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Rodolfo Nieto still revels in rattling off names of cheeses but he is no longer ringing up chicken-avocado BLTs.

The lyric bass has been building a rep onstage playing strong characters and, recently, instruments, through performances with the Minnesota Opera ("Cruzar la Cara de la Luna") and Theater Latté Da ("Assassins," "Man of La Mancha.")

Nieto, 41, also developed a fan base from behind the counter at Minneapolis' Surdyk's, where for seven years he worked as a garrulous cheese monger, cashier and Jack-of-all-deli trades.

"Both [venues] require a kind of performance, and people were always impressed by the fact that I could pronounce all the cheeses in German, French, Spanish, Italian or whatever," said Nieto, who credits his facility with language to his musical training at Luther College and Northwestern University, where he earned his graduate degree.

It is that vocal training that brought him to the Twin Cities in 2009 as a Minnesota Opera resident artist. Now Nieto is acting opposite Sheena Janson Kelley's Maria as Capt. Georg von Trapp in "The Sound of Music," which begins previews Thursday in Bloomington in a production that marks the directorial debut of Max Wojtanowicz.

The Captain's emotional complexity mirrors his own, Nieto said in an interview last week, even as the role offers a welcome escape from his own life.

Q: How are your lives similar?

A: One of the biggest things that hit me about the Captain is that he's still grieving the death of his wife. In real life, she had died four years prior to him meeting [postulant] Maria Rainer. For me, unresolved grief is the world I live in. Since 2019, my main nonperforming job has been as a caregiver for my wife, Clare, who has an acute form of pancreatitis.. The short of it is she can't eat food anymore and has been using a feeding tube. It's been a terrible nightmare but we've pushed through it.

Q: How did you make the leap from opera to musical theater?

A: In 2012, when I had a period of very few gigs, I was trying to find a new way to get back into performance. I took a class at the Guthrie Theater then dove into musical theater. What I love about opera is what the human voice can do. I don't miss the political world of opera — of flying to New York and trying to audition for anything I can. I don't miss trying to fit myself in a box. When it comes to singing the Captain, I don't think I sound like an operatic bass but I'm still using all that training to sing it well.

Q: Christopher Plummer played Captain von Trapp onscreen, but his voice was famously dubbed by Bill Lee. Either way, I don't think it was as low as yours?

A: I would have to go back and check what key the movie put the songs in but the original key for the stage score is exactly for my voice. "Edelweiss" is a low song in the key of F, written for a voice of my color, timbre and range. To have such a wonderful show written for a voice like mine is wonderful. Funny enough, I think I only sing about 10 minutes in the show, but what I do sing is gorgeous.

Q: The show is about the power of music. How do you see those powers manifesting themselves onstage?

A: It's music that opens up the Captain's love. There's a moment onstage where I get to listen to my children sing for the first time in years. And when I hear their voices, I suddenly realize that I barely know them. The first time we did that scene, I couldn't look at the fabulous young actors playing my children. I was afraid I would've not been able to get through it.

Q: And in your life?

A: As we've been going through our family's ordeal, music has been a blessing to keep connecting and uplifting us. From [when] I was young and playing instruments like the trombone through opera and musical theater, my life has been music, music, music. It's the thing to keep and heal us. What does the Captain say: "My heart will be blessed by the sound of music and I will sing once more." Ooh, that's so good.

'The Sound of Music'

Who: Composed by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, and a book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. Directed by Max Wojtanowicz.

When: 7:30 p.m. Thu.-Fri., 2 & 7:30 p.m. Sat., 2 p.m. Sun. Ends May 12.

Where: Artistry, 1800 W. Old Shakopee Rd., Bloomington.

Tickets: $26-$56. 952-563-8575,