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Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theatre readies its Logan stage for seven performances

Published July 10, 2012 10:53 am

Opera, Broadway musicals and "St. Matthew Passion" fill out the company's annual summer season.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Logan, Utah, has a special relationship with the Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theatre that's 20 years old and counting. Like most relationships, it's built on a personal foundation.

In this case, it's between professional singer and musician Michael Ballam and daughter Vanessa.

It's not just simple family ties that compels them to perform in and produce a festival that includes both opera and Broadway musicals, with utmost respect to the classical tradition. And it's not just simple love of theater that drives them to stage two spotlight musicals, two spotlight operas, two additional musical stage works and one performance of Johann Sebastian Bach's large-scale sacred oratorio in the space of one month.

It's a deep love and understanding of musical theater in the context of a father-daughter team that lets Michael and Vanessa Ballam do all this, plus make sure the festival has plenty of seminars, backstage tours and other ancillary events in its orbit. Otherwise, it's fair to say they'd be at each others throats by now.

Which they're not, of course. Vanessa has been at her father's side since childhood, fulfilling Ballam's vow to share his life and love of music with all six of his children even as he spent years traveling the world as a professional singer.

"I'm one of those benevolent dictators," said Michael Ballam, speaking by phone from Logan. "I don't make the choice of programming lightly. I've probably had this season in mind three or four years ago."

Forethought and planning are only part of it. One of Ballam's running gags with daughter Vanessa when it comes to casting is that she won't "remain my daughter" unless she fills certain roles for the festival's annual productions. But it's only a playful joke because his daughter is more than happy to oblige. This year, playing dual roles of Eliza Doolittle for "My Fair Lady" and Lilli and Kate for "Kiss Me Kate."

"Every young girl who loves musicals wants to be Eliza Doolittle," Vanessa said. Playing Lilli Vanessi, who also plays the role of Katherine from Shakespeare's "Taming of the Shrew" for the play-within-a-play that is Cole Porter's "Kiss Me Kate," adds rich parallels that energize the task.

Musical theater and opera lovers will have plenty of parallels to pick and choose given this year's festival offerings. The official opening night is July 13, but its first performance is Charles Gounod's "Faust" the night before, kicking off a frenzy of performances that will keep Logan's Ellen Eccles' stage busy until the Aug. 11 festival closing.

An opera staple since its 1859 Paris debut, "Faust" hasn't been popular since 1950. Part of that's due to its considerable production challenges. It's also due, Ballam said, to its vital but often unpopular message. Unpopular of not, Ballam said the work has a special place in his heart.

"I've been longing to stage it for 20 years, and we're finally doing it," he said. "There's hardly a more universal tale that's always been relevant. Nations don't like the idea that the piper needs to be paid, and there are directors who alter the ending."

Gounod's immortal work will receive the traditional treatment, replicating as close as possible the feeling of its Paris debut more than a century ago. So will "My Fair Lady," accompanied by a traditional 40-piece pit orchestra to give Lerner and Loewe's work the full, rich sound it's due.

"Tosca," Puccini's searing opera of love and sacrifice amid the turbulence of Rome during Napoleon's invasion, offers full-strength drama for anyone who finds Porter or "My Fair Lady" too light. The festivals two minor concerts, George Gershwin's "Girl Crazy" and "A Tribute to Judy Garland," form an ideal complement. Garland was no small feature in the 1943 film version alongside Mickey Rooney.

Taking a cue from its bigger festival brother in Cedar City, the Utah Shakespeare Festival, Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theatre has added its own version of the Green Show. These pre-show performances are hosted in the outdoor Café des Artistes on the south-rear side of the Ellen Eccles Theatre.

The festival reaches a culminating point Aug. 8, with a one-time performance of Bach's "St. Matthew Passion." Enlisting the talents of two orchestras, three choruses and four soloists, it will be a rare chance to hear one of the composer's supreme masterpieces performed live.

Ballam tells of how, with newly minted driver's license in hand, he made his first solo car trip to Salt Lake City to see and hear the work performed live in 1967 at the Salt Lake Tabernacle. Maurice Abravanel directed, with Ballam's voice teacher William Ramsey singing the role of Jesus. Ramsey will reprise the role, with former Tabernacle Choir conductor Craig Jessop conducting.

"I'll never forget his [Abravenel's] face. It was transcendent," Ballam said. "I know Craig Jessop will do the same."

bfulton@sltrib.com

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Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theatre's 2012 Season

When • July 11-Aug. 11; Gounod's "Faust" July 12, 1 p.m., July 21, 7:30 p.m.; July 27, 1 p.m.; Aug. 3 7:30 p.m.; Aug. 11, 1 p.m. Cole Porter's "Kiss Me Kate" July 12, 7:30 p.m.; July 14, 7:30 p.m.; July 20, 1 p.m.; July 26, 1 p.m.; July 27, 7:30 p.m.; Aug. 4, 1 p.m.; Aug. 9, 7:30 p.m.; Aug. 10, 1 p.m. Puccini's "Tosca" July 13, 1 p.m.July 21, 1 p.m.; July 26, 7:30 p.m.; Aug. 2, 7:30 p.m.; Aug. 4, 7:30 p.m.; Aug. 10, 7:30 p.m. Lerner and Loewe's "My Fair Lady" July 13, 7:30 p.m.; July 14, 1 p.m.; July 19, 7:30 p.m.; July 20, 7:30 p.m.; July 25, 7:30 p.m.; July 28, 1 p.m.; Aug. 3, 1 p.m.; Aug. 9, 1 p.m.; Aug. 11, 7:30 p.m. George Gershwin's "Girl Crazy" July 18, 7:30 p.m.; Aug. 2, 1 p.m. "Tribute to Judy Garland" July 19, 1 p.m.; July 28, 7:30 p.m. Johann Sebastian Bach's "St. Matthew Passion" Aug. 8, 6:30 p.m.

Where • Ellen Eccles Theatre, 43 S. Main, Logan

Info • Single tickets from $9-$76. Series tickets from $38-$304. Call 435-750-0300 for information,1-800-262-0074 for tickets, or visit http://www.ufomt.org for more information.