Utah Festival Opera season begins season with new name, programs

By Hillary Bowler

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, July 2 2011 4:00 p.m. MDT

Eleni Calenos, left, as Donna Elvira, Mark Womack as Don Giovanni, and Rochelle Bard as Donna Anna in UFOMT's "Don Giovanni." "They all have to be the very best you can find, and we’ve found them," Michael Ballam said of the actors needed to carry the weighty roles of this opera.

Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theatre

LOGAN — The Utah Festival Opera begins its 19th season with a new name and a greater emphasis on education. The festival made the switch in March and launched a website with the revised name and new logo in April. It will now be known as the Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theatre, or UFOMT.

“Maybe we should’ve done that from the very beginning,” said Michael Ballam, general director and founder of the festival. He said the altered name more fully reflects the festival, which has included musicals with operas since its beginning.

Ballam added that the logo's design emphasizes the word “festival.” Before, the festival simply produced a repertory of shows. But today, with the education outreach programs and various ways audiences are involved and informed, UFOMT is more completely a month-long festival, Ballam said.

UFOMT has often been recognized for the much-loved Opera by Children program, but it offers even more than that.

The festival sponsors programs for adults with its Festival Academy, classes and seminars in performing, teaching and creating productions. The festival provides opportunities to tour stages and meet the performers. “Informances,” brief discussions with the cast and crew about the plot of the performance and other background information, will occur an hour before every production

The Festival Conservatory of the Performing Arts recently finished its inaugural year. Conservatory director Vanessa Ballam, recently appointed as education director, called it a big success.

“When you start something for the first time, you never really know how it will be received,” she said. However, it was more than well received.

“Musical theater training seems to be something that families are clamoring for in Cache Valley,” she said.

The conservatory runs in semesters like a school year, with training for youths ages 4-18 in singing, dancing and acting.

Directors are starting a new program, Camp Broadway, during the last week of this season. The week-long camp for kids ages 6-18 will be workshop intensive and offer something the regular conservatory doesn’t: the opportunity to work one-on-one with the cast.

One special event the program directors were particularly excited about was the 1st annual Utah High School Musical Theater Awards. Multiple high schools presented numbers from their musicals at the Kent Concert Hall at Utah State University in April. An awards ceremony followed.

“(It was) one of the most exciting experiences I’ve had in a theater,” Michael Ballam said of the performances. Various adjudicators enlisted by UFOMT viewed and judged each high school’s musical.

“This is going to be very important in the future of this state,” Ballam said of the conservatory programs, adding that schools today are starved of arts programs because of various budget cuts and new educational demands. Ballam trusts that the conservatory is in good hands with his daughter as director.

UFOMT has plans to extend the high school musical theater program to every high school in the state next year and eventually expand the conservatory as well, drawing students from outside of Cache Valley.

“It’s really going to go places,” Ballam said. “I can just feel it in my bones.”

The education students of both conservatory and academy receive is not the only benefit of these outreach programs.

“I now have a pulse on where the talent base is in the state,” Ballam said.

In fact, Ballam found his lead character for “Oliver!” in a high school performance of “Les Miserables.” He describes 11-year-old Jace Salcido as “sublime” and perfect for the role.

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