Fans of musical theater are no doubt impatient for the return of live performances.
In the meantime, Prairie Fire Theater artistic director Bob Mangialardi suggests residents of Bloomington-Normal try out the opera.
The non-profit theater company will be live and in person for âOpera Under the Starsâ at 7:30 p.m. on June 29 and 30 at the Connie Link Amphitheater in Normal.
Prairie Fire Theater performers are familiar with musical theater and opera, but Mangialardi knows that for the general public, especially in Bloomington-Normal, opera is a harder sell.
âOur community seems to love opera, but not the way they love musical theater,â he said.
So, for the group’s first live performance in nearly two years, Mangialardi has assembled a range of widely acceptable pieces from Mozart to Bernstein.
âWe don’t have a lot of real esoteric pieces or super, super heavy pieces or dark rooms; we wanted things the public would probably know, âMangialardi said. “And we have a few songs that we want the audience to sing along with us.”
Soprano Grace Henderson will perform excerpts from Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss II. She said the play “Adele’s Laughing Song” is a good example of the lighter side of opera.
â(Adele) is actually a housekeeper, and she’s at a party pretending to be an actress with a bunch of people who also describe people they’re not,â Henderson said. Rather than worry, Adele laughed across the stage. âWhich I love, because I spend most of my days laughing, so it’s appropriate for me to sing, I think,â Henderson said.
And, while Mozart may seem intellectual, Henderson insists that the pieces Mangialardi has selected have all the fun and energy of a Broadway show.
âThey are entertaining; just as musical theater is upbeat and has a lot of movement, these plays have it too, but just in a different style, âshe said.
For Henderson, you really can’t appreciate one without appreciating the other.
“Truly the history of musical theater is opera, âshe said. âI like to explore these composers like Strauss and Mozart, composers whose music has stood the test of time all over the world, and also these more contemporary composers like Bernstein, and they came out of opera music. It’s their roots, it’s their inspiration, and so I think it’s really important to delve into that.
This is great for music lovers like Henderson. But what about young audiences?
Henderson’s own career in the performing arts proves that it’s never too early to learn about the classics.
âMy very first show I was on, I was 3 and it was ‘Babes in Toyland’,â she said. “It was sort of my first professional theater exposure growing up.”
After studying vocal performance at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Henderson now teaches vocal performance at Bloomington-Normal.
In fact, she said, she will tell all of her students, ages 6 to 14, to watch the show.
âI think it’s wonderful for kids to be exposed to the arts from a young age,â said Henderson. “The more they are exposed to it at a young age, the more familiar they are with it, the more they will like and appreciate it.”
Mangialardi said the new location also makes bringing the kids a bit easier.
âBring a blanket, bring something to eat and drink – it’s like a mini Ravinia,â he said.
The choice to make the theater debut after the lockdown at the Connie Link Amphitheater was a necessity, but could lead to other opportunities, Mangialardi said.
“We weren’t sure when we were planning this exactly where we would be in terms of the (COVID-19) case, so we figured a safe way to do it would be to do it outside,” he said. declared. “But if it is successful, if people seem to like it and the artists like it, I think the town of Normal might bring us back and start over.”
Both performances of “Opera Under The Stars” at the Prairie Fire Theater are free, although donations are welcome to support the theater.