Picnic Operetta: 'It gives people an abundance of warm summer fuzzies'

A moment from the 2012 <i>Picnic Operetta </i>performance, <i>The Return of King Ideomeneo.</i>

A moment from the 2012 Picnic Operetta performance, The Return of King Ideomeneo.

Each summer, Picnic Operetta travels to community gardens around the Twin Cities to present a compressed interpretation of the host work. The event not only includes selections of the music performed by top-notch singers, but also a wry sense of humor. Befitting the location, food is a central part of the event, too, as several tasting dishes are passed out during the performance.

For the fifth annual Picnic Operetta, the folks at Mixed Precipitation went somewhere they hadn't been before: Germany.

"We were kicking ourselves for never having done a German opera," says director Scotty Reynolds about the selection of this year's piece, Agent Fidelio, based on Beethoven's 1805 opera.

Related stories:

"It's Beethoven's only opera. I saw the elements that scare me about opera: The plot is far-fetched. The resolution is forced. The music is great... but Beethoven didn't know the voice well. He asks the singers to do a lot of things that are really wild," Reynolds says.

There is also the topic. The play takes place in a jail, and involves political prisoners. "It's not a summery choice. In that way it was appealing. It saw the challenge in finding a joyful human story in there," Reynolds says.

Though it wasn't intentional, the play's situation parallels the plights of Bradley Manning and Aaron Swartz, who have paid for their desire to share information they believed needed to be heard. 

Musically, the show includes both Beethoven and more modern pop music, including work by Jimmy Cliff. "The audience sees about 65 percent Beethoven and the rest is the food, the pop music, the text, and the theater happenings," Reynolds says. "We cut the arias to the most exciting melodies, but we still find these other parts to nip and tuck."

The Jimmy Cliff song inspired chefs Nick Schneider and Chris Roberts. While the production is not set in Jamaica, the cooks are playing with Jamaican and West Indian flavors for the food offerings, Reynolds says.

The event has grown in popularity over the years, and has played to more than 7,000 people. Reynolds knows the challenge is to keep the experience fresh from year to year. Part of that comes from the environment. Performing outside has its difficulties -- stringed instruments certainly don't like it -- but the various settings continually offer fresh perspectives.

This includes having new venues this year, such as Caponi Art Park in Eagan and the Alexis Bailly Vineyard in Hastings. "People develop affinity to certain spots. They get a connection to the community garden and spaces that might not exist otherwise," Reynolds says.

And, hopefully, they will have fun.

"I think the warmth of presentation wins people over a lot. The sharing of food and passing it along means you get to participate with your neighbors. It gives people an abundance of warm summer fuzzies," Reynolds says.


Picnic Operetta: Agent Fidelio
Saturday through Sept. 15
Various outdoor locations.
This weekend's performances:
4 p.m. Saturday, Eat Street Garden, 2412 First Ave. S., Minneapolis
4: p.m. Sunday, Falcon Heights Community Garden, Cleveland and Roselawn Avenues, Falcon Heights
$10-$20 suggested donation
For reservations and information, call 1.800.838.3006 or visit online.