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The classics come to New Albany with Mozart in the Knobs

A performer stands in a music practice room. There's a piano to his side and mirrored walls. His arms are open as he sings.
Breya Jones
Performers are getting ready for different shows leading up to the finale of Mozart in the Knobs: a full production of "Don Giovanni."

Mozart in the Knobs brings two weeks of the classical composer's work to New Albany. It culminates with a full performance of “Don Giovanni” on Saturday night.

The inaugural festival features different performances all centered around the work of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The Austrian composer’s work is a quintessential part of the classical music canon.

Ian Elmore is the founder and artistic director of the festival. He grew up in Floyd County, where the festival is taking place.

He said classical music can be perceived as stuffy or unapproachable. Elmore said getting rid of those stigmas was very important to him.

“My artistic vision for this whole thing is to sort of just break down all of the barriers; barriers perceived or real in regards to how people can't approach classical music,” Elmore said.

Mozart in the Knobs is meant to be inclusive and allow people who are unfamiliar with Mozart an entry point for his work.

“Anyone can come, no matter what walk of life that you might be experiencing, that there's a place for you here,” said Gabriel Villamizar, the festival’s executive director. “Classical music welcomes you, no matter who you are, there's a space for you,” said

Choosing Mozart was a simple decision for the festival’s planners. Elmore said that his music lends itself well to several different types of performers.

“Mozart also has the most gender equity in the opera is of, of really any of the composers of the era,” opera conductor Alexandra Enyart said.

Enyart said using the work of a composer who embraced an early equity model in his work allows for a more diverse cast of singers to be used.

The festival includes several concerts in the lead-up to a full production of the opera “Don Giovanni.” The opera will bring together performers—singers, orchestra and band members—who are playing throughout the festival into one event.

Caden Cole is playing the titular role of the doomed don. As a student, the chance to play a lead in an opera has been an important professional opportunity.

He’s gotten a lot out of his participation in the festival’s fellowship program.

“The beautiful thing about this festival is that it's professionals working now in the field, and people like me who are still in school, working towards that,” Cole said. “Not only can we get mentorship, and more teaching from that, but also a friendship and relationship that will last especially in rehearsing the opera, it's really been fantastic.”

Putting together a festival of this size lends itself to collaboration, on stage and behind the scenes.

“Compared to other professional music festivals, I'd say we have a smaller team, so we've had to really blur the lines and wear many hats,” said Villamizar.

Elmore has stepped in to perform on stage after a singer unexpectedly couldn’t make it. Another fellow, who plays bass in the orchestra, volunteered to learn the songs on piano after the festival lost its pianist.

“That's the thing that's the most inspiring to me, is that all of the faculty and all of the staff here are willing to make sacrifices,” Elmore said. “They're willing to sacrifice their time, they're willing to, you know, put tons of energy at the end of every single day.”

The festival’s final performance “Don Giovanni” is July 29 at the Ogle Center at Indiana University Southeast.

Breya Jones is the Arts & Culture Reporter for LPM. Email Breya at bjones@lpm.org.

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