Denyce Graves' path to operatic stardom began in Minnesota Opera's 1991 production of "Carmen," singing the title role in Georges Bizet's tuneful tale of seduction and murder. It became a signature role for Graves, one she's sung in most of the world's great opera houses.
Next spring, she and Minnesota Opera will reunite for "Carmen," but this time she's in charge. Graves will make her directing debut when the company closes its 2021-22 season with Bizet's opera.
The renowned mezzo-soprano has returned to the Ordway Center in the past decade to sing in Minnesota Opera stagings of "Doubt" and "Das Rheingold," so it wasn't a cold call when the company's president, Ryan Taylor, floated the idea of her directing "Carmen."
"Someone with your breadth of knowledge behind it could be extraordinary," Taylor says he told her.
That will be the climax of Minnesota Opera's first post-COVID season, announced Tuesday. It will start outdoors and move online before concluding with two full-scale productions at the Ordway in 2022.
Taking it outside
For the second incarnation of "Opera in the Outfield" at the St. Paul Saints' CHS Field, opera fans will be in the seats Sept. 24 while the singers hold forth from the infield with a program of Spanish-language opera and Latino vocal music — such as ranchero, zarzuela and mariachi — conducted by Miguel Harth-Bedoya, music director of the Fort Worth Symphony.
After finding success with its recent online-only production of Benjamin Britten's "Albert Herring," the company will return to the small screen with three free offerings through the end of 2021.
"Interstate" is a new opera by Kamala Sankaram about two women who were friends as teenagers but went down radically different roads, one of them becoming a prostitute and a serial killer. Jennifer Cresswell and Kathleen Kelly wrote the libretto for the opera, and they'll perform it online Oct. 9-23.
"MNiatures" proved such a success last season that it may end up being an annual Minnesota Opera tradition. A handful of composer-librettist teams will be tasked with creating 10-minute online operas. Streaming starts Oct. 30.
The "Edward Tulane Choral Suite" finds the company picking up where it left off when COVID closed down everything last March.
Minnesota Opera was just eight days away from premiering composer Paola Prestini's adaptation of Minneapolis author Kate DiCamillo's children's book "The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane." Taylor describes the shutdown as "soul-crushing" for a cast, crew and staff that had grown attached to the work.
That production is now slated for the 2022-23 season, but in the meantime Prestini has refashioned much of the music into something like a choral oratorio well-suited to multigenerational holiday gatherings around the computer. Streaming starts Dec. 13.
Back to the Ordway
"The Anonymous Lover" is the lone complete surviving opera from the pen of Joseph Bologne, aka the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, a composer who deserves to have an opera written about his amazing life. The son of a slave and a French plantation owner, he was a superstar in 18th-century Paris as a violinist, composer, orchestra leader, swordsman and a figure in the French Revolution. His opera is a light romantic comedy, and that's exactly what Taylor wanted for the company's first full post-pandemic staging. (Feb. 5-13)
"Voices United" is an opportunity to show off the gifted Minnesota Opera Chorus that's been out of action since spring 2020. "There's a long history of choral music being a force for positive social change," Taylor said. "So this will emphasize that." (March 27)
"Carmen" closes the season with an original production that will go on to the Glimmerglass Festival in upstate New York. (May 7-22)
Season ticket packages for "The Anonymous Lover" and "Carmen" are currently available at prices ranging from $41 to $336, with additional options for "Opera in the Outfield" ($20) and "Voices United" ($15-$35). As for individual tickets, "Opera in the Outfield" and "Voices United" go on sale in July, and "The Anonymous Lover" and "Carmen" in November.
Online offerings are free. More information is available at mnopera.org or 612-333-6669.
Rob Hubbard is a freelance classical music critic. • firstname.lastname@example.org