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Watseka’s Helen Todd coming home to perform

           Saturday performance at Harold & Jean Miner Auditorium

WATSEKA — Former local resident Helen Todd is back home this weekend. The Sugar Creek Opera makes another Iroquois County presentation Saturday. And the former Watsekan, Helen Todd, has a lead role again.

Sugar Creek's production of "Die Fledermaus" by Johann Strauss II is Saturday at the Harold and Jean Miner Auditorium at Central High School in Clifton.

Todd, a co-founder and general and artistic director of Sugar Creek Opera, describes "Die Fledermaus" as a light, fluffy comedy. And though she's coming off heavier dramatic roles — she recently sang the title role in Giacomo Puccini's "Turandot" in Hong Kong — she's picking up Rosalinde fast.

That's partly because she and the rest of the cast are singing the German operetta in English.
"The comedy part of operetta is one of its most important elements," Todd said. "You want American audiences to get all the jokes. You don't want them to have to read subtitles.

"The operetta also lends itself easier to translation. It's easier singing and then speaking dialogue. It's not just straight opera all the way."

Todd has been singing the role of Norma Desmond in the musical "Sunset Boulevard" in Cleveland, soprano Helen Todd will switch gears.

She's driving eight hours from her now-hometown of Cleveland, Ohio to her girlhood hometown of Watseka to sing the role of Rosalinde in the Sugar Creek Opera production of "Die Fledermaus."

This is the 12th annual season for Sugar Creek Opera, formerly called Sugar Creek Symphony and Song. This year there is no singer apprentice program; it's on hiatus. Sugar Creek also dropped other programs it had offered. There will be no Cherry Street Art Fair, church tours or other concerts; just the one performance of "Die Fledermaus."

"We talked about our mission, about going forward into the next stage of life for the company, from Sugar Creek Symphony and Song to Sugar Creek Opera," Todd said. "That was purposeful because we want to concentrate on what we do best, which is professional opera.

"We rewrote our mission statement to be specific about that, to bring it back to our roots of showcasing classic and American opera. We're trying not to tire our workforce by doing extraneous events not related directly to opera."

Sugar Creek also hopes to extend its operatic reach to other communities like Peoria, Cleveland and Indianapolis — all cities where opera companies have struggled or disbanded in recent years due to the economy.

"We want to raise funds to perform opera in these other communities as well, and still have our summer festival and apprentice program," said Todd, who also serves on Sugar Creek's board of directors.

Todd, who lives in Cleveland, said she will return each year to Watseka to sing if donors and the community raise the money to produce an opera, though she no longer has family living in Watseka, in Iroquois County.

She feels Iroquois County and other areas of the state are underserved culturally, particularly in the area of live opera.

To survive, opera companies need to rethink the financial strategies they followed during boom times, Todd said.
"They have to think more community-based, more community-oriented so they're invested in the community a little deeper so they can get those donor dollars. It's taking a long time because they contract out three or four years. It's taking a long time for the business model to change."

Tickets are available for the Sugar Creek Opera. For reservations sugarcreekopera.ticketleap.com or call 815-432-3830

94.1 WGFA