For the little itinerant opera company Mixed Precipitation, things have really picked up since they got a pickup.
The company's annual picnic operetta underwent a transformation during the pandemic, when sharing food could have led to potential superspreaders. Since 2020, its annual late-summer presentations have become pickup truck operas, with all the stage and scenery fitting in a flatbed and trailer.
Of Mixed Precipitation's 15 summer productions, I thought last year's version of Mozart's "The Magic Flute" was its most clever creation yet. But it's been outdone by this year's "Romeo and Juliet," an adaptation of Vincenzo Bellini's 1830 opera, "The Capulets and the Montagues," which opened Sunday night at the Loppet Trailhead in Theodore Wirth Park on the Minneapolis/Golden Valley border.
This production feels like the zenith of the Mixed Precipitation aesthetic. While passionate in its affection for classic opera and sporting some very impressive vocal talent, it's also a smiling, snarling satire of contemporary American life bursting with wit and imaginative staging ideas. And the company still mixes in some contemporary tunes quite far afield from classic opera, in this case songs by Genesis, Fleetwood Mac, Lauryn Hill, the Fugees and the Pixies.
While past productions have either been comedies or grand dramas that lent themselves to a tongue-in-cheek touch, "Romeo and Juliet" is a tragedy that needs to be, on some level, heartbreaking. And, to Mixed Precipitation's credit, this adaptation is, the satire paving the way for a surprisingly touching conclusion.
In this version of Shakespeare's tale of the rivalry between two families, they're competing companies in the social media business. Their currency is likes, follows and comments, and cellphones abound onstage, many streaming the video dispatches of the popular young influencers, Romeo and Juliet, who have fallen in love despite never having met.
Denzel Belin's script is uproariously funny as it sends up the voracious attention-seeking ethos of social media. And Belin, director Tara Moses and the company have come up with a host of imaginative ways to present the opera, including a back story told via a large-scale pop-up book, supertitles unfurled on window shades, and a fight scene that comically leans into vintage cartoon clichés.
That makes the shift in tone near the opera's end all the more impressive. Thanks in great part to Bellini's marvelous melodies, a genuine sadness permeates the closing scenes. Yes, it's true to Shakespeare's original plot in how a misunderstanding leads to a double suicide, but audiences are left to contemplate the damage that social media can do and whether we're taking care of one another as well as we should.
Four of the five principal roles are double-cast. On opening night, Kara Morgan was a Romeo with a pure and powerful voice that resounded off the hills of Wirth Park, while Corissa Bussian's Juliet suffused her arias with sorrow and sweetness. But it's a uniformly strong cast that conveys the comedy and tragedy equally well. And a band of four musicians manages to make Bellini's score sing.
Mixed Precipitation's 'Romeo and Juliet'
When and where: Through Sept. 10 at 21 venues in Minnesota, including 7 p.m. Thu. at Bronx Park Community Garden, St. Louis Park; 7 p.m. Fri. at Caponi Art Park, Eagan; 2 p.m. Sat. at Keepsake Cidery, Dundas; and 5 p.m. Sun. at Silverwood Park, St. Anthony.
Tickets: $5-$45, available at mixedprecipitation.org.
Rob Hubbard is a Twin Cities classical music writer. Reach him at email@example.com.