Singing Every Story
In 2017, Minnesota Opera crafted a new mission statement that stated our intent to change lives by bringing together artists, audiences, and community, advancing the art of opera for today and for future generations. In order to begin that work, however, we had to acknowledge that opera—the art form, the performers, the productions, and the music—in the minds of many, has traditionally been thought of as “for” some audiences and “not for” other audiences. Therefore, to sustain opera’s relevance and vibrance, we recognized that it is imperative we create a company that inspires hope and empowers all voices, and where our audience, our staff and board, as well as our performers and performances, span an even wider cross section of Minnesotans and visitors from outside our state
It’s this vision that led to the formation of MN Opera’s first Diversity Council, made up of staff members from every facet of the organization, with the aim of fostering a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture both inside and outside the opera hall. With the adoption of a new Diversity Charter, both our staff and board have made it a top priority to diversify our organization and audience across three areas: racial and ethnic diversity, socio-economic diversity, and age diversity. By inviting people with a greater variety of opinions, viewpoints, and ideas into our spaces, we believe we can better cultivate and enrich our culture of creativity.
“I’m hopeful that MN Opera will be a catalyst for positive change in our industry and for justice in our community.”
“Working under a new Diversity Charter allows us to have conversations about how we expand the voices at the creative table,” says MN Opera President and General Director Ryan Taylor. “What excites me about this last season and moving into the next is the increased representation from female conductors and artists of color. Those who have been in the industry for a long time are really being challenged to articulate what is so important about the art—and how others can share in that excitement.”
Our 2018–19 season saw an increase in the number of artists of color both on stage and behind the scenes, and we plan to build upon that in our upcoming seasons. Recently, we announced the commission of our newest opera for Project Opera, based on The Song Poet, a novel by Minnesota native and Hmong-American author Kao Kalia Yang that recounts her family’s journey from Laos to the United States. “I believe this opera will push the boundaries of the form and the dreams of my people and new Americans everywhere who live and love the arts in a positive and necessary direction,” says Yang. The Song Poet will continue its development throughout this season with a premiere date set for spring 2021.
We’re also thrilled to welcome a number of remarkable female artists this season, including The Barber of Seville stage director Francesca Zambello, and composer Paola Prestini, whose Edward Tulane will premiere in March, and will feature conductor Lidiya Yankovskaya leading the orchestra. In May, Mozart’s legendary womanizer, Don Giovanni, will be interpreted by stage director Keturah Stickann and conductor Karen Kamensek. “We’re really excited to tackle this story during this time,” says MN Opera Chief Artistic Officer Priti Gandhi. “It’s going to create a lot of conversation and an opportunity to see a very age-old dynamic about power between men and women reflected on the stage in a new way.”
Finally, we’re excited to continue making strides inside the MN Opera Center. For the past two years, our staff and board have participated in a series of intercultural capacity workshops and coachings, which will continue into the next season. This past March, we had the honor of hosting a summit with representatives from opera companies from around the country to discuss how we can better incorporate the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion into our work as an industry.
“There are so many practical and financial reasons to do this work. But above all else, it’s simply the right thing to do,” says Rocky Jones, MN Opera Communications Manager and incoming Diversity Council Chair. “Racism, misogyny, homophobia, ableism… all these forces pose daily threats to our friends, family members, and communities. Therefore, I’m extremely grateful to be a part of an organization that recognizes the moral imperative of this work and formally rejects and actively works against those forces. I’m hopeful that MN Opera will be a catalyst for positive change in our industry and for justice in our community.”
To read our Diversity Charter and learn more about how we are putting our principles into practice, please visit mnopera.org/edi.