Tonight (Thursday, Feb. 18), in a non-pandemic world, we could be watching Jeanine Tesori and Tazewell Thompson’s new opera “Blue” at the Ordway Music Theater. In March we could have caught Rossini’s “Cinderella,” with libretto by Jacopo Ferretti. And in June “The Shining” would have returned, with music by Paul Moravec, libretto by Mark Campbell and visual scares and surprises worthy of the Stephen King novel it was based on.
But Minnesota Opera had to cancel its entire original 2020-21 season. On the bright side, if that hadn’t happened, we might not have had the chance to see MNiatures, four short world-premiere operas by Minnesota artists. Commissioned by the opera as part of its reinvented Spring 2021, they are worthy of attention.
You’ll need to watch them soon. The opera released them one at a time starting Feb. 5. We waited to watch all four at once – the fourth was released Tuesday – and just discovered that all four are available only through this Friday, Feb. 19. (Each premiered on a different date and stays up for two weeks from that date.) So set aside an hour, if you can, and dive in.
Expect the unexpected. Speaking of her own work, “XYLEM,” composer and vocalist Ritika Ganguly says, “I hope that it helps to expand how we see opera.” Each MNiature does that in its own way.
“Dear America, Beat Your Heart Defiantly, Naked and Open with Love” is a song cycle, written as a series of letters to America from the depths of the pandemic. Singer Rebecca Nichloson wrote the libretto and the vocal arrangements. Asako Hirabayashi composed the music and plays piano, harpsichord and organ. The lyrics describe the time before the pandemic (“the whole world was naked and open”), ask what we would do if we could go back in time (“say yes to every invitation”), explore grief (“have you wept today?”), remind us that “we’re a human family” and urge us to keep our own hearts “naked and open with love.” The music, with Minnesota Opera Orchestra’s Sally Dorer on cello, rises and falls behind Nichloson’s deep, rich voice. (Through Feb. 19.)
Told in shadow puppetry and Charlie McCarron’s cinematic music, Oanh Vu’s “Chim Lac (Lost Bird)” is the story of a Vietnamese American woman (Thi Phan) whose grandmother (Lien) dies suddenly. Grieving the loss, feeling guilty that she didn’t know her grandmother better, Thi follows a magical bird back in time and back to Vietnam, where she learns about Lien’s past. Lady Midnight is the voice of Thi Phan, Monique Bach Hac Nguyen is Lien in a production that involved several puppeteers and members of the Minnesota Opera orchestra, who recorded their parts at home. It’s tender and lovely. (Through Feb. 23.)
“XYLEM” is the story of a tree whose roots touch every corner of the earth, and a python who loses her best friend, moves underground to live among the dead, then follows a sensation that leads to the tree. It’s haunting and fantastical, presented in music by composer and vocalist Ritika Ganguly, whose art encompasses a variety of styles from Bengal, and stop-motion animation by Roshan Ganu, with libretto, guitar, ukulele and vocals by Shinjan Sengupta, percussion and cello by Minnesota Opera Orchestra musicians Matthew Barber and Benjamin Osterhouse. Ganguly’s singing is hypnotic, and the animation opens a new dimension. (Through Feb. 26.)
“Don’t Tread on Me: A Century of Racism” is direct in its descriptions of what it’s like to live with the daily stresses of being Black in America, from the fear of violence to the endless, grinding frustrations and microaggressions. Created and written by Kashimana Ahua and Khary Jackson, with music by Jackson, it is sung by soulful, bluesy Ahua (who also raps), baritone Allen Michael Jones, a resident studio artist with Minnesota Opera, and opera singer Victoria Korovljev. Part chamber music, part rock-and-roll, it doesn’t mince words, whether telling of a soldier’s return to civilian life after fighting in World War I, a woman’s first day on a new job, or a series of insults recently in the news. A few more songs would make this a killer Fringe show, just saying. (Through March 2.)
V is for virtual, L is for live and in person.
L Tonight through Saturday (Feb. 18-20), 6-8:30 p.m.: The 4th Annual Illuminate the Lock. With temperatures rising, this has become doable. The 400 x 50-foot wall of Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam will be illuminated with large-scale animated projection art by Duluth-based artist Moira Villiard (Fond du Lac band of Ojibwe direct descendent), synced with a soundscape featuring music by Lyz Jaakola (Fond du Lac Band of Ojibwe) and a narrative by Dakota/Ojibway First Nation elder Millie Richard. “Madweyaashkaa: Waves Can Be Heard” celebrates the resilience of Indigenous women. Art this big takes a lot of partners; for this, you can thank All My Relations Arts, Native American Community Development Institute (NACDI), Northern Lights.mn, Mississippi Park Connection and Mississippi National River and Recreation Area. Free, with registration required. You’ll need to pick a time slot.
V Tonight (Thursday, Feb. 18), 7 p.m.: University of Minnesota Libraries: A Feast of Words: John Wright – the Unapologetic Omnivore. A conversation with University of Minnesota Emeritus Professor John Wright about his intellectual forebears and the African American men and women who inspire his work. He’ll be joined by Cecily Marcus, curator of the University Libraries’ Givens Collection of African American Literature. Free, with reservation required.
V Tonight (Thursday, Feb. 18), 7 p.m.: Mixed Blood Theatre: Zealous Hellions: Nataki Garrett. The artistic director of Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) will discuss how race and systemic racism play a role in American theater. OSF is the largest nonprofit regional theater in America. Garrett has directed some of Mixed Blood’s most daring productions including Katori Hall’s “Pussy Valley” and Aleshea Harris’s “Is God Is.” She’ll be in conversation with Seena Hodges. Free, with reservation required. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to RSVP.
V Sunday, Feb. 21, 7 p.m.: Dakota: Robert Robinson Celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. and Black History Month. Robinson has deservedly been called Minnesota’s greatest gospel singer. In a concert livestreamed from the Dakota’s stage, he’ll raise his magnificent voice in songs by Rev. James Cleveland, Mahalia Jackson, John Lennon, Sam Cooke, Mavis Staples and Bob Dylan. FMI and tickets ($15).