Opera on Tap–Twin Cities director Eryn Tvete and singer Ben Winkler at 2017 installment of the organization’s New Arias Program. Photo courtesy of Opera on Tap.
The Twin Cities are home to a lot of things, but if you’re a fan of new opera you shouldn’t wait around too long to catch it. Productions like Minnesota Opera’s upcoming Fellow Travelers will play just five performances before vanishing into the ether. Most are shorter, with runs of 1-2 performances not uncommon for opera premieres.
Take the annual New Arias Program run by Opera on Tap–Twin Cities. In its most recent outing, this program features new opera excerpts – by 13 composers and 3 librettists. (Most of the composers wrote or adapted the lyrics, a situation not uncommon in the opera world.) Some are parts of larger works-in-progress. Some are freestanding pieces. Some will evolve from one to the other.
Blink and you’ll miss it – this program unfolds not on a glamorous theatre stage, but in the creative ferment of Honey–Minneapolis’s basement cabaret space. It’s a one night only engagement.
The 13 composers and their works were:
- Clint J. Borzoni, “Margot Alone in the Light”, based on Ray Bradbury’s All Summer in a Day, lyrics by Emily Conbere
- Basil Considine, “Just Another Adventure of Sir Winksalot” (from The Succession Crisis), co-written with librettist Heather Meyer
- Ross Crean, “The Things We Do (Kazoo Karoo)”, a freestanding encore about the singer’s life
- Matthew Horwath, “Voices”, a freestanding piece about schizophrenia
- Mary Beth Huttlin, “How Lovely” (based on The Diary of Anne Frank)
- Maxwell Lafontant, “All’anima Mia” (a setting of poetry by Umberto Saba)
- Benjamin Larson, “What Would I Say to God” (from a new opera inspired by the Stonewall Riots of 1969)
- Nicholas Mroczek, “Peace My Heart” (the final song in a cycle setting translated poetry by Rabindranath Tagore)
- Daniel Nass, “Flightless Bird”, a freestanding piece about penguins and climate change, co-written with librettist Elle Toni
- Rodney Rawlings, “When Matter Touches Antimatter”, a freestanding piece about explosive events
- Leo Segali, “Golpes a la puerta”, a philosophical exploration whose title translates as “Knocks on the Door”
- Tony Solitro, “War Wedding”, a freestanding piece about a soldier’s wartime wedding
- Blair Whittington, “Labrador Love Song”, a freestanding piece about dogs
The evening was curated by Eryn Tvete, the director of the Opera on Tap–Twin Cities chapter. A rotating cast of local singers performed the 13 musical selections, with Emily Urban (a staff accompanist at Bethel University) on piano. In typical Opera on Tap fashion, the evening concluded with a singing of the “Brindisi” drinking song from Verdi’s La Traviata.
Approximately half of the works were by local composers. The only unifying theme was “new” and at least vaguely operatic; the styles ranged from familiar and accessible to ethereal to dense. By and large, most of the pieces were reflective – more what I would associate with art songs than stage drama – and the rarer but faster-paced comedy pieces were my instinctive favorites. One of the highlights from the comedy section was the solo song “The Things We Do (Kazoo Kazoo)” by Ross Crean, performed to great laughter by Maggie Loftboom and her kazoo. The other was the duet “Just Another Adventure of Sir Winksalot” by Basil Considine and Heather Meyer, a hilarious piece that included an elaborate fight between rival knights Chase Burkhart and Ben Winkler. Of the more serious pieces, the most intriguing was Mary Beth Huttlin’s “How Lovely”, a setting of text from The Diary of Anne Frank and sung by Janna Kysilko.