MUNSTER - Although New York City is often considered the center for

cultural arts, the Midwest is becoming a land of golden opportunities for young

actors, musicians and singers.

Singer Jo Rodenburg of Lansing and Lincoln Opera conductor Kevin McMahon of

Highland are part of the youthful wave that will bring a production of the

opera "Carmen" on Sunday to the Center for Visual and Performing Arts, 1040

Ridge Road, in Munster.

The performance is presented by the Lincoln Opera of Chicago, a 10-year-old

company that aims to provide young singers with professional opportunities

similar to those available in Europe.

And while many Americans envision opera as a production to be played on a

large stage for an elite audience, the Lincoln Opera company says, "Opera is

for everyone." Consistent with the motto, ticket prices are $15 to $45

depending on the performance.

"Most people don't think about it, but where is the Lansing Opera House or

the Munster Opera House," asked Rodenburg, a mezzo-soprano who will portray

Carmen. "In Europe, a lot of small towns have little opera theaters. A night at

the opera there is like going to the movies here. I really think people

probably don't know what they're missing."

Rodenburg has spent a lifetime developing her voice and singing everything

from bluegrass, jazz and rock to new music. Portraying Carmen represents a

wonderful challenge and opportunity after years of dedication to her art.

"This is without a doubt, the biggest role (for an opera singer)," Rodenburg

said. "Carmen is on stage all the time. She is singing, dancing, acting and

playing the castanets. It's a dream role."

"Carmen" is a timeless story that will appeal to all audiences on various

levels, Rodenburg said. Carmen is a flamboyant gypsy who seduces a soldier away

from his fiancee, a sick mother and the military. When she tires of him, she

rejects him and falls in love with a bullfighter. The soldier, after renouncing

everything for Carmen's love, becomes obsessed with her and continues to pursue

her. Consumed by jealousy, he eventually kills her.

"There are few opportunities to do major opera for young singers," McMahon

said. "You can go to the Lyric and hear people who have done this so many

times. At Lincoln, you can see Jo doing her first portrayal of Carmen. If

people want to see the commitment of young people striving to do enormous

tasks, Lincoln is the place to see that happen."

"Carmen" is Rodenburg's most important operatic performance so far in her

15-year performing career. Her formal music education includes studies at the

New England Conservatory, Britten-Pears Institute for Advanced Musical Studies

in England and the Manhattan School of Music.

The many parts of her background came together in an important engagement as

a soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra when David Byrne (well-known as

leader of the Talking Heads) presented his first orchestral piece, "The Forest."

Rodenburg, who is a member of Thomas Wikman's Music of the Baroque ensemble,

said she'll consider future operatic roles and hopes to have her own recital

next year.