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Some Enchanted Season: Minnesota Opera Stages Five Romances

By Lavender September 11, 2009

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Get ready for romance.

Minnesota Opera’s 2009-2010 season skips the hordes of elephants and ladies in horned helmets in favor of overpowering love—and because it’s opera, after all, love leads to trouble, tears, and death: happy never after.

Nothing’s more romantic than Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers, set in “exotic” Ceylon, which opens the season September 25—it’s a question of which will prevail: the love of a guy for a guy (bring on the best duet in all opera!), or for a gal. La boheme’s love story is a wildly popular tearjerker, so keep the Kleenex handy. Casanova’s Homecoming offers the tale, with a few comic inserts, of the greatest lover of all time. Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux paints the picture of love-gone-bad when the Earl of Essex (Roberto) two-times Queen Elizabeth I of England. And Salome, the season’s finale—talk about the dangers of “just say no” when it comes to dealing with a sexually obsessed teenaged seductress.

As Artistic Director Dale Johnson says, “It’s a very audience-friendly season”—just what the doctor ordered (OK, your banker) to get one’s mind off the economic tsunami. First-timers—opera virgins—are in for a treat, and returning devotees will swoon when they hear of the talent Johnson has crisscrossed the globe to secure. For instance, fashion designer Zandra Rhodes is dressing The Pearl Fishers with what Johnson calls “an extravagant color scheme that will knock your socks off. Wonderfully witty, too. And, we’ve been lucky with the singers: Isabel Bayrakdarian, who originated the soprano role in San Diego to a sold-out American premiere, and young tenor Jesus Garcia, who won a Tony for his role in Baz Luhrmann’s Boheme on Broadway.” Add, in Johnson’s words, a “fast-rising and supertall young Italian conductor, Leonardo Vordoni, making his Minnesota Opera debut, and you’ve got an escape into a hyperromantic place, a great kickoff to the season.”

Casanova’s Homecoming marks a homecoming extraordinaire. It has been 25 years since Minnesota Opera premiered local composer Dominick Argento’s gentle comedy. It also marks Johnson’s own 25th anniversary with the company, and 25 years since the Ordway opened. Johnson enthuses, “It’s gorgeously written. It made a big impression on me that first year. We’re giving it a new, sleek, Milano look.” John Fanning (remember him in Tales of Hoffman?) will play Casanova, and Johnson notes that he’s “a terrific actor and a tour de force among baritones. He’ll add a lot of oomph.” St. Paul Chamber Orchestra will be in the pit.

Roberto Devereux represents Donizetti, as Johnson observes, “well into his stride.” It’s the first in Minnesota Opera’s promised Tudor trilogy (keep tuned next season). Fiery Brenda Harris sings Queen Elizabeth I, with Portuguese tenor Bruno Ribiero debuting as her treacherous lover. But enough about him. It’s the Queen’s opera. Listen, particularly, for her recitatives (the melodic exposition between the big-bang arias), Johnson hints. “This Queen is multifaceted, not two-dimensional,” he declares.

La boheme is so uberpopular that it has been double-cast in order to extend its run. Team 1: Lovebirds James Valenti and Ellie Dehn, last year’s equally ill-fated Romeo and Juliet, while “extraordinary” (Johnson’s description) Adam Diegel and Jennifer Black alternate in the Parisian garret. Australian Director Justin Way joins Music Director Emmanuel Joel-Hornak, from France, in this international talent spree.

Finally, a new production of perhaps the world’s most sexy opera, Salome, with lovely Russian temptress Mkada Khudoley shedding her seven veils (while her stepdaddy drools), and singing to big-voiced, body-buffed baritone Jason Howard, who, Johnson shares, “is not afraid to take his clothes off.” (Hey, it’s darned hot in that cistern.) All opera are sung in their original tongues, with English translations above the stage.

Again this season, you’re invited to partake in Out at the Opera events at the Downtown Minneapolis Opera Center that have been, according to Johnson, “super-well-attended.” As well, take in specially designated Ordway performance nights, with discounted tickets, invitations to private events, and meet-and-mingle happenings, hosted in partnership with corporate diversity sponsors. Newcomers are especially welcome. Seats are selling fast—and you won’t want to miss Mimi’s death rattle.

For information, call (612) 333-6669, or visit www.mnopera.org.

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