Several members of the Minnesota Opera will be setting up shop in Alexandria next month as part of a week-long community residency.
The visit will feature sessions at all eight schools in the Alexandria School District and two public events during the week, and concludes with a joint concert with the Central Lakes Symphony Orchestra.
"It's an incredible opportunity for the community to hear this caliber of musicians, and also to be able to participate in workshops and learn from the best," Deb Mercier, a CLSO musician and board member, said of the Opera's appearances.
Mercier, who plays flute and piccolo with the orchestra, is looking forward to being able to work with professional musicians.
"This is their life, this is what they do, and for them to be able to share that gift with us is amazing," she said, noting they will be rehearsing together in advance of the concert. "I'm really excited about the opportunity."
The residency is from Feb. 5-10, and the highlight will be a concert at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 10, at the high school's performing arts center. The opera's resident artists will perform the first act of Verdi's "La Traviata" and other opera favorites, along with the CLSO and the Alexandria Area High School Carolers.
The Minnesota Opera will be performing "La Traviata" from May 4-19 at the Ordway Center for Performing Arts in St. Paul, so the concert in Alexandria will serve as a bit of a preview.
This isn't the first time the Minnesota Opera has chosen Alexandria as the site of its coOPERAtion! Residency program. In 2011, members of the Minnesota Opera sang excerpts from "Carmen" at the Jefferson High School auditorium.
"It was very exciting," said the CLSO's Sandy Susag, a former board member with the organization.
noting it was the final year of Jefferson High. She believes the performing arts center will be a much better setting for the concert.
"The venue just doesn't get any better," Mercier said.
Susag said they have been working on this for the past year, and she and CLSO Director Brad Lambrecht met with a Minnesota Opera official last August in the Twin Cities to lay the groundwork.
Both Susag and Mercier encouraged people who may not be familiar with opera or don't consider it among the types of music they prefer to check out one of the events or the concert.
"Even if opera isn't something you thought you liked, if you give it a chance I think you'd be surprised at how much fun it can be, and how emotionally involving the music is," Mercier said.
"To move outside of your musical bubble is a brave thing to do, and this is a place to do it. It's not often that you get something this spectacular right in your own backyard."
Susag urged people to shed their preconceptions of opera, pointing out that there are variations in types of music. Not all orchestra music is alike, and the same is true of opera.
"If you came and experienced it, you might like it," she said, noting the symphony has had success in winning people over during its 10 years in Alexandria. "Brad has done a good job of exposing people in the community to orchestra experiences that are not of the norm, and that's why our audiences have grown."
For Alexandria to have a symphony orchestra, and to be able to welcome the Minnesota Opera here once again, is meaningful to Mercier.
"I'm grateful to live in a community that's so supportive of the arts, and to be able to participate in an organization like CLSO that really has a strong focus on education and community outreach," she said. "It's a big part of who we are."
The residency is supported in part by a grant from the Lakes Region Arts Council.
Pablo Siqueiros, a teaching artist with the Minnesota Opera, will be using interactive lessons, group rehearsals and master classes to teach Alexandria students about the opera.
In addition to those school sessions, they will offer two events for the public at no charge. The "Opera 101" lessons will highlight history, drama, movement and musical performance.
One will be held at Le Ferme, from 6:30-8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 7. A second session is scheduled for Grand Arbor at 1 p.m. Friday, Feb. 8.
No tickets are necessary for the community events. Tickets for the Sunday afternoon concert are available at Carlson Music, Trumm Drug and Cherry Street Books, at the door the day of the concert, or by calling the Alexandria Community Education office at 320-762-3310.
The CLSO is partnering with the Alexandria Artist Guild, and on the day of the concert at the high school, local artists will display and sell art from 1-5 p.m.