This summer, a grandmother took her son, daughter-in-law and 4-year-old grandchild to the Musical Arts Center to see "The Barber of Seville." Knowing the grandson would not be able to sit through it, they decided that they'd leave an hour after it started and they'd come see it again another night. \nAs the opera began, the child sat in awe of the events happening in front of him and the music he was hearing for the first time. Never before had this child experienced opera. After the first act, his grandmother said it was time to go and the child pleaded to stay because it wasn't over yet: He could tell. They stayed to watch the rest of the performance and the child remained fixated on the opera during the 3-hour duration of the show.\n The wonder that this child found in the opera is something IU opera has been able to accomplish during the past 51 years. Opening in the former East Hall in 1949, IU opera was founded by former Dean of the School of Music Wilfred C. Bain and Herman B Wells as part of their new School of Music project.\nNow, the IU Opera Theater is considered the best collegiate opera program in the country and one of the best in the world. This year, it is producing one of the most ambitious and grandiose seasons in the history of the institution.\n"IU Opera Theater is one of the best opera production companies in the country," said Sylvia McNair, an IU alumna and world-renowned opera star. "Just like IU basketball has been a dominant force in sports, so has the IU Opera Theater been in the music world. Why not experience some of the best talent America has to offer while you can? When you leave Bloomington, you'll have to pay a lot more money to see quality like that."\nMcNair has been recorded in many operas and is a regular at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. She studied in Bloomington with Virginia Zeani, a star in her own right. \nThe Romanian-born Zeani, who was the grandmother of the aforementioned 4-year-old, had a 34-year career in opera throughout the world (though never recording much) and was one of the most coveted starlets between 1950 and 1980. She was such a star that when Pavarotti had his debut at the Met, she was the lead in the opera, and he was afraid to come up and speak to her. \nZeani spoke fondly of IU Opera Theater. "Here, we have great singers. I go around the world and I find that American voices are the best," said Zeani. "Opera represents a unique way of loving and speaking about love or dying with (the singers') own sounds. This charm of your sound is the best sensation that a singer can have." \nThe aesthetic experience that opera has, as well as the quality of IU's program has prompted students from all over the country and the world to come to Bloomington to study. The students who work on the operas give hundreds of hours on their time to present the masterpieces. While they are gaining experience for their careers, they are also giving of themselves to the audience for their enjoyment.\n"This season is very special to me because of the possibilities it offers to a voice type such as mine," said graduate student Chris Burchett. "There are several bass-baritone roles in this year's season which are considered some of the larger or more important in the repertoire. It's very exciting to have the possibility to perform some of these works here at IU."\nThis year's season is one of the most ambitious seasons of IU opera history. Beginning with Gaetano Donizetti's "The Elixir of Love" ' an opera never before performed at IU ' the season promises to represent some of the best of the operatic cannon. \nThe season continues with Mozart's comedy "Cosi Fan Tutte" followed by another opera never before performed at IU, Carlisle Floyd's most famous work, "Susannah." This opera which is fairly recent (30 years old) explores a purely American story with American music. \nIn the spring semester, IU Opera will present one of the most loved operas of all time, Gounod's "Faust" based on the dramatic work by Goethe. Following "Faust" will be one of the most popular operas of all time, "Rigoletto" from one of opera's most celebrated composers, Guiseppe Verdi. To close the year, IU Opera will present a masterwork from America's classical music star ' Leonard Bernstein's "Candide."\n"To me, opera has always been the most fulfilling of all the 'seven lively arts' because it is the only one that can encompass all other art forms within its productions," said history professor Irving Katz. "Just think, an opera can offer its audience a dramatic plot, acting, individual singing, ensemble singing, a ballet, a stage set and a full symphony orchestra. When these come together, the emotional excitement and aesthetic satisfaction are unsurpassable."\nKatz, who has attended IU opera for 30 years and is not part of the School of Music, said he believes the art of opera is essential to IU students' learning experience while here.\n"In talking to IU students over the years, I realized that most of them have little or no knowledge of what an opera is and have had no exposure, either at home or in their schools, to any operatic production. Compulsive pedagogue that I am, I nag my students constantly to enrich their cultural lives while at IU. Operas should play a major role in that enrichment process," Katz said.\nEven with the encouragement of non-School of Music professors, singers and the lure of a huge season, IU Opera Theater is still a mystery to many students. Some students are afraid of the big building many refer to as the MAC (Musical Arts Center). Since its construction, it has been home to some of the world's foremost stars before they were stars, like Elizabeth Futral.\n"Students at IU have a rare opportunity among students in this country to the art form on display at a very high artistic level," said Futral. "I think that opera, the art form itself, is one of the most exciting arts forms because it is the merger of theater and music and instrumental music as well as vocal."\nThough Futral is now a major opera star and has sung and created many roles in her career, she herself knew relatively little about the genre she was studying.\n"I do remember the first time I ever heard a Wagner opera at IU. It was something completely different and new to me ' I found it compelling and way over my head at the same time," said Futral. \nWhile it was a difficult thing to grasp, it also was a hook and made her want to know more and learn more. Now, her knowledge and work has made her one of opera's most successful singers.\nMore than the knowledge, the entertainment and the music, people who have devoted their lives to studying, teaching and performing opera do it for the joy it brings them.\nIU students have the opportunity within opera to find some of that same joy these people have.\n"This year I will implore the public to come to see these operas ' even the ones who have never seen an opera in their lives ' this is the best year to come," said Zeani. "If you feel an attraction a little bit for an aria, go. You will be forever happy"