U Opera Theatre student signs with Metropolitan Opera

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Big productions are in place this year at the University of Minnesota Opera Theatre, as it kicked off its 2008-09 season this weekend with “The Rape of Lucretia.” One member, however, isbalancing his student life with a New York City career.

University graduate student Brian Frutiger, who sang the Male Chorus role in “Lucretia” Thursday and Saturday nights, recently signed a contract with New York’s Metropolitan Opera.

Frutiger’s contract with the Metropolitan is a first for University opera students, according to “Lucretia” Director David Walsh.

Graduate students Brandon Miller and Maggie Lofboom , who also sang in the opera, said the Metropolitan is considered the pinnacle of most opera performers’ careers.

Frutiger, who’s been singing since he was 5 years old, said it wasn’t until college that he discovered opera. He was able to get into young artist programs that has propelled his career in the direction of opera ever since.

“I just got kind of lucky,” he said.

Frutiger’s biggest challenge has been balancing his job with his personal life.

His wife, who is a teacher, and the couple’s 9-month-old daughter currently live in Minnesota.

“My wife has always been incredibly supportive,” Frutiger said. “I try to be very conscious about helping her out and giving her a break.”

Because Frutiger was in New York for six weeks performing for the Met, he was only able to rehearse his part in “Lucretia” for a couple of weeks, compared to the usual 10-week rehearsal period for University operas.

Walsh said it was hard for Frutiger to get some of the detail that he wanted because of the short rehearsal period.

The compensation, he said, is Frutiger’s “sheer stage experience and ability.”

“Even if not all the subtleties that I wanted are there, the result is highly dramatic, and that counts as much as anything,” Walsh said.

Lofboom said Frutiger adds to the cast’s chemistry and work ethic.

“We all respect each other and all really work together, which is vital in a show that’s so explosive,” Lofboom said.

“The Rape of Lucretia” is a modern-day update of Benjamin Britten’s 20th-century period piece, originally set in 500 B.C. after the conquest of Rome by the Etruscans.

The opera revolves around Lucretia, the wife of a Roman general, who is tragically taken advantage of by the son of an Etruscan warlord.

Walsh said he chose to update the opera so the audience could engage more with the material and think about its themes long after they were done watching it.

“Lucretia,” which unlike many operas is sung entirely in English, is also the first opera at the University to use photo and video projections.

“It’s an experiment, and I’m pretty happy with it,” Walsh said. “I think it really works with this piece.”

Lofboom and Miller are also members of an outreach group that’s been aiming to increase the number of people attending the opera.

Miller was part of the Opera on Tap event this past May, for which opera students sang for free at the 400 Bar.

The two students hope accessible operas such as “Lucretia” draw in more people to the art form.

“It’s a really fabulous creative experience you don’t get in any other medium,” Lofboom said.

Walsh said he wants to attract audiences of all ages, especially younger ones, to their operas.

“I think we’ve got some really good voices in this program,” Walsh said. “People in the city might be surprised if they came out and saw our productions.”