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The policy implications of Pinocchio (the opera)

The Minnesota Opera has all sorts of promotional events tied to the American premiere of “The Adventures of Pinocchio” this coming weekend, but one in particular caught my attention: “Where fairy tales and policy meet: Civilizing kids in uncivilized

The Minnesota Opera has all sorts of promotional events tied to the American premiere of “The Adventures of Pinocchio” this coming weekend, but one in particular caught my attention: “Where fairy tales and policy meet: Civilizing kids in uncivilized times.”

That the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute is the venue for this discussion (Tuesday, Feb. 24) also made me take notice. Turns out the Minnesota Opera has been sponsoring such discussions at the Humphrey since 2004. And they’re usually either well attended or packed, says Lani Willis, marketing and communications director for the opera. When the opera performed “Nixon in China,” for example, the Humphrey was packed for a panel including former Vice President Walter Mondale.

So, why do all this, beyond marketing the latest opera?

“We’velooked for some sort of way to connect the themes of our more contemporary operas, which tend to delve into issues of contemporary society and policy,” said Willis. “From the opera’s perspective, it allows us to dig into the relevance of our art form and also create on its own merits a very interesting public conversation.”

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How is Pinocchio relevant to public policy today?

“It’s a storyabout a puppet’s learning to be real through being generous and living in a community,” she says. “We looked at the tradition of civilizing children, which is one of the functions of fairy tales, and we thought, here’s a literary way where different cultures over millennia have taught children to function. … How do we do that now? What are the formal structures we use? We’re looking at the intersection of literary tradition, how the opera is very closely tied to the original story, and then looking at contemporary education policy.”

Willis says the opera’s Pinocchio is more faithful to the original story, a morality tale that is “much darker” than the Disney version many of us have seen. “In the Disney version, Jiminy Cricket is such a big character and there’s a feeling of optimism throughout the story. That’s definitely not the case in this opera. In this version, Jiminy Cricket gets squashed in the first few minutes … but he’s such an annoying character and you’re glad he’s squashed.”

Seats are still available for Tuesday night’s Pinocchio discussion, though registration is required (see below).

Panelists include Sheena Thao, coordinator of the Humphrey Institute’s Center for School Change; fairy-tale scholar Jack Zipes; composer Jonathan Dove and librettist Alasdair Middleton. Moderator is opera commentator Robert Marx. The composer will offer musical selections as well.

Pinocchio discussion. 7 p.m. Tuesday (Feb. 24). University of Minnesota Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, 301 19th Ave. S., Minneapolis. Event is free but registration is required. Call 612-333-6669.