Minnesota Opera Company (Minneapolis, MN)

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Curiazio (tenor Scott Piper) vows to fight for his family honor, much to the alarm of his fiancée Camilla (soprano Brenda Harris) in Minnesota Opera’s production of Saverio Mercadante’s Orazi e Curiazi. Photo by Michal Daniel

Operas such as Tosca and La Traviata are performed with ruthless regularity, but the Minnesota Opera Company is committed to producing one new work and one worthy rarity each year. As a result, two operas made their United States debuts during the 2006–2007 season. One was brand new, the other was 160 years old.

The company received an NEA Access to Artistic Excellence grant of $20,000 to support its production of Orazi e Curiazi, a long-forgotten opera by Saverio Mercadante. Orazi e Curiazi was considered a triumph when it premiered in Naples in 1846, but Mercadante’s efforts soon would be overwhelmed by grand Italian operas and by Wagner’s music dramas.

Dale Johnson, the artistic director of Minnesota Opera, knew that with the right creative team in place, Mercadante was ripe for a revival in Minneapolis. Johnson hired Tony- and Oscar-winning director Eric Simonson to recast Orazi, a 7th-century tale about two Italian families torn apart when their countries go to war, as a tragedy set during the American Civil War. Designers clad the Orazi men in Confederate gray, the Curiazi in Union blue, and the women in resplendent antebellum gowns. By all accounts, the singers and musicians relished a chance to perform such lovely but unfamiliar music. Minnesotans packed the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts to see the results.

“Our audiences love this stuff,” Johnson said. “It was a bit of a sell at first, but now the whole notion of bel canto is imprinted on our audiences.” Performances were attended by 7,460 people, and after the 2006-2007 season, a record number of Twin Cities residents renewed their opera company subscriptions.

(From the NEA 2006 Annual Report)