With no end in sight to restrictions imposed to combat the coronavirus, Minnesota Opera announced Wednesday a major overhaul of its upcoming season.
It canceled the five operas previously announced for 2020-21, replaced by a string of events that “prioritize the safety of audiences and artists.”
Mozart’s “The Abduction From the Seraglio” would have opened the season in September. Instead, the company is staging “Opera in the Outfield,” an open-air event at CHS Field, home of the St. Paul Saints baseball team, on Sept. 24 and 26.
The evening will be a mix of live and prerecorded content — including arias from Bizet’s “Carmen” and Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” — with the venue’s giant videoboard screening an “innovative digital creation.” CHS Field’s food and drink concessions will be open.
Social distancing protocols mean just 850 tickets ($10-$50) will be on sale for each of the two evenings, with an online video version available ($10-$15) from Sept. 27.
Two productions from Minnesota Opera’s archive will also be presented online for the first time as part of the fall season.
Bernard Herrmann’s “Wuthering Heights,” an operatic adaptation of Emily Brontë’s novel, was staged at Ordway Center in 2011, in a production the Star Tribune said “could hardly be bettered.” It’s available to stream for $10-$15 Oct. 10-24.
The second stream (Nov. 14-28) is Minnesota Opera’s acclaimed 2016 production of Wagner’s “Das Rheingold,” the first in the composer’s gargantuan four-opera cycle “Der Ring des Nibelungen.”
The video of that staging has been recast in both 3-D and virtual formats, in addition to the conventional 2-D version. Tickets ($20-$25) include a pair of 3-D glasses shipped to homes in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota.
Two other past productions will be broadcast on Classical Minnesota Public Radio: Dominick Argento’s “Casanova’s Homecoming” (Oct. 27) and Kevin Puts’ “Silent Night” (Dec. 1).
Minnesota Opera is also planning a “Holiday Special” webcast without an audience present at the Ordway Concert Hall on Dec. 13 (live, then streaming until Dec. 27).
The company’s schedule for spring 2021 is vaguer, and depends to a large extent on whether public health restrictions have been lifted.
Tentative plans exist to stage “two operas not originally planned for the 2020-2021 season” at the Ordway, from March onward. Further updates will be provided by Minnesota Opera as the situation develops.
Behind the scenes the company has also been reacting to the heavy economic impact of the COVID-19 lockdown.
The opera slashed $4 million from its $12.7 million budget for the 2020-21 season, in response to a projected drop of 33% in anticipated revenues.
As for staff, 11% of full-time employees have been laid off or their hours reduced, and all salaries were cut up to 15% beginning July 1.
Contract and part-time employees have been hit even harder; 61% of their hours have been cut “in alignment with updated operational and production needs.”
In a separate development, Dale Johnson, former artistic director of Minnesota Opera and creative adviser for the past two years, announced his retirement after more than 35 years with the company.
Minnesota Opera President Ryan Taylor described the new-look season as “an innovative approach,” one which he hoped would bring “inspiration, income, healing and security” at a time of national social upheaval.
“We believe it provides a new path forward for our organization, as we look forward to returning to the Ordway in the spring.”
Terry Blain is a freelance classical music critic for the Star Tribune. Reach him at email@example.com.