FARGO — “Opera has always told the stories of its time,” Fargo Moorhead Opera Managing Director and Concordia College professor of voice and Italian David Hamilton says.
A professional singer with an impressive history both on the stage and on the sidelines, Hamilton believes the sonorous, Olympic-size voices of opera singers have long made opera the perfect medium for conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion.
“The power of the human voice to tell a story in a very emotional way and operatic singers are really the Olympians of singing and are able to convey more emotions with a voice,” he says. “Opera can enhance any sort of stories that are being written today, whether they are going to have a comic edge or a cutting edge.”
From a 20-minute virtual meditation on Sacagawea to a modern-day interpretation of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” one glance at FM Opera’s upcoming season and you’ll understand how and why opera truly does hold a seat at the table where discussions around race, sexuality, gender and other social justice issues are happening.
'Sacajawea — Woman of Many Names'
When: Streaming online now through December
Currently, the company is streaming an original, 20-minute opera called “Sacajawea — Woman of Many Names,” which was created in collaboration with the Decameron Opera Coalition, a national independent collection of nine companies across the country that work together virtually to bring issues of our time to life in the form of opera.
“It’s like a new form of opera we’re creating, and the United States is at the forefront of it,” Hamilton says. “We’re a group of people from all over the country working from upstate New York to Fargo and California, and creating pieces people can watch from anywhere. It’s very exciting.”
Concerned about getting her story right both historically and culturally, Hamilton sought out guidance from Shoshone Elder Francesca Mason Boring, who helped translate Sacagawea's story to be as accurate as possible.
“It's really quite powerful,” he says. “The whole ethos treats the story in a very respectful manner. And really, the music is quite beautiful.”
A mainstay of the FM Opera, baritone Peter Halverson, plays all of the male roles that intersect with Sacagawea along her journey, but many others come from all over the country to make up the performance.
When: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 29 and 2 p.m. Oct. 31
Where: Reineke Concert Hall, North Dakota State University
Info: performed in Italian with English supertitles
Experience firsthand the foibles and fiery fate of the “world’s greatest lover” during this modernized rendition of Mozart’s classic, “Don Giovanni.”
Considered one of the greatest operas ever written, FM Opera puts an Elon Musk-era spin on the story by setting the scene at a tech company where Don Juan makes his mark, only to meet a tragic ending nonetheless.
Audiences won’t have to wait long to see some classic 18th century touches, though.
“We are doing a little nod to the original setting, because we’ll be putting three of our characters in 18th century costumes during the classic masquerade scene,” Hamilton says. “It’s just a great story.”
The performance introduces several newcomers to the FM Opera stage and also welcomes back several Gate City Bank Young Artists, including Fargo native and Director Austin Regan.
'Bastien & Bastienne' and 'Trouble in Tahiti'
When: 7:30 p.m. March 11 and 12
Where: TAK Music Venue, Dilworth, Minn.
A Leonard Bernstein classic, “Trouble in Tahiti” takes a jazz-inspired approach to telling the story of 1950s suburban America. Funny, candid and hopeful, “Trouble In Tahiti” is followed by “Bastien & Bastienne,” a G-rated story about a young couple that seeks out help from a magician who helps them solve their communication problems.
Written by Mozart when he was 12 years old, “Bastien & Bastienne” remains a fresh and prescient story.
“These will be fun and at a fun venue (TAK) where you can sit at a table and be really close up” to the action on stage, according to Hamilton.
When: 7:30 p.m. April 1 and 2 p.m. April 3
Where: Reineke Concert Hall, NDSU
Info: performed in English
Rounding out the season is “Cinderella,” the family-friendly fairytale set for April 1 and 3, 2022, at Reineke Concert Hall.
“We are bringing back a couple of our other former young artists to sing the title role of Cinderella and the prince,” Hamilton says.
The performance will be in English, though supertitles will be available above the stage in case the audience wishes to read along.
Hamilton said FM Opera is prepared to go live onstage for all of its performances, but will be following all health and safety protocols.
Masks will be required at all performances and the company will stay in communication with ticketholders if anything changes throughout the season.
Get a taste for the opera
Regular operagoers and newcomers alike are invited to join FM Opera from 6-8 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 17, for “Operatini #1” at Prairie Kitchen in north Fargo.
“Operatini” features drinks (yes, martinis are available), appetizers and a few brief performances by FM Opera singers headlining this year’s season.
“And it's just a fun, fun way to come and have a drink and enjoy a little music,” Hamilton says.
Tickets are $40 and seating is limited for this 21-and-older event. Visit fmopera.org for more info.
Pretty super supertitles
If having to read subtitles has ever prevented you from watching a foreign film (or attending the opera), don’t let that deter you anymore.
All FM Opera performances feature supertitles, or subtitles that stream above the stage (rather than below like you see in a movie), so audience members can read along during the performance.
Not only that, but a whole lot of fascinating work goes into actually writing the supertitles live during the performance.
“There is a person at the back of the theater who has to follow the score and change the title,” Hamilton says. “And because you know the timing can change a little bit every night on how the singers are portraying their characters at that given moment, the surtitle operator has to be able to read music and watch for those little changes in timing.”
To make the job of supertitle operator even more complicated (and fascinating), if the opera is in a foreign language, the operator has to be able to translate the script into English.
This article is part of a content partnership with The Arts Partnership, a nonprofit organization cultivating the arts in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo. For more information, visit http://theartspartnership.net.