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Short operas to take stage in Bemidji

From left, Mark Christensen, Linda Wagner, Karissa Korbel, Liz Macgregor, Sarah Bull and Sara Wabrowet practice a scene from Gian Carlo Menotti's opera, "The Medium," which opens Friday at the Wild Rose Theatre. Pioneer Photo/Patt Rall

Almost all of the singers in the Loon Opera Company production this weekend agree that it is exciting to sing an entire opera in English.

It's "almost all" because a couple of new faces, Sarah Bull and Liz MacGregor, singers who have participated in the Lake Bemidji Opera Night Galas for the past few years, have joined the ensemble. The two short operas for the Friday and Saturday performance - the longest just a bit over an hour - were composed by Gian Carlo Menotti in the late 1940s and were produced at theaters on Broadway.

The curtain will go up at 7:30 p.m., Friday, June 25, with an encore Saturday, June 26, at the Wild Rose Theater, 501 Bemidji Ave. N. Tickets are $12 each and can be purchased at the door or reserved by calling 218-368-8805.

The first piece on the bill is "The Telephone" or "L'Amour a Trios," a comic look at love. The ardent young lover, played by Dallas Dubke, tries to get the attention of his girlfriend, played by Linda Wagner, to ask a very important question. As can be deduced from the title, she is obsessed with talking on the telephone and waves him off, time and again. He finally figures out how to reach her, by telephone, of course, to ask his question.

The second piece, "The Medium," is a dramatic opera, which was originally performed as a double bill with "The Telephone."

"The show itself is deep and dark and dank, full of craziness and hope and despair. The emotional gamut here is rich and wonderful," said Mark Christensen, who plays Mr. Gobineau.

Mr. and Mrs. Gobineau (Linda Wager) return each week for a séance with Madame Flora played by Karissa Korbel, in the hope of speaking with their long-deceased 2-year-old son, Mickey. Sarah Bull as the widow Mrs. Nolan is attending the séance for the first time pleading for a chance to speak with her dead 16-year-old daughter. Bull's dramatic outburst brings the séance to an end. The séance takes up the first half of the opera with Monica, played by Sara Wabrowet, who is Madame Flora's daughter, pretending to be the spirits called forth during scam séance.

"This is my biggest role yet," said Sara Wabrowetz, "And I am glad to be able to cling onto Bemidji for just a little bit longer. This community is just so welcoming to music and opera."

Madame Flora, who is called Baba by her daughter, is a medium cursed with alcoholism which is the root of her eccentricities. Madame touched her humanity when she rescued her mute servant Toby from "the streets of Budapest."

"I like playing an eccentric - for me it is easy to go to that place," said Korbel who looks and acts the part as she pretends to reach the "other world," simulates drunken rages and prays for sanity while reciting "Hail Mary," and is comforted by the lullaby "The Black Swan" her daughter sings to her.

Madame's rages seem to revolve around her servant Toby, who shares a mutual love with Monica. Toby is played by Liz MacGregor who was chosen by the stage director, Andy Bowers, to be in this opera for the ability to use physicality and pivotal presence rather than dialogue on stage.Artistic Director Abe Hunter known in the Bemidji community as pianist, collaborative artist and musical director for several Opera Nights, approached his mentor, Fulton Gallagher, about a new role. Given a "thumbs-up" by Gallagher, Hunter then assembled a cast he knew would have the musical and dramatic ability to do these two pieces justice.

Hunter chose Andy Bower as stage director because of his experience at Bemidji State University in directing and acting in a wide range of roles. Bowers claims that he is thankful to be asked to direct an opera because he can now add that to his list of accomplishments.

"This is the first opera or even musical that I have ever directed, so this is a new experience for me," Bowers said. "You have to suspend your disbelief so much more because everything is sung - these beautiful arias. I would love to direct operas in the future."

Hunter rounded out the artistic team with a student of Stephen Carlson, Emily Larson, a fifth year senior in piano performance at BSU. The music is technically challenging and he said he had to pick someone who could play the "unidiomatic writing" for the piano. Hunter explained that the music is very rhythmic and uses mixed meters and syncopations and other difficult rhythmic devices. The music is not intuitive for the pianist as well as the singers he went on to explain, and the need was for a professional singers and pianist.

The technical tasks are by Ben Eng, a theater major at BSU who has worked for the Paul Bunyan Playhouse for the past couple of seasons in lighting and as a house manager.

All agree that the experience is demanding and fulfilling at the same time. Hunter said he hopes that the Bemidji community will support his first effort in arts administration by coming to see the debut of the Loon Opera Company.

"I am hoping to produce 'Madame Butterfly' sometime this coming fall in Bemidji. It is a small cast and can be sung in English," said Hunter.