On Feb. 18, the Minnesota Opera announced a full 2020-21 season of productions at the Ordway: five operas spanning September through May starting with Mozart’s “The Abduction From the Seraglio” and ending with the return of “The Shining.” In between, Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin”; a new opera, “Blue,” about the killing of a young unarmed Black man by a police officer; and a new production of Rossini’s “Cinderella.”
Opera fans had much to look forward to, including the final two productions in the 2019-20 season, the world premiere of “Edward Tulane,” based on Kate DiCamillo’s award-winning YA novel, which would have opened on March 21, and Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.” Plus the Minnesota Opera had just bought the Lab Theater next door to its HQ on North 1st Street, expanding its footprint and acquiring a stage of its own.
By mid-March, less than a month later, “Edward Tulane” and “Don Giovanni” had both been postponed. As COVID raged and settled in, the 2020-21 season became a question mark.
The answer, announced yesterday: There won’t be a 2020-21 season. Everything previously announced has been canceled. Instead, the Minnesota Opera will split 2020-21 into two, a 2020 Fall Season and a 2021 Spring Season. Fall will be distanced and virtual, Spring will be nimble.
Let’s look at both. (P.S. “Blue” and “Edward Tulane” will be rescheduled for future seasons.)
Sept. 24 and 26, Sept. 27-Oct. 11. The Fall Season launch will take us to … CHS Field in St. Paul? The big outdoor space (if you’ve never been, it’s a lot bigger than it looks from the outside) will host two evenings of “Opera in the Outfield” on Sept. 24 and 26, with “live performance elements and an innovative digital creation up on the field’s giant videoboard.” The program will be a selection of music from “Carmen,” “The Marriage of Figaro,” modern classics and more. 7:30 p.m. both nights. Reservations, face coverings and health screenings upon entry will be required. Tickets $10-50 to be there, $10-15 for on-demand streaming, available Sept. 27-Oct. 11.
Oct. 10-24. In 2011, the Minnesota Opera staged “Wuthering Heights,” an opera based on Emily Brontë’s novel with music by Oscar-winning film composer Bernard Herrmann (“Psycho,” “Vertigo,” “Citizen Kane,” “Taxi Driver”). This will be the first time it has been available for streaming. Premieres at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 10; on demand Oct. 10-24. Tickets $10-15.
Nov. 14-28. Except for “The Flying Dutchman,” the Minnesota Opera has steered clear of Wagner. In 2016, it presented an eye-popping “Das Rheingold,” the first installment of the Ring Cycle, leading some fans to speculate that the opera might one day throw caution to the winds and just do the whole darned Ring. That seems less likely post-COVID, but this production will be even more eye-popping as “Das Rheingold 3D.” Those projections! Those costumes! That set! Your ticket ($20-25) will include a pair of 3D glasses shipped to your home. Also available in 2D and VR (virtual reality). Premieres at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 14; on demand Nov. 14-28.
Dec. 13-27. Broadcast from the Ordway Concert Hall, “A Holiday Special – Live!” An afternoon of holiday classics and opera favorites. Premieres at 3 p.m. Dec. 14; on demand Dec. 13-27. Streaming on demand from Dec. 13-27. Tickets $10-15.
From mid-May through July, the Minnesota Opera presented a “2020 Digital Opera Series” of five operas available as free on-demand audio streams. Three were also broadcast over Classical MPR. That worked well, so the 2020 Fall Season will include two Classical MPR broadcasts (but no audio streams).
On Oct. 27 at 7 p.m., tune in to hear Dominick Argento’s “Casanova’s Homecoming,” with music by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. Oct. 27 would have been Argento’s 93rd birthday. And on Dec. 1 at 7 p.m., don’t miss “Silent Night,” the Pulitzer Prize winner with music by Kevin Puts and libretto by Mark Campbell.
And what about the 2021 Spring Season? Here’s all we know so far: It will include a virtual gala event in February and two operas not originally planned for 2020-21. Both operas will be staged at the Ordway Concert Hall starting in March 2021. All talent will be locally based. As explained in this press release announcing the new seasons, “This will provide for the greatest flexibility possible should the performances need to be modified to comply with future pandemic instruction.”
In a statement, Minnesota Opera President and General Director Ryan Taylor reflected on the current situation and the new seasons.
“There are so many in our opera family – artists, creatives, staff, audience, students and community members – who rely on our artmaking as a source of inspiration, income, healing and security. And the two pandemics that we are all struggling with now – COVID-19 and racism – continue to have devastating effects on our community.
