It takes performers with special talents to tackle classical and pop music while sweating, swatting mosquitoes and executing hip-hop dance moves.
"Rodolfo [Nieto] has an aria and he has to accompany himself on guitar" said Taous Khazem, director of this year's Pickup Truck Opera, a take on Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's "The Magic Flute." And I'm like, 'What can Joni [Griffith] not do?' She's singing, playing violin with the pit, dancing and also wearing a mask."
It's all in a show now traveling the state, performing outdoors with little more than a truck for a set, some costumes and the imaginations of the company and audience.
The "Magic Flute" story is famously nonsensical but Mixed Precipitation's adaptation looks at the challenges facing schools and how tech giants poach their talent.
"In the original, this guy Tamino [Roland Hawkins] is attacked by a dragon and saved by these three women. In ours, the women who save him are vice principals of the Strange Land Middle School. And Papageno [Loki Graham and Nick Miller alternate], in the original a bird catcher, is the janitor who has to catch birds in the school because they're so underfunded that birds fly through holes in the ceiling," Khazem said.
The story has never been the most important part of "The Magic Flute," so no need to get hung up on it. As is its wont, Mixed Precipitation mixes opera with hits from a particular era — the '90s, when "Flute" is set — to create something entirely new.
Here are a few other things to know about the show:
Watch for the blue pickup truck
It's the stage, so you'll want to choose blanket or camp chair space accordingly. In "Magic Flute," the two main settings are the school (the truck) and a tech firm whose practices could assist or bedevil it (the trailer).
"It's been really fun to think of goofy ways you can use a truck," said Khazem. "Can someone jump through the window? Can you stand on the hood?" Her actors include vehicle veteran Hawkins, who appeared earlier this year in another musical set around one, "Hands on a Hardbody."
Learn new tunes
The usual way to think of Mixed Precipitation's shows is that newer songs provide an entry point into opera. "Magic Flute" will let audiences place the "Queen of the Night" aria they've probably heard without knowing where it comes from.
"As an audience member, I've always appreciated this work so much," said Khazem, whose tastes run more to pop than op. "When I see it, I go, 'Oh, I'm getting it. I get the opera now.' In high school, my job was as an usher at the Ordway and I saw so many operas but I was not connecting."
But the reverse is true, too. Opera lovers can discover songs, including "Army of Me" by Bjork and "Just a Girl" by No Doubt, that show the '90s weren't all about flannel shirts and moany rock songs. (Surprisingly, there's no mashup of Whitney Houston's hit "Queen of the Night" with the Mozart aria of the same title.)
"I was in the first generation of classical musicians who really dug rock and pop and dance music," said music director Gary Ruschman, who plays guitar and melodica, and who re-orchestrated Mozart for a three-piece band.
In a role he likens to Paul Shaffer's on David Letterman's old show, guiding the accompaniment and sometimes joining the action, Ruschman says the music takes him back to a Goth club he frequented in the '90s.
Don't forget the precipitation
The word is right there in the name of the group that stages the show, Mixed Precipitation, and it's smart to keep it in mind.
The trailer protects the cellist/flute player and violinist if there's a light rain. Ruschman leaves his good guitar at home, using a "beater" Stratocaster, instead, knowing it's going to be humid and that dirt and bug spray will attach themselves to the strings.
The audience is exposed, though, and the first performance challenged actors with a sprinkle.
"They were so nimble about incorporating the rain into the action. It's all about being open and ready, whether it's a bee flying near your face or an airplane overhead,"Khazem said.
If you've been reluctant to go inside theaters...
The show might be perfect for culture fans inching back indoors after the pandemic.
"You can sit where you want. You can establish the distance that you want," said Khazem, noting that COVID-19 ended Mixed Precipitation's practice of passing themed appetizers throughout the show (although a pre-wrapped cookie is included). "You can bring your own picnic and make a whole experience for yourself."
Bring the kids
Khazem knows firsthand the 90-minute show works for little ones.
"My 4-year-old came to the first preview and had a good time. He brought his toy electric guitar because he wanted to 'play along,'" said Khazem. "I think it's for anybody who likes music and being outdoors."
Maybe grab some produce?
The opera is a great excuse to discover new natural spaces. Each company member has a different favorite but Khazem likes J.D. Rivers' Children's Garden in Minneapolis.
"There are these big trees you can sit under while you watch the show and, because I have kids, I love that afterwards they let you pick vegetables," Khazem said.
Folks who want to attend that one will have to wait, though. Scheduled for Sept. 11, it's the last trill of this "Magic Flute."
'The Magic Flute'
Credits: Written by Francisco Benavides. Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, adapted by Gary Ruschman. Directed by Taous Khazem.
When: Dates and times vary. Through Sept. 11
Where: Parks and gardens throughout Minnesota.
Tickets: Free, donations and reservations encouraged at mixedprecipitation.org.