a great standard piece,” said Tracy Koch. “Most students don’t get the chance to perform this opera because it is so intense and difficult. There’s a lot of dramatic contrasts. You have to be a really seasoned artist to do the show. This is an opportunity for people who are ready to do this music to do this repertoire in a professional venue.” 

The MIOpera company is performing “La Boheme” in Italian with English supertitles, revealed John Koch.  “That way audiences won’t feel lost.” 

“And they’ll get the nuances of the actual language of the opera,” Tracy Koch added. 

Wildly romantic, “La Boheme” is all about the big "what if." Tragically ill Mimi meets a young man who inspires her to open her heart.

“It’s about what if you take that chance on love in your life and valuing those who you love,” said Tracy Koch.  

Amidst the universal themes of love and passion, John Koch insists on reality for the performance. 

“I’m trying to get across to the singers that we are recreating reality on the stage. We’re not just acting, we’re really trying to feel this stuff.” 

“The action and the emotion of the story is in the music from Puccini,” said Tracy Koch. “People are pouring their emotions out on stage.” 

Eschewing myths and fairytales for subject matter, Puccini created characters to mirror the people in the seats, watching the opera, said Tracy Koch. The opera and its subject matter proved so popular through the years that it inspired the musical “Rent.” 

“The story is easy to understand. Puccini wrote the opera so perfectly that every note represents the emotions and feelings, and you understand it through the music.” 

From deep passion, the MIOpera season moves to frothy fun with “Die Fladermaus,” aka “The Bat.” This work by Strauss is actually an operetta, which differs from an opera in that operas are completely sung.  Operettas are more like modern musicals, in that there is dialogue between the songs.  

The operetta concerns two high society friends who go to a costume party, indulge in a wave of binge drinking, then wander out into the night. One friend leaves the other to sleep it off on a park bench.  He awakens the next day, to his horror, still in his bat costume. Since this takes place in Vienna, not Gotham City, what results is revenge-filled farce, not another chapter from the DC Universe.  

Although the operetta was written in German, it will be performed in English. According to Tracy Koch, the singers face the challenge of doing dialog and honing their acting chops in this production. 

“Being a singer and then having to speak, I think that a lot of singers are used to getting up there and singing. But then when they’re asked to do dialog, that’s hard,” said Tracy Koch. “So, the hardest thing is doing the dialog and memorizing it.  Because most singers are accustomed to using the music to memorize and to express the show. It’s being an opera singer and an actor, together and making them both seamless and make a beautiful combination.” 

The MIOpera season is Aug. 1-4 in the ISU Center for the Performing Arts Concert Hall.



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