Carmen Comes to Town

Carmen Comes to Town

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Smith, Marjorie

Bozeman’s Intermountain Opera Association (IOA) is celebrating its 30th anniversary this spring with a lavish production of Bizet’s Carmen. Approximately 3,000 area residents and visitors from around the Northern Rockies will thrill to magnificent voices and lavish costumes as the gypsy girl, Carmen, seduces a brave soldier and then abandons him for a bullfighter. As has happened on hundreds of stages around the world since Carmen first shocked in Paris in 1875, Escamillo will strut across the stage, belting out the beloved “Toreador Song.”

But wait a minute! Isn’t this Bozeman, outdoor-recreation capital of the known world? What are we doing with a professional opera company?

The fact that Bozeman possesses one of the most-respected small opera companies in the country is the result of a lucky combination of circumstances. But then, so is Bozeman’s status as one of the best-loved places to live and recreate outdoors. If it weren’t for a fortunate combination of geology, geography, and weather patterns, we could be living in Kansas.

The IOA’s good luck began with a young MSU voice instructor who wanted to sing opera in Bozeman just when one of the reigning baritones at the Metropolitan Opera—Pablo Elvira, married to a Bozeman girl—decided to make his permanent home here. At the same time, Mrs. Robert W. Martin, Jr., a New York City opera fan and cultural philanthropist, moved to Bozeman.

And voila! In May of 1979, The Intermountain Opera Association presented Verdi’s La Traviata to an amazed and entranced audience. Who knew that un-miked human voices could soar over a full orchestra to the back of the Willson Auditorium! Who knew that you could weep over a love story sung in a foreign language!

And so it began. Martin raised money, and Elvira persuaded his friends to come and sing at affordable prices. People who had never heard an opera discovered that they loved it and volunteered to sell tickets, fit costumes, create props, usher guests, and serve on the board of directors. The very best local musicians joined the orchestra and chorus. Bozeman audiences learned to expect remarkable performances every spring.

As is bound to happen in the course of thirty years, things change. When Elvira retired in 1997, local soprano Linda Curtis took over as artistic director. The IOA’s beloved conductor, Rome-born Giampaolo Bracali, died in 2006, but the British conductor Julian Dawson agreed to take his place.

The current board of directors has embarked on a long-range planning effort to build new audiences, find new sources of funding, and ensure the IOA has a year-round presence. They’ll launch season ticket sales this year with a second production—Johann Strauss’ exuberant Die Fledermaus</> —scheduled for October.

Carmen will be at the Willson Auditorium May 14, 16, and 18. Ticket info is available at 587-2889 and

Marjorie Smith has been an opera fanatic since she saw the film Carmen Jones (Oscar Hammerstein’s reworking of Bizet’s opera) at the Ellen Theatre at the age of 12. She currently serves on the IOA board of directors.

The Culture Club: Spring's Off-Trail Events

Bozeman is budding with entertainment options this season; there’s bound to be something that floats your boat.

The Emerson Cultural Center's three art galleries display local and regional talent (not to mention the 11 other galleries that are rented out); they also play host to the Bozeman Film Festival, which shows films once or twice a month. For details go to or call 587-9797.

If you’re into theater, the Equinox Theatre Company has shows almost every weekend, with new performances every month. Not to mention Broad Comedy and Teen Theater. or call 587-0737.

In Livingston, the Firehouse 5 will be performing The Music Man in March and Godspell in May. Go to or call 222-1420.

There’s plenty of live music that doesn’t involve costumes or orchestras. Some venues that are known to bring in good bands are the Filling Station, the Zebra, the Eagles, Whiskey Jack’s in Big Sky, Highsides in Livingston, and Pine Creek Café in Paradise Valley. Keep ‘em on your radar.

Quench your thirst at the Montana Beer Festival on April 11-12. “Celebrating the quality and diversity of beer styles that exist in Montana and the Northern Rockies,” it promises to be enjoyable and educational. For more info check out

For a different kind of educational experience, don’t forget about the Bozeman Library, which has special events every month. March 17 is Celtic and folk music, while Chrysti the Wordsmith and the DupliKates pair up on April 21 for a unique, etymological exploration of musical history. Call 582-2426 or visit

-Erin Strickland

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