Thursday, September 10, 2009

Le'TALK: l'étoile interviews The Minnesota Opera's Jamie Nieman

by Kate Iverson

We've marked our calendars for September 19th in anticipation of the Minnesota Opera's hip annual cocktail party and performance showcase, Opera Tasting 2009 -- and we suggest you do the same. We're definitely not experts on the subject of opera, though slowly but surely we're being educated through the amazing and accessible programming that the Minnesota Opera offers. With their young patrons group, Tempo, leading the way, the opera has become more approachable, and, dare we say, cool! In fact, we're so excited about it that we're co-sponsoring Opera Tasting 2009 -- and we hope to see you there!

This week, we chatted with Minnesota Opera audience development guru Jamie Nieman who is one of the driving forces behind the Opera's Tempo program and an all around cool chick!

We're super excited for Opera Tasting 2009! Can you tell us what to expect?

What can you expect? A REALLY good time! This is my third Opera Tasting since I’ve joined Minnesota Opera and it gets better every year. The event is hosted by Tempo our membership program for new and veteran opera-goers ages 21-39. It’s the kick-off event for the season and we call it Opera Tasting because you get to “taste” the art form and wine. The musical selections are presented by members of our Resident Artist program and all of them are similar in age to the guests. I think it dispels the idea that opera is a dead art form when you can see all these hot young talented singers! One of the best things about this year is that we’ve had the help of Octavio Cardenas who is a Resident Artist, Director so he’s put together a semi-staged program around the theme of drinking songs. Appropriate don’t you think? So expect great wine, great people and GREAT music!

The Opera Tasting events are just as much about mingling with fellow Opera lovers as they are about getting a sampling of the upcoming productions -- what kind of people are attend, and what should we wear?!

You will see people of all shapes and sizes at this event! Doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers, students, couples, singles and all are welcome as long as they’re 21. I would say most people that are at this event are not opera experts a fact that is true for a lot of Tempo members. People come because they curious about opera and this is a really easy way to try it without making a huge commitment—and it’s a great party. Dress to impress! We definitely see a lot of the “little black dress” and this event. I think people like having a reason to get a little dressed up for an evening.

We love that Tempo, your young professionals member level, is catching on with the younger demographic -- we think it's a really cool way to introduce the "future art patron" to Opera. What do you think makes the formula work?

We love that it’s catching on too! We’re becoming successful because this group is really focused on creating relationships on three levels: Minnesota Opera, opera as an art form and between its members. Tempo has many benefits that support these efforts. Tickets for members to go to Opening Night productions are $30 and include an invitation to after-parties with the cast and creative teams of the productions. We throw amazing events (like Opera Tasting) that are both social and often educational so you can learn more about opera. For example last season we had The American Premiere of The Adventures of Pinocchio, which is a contemporary opera and we had both the composer and librettist in town. Tempo members spent the evening sipping cocktails and finding out what it’s like to create an opera from scratch. Finally you get to meet other people with shared interest and excitement in the arts! I’ve seen many personal and professional relationships grow out of Tempo in the last few years.

One of the things we love about opera, is the high production value, and of course the costumes. Does the MN Opera work with different costume designers for each production? What are some of the more elaborate costumes in the upcoming season?

Yes each production has its own design team but the answer is a little bit more complicated than that. Some of the productions we stage are rented or past productions that live in our warehouse and others we build new. This season we are building Casanova’s Homecoming, Roberto Devereux and Salome each have their own separate costume, scenic and lighting designers. The Pearl Fishers, our season opener is rented from San Diego Opera but has an interesting story. The entire production was designed by international fashion designer Zandra Rhodes. The colors and textures are amazing and if you know anything about her clothing designs I’m sure you can imagine what you’re in for on stage. Zandra will actually be in town the week before The Pearl Fishers opens on September 26 and she will be featured at a number of public events both free and ticketed visit for more details.

What are you most looking forward to in the Minnesota Opera's new season?

You mean other than the cute singers? Most people would probably say La bohème because it’s a classic and it has our hot young tenor James Valenti heading up one of the casts. However, I happen to have a fixation on The Tudors and this year kicks off a three year opera series based on The Tudors. The production for the 2009-2010 season is Roberto Devereux and the story is about the love affair between Queen Elizabeth I and her much younger lover Robert, the Earl of Essex. The sets are being built in our shops as we speak and are stunning to say the least and the period costumes will be constructed soon. Ladies any of you who enjoy Jonathan Rys Myers on the Showtime series The Tudors will understand why I’m excited by three years of operas like this.

Will the hotness that is James Valenti be at Opera Tasting 2009? Sorry, we had to ask.

Everyone loves Sweet Baby James or SBJ which is what many of the opera staff call to James Valenti, let over from his days in our Resident Artist program. Sadly no he will not be at Opera Tasting. He’s a busy guy with a full performance schedule and I think he will be in Italy around that time. The stars of The Pearl Fishers will be attending the event and they’re not bad to look at either!

James will be back in February 2010 for La bohème and I do have him booked for an exclusive Tempo event on Friday, February 12, 2010. So if you want to spend some time with our hot cover model and tasty tenor I would suggest you pick up a Tempo membership and secure your invitation!

For more information and to purchase tickets for Opera Tasting 2009 on Saturday, September 19th click HERE.

For more cool upcoming events from The Minnesota Opera and Tempo click HERE.

General info at

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