Mixed Precipitation brings its colorful adaptation of a well-known opera to local community gardens, along with a five-course tasting menu.
From left to right: Katie Thompson, Shely Joy Adams, Maggie Lofboom, Lauren Drasler, Cory Grossman and Kalen Keir of Mixed Precipitation performed “picnic operettas” at the Farmers Market outside the IDS Center in Minneapolis. This operetta is based on a work by Mozart and is set in the 1950s.
Mixed Precipitation, a local performance company, makes the case that opera can be just as fun as a picnic.
In its fourth season, the group is once again blending the two, giving performances at community gardens, orchards and vineyards, where audiences sit picnic-style and partake of a plot-related menu during the show.
This year's production is "The Return of King Idomeneo: A Picnic Operetta," which brings Mozart's opera "Idomeneo, rè di Creta" to a street corner on the island of Crete, circa 1950. In the mix are doo-wop tunes and a blob-like sea monster, on top of the original Italian opera music.
The show is traveling to sites all over the metro area and beyond, through Sept. 23, including a stop on Saturday at the Blooming Heights Edible School Yard in Columbia Heights.
Audiences spread out on blankets, lawn chairs and benches, and as an added twist, the show treats them to locally sourced foods that correlate with the action. Tickets come in the form of paper towels, and donations are collected at the end.
Although the company puts a friendly spin on the opera, it's an ambitious work, says director Scotty Reynolds. Part of the challenge is keeping the musical integrity, high stakes and emotional richness of the original opera, he said.
The story unfolds in the aftermath of the Trojan War, as the triumphant Cretans try to get back to business as usual.
It's a long story, but, pared way down, King Idomeneo is told he must sacrifice his son, Idamante, to appease Neptune, god of the sea, and he tries to stave off that fate. Because this production is set in the 1950s, it includes a solution that might not have been around in ancient times.
To help the audience follow the Italian parts, cast members hold up English subtitles, which are painted in Greek lettering on everything from a popcorn bucket to a scroll.
Emphasis on local food
Reynolds and chef Nick Schneider came up with the Picnic Operetta concept when they were housemates at the Omega House, a cooperative in Minneapolis.
The two, who share a love for classical music, had wanted to show off the Eat Street Community Garden, which the cooperative runs.
It meant overcoming "a lot of assumptions about opera as something too boring or too expensive or too bloated for most modern taste," Reynolds said.
One way they've done that is through food. "It breaks the barrier between the actors and the audience if they're eating food together," Schneider said.
To serve the food, they searched the opera for "moments of metaphorical reflection," he said.
For example, early on, cast members toast to Trojan blood, or those fallen in the war, with a nonalcoholic version of the Bloody Mary.
Later on, alluding to a sea monster, they deliver a "horrifying and delicious green algae," or stir-fried kale that's wrapped around a trident-like fork.
"I wanted to keep it fresh, simple and Greek in nature," Schneider said, adding that he also researched dishes of the 1950s.
Throughout the process, company members helped prepare the foods and harvested wild greens.
Making new opera fans
Rachel Wandrei of Minneapolis, who portrays Electra, or, "the bad girl," in the show, can relate. As a veteran restaurateur, "I care a lot about local food and sustainable food practices," she said.
Additionally, she likes the way that "Opera elevates the other music," and vice versa. The oldies "brings a rarefied art form down" to a more informal level, she said. "It's goofy fun."
Arden Hills resident Grant Schumann, 11, the youngest cast member, who plays Zeus, agreed. "What's fun about my part is that I'm a big god and I'm a kid," he said.
Before he joined the company last year, he'd never done opera before. Now, the songs get stuck in his head.
A couple of his favorite parts include an obstacle course and sea monster fight. "They're fun. You get to do a lot of movement and you get to act scared, happy, sad, all of those feelings," he said.
Anna Pratt is a Minneapolis freelance writer.