Opera Comes to Whitefish

The annual Festival Amadeus will present classical music performances and an opera show from Aug. 2-11

By Charlotte Bausch
John Zoltek conducts an orchestra. Courtesy photo

For the past 12 years, early August has been a time of intense preparation for John Zoltek.

Each summer, Zoltek, the music director of Kalispell’s Glacier Symphony Orchestra and Chorale, directs Festival Amadeus, a week of classical music events showcasing the symphony’s musicians as well as performers who travel from around the country for the festival.

With a wide range of musical offerings, the festival is a unique event in the Flathead Valley, and one that requires a special kind of effort on the part of both musicians and organizers to put together every year.

Festival Amadeus was originally conceived in 2008, when Zoltek decided to create a summer classical music event in the Flathead Valley. The symphony, which has a full season from September to April, didn’t perform in the summer. Zoltek knew that a new population of tourists and summer residents arrived in the summer season, and he wanted to reach that audience.

“The concept was to try to serve the summer population with kind of a microcosm of what we do on a seasonal basis with the symphony,” Zoltek said.

This first festival was a success, and over the years it has grown, becoming a highly anticipated classical music showcase in the Flathead Valley.

An event like this requires a great deal of preparation, and with a full schedule of events and a compressed time frame, putting the festival together is a feat for everyone involved.

The week before the event, rehearsals begin in earnest for the Whitefish shows. Many of the musicians fly in not long before their performances, meaning they have to arrive prepared. They have little time to rehearse together before they perform.

Preparation will be particularly difficult for the six young opera singers performing in the final event of the festival: Mozart’s opera Cosi Fan Tutte.

The opera, which in English is titled “The School for Lovers,” is a romantic story about two sisters and their suitors, and the drama that follows their attempts at courtship. Zoltek has brought in young professionals from around the country to form the opera’s six-member cast.

The singers will have only a few days to practice together on the stage at the Whitefish Performing Arts Center before they perform the opera on Aug. 10 and 11.

“Part of the challenge of doing the opera during the festival is that we have extremely limited preparation time,” Zoltek said. “Rehearsals are very intense … and we have to put it together very quickly.”

Despite the speed of its preparation, Zoltek said, the show is “going to be a lot of fun.”

Cosi Fan Tutte is an opera buffa, a type of opera designed to be light-hearted and entertaining. For first-time opera listeners, “it’s definitely a good opera to try,” Zoltek said.

The show, which is performed in Italian, will feature projected English subtitles to make the performance easier for viewers to understand. The performers will also wear 18th-century costumes, adding an exciting visual dimension to the show.

In addition to the opera, the festival features chamber music and orchestral performances. Its variety of offerings makes it a unique event in Northwest Montana.

“It’s really the only festival of its kind in the entire region because we offer chamber music concerts, orchestra concerts and opera,” Zoltek said.

With so many different shows to organize, the festival is “quite an undertaking,” Zoltek said, but despite the challenge of producing it, Festival Amadeus has become an important tradition for the symphony and its audience.

“It’s really grown,” Zoltek said. “It’s been a big deal for the organization, and it’s certainly a lot of opportunities to make some great music in the summer months.”

Festival Amadeus will have events in Whitefish, and one in Bigfork, from Aug. 2 to 11. For more information, visit https://www.gscmusic.org/.