Recently, I received an invitation to the classiest event known to mankind: the opera. At least, it was the classiest event I had ever been invited to.
Last Thursday, the Minnesota Opera hosted a preview night for an array of Twin Cities bloggers to take a look at the new production of Wuthering Heights. The opera was composed by Hollywood music mogul Bernard Herrmann, best known for his work with such film legends as Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, and Martin Scorsese. The operatic version of the Emily Brontë classic hasn’t been brought to life on an American stage since 1982—its world premiere production in Portland, years after its composer’s death—and now it’s being brought to life again to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of Herrmann’s birth. Directed by Eric Simonson and designed by Neil Patel, Wuthering Heights is visually stunning—more on that later.
I had never been to a “blogger preview night” and had no idea what to expect. Having never been to an opera before either, I was clueless on that front also. Thursday truly was a night of firsts—it was even my first time driving to St. Paul. What a thrill! Despite my ignorance of what the evening had in store for me, there was plenty of novelty for me to toss around like a hot potato. “I’m going to the opera,” I texted to everyone. “For a blogger preview night,” I would add in a second message. Not many seemed impressed, but I assume that’s because they were too jealous.
Prior to the private show (ok, it was a dress rehearsal, but a really, really good one) the lovely folks from the Minnesota Opera met us at Sakura in St. Paul for some drinks, appetizers, and some introductions. Among many of the Cities’ finest bloggers, Michael Christie, the conductor, answered questions. He was very charming—he referred to the orchestra as the “twelfth man,” chuckling and acknowledging then that he is “a football man.”
Following the snacks and conversation our troupe of writers were led over to the opera house. The building reminded me of my grandparents. They used to force me to go to the theater with them all the time. I hope that, wherever they are, they’re proud of me for going of my own volition.
Eventually everyone found their seats, the orchestra tuned up, the lights went down and the opera began. At the pre-preview meet and greet, the folks of the opera had talked a little about visual effects that were going to “blow [our] minds” vis-à-vis these scrims which would drop down for video effects, and create the illusion of an extra dimension. At that time I simply nodded and smiled, already feeling way out of my depth like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, and unwilling to show too many signs that I had no idea what anyone was talking about. However, as soon as the show began I understood what they were talking about. A scrim, for the prideful and ignorant, is a screen that drops down over the stage, similar to a curtain, but is transparent to allow for lighting effects and projections. The use of these scrims created an amazing effect, and really made the show, otherwise grim and bleak in its Brontë way, quite dazzling. Not to mention, the effects made the spooky parts exceptionally chilling.
I can’t believe I’ve written all of this and I haven’t even touched on the music. The music! Daniel Zillmann, the Communications Manager at the Minnesota Opera, explained the music best when he said that it’s like a mix between Turner Classic Movies and the opera. Certainly it wasn’t a sound that I could conjure before actually hearing the score, but once I heard it the explanation struck me as spot on. It really was something to see all of these unbelievably talented, and dedicated people bring to life the obsession of one man, a musical genius who never was able to see his project come to life.
Even if it’s not your “thing,” I think that to be a part of something like that—the dream of a stranger long since dead—is reason enough to go see this opera. Have an experience that’s outside of your realm. Ask Bernard Herrmann to come in; come back once more.
Photo: Lee Poulis and Sara Jakubiak in Wuthering Heights. Photo by Michal Daniel, courtesy the Minnesota Opera. Coverage of issues and events that affect Central Corridor neighborhoods and communities is funded in part by a grant from Central Corridor Collaborative.