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MN Opera season to include ‘Dead Man Walking,’ ‘Figaro’; Italian Film Fest to open

ALSO: Pen Pals Presents Lee Child; Hmong Filmmakers’ Series in White Bear Lake; launch for Larry Millett’s latest Holmes mystery; and more.

Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” performed at the Lyric Opera of Kansas City.
Photo by Dan Sohm

The Twin Cities metro isn’t New York, and the Minnesota Opera isn’t the Met, so we don’t get dozens of operas with each new season and many chances to see them in a rotating repertory schedule nine months long. What we do get are five operas, presented one at a time in short bursts from October through May. And we’re lucky to have them.

An opera is an extravagant undertaking. Opera is an art form unlike any other, requiring words and story (the libretto), big music (the score), highly trained singers with specific types of voices (there are five types of sopranos btw) who also have to act, a stage director, a conductor (who simultaneously conducts an orchestra and singers who are moving around the stage, sometimes stabbing each other or throwing themselves off ramparts), an orchestra, sets, costumes, lights, maybe dance, and always emotion. Most often, someone dies. Happy endings are rare. Passions run high. Themes are grand. Everything is a bit, sometimes totally, over the top.

The Minnesota Opera announced its 55th season Friday, giving us much to look forward to. Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” (which has a happy ending). Jake Heggie’s “Dead Man Walking,” the most performed new opera of the 21st century by a man who has often been called the greatest living opera composer. Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale,” in a production set in 1950s Hollywood (another happy ending). Verdi’s “Rigoletto,” a tale of seduction, revenge and tragedy.

And Massenet’s “Thaïs,” a must-see for fans of Kelly Kaduce, who will play the title role of the beautiful courtesan. The Minnesota-born soprano starred in three out of five operas in the 2015-16 season, “Rusalka,” “Tosca” and “The Shining.” For “Tosca,” she stepped in as the last-minute replacement for Hungarian soprano Csilla Boross, who dropped out “for personal reasons.” Kaduce was terrific.

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Three of the operas in the 2017-18 season are new to the Minnesota Opera stage: “Dead Man Walking,” “Don Pasquale” and “Thaïs.” Two are new Minnesota Opera productions: “Rigoletto” and “Thaïs.” The casts feature several artists we know from past productions (Kaduce, Richard Ollarsaba, Angela Mortellaro, David Walton, Craig Colclough), as well as internationally renowned singers including South African baritone Jacques Imbrailo, mezzo-soprano superstar Denyce Graves (last seen here in “Das Rheingold,” in a role both brief and blazing) and Icelandic baritone Olafur Sigurdarson, making his company debut. Music director Michael Christie will conduct all but “Don Pasquale” and “Thaïs.”

Maybe you’re wondering, “So, where’s the Minnesota Opera-commissioned world premiere?” After “The Manchurian Candidate” (2014-15), “The Shining” (2015-16) and “Dinner at Eight” (2016-17, which opens in March), we’re getting kind of used to those, and we like the attention they draw to us here in the North. “The Shining” in particular was covered widely. And we didn’t mind that composer Kevin Puts won the Pulitzer in 2012 for “Silent Night,” a Minnesota Opera commission.

But the opera’s New Works Initiative, the program behind all those new operas, isn’t just about us. It’s also about promoting other hit productions from other companies – like “Dead Man Walking,” from Vancouver Opera. In past years, the New Works Initiative has also brought in “Wuthering Heights,” “The Dream of Valentino” and “The Adventures of Pinocchio.”

Here’s the schedule: Oct. 7-15: “Don Pasquale.” Nov. 11-19: “The Marriage of Figaro.” Jan. 27-Feb. 3, 2018: “Dead Man Walking.” March 17-31: “Rigoletto.” May 12-20: “Thaïs.” Season tickets are available now. Individual tickets go on sale in July. FMI.

Coming up in the current 2016-17 season: the world premiere of “Dinner at Eight,” a Minnesota Opera commission with music by William Bolcom and libretto by Mark Campbell (March 11-19). And the 2016-17 season closer, “La Bohème” (May 6-21). 

The picks

Tonight (Wednesday, Feb. 15) at Macalester’s Kagin Commons: Rain Taxi Reading Series Presents Paul Auster. Auster’s latest novel, “4321,” just came out and is being written and talked about everywhere. Kevin Canfield wrote for the Strib: “At almost 900 pages, ‘4321’ is easily [Auster’s] longest book, a bona fide epic that manages to be both accessible and formally daring. … This book contains some of the most perceptive writing of Auster’s career.” You can read a bunch of reviews and decide if you want to wade in, or you can hear the author talk and go from there. Or maybe you’ve read it already and this will be a bonus. 7 p.m. Tickets are still available (just $5). Here’s Auster reading an excerpt.

Starts Thursday at the St. Anthony Main Theatre: The 9th Annual Italian Film Festival. Four days, nine films (eight contemporary Italian movies will make their Minnesota debuts), and a Sergio Leone celebration with a digitally restored screening of “Once Upon a Time in America.” All films but one will be shown in Italian with English subtitles; the Leone is dubbed in English. The opening night party takes place at the Minneapolis Event Center and features a live auction hosted by WCCO-TV news anchor Frank Vascellaro. The “One Upon a Time in the West” screening is moderated by the Strib’s film critic, Colin Covert. FMI including schedule, trailers and tickets. (A general admission all-access pass, which includes the opening night party, is $110.)

Courtesy of the Film Society of Minneapolis St. Paul
A still from Paolo Virzi’s ‘La pazza gioia’ (Like Crazy).

Thursday at the Dakota: Adam Meckler Orchestra. Trumpeter and composer Meckler brings his 17-piece jazz ensemble to the Dakota stage for an evening of all-original compositions. The show will be filmed and recorded – maybe for a new live album? 7-10 p.m. FMI and tickets ($10).

Thursday at Once Upon a Crime: Book launch for Larry Millett’s “Sherlock Holmes and the Eisendorf Enigma.” When he’s not writing about architectural history (“Lost Twin Cities,” “Minnesota Modern,” “Heart of Saint Paul”), the former Pi Press editor and architecture critic pens Sherlock Holmes novels with Minnesota connections. 7 p.m. Free. Here’s Amy Goetzman’s conversation with Millett. Can’t go Thursday? He’ll be at Hamline Midway Library for the Fireside Reading Series on Feb. 22 at 7 p.m., and at SubText Books on March 9 at 7 p.m.

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Thursday and Friday at the Hopkins Center for the Arts: Pen Pals Presents Lee Child. Pen Pals events are generally lectures (in the most interesting sense), not readings, so aspiring authors of mega-hit series can expect to learn a thing or two from Child, including how one person can possibly write 21 bestsellers in 20 years. Child is the author of the Jack Reacher series; maybe you saw the movie with Tom Cruise? This should be lively and entertaining. Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 11 a.m. FMI and tickets ($40-50). A copy of “Night School,” the latest Jack Reacher book, is included with your ticket.

Saturday at White Bear Center for the Arts: Hmong Filmmakers’ Series. Free public screenings of films by Twin Cities Hmong filmmakers Choua Thao, Bryan Vue and Mong Vang, Kang Vang, Choua Xiong, Moua Lee, Lee Xiong and others. A Q&A session with the filmmakers will follow. Light snacks and non-alcoholic drinks available for purchase. 4-7 p.m. FMI.