If you hear the word “opera,” what’s the first image that comes to mind? The horns, the helmet, the large singing lady planted center stage with a spear in hand… right?

After seeing Bergen Baker, Minnesota Opera teaching artist, in action with area musicians… not so much. The simple definition of opera is “a kind of performance in which actors sing all or most of the words of a play with music performed by an orchestra.”

Opera’s origins can be traced back to ancient Greek drama, growing into its own art form at the end of the 16th century. It has evolved and flourished since then.

It’s that modern relevance that Baker is bringing to local musicians, their audiences and area students.

“The nature, the meaning of opera, is not confined to the four walls of the theater,” said Baker. “Opera can happen anywhere. It’s the essence of why we do what we do.”

On February 23, singers from the Minnesota Opera, Central Lakes Symphony Orchestra (CLSO), Alexandria Children’s Choir, Jefferson High School (JHS) Carolers and JHS public speaking students will present the culmination of an arts collaboration between the Minnesota Opera and area musicians: a concert version performance of Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Leading up to the performance, Baker will be working with area students, teaching them about Mozart and the art of opera.

Baker said she enjoys working with students to see moments of discovery happen in real time.

“To watch them make an emotional and intellectual connection between the art form and themselves – that’s really cool!” she said.

Another reason she likes working with kids: “They listen a lot better than adults do,” she said with a laugh.

Last year, the Minnesota Opera outreach program served 6,500 youth and more than 3,000 adults, getting the message out that opera is a living, breathing, accessible art form.

“Bringing the opera to Central Minnesota is such a special event for both area musicians and music lovers,” said Brad Lambrecht, CLSO director. “It’s not very often we get to enjoy such a musical treat this close to home.”

Lambrecht explained that CLSO has some history with the Minnesota Opera. Three years ago, the orchestra and an area choir worked with Minnesota Opera teaching artist Angie Keeton on a collaborative performance of Bizet’s Carmen.

“Little did we know just how much of an impact this project would give to the Central Minnesota region,” said Lambrecht. “We have community musicians and music lovers still talking about that amazing experience.”

Last winter when he met Baker, Minnesota Opera’s new education artist in residence, Lambrecht said he immediately knew CLSO should take on another opera/ community collaboration during its 2013-14 season.

“Ms. Baker has an incredible, contagious energy about her,” he said – an enthusiasm for opera he wanted CLSO musicians, area students and the community to have the opportunity to experience.

Baker said one of her goals with the arts collaboration project is to bring students beyond the classroom. “That’s how opera survives – if the whole community is involved,” she said.

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By Deb Mercier Pope County Tribune

WHAT: Performance of Mozart’s Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute) featuring

Minnesota Opera artists in residence, Central Lakes Symphony Orchestra, Alexandria Children’s Choir, Jefferson High School Carolers and public speaking students and

District 206 teachers Lisa Blevins, Kayla Nobel and Jane Hearth.

WHEN: Sunday, February 23 at 2 p.m.

WHERE: Jefferson High School gymnasium, Alexandria

TICKETS: $10 for adults, $5 for students. Available at the door or at

Cherry Street Books, Alexandria Community Education and Carlson Music Center,

all in Alexandria.