By Amy Rea

I’m almost afraid to tell you what I’m writing about this week, because I fear that, if you’re not already a fan of this, you’ll wander away. But give me a chance — hear me out! Because I’m going to tell you about a local arts organization that does amazing things, and they might not be what you’d expect.

operaclass Wander Minnesota: A Night At The ...

Minnesota Opera (credit: Amy Rea)Minnesota Opera (credit: Amy Rea)

See? All these young people, paying rapt attention? No, they’re not learning about how to make a meat dress a la Gaga, or how to get Justin Bieber’s attention, or whether or not they can ever grow up to be Brett Favre. They’re learning about—are you ready? Stay with me — opera.

That’s right. The Minnesota Opera doesn’t just stage operas, it teaches youth and teens about it too. And guess what? This year is the highest enrollment they’ve ever had in their youth education programs.

What do these kids know that you don’t? Probably what I didn’t know either. Although I like a lot of different types of music, I never really thought much about opera one way or the other until a friend offered me a spare ticket. I was game to try it, although I didn’t expect to like it.

Instead, I loved it. I still don’t buy opera CDs to listen to; for me, opera is something you have to see staged. That probably puts me squarely in the middle between true opera fans who listen to nothing else and those who won’t even give it the time of day. But for me, seeing opera staged is a completely different animal than just listening to it. It’s dramatic, visually stunning, breathtaking, and very moving.

I’m saying, give it a chance. The Minnesota Opera is a talented, passionate organization that does amazing work each season. In fact, the current season begins this weekend with Orpheus and Eurydice. Recently I was given the chance to visit the Opera’s headquarters (they perform at the Ordway Center in St. Paul, but have their operations and rehearsals in their North Loop Minneapolis building) and sit in on a rehearsal.

First we saw the costume shop.

operacostumeshop Wander Minnesota: A Night At The ...

Minnesota Opera (credit: Amy Rea)

As you might guess, costuming is a major production, especially for operas that have large casts. Don’t worry, though; whatever can be salvaged and reused stays around.

operacostumeboxes Wander Minnesota: A Night At The ...

Minnesota Opera (credit: Amy Rea)

It’s not every day you see a box marked “cravats” or “pantaloons.” Nor is it every day that you visit the Opera and see a box marked “G-strings.”

Sets also need space and time.

operashop Wander Minnesota: A Night At The ...

Minnesota Opera (credit: Amy Rea)

This is a massive process, in which the Ordway’s stage size and shape is replicated in the shop, the set pieces built, and then they must be transported across the river and assembled shortly before the opening night.

Orpheus and Eurydice feature two other local arts veterans: the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Zenon Dance Company. Trust me, the latter in particular adds a huge sense of drama. This is no lighthearted waltzing. If it was, they wouldn’t need quite this much gear:

operadancersgear Wander Minnesota: A Night At The ...

Minnesota Opera (credit: Amy Rea)

Even the star of the performance, internationally renowned countertenor David Daniels gets caught up in the dancers’ web.

operacountertenor Wander Minnesota: A Night At The ...

Minnesota Opera (credit: Amy Rea)

Quick note: Daniels will perform the role of Orfeo here, and then again at the Metropolitan Opera, to give you some idea of the high level of artistry being brought to town.

So you see, opera has it all—fantastic music, vivid staging, costumes, and sets—all right there at the Ordway. What are you waiting for? If myths are not your favorite kinds of stories, check out the rest of the season. Maybe you’d prefer the fairy tale of Cinderella, the history of Mary Stuart, the classic La Traviata, or the dark and chilling Wuthering Heights (which was written in Minneapolis in 1951). No matter your choice, it will be vivid and exciting.
What else is happening in our state? Be sure to check out the 10 p.m. Sunday night WCCO newscasts, where you can learn more in the weekly segment, Finding Minnesota.


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