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A month-long festival dedicated to the musical artform has transformed from a passion project into an institutional staple of Southern Illinois’ cultural calendar.

The Southern Illinois Music Festival launched 10 years ago and has continued to grow and expand in both scope and focus through the past decade. With each passing season comes new knowledge and perspective that helps shape the future.

“We have learned a lot in 10 years,” said director Edward Benyas, also conductor of the Southern Illinois Symphony Orchestra. “For example, classical music around the Fourth of July doesn’t really work, so we run the festival in June instead. Certain venues draw large audiences and others don’t, so we’ve learned where to do which programming, though we’re still learning about that every year.”

A variety of venues has always been a key feature of the festival, as well, with a concentrated effort to make the event regional and not just focused on any one area. This year’s festival, which runs from June 10-30, features events in 13 different communities.

One change to this year’s festival comes in the form of a second opera. An opera traditionally has closed the schedule, but due to growing popularity, an additional performance has been added, with the two operas bookending the calendar.

“Donizetti’s ‘Lucia di Lammermoor’ has all you could ask for in an opera: love, jealousy, betrayal, murder, revenge and suicide, all depicted with beautiful melodies and glorious singing voices,” Benyas said.

“Lucia,” based on a Sir Walter Scott novel and sung in Italian with English supertitles, will feature internationally renowned principal singers and a local chorus. It will be performed Friday, June 13, and Sunday, June 15, in the Carterville High School Performing Arts Center.

The second opera of the festival, Mozart’s “Abduction from the Seraglio,” features a change in setting from the original Turkish harem. Instead of Turks, two women will be abducted by Klingons and hope to be rescued by their loved ones in a more modern “Star Trek” setting. It will be performed Friday, June 27, and Sunday, June 29, in the Carterville High School Performing Arts Center.

Another special part of this year’s festival will be an orchestral tribute to the 70th anniversary of the storming of the beach at Normandy during World War II. The performance will be highlighted by a chamber piece written by an American soldier on the battlefield. Lionel Semiatin, the 97-year-old veteran who composed the piece, will be in attendance for the June 24 performance.

Reflecting on years past and looking ahead to this year’s festival, Benyas expressed feelings of pride on what the Southern Illinois Music Festival has become.

“I’m really excited that we could sustain a nearly month-long classical music festival during the summer in Southern Illinois for the last 10 years,” he said. “It is due in great part to the support of the SIU administration, as well as the generosity of donors large and small, who recognize the importance of hosting and sustaining a first-class annual cultural event in Southern Illinois.”

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