“Passion in the Ozarks”
Eureka Springs, in northwest Arkansas, is a very enchanting tourist town built around the natural springs of “magical” healing waters as first discovered and used by some local Indian tribes. Beginning in the 1850s, these curative waters brought healing to some prominent visitors and with their endoresement, a rush to this area was underway. By 1879, several hotels, spas, bathhouses, and hundreds of Victorian houses and cottages were built on the hilly terrain surrounding the outcropping of these springs, building a population of over 10,000 to become the fourth largest city in Arkansas. Today, there are five pre-1906 hotels, all restored to their earlier magnificence and they continue to offer unique lodging and dining experiences. In addition, many private residences have been restored – all adding to a great “Memory Lane” experience of more than one hundred years earlier.
In addition to the historic section of Eureka Springs, there are several other features that make a visit to Eureka Springs even more worthwhile. One is the awe-inspiring statue of Christ of the Ozarks, which towers seven stories high, set on a base at 1,500 feet altitude. Another nearby attraction is The Great Passion Play, which tells the story of Christ’s life and death. This drama is presented on a 550 foot wide, multilevel stage in an outdoor amphitheater that seats 4,100 people. This is the #1 attended, outdoor drama in the U. S. and has entertained over 7,000,000 people since 1973.
But there is another attraction in Eureka Springs which also has vital passion at its core and is known as the Opera in the Ozarks. Begun as a summer music camp in 1950, today it is now an eight week operatic and orchestral training camp for over 44 singers and 25 instrumentalists, ranging in age from college up to 33. These aspiring and already highly trained students, qualify to attend by audtion, and are immeasurably benefited by the coaching and teaching of a world class, artistic staff of twenty-two. Each season, three major operas are staged and each is performed seven or eight times (all double casted), giving a maximum number of students the opportunity to develop their talents with full participation in major, operatic roles.
What is so utterly wonderful about Opera in the Ozarks is that each performance is first class, from the beginning preludes by the orchestra, the clever staging and the splendid costuming, to the magnificent voices of the dedicated students. This season features three operas: La Traviata by Verdi, La Cenerentola (Cinderella) by Rossini, and The Tales of Hoffmann by Offenbach. Another joy in attending these operas is the Ozarks’ unique amphitheater, allowing for the patrons to be from ten to forty feet from the performers on stage. What a thrill it is to experience so intimately the most beautiful and dramatic music set to classical stories that are filled with every human emotion imaginable. The passion of all – the singers and musicians, the teachers and coaches, the grounds staff, the many people behind the scenes, and the audience itself – speaks of great appreciation for this magnificent gift from God – music!
Opera in the Ozarks is a true treasure for those seeking a profound musical experience, and is easily accessed at aptly named Inspiration Point, just a few miles west of Eureka Springs on US 62. An evening at the opera is now even more enjoyable with the addition of air-conditioning in 2014. Prior to this comfort advancement, I confess, it could get a little uncomfortable in the theater on a hot, humid, airless July night, taxing even the most ardent opera lovers. Perhaps as taking pity on some less hardy folks, OITO began a few seasons ago to stage one performance each of the season’s three operas at the classy – and fully air-conditioned – Arends Arts Center in Bentonville. Two seasons ago, my wife and I, at Arends, and sitting a mere two rows form the stage, thought we had died and gone to heaven totally enthralled by Puccini’s great tragic opera, Madama Butterfly.
It doesn’t get any better than this!