Back in early summer, I received a phone call from Karen Quisenberry, Vice President of Production at Minnesota Opera. She had a great idea to bring opera back to the Twin Cities community, in an outdoor setting and wanted to know if I was interested in a collaboration. Over the course of the summer, the event morphed as we devised a program and searched for a venue that would provide a safe environment for patrons in the era of COVID-19.
An unfortunate fact about opera singers is that their massive lung capacity and vocal abilities make them weaponized aerosol spreaders. Though our original ideas included live performances, this fact heavily influenced the final decision to makes this a video event. Lucky for us, David Murakami, a video designer for past MNOP productions such as Das Rheingold and Elektra, signed on to the project. The opera world saw an abundance of virtual home recitals in the spring when social isolation began, and well into summer Young Artist Programs were filming isolated scenes programs. Karen, David, and I knew we wanted to do something different. While the idea of a montage of past productions came to mind, we were mostly inspired to follow a Fantasia inspired concept where feeling and imagination would move to the forefront of our storytelling rather than traditionally realized staging.
Karen and the production team explored venues such as drive-in cinemas and performance parks until they found the perfect venue – CHS field. Having researched the state’s recommendation on social distancing and health, CHS Field succeeded in creating a successful summer movie series based on a state-compliant distancing plan. It was an easy conclusion that this venue would be perfect in creating an inviting environment for new and returning opera patrons.
The number one rule in devising a new work is to integrate the performance venue into the event. CHS field provided an opportunity to hybridize opera performance and sports arena games where patrons can enjoy stadium concessions while participating in sing-alongs – including, “Take me out to the Opera” an adaption of the classic baseball hit “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” – and laughing along to The Allegro Challenge, Minnesota Opera’s parody of the Minnesota Twins’ 50/50 challenge.
This entire project came together remotely, with David Murakami in California and the MNOp team here in the Twin cities and over the course of two months, David and I formed concepts for each piece, collected media, and order for the program. We spent several weeks setting up zoom call video sessions with speakers in front of green screens and Allegro players in their homes while production and music staff organized safe and COVID-19 compliant recording sessions for the orchestra and resident artist singers. These days where live performances and been put on hold for an unforeseeable amount of time and Minnesota Opera continues their mission to present original and innovative opera performances for both new and returning opera audiences. We are excited to be coming together with all of you at CHS field to share this night of socially distanced, yet communal fun. We hope you enjoy Opera in the Outfield.
— David Radamés Toro, Reprisal Stage Director