Mining Minnesota: Mixed Precipitation gives opera a local touch

Dr. Falstaff and the Working Wives of Lake County various locations; through October 7

Dr. Falstaff and the Working Wives of Lake County various locations; through October 7 Sarah Bauer

The many fans of Mixed Precipitation’s Picnic Operetta will be glad to know that for the company’s 10th annual production, they’re staying true to the eclectic vision that’s made the show a summer standby across the state of Minnesota. It’s opera, it’s pop, it’s a picnic, it’s a play.

This year’s production, Dr. Falstaff and the Working Wives of Lake County, is adapted by Scotty Reynolds from Otto Nicolai’s 1849 opera Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor, which was itself an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor. Kym Longhi handled the stage direction, keeping the lovably loose show just this side of shambolic.

Reynolds sets the action in northern Minnesota circa the 1970s, when the Reserve Mining Company was facing off against the newly formed Environmental Protection Agency regarding the practice of dumping taconite tailings into Lake Superior. The resulting decision, against Reserve Mining, was a landmark that established the EPA’s broad right to regulate corporate pollution. (The Trump-era EPA, of course, would be happy to let Duluth drink asbestos.)

As miner Stan Ford (Alex Adams-Leytes) stews over his lost job and fisherman Kermit Page (Nora Rickey) stews over his devastated ecosystem, the randy Dr. Falstaff (Nick Miller) lands in town, ready to speculate on the town’s depressed real estate and on the workers’ depressed wives (Naomi Karstad and Anna Hashizume). Can Mineral Bay get its groove back and expel the shameless Falstaff?

In true opera fashion, the plot is full of confusing conflicts and odd detours, but even the kids in Friday’s opening-night audience at Washburn Fair Oaks Park (the itinerant outdoor production is presented at a range of different venues) got it and giggled when the wives stuffed Falstaff into a hamper and gave him a sound laundering along with their kids’ hockey togs.

In addition to the operatic arias, accompanied by music director Gary Ruschman’s eclectic band, there are a few Springsteen songs in keeping with the play’s proletarian themes. “Blinded By the Light” turns into a jubilant finale, and a rendition of “My Hometown” by Leif Hove and Joni Griffith (who’s also the MVP of the show’s acting corps) is quietly haunting.

There are snacks—sustainable and strange. Chocolate taconite tailings, German potato salad, “mossy rock” puff balls, seasoned cucumber slices, and bizarre beet Jell-O shots—non-alcoholic, though you might want to reach for your flask to wash them down.

Mindful of the fact that questions of mining regulation are still explosive on the Iron Range, Reynolds doesn’t hit the politics too hard: Using a working fisherman, instead of environmental activists, as a foil for the miners seems very deliberate. The center of the show is really Falstaff, with the nautically garbed Miller swinging his hips like a cross between Elvis Presley and Rodney Dangerfield.

The show’s visual highlight is the headgear in which Falstaff gets his comeuppance: a set of hockey-stick antlers that looks like it ought to be mounted on the wall of the Mineral Bay Bar and Lounge.

Locations, times, and dates vary, make reservations by calling 1-800-838-3006, or visit