Utah Festival Opera's 20th year begins July 11

Published: Sunday, July 8 2012 4:00 p.m. MDT

Vanessa Ballam stars as Eliza Doolittle in Utah Festival's 2012 production of Broadway favorite "My Fair Lady."

Tamara Brown

LOGAN — In 1988, the abandoned, deteriorating Capitol Theatre in Logan was about to be demolished.

Michael Ballam, a soloist who has sung in opera houses worldwide, knew the value of the theater and launched a $6.5 million fundraising effort to save it.

Now named for philanthropist Ellen Eccles, the theater is alive and bustling with an annual celebration of the performing arts. The Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre, which runs July 11-Aug. 11 in the Ellen Eccles Theatre in Logan, is celebrating its 20th year.

This season’s lineup features two of the most-performed operas of the 20th century, “Faust” and Puccini’s “Tosca,” along with two blockbuster Broadway musicals, “My Fair Lady” and “Kiss Me, Kate.”

In honor of Judy Garland’s 90th birthday, the festival will also include a staging of the Gershwins' “Girl Crazy” — Garland starred in the 1943 film version — and a concert titled “Tribute to Judy Garland.”

The festival has many other shows and activities, including classes on performing arts, history and culture; talk backs with artists after the show; and a conducting seminar with former Mormon Tabernacle Choir director Craig Jessop.

The event has, Ballam said, something for everyone.

Metropolitan Opera baritone Kyle Pfortmiller is returning for his fourth season at the festival and will be in starring roles in three of the four major shows, including Henry Higgins in “My Fair Lady.” Ballam jokingly suggested the festival be renamed after Pfortmiller.

Pfortmiller said juggling three parts has gone smoother than he expected, thanks to help from the staff. He is pleased to be involved.

“There’s no place else in the world where I could do this kind of repertoire with this kind of orchestra that I have here,” Pfortmiller said. “There’s no place else where I’m able to work at such a high level with such great artists as my colleagues. Every person in the ensemble here could stand up and be a soloist.”

Pfortmiller added that he has friends who have traveled to attend the world’s best opera performances, and when they come see his shows at the Utah festival, they enjoy it just as much.

Conductor Barbara Day Turner has been with the festival for 11 seasons and said she keeps coming back for the variety, the people she works with, the beautiful nature and the attention to the art form that she said is not often seen.

Since its creation 20 years ago, the festival has raised approximately $150 million for the community, Ballam said. Only 10 percent of the audience comes from Cache Valley and visitors are able to enjoy all aspects of the local scene. But, he said, financial gains are only the beginning of the festival’s influence.

“It has enabled people in this region to see world-class opera and allowed young people to learn the craft,” Ballam said.

His goal is to collect “genius pools,” so people can learn from accomplished performers, rather than celebrities.

“It’s not just about coming to see a show,” he said. “It’s about coming and immersing oneself in the celebration of art.”

For more information, visit ufomt.org.

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