Opera minus the high costs and testosterone

A semi-staged performance of The Clever Artifice of Harriet and Margaret , winner of the National Opera Association's 2014-2016 Chamber Opera Competition, in a hotel ballroom.

The French playwright and actor Molière (1622-1673) once remarked, “Of all the sounds known to man, opera is the most expensive.” A glance at the budget of the Opéra National de Paris today does little to dispel this perception: annual expenditures exceeding 200 million euros (approximately $225 million), a professional orchestra of 170 players, a chorus of 110 singers, and a ballet corps of 150 singers – to say nothing of the administrators and backstage staff required to support this flagship operation. This is opera in one of its grandest forms.

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THEATER REVIEW | "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" charms Theatre in the Round

At the Blaine School for Girls in Scotland in the early 1930s, Jean Brodie’s young students hang on her every word as she passionately expounds on her pet topics – sexual freedom, Fascism, and her romances. ©2014 Aleutian Calabay

Theatre in the Round’s staging of Jay Presson Allen’s play The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is a rare treat. Dann Peterson directs a well-paced production with some excellent performances. 

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The varied life of an opera house: Mantorville edition

If you don’t know history, Mantorville, Minnesota seems an unlikely place to have an opera house. This small town of roughly 1,200 people is located about 70 minutes’ drive south of the Minnesota State Capitol and 25 minutes west of Rochester. It is the seat of Dodge County (estimated population, 20,200), whose largest city, Kasson, today claims about 6,000 inhabitants. Given the proximity of Rochester – then, as now, a much larger city – what would have lead a small town like Mantorville to fund an opera house in 1918, when its population hovered around just 400 residents?

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Meet Minnesota Opera’s new General Director Nina Archabal

Nina Archabal, the General Director of Minnesota Opera.

Nina Archabal is the General Director of Minnesota Opera, a position that she assumed just before Thanksgiving in 2014. Although she holds three degrees in music and has long been involved in the Schubert Club’s leadership, her appointment to head Minnesota’s largest opera company surprised many residents more familiar with her work at the Minnesota Historical Society. This confusion is in some ways natural, as Dr. Archabal worked at the Society from 1977-2011, spending more than three decades as its Director. Her accomplishments in that post include leading the organization through a transformative period of expansion, organizing the funding and building of the iconic History Center in St. Paul, the Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post, and the Mill City Museum.

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Twin Cities home to many opera gangs

A riot at the Astor Place Opera House in New York City in 1849. Lithograph by N. Currier.

Opera is an art form just over four hundred years old. It was originally created in an attempt to recreate the elaborate stage dramas of Greek antiquity, but very quickly evolved into a diverse and multi-faceted art form of its own. The first opera performances took place in the private salons and elaborate gardens of Italian nobles, but this was only the beginning. By the mid-17th century, opera was one of northern Italy’s most popular forms of entertainment in Italy, with elaborate public performances offered for the Venetian and Roman Carnival seasons. A century later, enterprising entrepreneurs had erected opera houses across Western Europe. Many distinct national styles emerged, with ardent fans engaging in wars of words and even fistfights over the superiority of their respective genres.

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MUSIC PHOTOS | The Current's 10th Anniversary featuring Billy Idol and Steve Stevens at the Turf Club

Photos by Patrick Dunn

It was great to see people packing into the sold out Turf Club in St. Paul January 19th to support and celebrate the 10th Anniversary of 89.3 The Current. It’s establishments like this that keep the Twin Cities known for being rich in the arts. The event titled Mary Lucia’s Rock and Roll Radio show created a little extra buzz as they were able to arrange for 80s rocker Billy Idol who is out on tour to swing by and squeeze in a 6 song acoustic set. Idol was packed full of charisma and his strong vocal only needed his longtime guitar master Steve Steven’s to do the music justice. The rockabilly style “To Be A Lover” was a standout and of course “Rebel Yell” was the big closer.

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THEATER REVIEW | Swandive Theatre's "Defying Gravity": Lost in space

Elizabeth (Roneet Aliza Rahamim) reaches out to her mother in the stars in Swandive Theatre's production of Defying Gravity; photography by Joan Banick

Jane Anderson’s play Defying Gravity is NOT about the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, and it IS about the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. That, in a nutshell, is the problem. It feels like the playwright is trying to have it both ways. She doesn’t want to be bound by the literal facts of the disaster, but she wants to piggyback on all of its traumatic emotional resonance for an audience. The script and the production by Swandive Theatre (to my recollection) never mention the Challenger by name, but they also use images and audio from the 1986 mishap. To use a slightly more current and raw example, it’s as if someone created a piece of theater about a “generic terrorist attack” but confronted the audience with footage of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. While Defying Gravity doesn’t feel manipulative in a cynical way (the good intentions behind the storytelling feel genuine), it is, nonetheless, manipulative.

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THEATER PREVIEW | Minnesota Opera adds a potent kick in "The Elixir of Love"

Alchemists distilling potions and trying to transmute lead to gold. Engraving by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c.1525-1569).

There’s something tasty brewing in Minneapolis’s North Loop neighborhood. No, it’s not another microbrewery or microdistillery to push the Twin Cities another rung up in the nationwide city-versus-city ranking du jour. This beverage is a love potion with a potent kick, a quack doctor, and those old bedfellows of alcohol: liquid courage and unrequited love. Throw in some questionable life decisions and a few of the most beautiful pieces of classical vocal music ever written and the stage is set for a grand comedic romp in The Elixir of Love, Minnesota Opera’s first mainstage work in 2015.

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MUSIC REVIEW | "Sesame Street Live: Let's Dance!" gets warm and fuzzy at the State Theatre

Photo credit TM/©Sesame Workshop

State Theatre in Minneapolis brought the childhood favorite neighborhood, 123 Sesame Street, to their venue last weekend for seven shows.

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