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A Midsummer Night’s Opera: Pagliacci in the Ruins of a Flour Mill

South 2nd Street and Chicago Avenue is already a great destination for those seeking cultural enrichment and a top notch entertaining time in downtown Minneapolis.  Guthrie Theater, Sea Change Restaurant, Mill City Museum – take your pick. But if you’re planning an outing for mid-July of 2012, be sure to factor in a new attraction: Mill City Summer Opera.

Flash back in time for a moment. From 1880-1930, Minneapolis was the nation’s leading producer of flour, and the Washburn A Mill was one of the world’s largest flour mills. The mill closed in 1965 and was gutted by a fire in 1991.  In the fall of 2003, the Mill City Museum opened to commemorate what this structure symbolizes for the industry and the region.

Now, within the ruins of this historic site, Minneapolis can simultaneously celebrate its historical significance and its love of the arts.  Mill City Summer Opera’s premiere performance, Pagliacci, will be presented in the open courtyard where broken brick walls create a canvas for sunset and a backdrop for the stages. Get some wine from the cash bar and take your seat with the rest of the audience, which may number as many as 400.  It is Minnesota, so it might snow, ah-hem, rain, but the show will go on inside the museum.  Being innovative and flexible is a hallmark of successful artists.

One such artist is Karen Brooks, professional bassoonist of 30 years.  She is the founder of Mill City Summer Opera and serves on its board of directors along with such music world notables as composer Libby Larson and mezzo-soprano Heather Johnson.

This summer’s performance of Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci will feature the voices of Richard Crawley as Canio, Jill Gardner as Nedda, Andrew Wilkowske as Tonio, Eric Morris as Beppe and Michael Todd Simpson as Silvio.  Music director is Brian DeMaris and artistic director is David Lefkowich.

I am thrilled by MCSO’s choice of repertoire as this opera is one of my personal favorites. Admittedly, I don’t recall the vast majority of what was presented in my music history classes, but even if I wanted to I could not forget the “Clown Aria” – Vesti La Giubba (sung by Enrico Caruso, of course) – from Pagliacci as an example of the gut-wrenching verismo style of singing.  Passion, jealousy, unfaithfulness, and even a play-within-a-play are delivered in this emotional story of a troupe of travelling actors.

After the final performance on July 20, 2012, it may be true that “the comedy is over,” but I sure hope that Mill City Summer Opera is only just beginning.

Ticket information here.


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