Not that long ago, we were worried about the Minnesota Opera. After Kevin Smith retired in 2011, there had been a string of short-term successors: Allan Naplan for a year, Kevin Ramach for two and a half years, then former Minnesota Historical Society head Nina Archabal as interim for a year, while the opera conducted a search. Trouble at the top.
Things are different now. With Ryan Taylor running the show, the opera appears to be humming along. Taylor, the former general director of the Arizona Opera, was named president and general director of Minnesota Opera in January 2016 and took over in May. Taylor is a baritone and former member of Minnesota Opera’s Resident Artist Program who calls Kevin Smith his friend, mentor and Obi-wan. Since Taylor’s arrival, longtime Minnesota Opera artistic director Dale Johnson has stepped back and into a new role as creative advisor to the president. Conductor Michael Christie is no longer music director. Priti Gandhi was hired away from San Diego Opera for the newly created position of chief artistic officer.
At the Cowles last summer during Pride, the opera staged “Fellow Travelers,” a love story about two men during the 1950s “lavender scare.” It has been holding more community events. Earlier this month, cast members from the upcoming “The Fix” and “La Traviata” visited Room & Board in Edina, sang and mingled. The opera’s production of “Doubt” recently aired nationally on PBS’s “Great Performances.” And the opera just bought the Lab Theater next door, expanding its already large footprint in one of Minneapolis’s hottest neighborhoods and adding a performance and gathering space.
Its 2019-20 season, announced late yesterday, is fresh and intriguing. Fans of the classics will get what they want. So will fans of contemporary opera. And if you want an opera to bring the kids to that isn’t by Giancarlo Menotti, Minnesota Opera has you covered.
October 5-13: “Elektra.” Richard Strauss’ take on the Greek tragedy about a vengeful daughter will be told in a newly created Minnesota Opera production. It will be sung in one act, with the role of Elektra alternating between Melody Moore and Alexandra Loutsion, both making their Minnesota Opera debuts. Elias Grandy will conduct the orchestra, and the creative team will be the same that produced “Das Rheingold” in 2016-17. This will be the opera’s first “Elektra.”
Nov. 9-17: “The Barber of Seville.” The opera last presented “Barber” 10 years ago, in 2009. This will be the new production from the Glimmerglass Festival, directed by Francesca Zambella of Glimmerglass and the Washington National Opera. Daniela Mack will sing the role of Rosina, with Alek Shrader as Count Almaviva and Rodion Pogossov as Figaro, Figaro, Figaro.
Jan. 25-Feb. 1, 2020: “Flight.” Jonathan Dove’s contemporary comic opera premiered at Glyndebourne in 1998. Inspired by a true story, it tells of eight strangers stranded overnight at an airport who meet a refugee forced to call the terminal home. Its first time at Minnesota Opera will be the production created for San Francisco’s Opera Parallèle. The ensemble cast will include Cortez Mitchell and Hye Jung Lee, who were both in “Fellow Travelers.”
March 21-28: “Edward Tulane.” We’re super excited about this brand new Minnesota Opera production: an opera based on the YA novel by two-time Newbery Award winner (and Minneapolis resident) Kate DiCamillo, with music by Paola Prestini and libretto by Mark Campbell (“Silent Night,” “The Shining,” “The Manchurian Candidate,” “Dinner at Eight,” Skylark Opera’s “As One,” etc.). Edward Tulane is a china rabbit who falls overboard while vacationing on the RMS Queen Mary. Eric Simonson will direct and Lidiya Yankovskaya will lead the orchestra in the world premiere performances.
May 2-16: “Don Giovanni.” The Minnesota Opera last presented this Mozart masterpiece in 2005 – eons ago, sensitivity-wise. The Don is a serial womanizer, a rapist, and a killer. Let’s see what the opera does with him. Perhaps we can expect an extra-special sendoff into hell. American bass-baritone Seth Carico will play the role. He made a powerful impression as Joseph De Rocher in the opera’s “Dead Man Walking.”
Season packages are on sale now, with individual tickets available in August.
Now at the Film Society’s St. Anthony Main Theatre: “Free Solo.” Follow Alex Honnold as he climbs Yosemite’s El Capitan without a rope – all 3,200 vertical feet. (Pause to think how strong his fingers must be.) Filmed by Honnold’s friends E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, this nail-biting documentary is up for Best Documentary Feature in Sunday’s Oscars. If you missed it when it came and went at the IMAX at Minnesota Zoo – shortly before it closed – seeing it on a big screen is still a lot better than watching it on your iPad. FMI including trailer, times and tickets. Ends next Thursday, Feb. 28.
Thursday at Mia: Third Thursday: Afrofuturism. With the whole planet buzzing about Man Booker Prize winner Marlon James’ latest, “Black Leopard Red Wolf,” Afrofuturism is a perfect theme for Mia’s monthly party. No, James won’t be there, but poets will read, performers will perform, collaborative art and zine-making will happen, and Mia’s new exhibition “Mapping Black Identities” will be open and ready for visitors. 6-9 p.m. Free.
Thursday at the Machine Shop: The Westerlies. Schubert Club Mix presents the “accidental brass quartet” of two trumpets and two trombones – four musicians, all childhood friends, who translate music originally composed for piano into music that sounds written for trumpets and trombones. The program will include works by Debussy, Satie, and Ravel, Duke Ellington, Jason Moran, Aphex Twin and others. 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($30). Here’s a Tiny Desk Concert they did for NPR in 2016. Pretty amazing.
Friday and Saturday at Orchestra Hall: Mozart’s Double Piano Concerto. Dutch master Edo de Waart, the orchestra’s music director from 1986-95, returns to lead a program that includes American composer Mason Bates’ Silicon Valley-inspired “Garages of the Valley,” Respighi’s Gregorian Chant-inspired “Church Windows,” and Mozart’s Concerto No. 10 in E-flat major for Two Pianos and Orchestra, featuring twin sisters Cristina and Michelle Naughton on a pair of Steinway grands, making their Minnesota Orchestra debut. 8 p.m. FMI and tickets ($30-102)