After blockbuster debut Mill City Opera director hopes for more

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Set design for the Mill City Opera’s 2013 production of “The Barber of Seville.” (Image courtesy MCSO, design by J. Winiarski.) Click on image to enlarge

When asked why the Mill City Summer Opera picked Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” for its July 2013 production, Artistic Director David Lefkowich says he wanted to build on the success of last year.

“With ‘Pagliacci’ we did a lovely tragedy,” he said. “And we wanted to see what comedy would do in a space as dramatic as the Mill.”

The first production last summer produced an entirely sold out run which packed the audiences into the stylishly restored ruins of the Mill City Museum on the downtown Minneapolis waterfront, just a stone’s throw from the Guthrie.

And as with the 2012 this years selection is designed to attract both hardcore opera fans and operatic novices who will still likely recognize the music.

lefkowich.jpg“And that’s the sort of audience that we want to attract in these first couple of years,” said Lefkowich (shown left during last years rehearsals.) “People who love opera, or people looking for a new kind of experience and maybe they don’t even realize how terrific opera can be.”

Putting on an opera on in a ruin presents challenges. The company has to basically build a theater within the walls of the courtyard. Things you take for granted in a regular performance space, like wings and a backstage have to be improvised. And there is also the delight and challenge of having a stage open to the sky and the ever changing Minnesota summer weather.

However Lefkowich says the crowds seemed to enjoy last year. The company got a lot of good feedback, he said.

“Across the board people enjoyed that the evening wasn’t very long,” he said. The Pagliacci show lasted about two hours.

Lefkowich learned a lot during the staging. There were some sightline problems which made it hard for some audience members to see performers in the corners of the set, but he promises those will be fixed this year. He hopes to redefine the space, by using a design to build platforms on the left and right sides of the stage. The central area will be used for performers entrances and exits.

The Pagliacci production was set to be contemporary with the when the Mill was new. The “Barber” will be set earlier, which Lefkowich believes offers exciting possibilities

“This will be our first time delving more in the past, in a time before the mill was operational and we are hoping to get some dramatic interest out of that combination: a newer space and an older period mixed together in one,” he said.

Tickets for the production go on sale May 20th through the Minnesota Historical Society. Last year they sold out quickly, which Lefkowich says was lucky. However it set a high bar he’d like to surpass

“I am shooting for something better, but even if we hit what we did last year that would be great as well,” he laughed.

Ultimately though he would like to have longevity for the Mill City Summer Opera, to come back year after year, and establish another summer tradition

“There is a real desire for more opera in the Twin Cities and we are really excited to deliver that,” he said.