A Night (Or Three) At The Opera

March 20, 2015

Excitement builds at the Ordway before a performance of “The Manchurian Candidate.”


Peepshow readers are likely familiar with the “Muse It or Lose It” perk we Ponies enjoy.

For the uninitiated: It’s an annual stipend that “must be used to explore your creative spark.” (See Franny’s GoPro adventure.) The only real stipulation is that you dive into something you wouldn’t typically do.

On that note, meet Jake Anderson, season ticketholder to the Minnesota Opera.

Okay, so it’s only three shows, but I’m nonetheless immersing myself in a new experience – and thoroughly enjoying it. My inaugural opera at the Ordway was “The Elixir of Love,” billed as a “one of the most endearing Italian comic operas” in which “a love-struck country bumpkin sets out to win a feisty socialite’s heart, aided by a ‘magic’ potion…” Turns out, that “potion” is nothing more than fermented grape juice, and the story’s quite amusing, with the protagonist growing increasingly confident with each sip from his wine bottle.

“Elixir” mostly conformed to my expectations – period piece, sung in Italian, beautifully orchestrated music – but it was the singing, the very thing that makes an opera an opera, for which I found myself wholly unprepared.photo 4[1]

Sure, these people make their living singing. They’re classically trained. They should be among the best of the best. But my god, comparing a radio single to one of these captivating arias is akin to likening a Whopper to a Wagyu steak.

Earlier this month, I attended my second show, “The Manchurian Candidate.” It’s adapted from a novel, which has also twice been translated to film, once in 1962 starring Ol’ Blue Eyes and again in 2004, with Denzel Washington. It’s a sort of dramatic dark satire, with its sights set on McCarthy-era politicos who brainwash a soldier into becoming a cold-blooded assassin.

The stark contrast between “The Manchurian Candidate” and “The Elixir of Love” was clear from the moment I saw the minimalist set design, with a solitary metal folding chair center stage. Another obvious distinction: It was sung in English. Ultimately, both experiences were fantastic in their own right, albeit very different.

(Side note: There was an equally stark contrast between the theatergoers and the other riders on my light-rail ride to St. Paul, as it was the Saturday preceding St. Patrick’s Day. But the cultural juxtaposition between opera fans and drunken college students could merit its own blog post.)

To round out my operatic hat trick, I’m catching “Carmen” in May. Pro tip: Don’t sit right in the front like I did the first time, especially if the show is in a foreign language, as it’s difficult to take in the full performance while craning your neck to see the translations overhead. Or better yet, read the story in advance, forget about the translations and soak in the beautiful music.