Wed March 18, 2015 By Kate Padilla, Daily Reporter Staff
The members of OPERA Iowa are busy. Michael Egel, general and artistic director, estimated that in the 29 years the program has been touring, they've worked with about 775,000 kids across the state, traveled to 10 states outside Iowa and two countries. This, he believes, makes it the largest and most expansive program in arts education in the state. And, on Friday, they're stopping in Spencer to bring opera, both "The Billy Goats Gruff" and Giaochino Rossini's "Cinderella," to the children and families around the area.
"'Cinderella' is a wonderful show," Egel said. "It's great for families and kids. The show takes all of the familiar things about the story that we know and love and includes a few elements taken from the opera tradition."
Egel noted the opera was written in the 1900s, during a time when, in addition to telling funny stories, it was popular for singers to show off the "virtuosity of their voices."
"There's some scales and fast notes," he said. "We keep it lively, and allow the singers to show off the tricks they can do. It's kind of like gymnastics."
In addition, the show borrows from the French version of the classic story. The glass slipper and charming prince stay, but instead of an evil stepmother, the opera features a grumpy stepfather.
"Each country I think has its own version of this story," Egel said. "The opera kind of borrows from them all."
OPERA Iowa will perform "Cinderella" at 7 p.m. Friday at Spencer Community Theatre. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for kids and can be purchased at the SCT Box Office, which can be reached at 262-7336.
In addition to the evening performance, the nine-member team will spend time in the afternoon offering workshops to the third- and fourth-grade students at Fairview Elementary. They will also perform "The Billy Goats Gruff" for the students.
"OPERA Iowa is our vehicle for taking children's and family's operas all over the state," Egel said. "We're able to introduce this art form to people who otherwise have zero exposure."
"Once you break down the myths and stereotypes of opera, many people find it's a wonderful quality of music," he continued. "Operas are just sung stories. And music lovers, especially, find themselves equally enamored with opera once they experience it."
Spencer is somewhat unique, however, in the exposure to the arts. Egel, who grew up in Spencer through his sophomore year in high school, said the town's history and support of the arts provided a natural movement to opera once he went off to college.
OPERA Iowa has been to Spencer before; many communities are on an every-other-year rotation, since they perform one show for two years before choosing a new piece. "Cinderella" is part of the inaugural season of the Spencer Performing Arts Coalition.
"Part of SPARC's mission is to make music and performance accessible to families," said Evan Hilsabeck, one of the founders of SPARC. "OPERA Iowa is one of the best institutions in the state to do that, because it brings opera to kids. Opera is a little hard to come by in Spencer, but 'Cinderella' is a very real musical. It should be a lot of fun."
The show will run a little over 90 minutes, including the intermission.
"Spencer has a wonderful history of supporting the arts, particularly theater," he said. "You have one of the best community theaters in the state, and one of the best high school theater programs in the state. Growing up in Spencer and going off to college, opera was a natural extension for me. And I think many people will find opera a natural extension of their theater-going experience."