Twin Cities Outdoor Opera Performers Explain the Joys and Pitfalls of Outdoor Opera

Opera song

Ah, to sing outside in the summer, raising your voice as geese honk and butterflies fly and the gentle breeze blows, or singing an opera tune loud enough to be heard over car alarms, barking dogs and high winds.

Actors from four opera presentations held in the Twin Cities shared what they love about performing opera outdoors and some of the downsides they’ve encountered in an artistic pursuit that subjects them to the whims of the nature.

“The Penzance Pirates”

The Twin Cities’ leading purveyors of comic operetta, the Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company, will present a concert version of the silly moron from this 19th century English duo.

Waldyn Benbenek, who interprets the role of the Pirate King: “We like informality. It’s great to be able to reach such a large audience in a few performances. … And we like to sing with [the] Minneapolis Pops [Orchestra]. … It’s wonderful to feel the backup of that full sound.

“…And the informal setting means people strolling past you for ice cream, dogs barking and babies crying, and little children strolling around to see if your props are real.”

(7:30 p.m. Saturday, 5:30 p.m. Sunday; Lake Harriet Band Shell, 4135 W. Lake Harriet Pkwy., Mpls.; free; mplspops.org.)

“The Merry Widow”

Anne Wieben, a graduate of the University of Minnesota, is a Vienna-based soprano who reunites with former colleagues each summer for an Opera on the Lake production. This year it’s Franz Lehar’s comic operetta about a government’s attempts to keep a wealthy widow in the country by finding her the right second husband.

Wieben: “I love the atmosphere of warm summer evenings. The temperature, the breeze, the sunset, all invite us to relax and enjoy. …

“But the best part is also the worst: the weather. Whether it’s flash floods, intense heat, or poor air quality from wildfires, we’ve been through it all. … During one of the last tunes of [Johann Strauss Jr.’s] “Die Fledermaus”, the wind really picked up and started swinging the curtain. Our soprano, Alicia O’Neill, handled it perfectly, somehow synchronizing her high notes with the bigger bursts.

“In that same production, a car alarm went off and went on for a while. But we managed to make it a running gag all night.”

(7 p.m. July 26, 27, and 29; Lake Como Pavilion, 1360 N. Lexington Pkwy., St. Paul; $30; operaonthelake.com.)

Opera on the river

Near the lift bridge in Stillwater, St. Croix Valley Opera presents a showcase of opera excerpts performed by singers with Minnesota ties who have found success with major opera companies in Europe and the United States , including two rising stars from Edina, soprano Liv Redpath and baritone Thomas Glass.

Glass: “Playing outside is a blast. I find that I connect more easily with the audience since I can see them all, unlike in a dark theater. .

” I executed [Giacomo Puccini’s] ‘La Boheme’ exterior. The first scene of the opera is a conversation between friends about the cold they have in the middle of the Parisian winter. It was a serious suspension of disbelief in the 95 degree heat in Houston.”

(7:30 p.m. July; Lowell Park, 201 N. Water St., Stillwater; $50 free; scvopera.org.)

‘The Magic Flute’

Mixed Precipitation’s annual “picnic operettas” – combining classic opera with contemporary tunes – are now referred to as “van opera”, as sets, props and some scenes all fit in the back of a Ford Tidy. This summer, Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” meets the songs of a 90s nightclub.

Scotty Reynolds, Founder and Artistic Director of the company: “Being outside expands the welcome of your performance to everyone and everything around you. Suddenly, the neighborhood, the trees, the clouds and the circulation are all inside the story with you adding to the music My favorite spontaneous additions are the flocks of geese flying overhead as the chorus rejoice in the finale, the butterflies strolling during arias and children climbing trees to get a view above the crowd.

“But there are hurdles like convincing neighbors to wait until after the show to mow their lawn. Sometimes it takes a six-pack of beers, but an invite to the show is usually enough.

“We had a case where a neighbor was resentful of her neighborhood community garden. … During our performance, she lit a tire on fire in her garden. Luckily, it was towards the end of the show.”

(July 31-Sept. 11 at 19 locations in Minnesota and Wisconsin; $25 free; mixedprecipitation.org.)

Rob Hubbard is a classical music writer from Twin Cities. Contact him at [email protected]