BEMIDJI - The time spent in preparing for a fully-staged and orchestrated opera is a daunting task even for professionals in the Loon Opera Company's production this summer.
Darla Diltz saw her first opera when her mother, Judy Murphy, sang the lead in Puccini's "Madama Butterfly" for the Wichita Opera Company.
"It has been an emotional experience for me to sing a role so closely connected to my mother," said soprano Diltz, who plays Cio-Cio San in the production opening Thursday night in Bemidji. "It is a very difficult role because I am on stage for almost two hours."
Diltz teaches opera in New York at Adelphi University and also maintains a private voice studio.
Tenor Kirk Dougherty, who is Lt. Pinkerton in the opera, was three days late for the start of rehearsals because he was singing on stage at the Met at Lincoln Center in Mozart's "Requiem."
"To be able to produce something of this magnitude in an area that is so far removed from a metropolitan center is amazing," said Dougherty. "I would come back to Bemidji. I love it here. Bemidji is a great town with the lake and, of course, Paul Bunyan and Babe."
Baritone Daniel Scofield came from being artist in residence at the Arizona Opera to Bemidji for his role as Sharpless, the U.S. Consul in Nagaski, Japan, in 1887. Scofield is first heard singing off in the wings and then proceeds to command the stage both musically and theatrically. His character is the one who sets up the Pinkerton rental of the home complete with a wife with the local matchmaker, Goro.
Goro is sung by tenor Phong Nguyen, a native of Georgia, pursuing a Doctorate of Musical Arts Degree from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. He has sung this role before at La Musica Lirica in Italy and knows it well; nuances, facial expressions and physicality so essential to the role.
The role of Suzuki, Cio-Cio San's maid, is sung by alto Allison La Pointe of Minneapolis. La Pointe has performed with the Rochester (Minn.) Symphony as the alto soloist for Handel's "Messiah." Producer Abe Hunter brought her up to Bemidji for the Loon Opera Company fundraiser "Love Songs and Arias" this past February.
The five leads in this production display this level of expertise and vocal capacity primarily because they are singers by profession. But that is not to negate the ability of the local singers who are seen regularly at the Opera Nights and Love Songs and Arias.
The littlest actor is 6-year-old David Emanuel Aguilera of Bemidji and a student at Schoolcraft Learning Community. David plays the son of Cio-Cio San and Pinkerton with a maturity notable for one so young. David was last seen in "Peter Pan" for the Prairie Fire Theater Company in Bagley.
Other performers who deserve a nod include Michael Lamon for his solo plea of marriage to a penniless Cio-Cio San by Prince Yamadori.
Both Mark Fulton and Mark Christenson steal the moment with their small but essential parts on main stage: Fulton for his portrayal of a commissioner who is not above taking a little "gift" from the groom after overseeing the signing of the marriage deed, Christenson is startling as the Bonze, a Buddhist priest, for his dramatic rendering of the curse on his niece Cio-Cio San for abandoning Buddhism in her marriage.
"The quality of artists, not only the principle roles but the local talent is gratifying," Hunter said. "This is Matthew Goinz's first attempt as musical director for an opera and his experience as a singer really lends itself to ability to know how to bring it all together."
Fulton Gallagher, mentor to both Goinz and Hunter, was at Monday's rehearsal.
"I am so very pleased with both of them," he said. "The instrumentation is very difficult and the role of Cio-Cio San is a tour de force for the soprano for all of Puccini's operas."
Costume Designer Fred Rogers, executive director of the Minnesota Folklore Theater, is proud of the entire production from end to end: set, lighting, costumes and set pieces.
"Butterfly is a great step forward for the arts in this region," said Rogers. "Some of the costumes are from my own collection and others are on loan from the Northern Lights Opera Company in Park Rapids."