Danger: Arias Ahead – 2011 MN Opera Season


Stop, in the name of love! With romance-induced suicides featured in three of the five productions of Minnesota Opera’s 2011-2012 season (four, if you count the aftermath of disobeying orders on the battlefield), we need a couple of crisis counselors backstage. But then, what’s more romantic than a tenor or soprano who dramatically ends it all when love is thwarted?

Well, maybe a happy ending, and yes, we have one of those, too. The season opens September 20 with Mozart’s comic come-uppance for two guys and two gals who adopt disguises to disclose the fickle nature of their intended in Così fan tutte (which sort of means, “Hey, it’s that way with everyone”).

Why reprise the work this season? Because Artistic Director Dale Johnson has a guilty conscience, “The first time we did the opera, in 1992, it was”—long pause—“awful. So I’ve been longing to redo it—to redeem ourselves.”

To assure that happens, he’s hired Peter (Latté Da) Rothstein to direct, with a “great cast of very feminine ladies and very masculine men” in an “elegant” setting that runs counter to the current craze for grunge adaptations. “And it’s selling very well,” he reports. “Due to the ongoing economic crisis, we wondered, ‘Will this be our bad year?’ We’ve always operated in the black.” No worries, Dale.

In November, to usher in the holiday season, the Opera will stage a premiere of Silent Night. But this is not your customary feel-good holiday fare: It’s adapted from the French film Joyeux Noel, documenting the true story of the Christmas Eve armistice momentarily achieved between Allied and Axis soldiers in the trenches during World War I.

“When I first saw the film,” Dale recalls, “I thought, ‘Opera material!’ It’s sentimental but not maudlin. In the midst of a horrific war, it shows that people can put aside false prejudices and appeal to real humanity.” And yes, there’s even a love interest, between a French woman and a German soldier (both are opera singers, conveniently). Carols are sung in four languages, with the Opera’s customary surtitles in English. After the laying down of arms, however, the soldiers refuse to return to fighting. So they’re shipped off in boxcars to far more dangerous battlefields—sort of mass suicide, if you will. “It’s very moving,” Dale attests.

January’s production of Werther stars the Opera’s sex-symbol of a tenor, the popular James Valenti, who yearned to perform the role. So, okay, they staged it for him. It’s Massenet’s story of a man who seeks his Ideal Love (the caps are justified in this Romantic era) and cannot adapt to reality when Charlotte, the other half of the company’s now-famous “love couple” (Roxana Constantinescu—last year’s dazzling Cinderella), stands by her husband. So Werther shoots himself. Suicide No. 1 for the Minnesota Opera season.

Suicide No. 2 is one of operaland’s most famous. Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor cannot face a forced marriage in this dark, Gothic tale starring Susanna Phillips, last year’s Eurydice, who will go on to sing the role in Chicago and Phoenix.

Up next, and dead next, is Madame Butterfly, last staged here nine years ago when Kelly Kaduce sang the role in the performance’s second cast. This time around, she’s on the A team in a production that, says Dale, is “a very simple show, very Japanese-influenced. The movement all is correct.”

“Butterfly is a real heroine,” he stresses. “She’s strong—not a victim. With suicide, she’s chosen to keep her dignity” while we boo the tenor who does her wrong. “Puccini was pressured to add a final aria for him to express his remorse,” explains Dale.

“It wasn’t in the original version.”

For more of the inside skinny like that, The Opera features behind the scenes “Opera Up Close” events for all ages as well as “Tempo” just for you (if you’re under 40, that is). It’s a membership program for both new and seasoned opera-goers that includes opening night tickets, a cast party afterward with complimentary apps and discounted drinks, an intermission reception in the VIP Lounge, and a dozen events throughout the season.  Robyne Robinson hosts the first event on September 17.  Visit www.mnopera.org for info and tickets.

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