by SOPHIE KERMAN
No matter how busy your summer may be, you certainly have 90 minutes on a weekend to sit outside in a beautiful garden, eat tasty snacks, and watch a highly entertaining, impressively executed operetta. “But,” you whine, “I just don’t get opera!” With its adaptation of The Return of King Idomeneo, which integrates doo-wop classics and zany modern twists into Mozart‘s opera (Idomeneo), Mixed Precipitation gives you no excuse: not only will you get this operetta, you will like it.
Mixed Precipitation’s recipe for its fourth annual picnic operetta has not changed since last year: take four things people like (gardens, food, comedy, and music) and do them all extremely well.
For their inspiration, director Scotty Reynolds and music director Marya Hart have chosen a Mozart opera that already has a pretty absurd plot, and they exploit this absurdity to the maximum. The basic outline is this: The Trojan War is over, and the citizens of Crete are faced with two tricky situations. First is the love triangle between Prince Idamante (a delightfully wholesome Brad Bradshaw), Ilia (played with the utmost nerdiness Lauren Drasler), and the spurned Electra (Rachel Wandrei, whose gusto is a highlight of the production). The second conflict – much more dire – comes when King Idomeneo (Jim Ahrens) makes a deal with Neptune (Peter Hogan) for calm weather in exchange for an unfortunate human sacrifice. As this plot line comes to a climax in Act 3, the directors’ interpretive and comedic abilities really shine. (I won’t give anything away other than to say that their environmentalist/feminist twist vastly improves upon the traditional prince-slays-dragon narrative.)
While the directors have worked their magic to update the story, it is the cast of singers that bring the show to life and give the performance its wow factor. I had to remind myself several times that I was watching a free performance (the ticketing system is based on voluntary donations), because I would have been happy to pay money to hear these vocalists and musicians. The outdoor venue does make it harder for the singers to hear each other, and as an audience member I did sometimes notice some minor timing issues. But whatever minor opening-night slips I could hear were more than made up for by the performers’ connections with the audience. Seated on picnic blankets and chairs right next to the performance space, spectators can pick out individual voices and faces in the chorus; this makes for a much more personal viewing experience than the cold distance of a concert hall.
And speaking of a personal viewing experience, did I mention that they also provide thematic food at appropriately-timed intervals during the operetta? Chefs Nick Schneider and Chris Roberts have cooked up a five-course vegetarian tasting menu based on local ingredients. Not only does it taste good, but the menu’s surprising (and bizarre) connections to Idomeneo‘s plot make the food pratically its own character in the show.
Performed in community gardens around the Twin Cities (and as far away as Northfield) with its dynamic cast and donation-based ticketing system, Idomeneo is nothing if not accessible. What is so refreshing about Mixed Precipitation’s theatrical philosophy is that it completely throws away everything that people find unpleasant about opera (the length, the expense, the stuffy atmosphere) and keeps all of the entertaining parts. You might be skeptical, but I recommend seeing the show early on in its run – that way you can bring all your friends when you go back to see it a second time.
The Return of King Idomeneo by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, adapted by Scotty Reynolds and Marya Hart from the libretto by Giambattista Varesco. Presented in Community Gardens around the Twin Cities, August 11 – September 23 at 4pm and 7pm. Information at http://www.mixedprecipitation.org/shows/the-return-of-king-idomeneo-a-picnic-operetta/.