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About Utah: Logan arts scene enriched by Michael Ballam's return home

Published: Sunday, July 15 2012 11:50 p.m. MDT

After further pondering, he said yes to the teaching position, which gave him a hometown to stay in and three hats to wear. On Tuesdays and Thursdays he taught music at the university. On the other weekdays he worked on the theatre renovation. And on weekends he flew off to sing professionally.

The more he traveled, the more he wondered why Logan didn't have more opera of its own. Especially now that it had an arts palace that wouldn't have to hide its face even if it was in the middle of Broadway.

So it was that in the summer of 1993, six months after the opening of the 1,100-seat Ellen Eccles Theatre and six years after returning from NYC to his hometown, Michael Ballam's summer opera extravaganza began.

At first it was called the Utah Festival Opera Company, a title that has since evolved into the tongue-tying Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theatre because Broadway-type musicals have become an annual part of the program.

This year, the 20th season lineup — the festival lasts from July 11 to Aug. 11 — includes "My Fair Lady" and "Kiss Me Kate" alongside Puccini's "Tosca" and Gounod's "Faust."

Every year, the festival has grown. The first season it had a budget of $300,000 and broke even. This year the budget is $3.5 million and it's expected to bring in $3.5 million.

"We've always broken even, and I hope we always will," says Ballam, who is playing Alfred P. Doolittle in "My Fair Lady."

He's not just the festival's producer and director, he's also one of the stars.

Not to mention the founder.

And one who, by the way, is in fine health.

It wasn't always that way. Twenty-five years ago he came home because he was dying . . .

Someday, someone's got to turn this into an opera.

Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Monday and Friday. Email: benson@desnews.com

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