One of the more pleasurable rites of late summer in recent years has been Mixed Precipitation's Picnic Operetta. The annual outdoor touring production offers up an off-kilter bit of theater based on a classic opera, and tosses in a tasting menu that matches the action.
This year's tour sees the return of Escape from Alcina's Island, a bit of Handel-by-way-of-the-truckstop that tosses in some classic country along the way. The tour opens this evening at the Dodge Nature Center in West St. Paul, and continues at various locations around the state through September 20.
We caught up with Mixed Precipitation's Scotty Reynolds to talk about this year's offering and the organization's growth over the years.
Why did you decide to revisit one of the earlier Picnic Operettas this year, and what made you change Alcina's Island?
Scotty Reynolds: We were lucky to received a Minnesota State Arts Board Arts Tour Grant. This is a new grant program. The objective is to bring Minnesota artists to new audiences outside of their existing audience. One of the requirements of the program is to do an existing work rather than develop a new project.
Alcina's Island was my first collaboration with music director Marya Hart, and it represented the beginning of the Picnic Operetta hitting an artistic stride in terms of musicianship and musical surprises. The blending of Handel and trucker songs has been wonderfully fun for our artists and audiences. With the possibilities of taking the performance further afield, we felt this silly adventure story would be fun to take to farms in rural Minnesota, and the twangy Nashville vibe of the show seemed like the right music to take on the road.
Have you made any changes to the script or songs for this version?
SR: The story's theme has been refined and sharpened to reflect what I see as a desperate environmental situation, such as a point of no return in terms of climate change. We've added four new songs, including a George Jones song and a lively Handel chorus and aria for singer Jim Ahrens. All of these have helped us create a chase scene and build momentum.
The story takes place at a truck-stop oasis where the proprietress Alcina, an evil sorceress disguised as a truck-stop waitress, uses magic and some suspicious technology and renewable energy sources to transform a desert into a paradise — a trucker's paradise.
Are there any innovations for the food served?
SR: One of the new dishes this year is Morgana's Melon Margarita, a sweet and salty watermelon 'cocktail' with gelée of basil and agar agar. Agar agar is a form a Japanese algae that we're using to make a basil gelatin cube that floats in the bottom of a sugar rimmed glass. Head chef Nick Schneider and production chef Kimlinh Bui crafted this drink. We hope it brings smiles, giggles, and lip smacking.
There are a number of outstate performances scheduled this year. How did you go about finding places to perform?
SR: We've always wanted this project to tour. Our project celebrates the great work of farmers and growers, and we're a part of a trend in eco-tourism as farms become destinations for events and arts activities. We found Bakers Acres [in Avon, MN] and Squash Blossom Farm [in Oronoco] through tips from our audience, who are excited to share this project in their own communities. Singer/producer, Sarah Lawrence of Lyric Opera recommended Food Farm, as they also host the Free Range Film Festival in late July. Squash Blossom Farm hosts Cow Puja, a festival of artists and a blessing for cows. I have not attended, but I hear that hundreds of cows attend for blessings.
Five of our performances are at sites where animals and livestock are raised. So the performance will feature the bleating of goats and clucking of hens in the background. We also hope audience feels comfortable bringing their well-behaved leashed dogs to the performance.
IF YOU GO:
Escape From Alcina's Island
7 p.m. Thursday, Dodge Nature Center, 1701 Charlton Avenue, West St. Paul
4 p.m. Saturday, Food Farm, 2612 County Road 1, Wrenshall
4 p.m. Sunday, Falcon Heights Community Garden, 2050 Roselawn Ave W, Falcon Heights
Additional performances through Sept. 20
For reservations and more information, call 1-800-838-3006 or visit online.