ELY –The Northern Lights Music Festival opened its 17th season this year with many challenges and obstacles. Organizers were faced with how to provide the popular events, including concerts and …
ELY –The Northern Lights Music Festival opened its 17th season this year with many challenges and obstacles. Organizers were faced with how to provide the popular events, including concerts and operas, across northern Minnesota while adhering to the public health protocols surrounding the coronavirus.
Coming off a successful outdoor event last weekend at the Minnesota Discovery Center amphitheater, where Puccini’s “Tosca” was performed before a properly socially-distanced audience, and plexiglass screens and face masks were in use by everyone, the trick here was to present a normal indoor opera in not so normal times.
“As far as we can determine, we are the first theater in the entire country to have a live opera during the COVID-19 period,” said David Wigdahl, president of the Ely State Theater board of directors. “This same opera company just performed in an outdoor arena, thus we are hosting the first indoor performances.”
He added, “This came about as (NLMF) was scheduled to perform at Mesabi East High School in Aurora, but as the building was not open this summer, they came to the State Theater looking for a performance venue. We are happy to host as it fulfills part of our mission to support the performing arts and be a community entertainment hub for the area.”
The opera company moved into the State Theater last Monday and rehearsed all week. Just six actors and a 12-piece orchestra made up the small company because of space constraints on and in front of the stage.
A visitor to the one of the final rehearsals last Friday got a first-hand look at the challenges the company faced in preparing for the Sunday afternoon and Monday night performances.
Orchestra members not required to use their mouth to play their instruments donned light blue face masks. The area in front of the stage allowed for proper social distancing.
Gavriel Heine, resident conductor at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, Russia, as well as music director of Northern Light Festival Opera here in Minnesota, seemed right at home giving an orchestra member an elbow bump (rather than a handshake or high five) as he took his conducting station.
A maximum of 70 tickets were available for each performance. They expected to sell out the limited (25 percent) seating capacity tickets to their members and opera fans.