“Artists and artistic organizations are often spiritual leaders in times of crisis. We offer connection, community and a shared storytelling that provides light, hope and a path to think differently and be better. Our typical prescription to work our magic requires physical and emotional proximity for company members and our community at large. And we know that very proximity currently endangers our health.
“With all this in mind, we present today an innovative approach and a new 2020 Fall Season that draws on the creative reserves of our company. We believe it provides a new path forward for our organization, as we look forward to returning to the Ordway in the spring.”
In more Minnesota Opera news: Longtime artistic director Dale Johnson has officially retired as of July 1 after more than 35 years with the company, the last two as creative adviser. The annual budget for the new fiscal year has been cut from $12.7 million to $8.5 million, reflecting a reduction in staff, the reduced costs of producing the 2020 Fall and 2021 Spring seasons, and a 33 percent decrease in anticipated revenues. There have been layoffs, reductions in hours, and salary reductions for all staff. And the previously announced search for a principal conductor is being restructured.
Tonight (Wednesday, July 29) at 6:30 p.m. CST: The Moth Presents: Play It Again, SLAM! Hosted by Angelica Lindsey-Ali, the Moth’s second-ever SLAM showcase features stories told by Jill Chenault, Lonnie Jones, Zakiya Minifee, Carlton Parks and more. No hat, no judges, just stories picked from the StorySLAM series, freshly curated and directed. In response to recent events, the Moth is uplifting Black voices. All profits from this show will be donated to the Equal Justice Initiative. Suggested donation $15 per household. Virtual doors for this Zoom event open at 6:15, stories begin at 6:30, and the event will be locked at 6:45. Register here.
Thursday, July 30, at 1 p.m.: Literature Responds to Crisis. Got 15 minutes? Want to learn something? The University of Minnesota Department of English has been presenting a webinar series of short faculty talks and readings to help us through the multiple crises we’re experiencing. For tomorrow’s installment, professor Ray Gonzalez and assistant professor Kathryn Nuernberger, both poets, will discuss how they are managing to write, and how writing helps them manage the difficulties of this time. Register here. Next Thursday, Aug. 6, Nathaniel Mills, director of graduate studies for English, will discuss how Black writers in the U.S. used literature to participate in the economic and racial political activism around the Great Depression. Register here.
Thursday, July 30, at 5:30 p.m.: Jazz Fest Live presents the 1950s Songbook with Maud Hixson. With husband Rick Carlson at the piano, the satiny singer will explore the ’50s in song, live from Crooners’ socially distanced outdoor Lakeside Cafe. We asked her for details and she replied by email: “We’ll touch on groundbreakers Jobim, Shearing, Dorough, some of the sharp women songwriters such as Carolyn Leigh and Sylvia Fine, give a tip of the hat to the recently departed Annie Ross, and survey the rich Broadway scene of Sondheim and Porter and Rodgers and Hammerstein.” Sounds delish. The Twin Cities Jazz Festival will stream the performance live. Sign up here to save your spot. If you prefer to be there in person, tickets are still available ($20).
Thursday-Saturday, July 30-Aug. 1: FLOW: Northside Arts Crawl 2020. For its 15th year in North Minneapolis, FLOW will be a hybrid: part online, part live and in person, with limited attendance and social distancing. Online events include artists’ talks hosted by Shá Cage and Lissa Jones with Northside panelists, classes, a variety show, and a showing of “8:46,” a work in progress by Minneapolis Fair students exploring some of the issues raised by the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. Live-and-in-person events include Rollerskating Night at Juxtaposition plaza, with music by DJ Yonci. Go here FMI and to download a schedule with links.
Sunday, Aug. 9, at 2 p.m.: Politics of Pandemics Book Club: “Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World.” This event is more than a week away, but you’ll need time to read the book. Boneshaker Books has launched four virtual book clubs and Politics of Pandemics is one. (The others FYI are Abolition, Trans, and Utopias.) Science journalist Laura Spinney’s account of the 1918 flu is, per Boneshaker, “the only book-length account we know of that doesn’t focus only on the United States. Spinney’s book is a wide-ranging tour through the science, social context, and political consequences of the last pandemic with the scale of the current one.” Sounds like essential reading. Go here to buy the book online and register to get info on how to join one (or more) book club. A volunteer-run, radical bookstore based in Seward, Boneshaker is so beloved that earlier this year, when it closed abruptly in March, its fans and customers rallied to save it and it was able to re-open.