BLOOMINGTON – The stone floors at Ewing Mansion were covered in delicate rose petals, hosted a masked ball and housed two French lovers this week as a local opera company spent 10 days filming their first film.
Tracy Koch, artistic director of Bloomington-based MIOpera, dabbled in filmmaking and drew the Bloomington story in “La traviata,” a French story written by Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi.
“I love stories of very strong, empowered women, and I love opera that teaches us something about ourselves and our place in the world and where we are at,” she said.
“La traviata” tells the story of Violetta Valery, but for this film soprano Madison King played the role of Violetta Valery Ewing, drawing on the story of the mansion and its patroness, Hazle Buck Ewing.
“She was a lover of music and opera in particular her whole life,” said Toni Tucker, director of the Ewing Cultural Center. “So when they built this house, it was built acoustically for the singers, and she had backing vocals come in and line up the stairs and sing for her guests for entertainment.”
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Koch said she was inspired by Ewing and channeled her through the tough days of filming. They added certain elements to the film that pay homage to Ewing, such as the incorporation of a harpist and the use of the sets and furnishings in the house.
“Everything that ties us to the history of the house, to the history of the woman,” Koch said. “Because it’s not just about the house, it’s about the story of the woman who lived there and what she gave to the community. “
In between shoots, the company got ready for another show on Saturday, when they perform Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” at 7pm in the auditorium at Heartland Community College.
MIOpera’s new home will be in the HCC auditorium after canceling a season of shows last year.
“People just pick up their rhythm, resume their performances, sing, try to find a new normal, and opera films could become the new normal if this pandemic continues,” Koch said.
Getting opera from the stage to the screen was a new experience and a new challenge for Koch and her husband John, managing director of their company, MIOpera.
“There’s something about performing on stage that a movie just doesn’t capture. Hearing the voices in the live theater echoing through your body and feeling that visceral reaction to the voice – it’s kind of lost in the translation of the film, ”said Tracy Koch. “But I think we’re able to grasp that in this situation, I really think so. Make it more modern and accessible to people, you know.
A dream streak, with rose petals cascading from above, gave King and his co-frontman Carl Rosenthal the opportunity to dress in historical and elaborate costumes, but the majority of the film was brought back nowadays.
Rosenthal, who plays Alfredo Germont, said that performing in front of a camera rather than in front of an audience allowed him to focus on another aspect of acting.
“On the opera stage, the bigger it is, the better it is – it has to be,” he said. “You have to play all the way down to the last row, but here, at least as an actor, I’m exploring more subtle facial movements and expressions that wouldn’t read on stage but will definitely read in this movie.”
Ewing Manor brings its own life and energy to the film, Koch and the cast said.
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“It’s amazing. It’s like taking what you’d imagine on stage, but making it a lot more real,” King said. “You can just feel the energy of home and I think it takes a little place for the public. Because we usually get a lot of energy from the viewing audience, but here we get a lot of energy just by being in a very specific place.
“Feel the story, the presence of Hazle,” Rosenthal added.
To fully embrace the Bloomington setting, they also filmed on location at the Evergreen Memorial Cemetery this week when Alfredo visits Violetta’s grave.
Local talent also made the film work behind the scenes. Donald Wiggins of UpLift Productions led the camera; and Trish Nesby and Angelia Nott of Arrival Men’s Salon styled and made up the actors.
The film adaptation will be released on October 1 when the Ewing Cultural Center hosts an outdoor screening behind the mansion. Tickets will be available from September 1. The rainy date for the show will be October 2.
“So not only can you see the movie, hear the music, and see the story, but you can sit back and watch the house where it happened,” Koch said. “Talk about immersion, an immersion in art and culture.
After the first screening, “La traviata” will play in local cinemas before being available on MIOpera’s YouTube channel.
Photos: opera company MIOpera adapts La traviata for the screen
Contact Kelsey Watznauer at (309) 820-3254. Follow her on Twitter: @kwatznauer.