Minnesota Opera offers culture at exorbitant prices

By Michael Richter

While Opera is certainly not an art form typically associated with the Macalester community, students who enjoy dressing up for an elegant night on the town may consider buying tickets to the Minnesota Opera. The company recently released their 2010-11 concert schedule, and it contains some of the most recognizable and well-loved classical operas. Founded in 1963 by the Walker Art Center, The Minnesota Opera began as a progressive and “alternative” opera company, focusing on modern composers and newly commissioned pieces. However, since their merger with the St. Paul Opera Company, they have shifted toward a more mainstream repertoire. Typically, the company’s yearly program will include four crowd-pleasing Italian or German operas along with one world premier or a lesser-known selection. Notable examples from the past few years include adaptations of Pinocchio, The Grapes of Wrath and The Elephant Man. It is this balance that leads the company to describe themselves as “America’s most exciting opera company.”

The Minnesota Opera also prides itself on innovative production and an emphasis on young performers, Americans in particular. If you look at the cast list at most major opera companies, you are likely to find a list of well-traveled European singers filling the main roles with a small group of poorly paid Americans playing supporting characters or serving as understudies. It is unclear whether this system is a product of actual talent difference or just industry biases, but either way the Minnesota Opera has rejected the model. Their resident artist program aims to prepare young singers for permanent careers and their directors tend to hire Americans for most roles, as evidenced by the cast for the upcoming “La boheme.”

So if the Minnesota Opera truly offers the world-class quality it claims to, why do so few students ever attend? The biggest reasons are of course interest and ticket prices. But even so, you would expect an arts organization that stresses community involvement to take a greater interest in our college, especially if they hope to stay in business ten or twenty years from now. To be fair, the Minnesota Opera does run a group for young professionals called “Tempo,” which gives members access to special events and reduced-price tickets. However, the membership fee is $40 and very few students would make this commitment when they have yet to see a performance to begin with. As of now, the opera’s involvement with Macalester consists of a few flyers in the music department.

There is also room for efforts from within Macalester. In the past, school-sponsored trips to the Minneapolis Orchestra have been quite popular; perhaps the opera would generate a similar interest. Season tickets for next season just went on sale, and can be purchased starting at $50 each. The Opera, which claims to “educate” and “enrich the cultural lives of the community,” would be hard pressed not to make a deal with a student group or even the Program Board if they wished to purchase a set of student tickets.

But unless there is a focused effort to increase the school’s involvement, the Opera will remain a lavish and overpriced experience reserved for those few students trying to impress a date or celebrate a special occasion. If students are interested, tickets are now available for Puccini’s “La boheme” and Strauss’s “Salome,” both coming up this spring. More information regarding upcoming shows and ticket prices can be found at www.mnopera.org.