Part of the catharsis of attending an opera is letting the tears flow when the music becomes particularly poignant. Some members of the Minnesota Opera Orchestra can relate: They confess to misting up, as well.
It's an experience they look forward to having again when live performance returns. In the meantime, many are reuniting online as part of a three-week Minnesota Opera showcase called "Apart Together."
It features two prerecorded programs. One, available now through April 17, is a collection of six half-hour-plus mini-recitals, each starring a soloist from the company's Resident Artist Program. The second, going live Saturday and available through April 24, is a program of chamber music from 22 members of the orchestra and a handful of guests.
Five orchestra members talked with us about what they're playing for "Apart Together," and reminisced about some of their more indelible memories in the Minnesota Opera's orchestra pit.
As concertmaster, Ostrander is the musicians' leader — and gets the best violin solos. She has several moments in "Apart Together," both solo and with three other orchestra members, performing music by Caroline Shaw as the Four Voices String Quartet.
Composer Kevin Puts has had two operas premiered by the company, including the Pulitzer-winning "Silent Night." Ostrander will play two movements of Puts' solo violin work "Arches," and Jascha Heifetz's arrangement of "Bess, You Is My Woman Now" from George Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess."
Her favorite Minnesota Opera memory: "The opportunity to play Richard Strauss' 'Arabella.' ... I remember being grateful for being in the pit as I was struggling to see my music through tears during Jacquelyn Wagner and Craig Irvin's duet, 'Und du wirst mein Gebieter sein.' It was sublime."
The leader of the orchestra's percussion section for 21 years, Barber will play marimba on three sections of Bela Bartok's "Mikrokosmos" with three other orchestra musicians, and take to the keys for three piano duets he wrote himself.
"As a percussionist who started off on piano, it occurred to me that this could be a wonderful opportunity … to get back onto my old stompin' ground," he said.
His favorite Minnesota Opera memory: "The world premiere of 'The Handmaid's Tale' by Danish composer Poul Ruders. Although this was nearly 20 years ago, the memory of a line of about seven percussionists behind the orchestra, driving the band with some very visceral, propulsive music, was an absolutely thrilling experience."
"The back row of the orchestra has become family," said Volpe, who teaches trumpet and leads the Brass Choir at the University of St. Thomas, and is also principal trumpet of the Minnesota Sinfonia.
"The principal timpanist of the opera orchestra, Kory Andry, selected a lovely lyrical piece by Erik Satie, the 'Gymnopedie No. 1,' " Volpe said. "We did it with two trumpets, along with Kory on the vibraphone. It was interesting because the trumpet is used in opera as a fanfare and loud, forceful instrument a lot of the time, but this piece is quiet and reflective. … It was fun not having to blast our heads off."
His favorite Minnesota Opera memory: "In 2016, we performed the Wagner opera 'Das Rheingold.' The orchestration was way too large to fit the entire orchestra in the pit, so we were staged very creatively on stage with the singers and action occurring all around us. At the very end, there is a big trumpet call. I had to wait 2 ½ hours for that big moment."
Last April, second violinist Mettenbrink stepped onto the balcony of her apartment in St. Paul's Summit-University neighborhood and started playing the music of J.S. Bach. Soon, she was attracting a crowd two evenings a week for "tiny balcony concerts" that sometimes featured her neighbor, keyboardist/accordionist Dan Chouinard, and the dancers of Ballet Co.Laboratory in the yard below.
For "Apart Together," she's communing with her section mates. "Laurie Petroconis, our fearless leader of the second violins, wanted to showcase the section and all its talents," Mettenbrink said. "She chose a work by Vivaldi because it has an opportunity for solo playing for each of the four violins."
Her favorite Minnesota Opera memory: "I cried during the opening night of [Jake Heggie's] 'Dead Man Walking.' "
In addition to her decades in the opera orchestra, where she is principal flutist, Frisch is half of the Bell' Alma Duo with longtime Minnesota Orchestra harpist Kathy Kienzle. They play some pieces for "Apart Together."
Frisch's choices are inspired by her birding hobby. "The sweet irony, of course," she said, "is that the flute is usually the chosen instrument to reproduce the calls and songs of birds in classical music."
Her favorite Minnesota Opera memory: " 'Lucia di Lammermoor' [by Gaetano Donizetti] in 2012 was one of my most challenging and also favorite sets of performances. The 'Mad Scene,' in which the flute acts as Lucia's alter ego, is a fun tightrope act of parallel scales and echoing trills. … It's just about the most fun a flutist can have in an opera pit."
Rob Hubbard is a freelance classical music critic. • firstname.lastname@example.org
Minnesota Opera's 'Apart Together'
What: Performances by Resident Artist Program singers through April 17 and by Minnesota Opera Orchestra musicians April 10-24.
Where: Streaming for free at mnopera.org.