Susanne Burgess, singing onstage

Soprano Susanne Burgess of the Metropolitan Opera will be featured as Magda in two performances of “La Rondine,” which is among the highlights of the 2023 Southern Illinois Music Festival. The 19th annual and nationally recognized festival runs May 25-June 11. (Photo credit: Philip Klem)

May 16, 2023

‘Hidden Gems’ will be easily found at Southern Illinois Music Festival, May 25-June 11

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. — For the past 18 years, the nationally recognized  Southern Illinois Music Festival (SIFest) has given the region the finest professional singers and instrumentalists from the United States and Europe, mixed in with SIU Carbondale faculty and students. The 19th annual festival, which runs May 25-June 11, will feature orchestral and chamber music, opera, jazz and educational programs, and promises to not disappoint during its nearly three-week run.

Edward Benyas, SIFest artistic director and conductor, said the “Hidden Gems” theme is to highlight lesser-known works that are still beautiful.

“Several of our loyal music festival patrons have asked me, ‘Why ‘Hidden Gems’? Why not just ‘Gems’?’ I say, in the spirit of 21st century openness, let’s expand our musical palette a little: This is still really good music, full of beautiful melodies and harmonies,” Benyas said. “I predict that many patrons will discover with delight a composer or a piece that they’ve never heard before.”

This season includes two featured performances of Italian composer Giacomo Puccini’s “La Rondine” in Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Shryock Auditorium at 7 p.m. June 9 and 2 p.m. June 11. The opera, with Susanne Burgess of the Metropolitan Opera singing the female lead of Magda, will also feature a brilliant cast and local chorus and dancers.

“‘La Rondine,’ is full of beautiful solo and choral vocal writing,” Benyas said, “and Susanne Burgess has performed with some of the greatest opera singers of the world.”

The performance is a cross between Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata” and Puccini’s own “La Bohème,” and the fully staged performances will include English supertitles — which are lyrics and dialogue projected above a stage or on a screen, Benyas said.

In addition, Verdi’s early opera, “Ernani,” based on a play by Victor Hugo, will also be performed as a concert version at 7 p.m. June 2 at Carterville High School. The opera features “beautiful arias, duets, trios and dramatic choruses performed by outstanding singers” and will also include English supertitles, Benyas said.

The festival features the works of well-known composers, including Alexander Glazunov, Karl Goldmark, George Frideric Handel, Vasily Kalinnikov, Franz Liszt, Camille Saint-Saëns, Robert Schumann, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner.

Artist biographies and the full schedule of concerts are available on the festival website.

Orchestral concerts in Carterville, Marion

The festival also includes four orchestral concerts at Carterville High School and Marion High School. Concerts are at 7 p.m. May 30, June 3 and June 8 in Carterville, featuring Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto on May 30, Liszt’s “Les Preludes” on June 3, and arias and ensembles from Handel to Wagner with young opera artists on June 8. Ticket prices are $25 and $10. At 2 p.m. June 10, a free, all-American patriotic concert at Marion High School will include a tribute to acclaimed American composer and conductor John Williams, who recently celebrated his 91st birthday.

Other festival venues throughout the region

Audiences both young and old will have myriad opportunities to be immersed in classics performed by wind trios, string quartets, wind and brass quintets, and more. The Klassics for Kids and Jive with Jazz performances, which features multiple events in Anna, Carbondale, Marion and Murphysboro for children of all ages are free, and reservations are not needed.

The festival kicks off May 25 with a free voice and cello recital featuring mezzo soprano and Carbondale native Emily Hughes and William Cernota, an assistant lecturer in SIU’s School of Music, at Carbondale Unitarian Fellowship, 105 N. Parrish Lane, Carbondale. The concert begins at 7 p.m. with donations accepted to benefit the Carbondale Warming Center. Other festival venues in Carbondale include ArtSpace304, the First United Methodist Church of Carbondale, SIU’s Morris Library and Shryock Auditorium, and the Lutes Gallery in the University Museum. Performances are also scheduled for the Harold Jones Fine Arts Center in Cairo and the Anna Arts Center.

A focus of this year's festival is underrepresented composers, Benyas noted. That includes a free chamber concert at 3 p.m. June 7 on Morris Library’s third floor for the dedication of the Lionel Semiatin collection. Semiatin was a World War II veteran who composed much of his “American Symphony" while on battlefields.  He visited Carbondale in 2014 to hear three of his pieces performed at the 2014 music festival during a D-Day 70th anniversary concert. He died in 2015 at 98, two months after his entire “American Symphony” premiered that June.

Tickets available now

Tickets to most festival events are $20 for general admission and $10 for students of any age; $25 and $10 for the June 2 opera performance at Carterville High School and the June 9 and 11 opera performances at Shryock Auditorium, and the May 30, June 3 and June 8 performances at Carterville High School. A season pass is available for $150 and includes an SIFest program booklet. Tickets and festival passes will be available at the door.

Advance tickets are available by contacting Benyas at or 312-560-2094. Checks for the total amount payable to “Southern Illinois Music Festival” may be sent to Edward Benyas, SIU School of Music, Mailcode 4302, Carbondale, Illinois 62901.

Patrons will receive an email confirmation of their order and instructions.