I became an opera buff early on. 

      Left to my own devices as a student at Indiana University, I tat times needed a serious diversion from the anti-Vietnam War protests, streakers in the dormitories and the other campus mayhem of the early 1970s.

      I soon learned that the school of music on the Bloomington campus was one of the finest in the world for serious performing artists.

     By taking advantage of this fabulous, though much-overlooked IU amenity -- in addition to taking a voice class juried by former Metropolitan Opera diva Margaret Harshaw -- I was able to attend performances of Verdi's " Aida" and "Il Travatore, " Mozart's "Magic Flute," Puccini's "La Boheme" and a few other lesser known works.

     Years later, while living in Washington, D.C., I attended several performances by the Washington Opera Society at the Listner Auditorium on the George Washington University campus..  Opera performances at the Kennedy Center are for the most part out of reach for most of who reside in the nation's capital.

     So, it was against this backdrop that I was pleasantly reminded by a local television advertisement that Giacomo Puccini's "Madama Butterfly" was being performed by the Evansville Philharmonic.  I called a new friend, and it was off for a night at the opera. 

     Not since Minas Christian brought down the baton before the orchestra on Nov., 30, 1974, in a performance of Johann Strauss'  "Die Fledermaus has the boards of Evansville theaters been graced by a fully staged opera.  Indeed, for this performance, it was worth the wait.

     It was with some trepidation that I made my first visited to the newly renovated Victory, onoly to find a tasteful, magnificent restoration of the theater. 

     Several days before, I had purchased a boxed CD set of the opera at Barnes and Noble Booksellers. The set included a copy of the libretto which I took to the theater but it was so dark in the Victory, I could not follow it. 

     What unfolded on stage was a delightful performace of the tragic take of unrequited love.  It was on par with anything I had ever seen at the Musical Arts Center at IU or the Listner. 

      With Civitas Bank as the event's primary sponsor, the cast, which for the most part was imported from other parts of the country, put on a grand performance.

     The voices seemed in balance with the orchestra, and the performance could have only been improved with a little more volume in the rear of the theater, under the balcony (I understand the sound in the balcony is splendid). 

     We could also easily see the translation of the libretto on the screen above the stage, which had been provided by the corporate sponsor. 

     In an effort to reduce costs, the stage props were created from borrowed merchandise from the local Pier 1 Import store.  This bargain-basement approach proved effective. 

     While saving on the overall cost of production, the set design proved simple yet tasteful and provided the appropriate amount of atmosphere.  The picture-postcard scenes were delightful, the colors, costumes and staging simply beautiful.

     One of the most encouraging signs of this performance was the splendid mix of people who attended. A healthy collection of people of all walks of life attended, most importnat, a large number of teen-agers and young adults, which speaks volumes about the future demand for similar productions.

     This thoroughly enjoyable evening was marred by the calling cards ldft by spectators of the Christmas parade on Main Street, which had occurred earlier Sunday evening.

     I understand most of the mess was cleaned up by the end of the performance.

     It is funny how one can come away encouraged after watching a musical theater production about the unrequited love of a lonely geisha girl in faraway Japan. 

     But if  "Butterfly" and the packed houses both nights prove nothing else, they prove that there remains a deep thirst for serious musical theater in this community, one which was temporarily satisfied by this splendid performance. 

     To all the staff, crew, musicians, the conductor and the corporate sponsors of this event, I give a heartfelt "Thank You."

David Coker is an Evansville free-lance writer.  His email address is oldcars55@aol.com