Picnic Operetta returns with a visit to Greece, via Mozart

The Wizard Melisso offers the trucker Ruddy some smokey bell pepper jerky in last year's Alicina's Island.
The Wizard Melisso offers the trucker Ruddy some smokey bell pepper jerky in last year's Alicina's Island.
Photo by Brooks Peterson
For their fourth annual "picnic operetta," Mixed Precipitation decided to tackle something a bit more heavy. This year, the chosen piece is by Mozart. Just don't expect a typical night at the opera.

The Return of King Idomeno takes the Mozart story of a general returning to Crete after the Trojan War and twists it into a fresh shape. Each performance takes place in a community garden in the Twin Cities and features a mix of straight-on operatic singing, a light theatrical style, and a sampling menu of dishes prepared on site by chef Nick Schneider.

"I always think it is okay to be a little hokey, especially when the music has such a reverence around it. What we are doing should never disrespect the music or what the composer intended. Our goal is to infuse everything with as much fun as possible," says director Scott Reynolds.

"We want to make the food a visual and design element, so we are making the vessels theatrical," Reynolds says. "It's an extension of the other design aesthetics. We are fusing those things together. The seaweed that will be served is something that has crept into the sewer system."

"How the food is held or skewered can do that," Schneider adds. "The forks kind of look like the trident Neptune holds."

In this case, that means giving the whole proceedings a 1950s B-movie vibe to go with the story, which is set after the end of the Trojan War and follows one of the generals home, where he is faced with an impossible decision. "We're playing with a '50s-style monster, a kind of sewer blob that invades the city," Reynolds says.

While a '50s setting makes for good theater, what kind of influences can chef Schneider find from the era?

"It's challenging to use anything from the 1950s in a palatable way," he says. "Mostly it has to do with the geography and what's out there and available." 

Schneider has focused on Greek and Mediterranean-style dishes that work well with the plot of the story. "For the sea-monster scene, we've paired it with butter sautéed kale that has brown sugar and a bit of sea flavors like sea salt. It enlivens the idea of seaweed and slime."

Or, there are fresh grilled vegetables, seasoned with Turkish spices and then served on a skewer. "One of the characters, Electra, uses the skewer as a weapon," Schneider says.

The production features 24 performers, ranging in age from 9 to about 60. "For a lot of emerging singers, they have the voice type that Mozart wrote for. We knew those voices were out there," Reynolds says. "We wanted to do something that had a lot more ensemble moments. We also felt that it was the right year to take a big leap musically."

Mozart was 25 when he wrote the music for King Idomeno. "It's at the beginning of his classic period, and it is really heavy. We were drawn to the heavier material because of the challenge of finding life and energy in the middle of that," says Reynolds. 

Some of that comes by accenting the story's action, from a shipwreck to negotiations with the gods to the release of the sea monster. "In Mozart's time, it wasn't shown onstage, but that is something we could show. The rage of nature has been fun to play with," Reynolds says.

All of the different aspects of the production have worked together. "The cast has had a hand in the cultivation of the story and music, and also the food. Most of them and the other artisans have been part of maple-syrup tapping or have helped harvest wild greens in the spring. The cast works in the kitchen too," Reynolds says.


The Return of King Idomeneo: A Picnic Operetta
August 11 through September 23
Various locations, rain sites are secured in the neighborhood of each site.
$10-$20 suggested donation
For information and reservations, call 612.619.2112 or visit online.

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Eat Street Community Garden

2416 1st Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55404

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