Minnesota Opera postpones major commission

The Minnesota Opera is giving “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis” a little more time to grow. The show was scheduled to round out the upcoming 2010-2011 season, but after a workshop last month Artistic Director Dale Johnson says it needs a little more time. The idea for the opera came up a couple of years ago.

“We had figured that we wanted to do the production in the spring of 2011,” he says. “And at that point we really were a little worried that we didn’t have enough time to finish the piece quite honestly.”

The commission went to Ricky Ian Gordon and Michael Korie, the creative team behind the Minnesota Opera’s 2007 world premier production of “The Grapes of Wrath.” The new opera is based on Giorgio Bassani’s 1962 novel about a Jewish family living in Italy during the rise of Fascism in the 1930’s. A film adaptation won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film in 1971.

The decision to postpone the operatic adaptation until the spring of 2013 came after a workshop last month where everyone agreed the piece needed more time.

Dale Johnson says the workshop was really good but there was growing concern that the orchestration and other work associated with completing the production was likely going to be impossibly rushed if they kept to the scheduled premiere of April 2011.

In a release librettist Michael Korie (shown standing here beside Rickie Ian Gordon,) thanked the Opera for the extra time.

“Ricky Ian Gordon and I have always rewritten sequences after having seen them in context in a staged workshop. This was true with The Grapes of Wrath, and it is true with The Garden of the Finzi-Continis. With less than a year before we are scheduled to go into rehearsals, we requested that the premiere be delayed so that we could make revisions, then orchestrate the opera, and upon its completion, send out the music to the singers with ample time to familiarize themselves with their roles. With this extension, we need never feel that we didn’t give sufficient attention to any aspect of this opera or its vitally important subject matter.”

“The Garden of the Finzi-Continis” is one of the pieces commissioned under the Minnesota Opera New Works Initiative, which is designed to promote new American operas. Johnson says the decision to postpone was made knowing the program was designed to have fall-back options.

Bernard Herrmann’s “Wuthering Heights” will replace “The Garden” at the end of next season.

“One of the reasons we put pieces like “Wuthering Heights” in, (is) because we know sometimes that doing new works is an unknown journey,” he says. “So we felt we had the luxury of time.”

Herrmann is recognized as one of the great film music composers. “Wuthering Heights” was his only opera, and while he was extremely passionate about the piece, which he finished in 1951, it never received a full production before his death in 1975. This will be a new production of the work.

Almost all of the singers under contract for “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis” will appear in “Wuthering Heights.”