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Mozart opera comes to life in the Glensheen mansion

When Emily Hagen was tossing around ideas for her upcoming production of Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro," Jack Bowman thought of a setting that already had the right ambience.

Opera actors
Greg Dokken as Count Almaviva and Jennifer Graupmann as Susanna in the production of Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro." (Submitted photo)

When Emily Hagen was tossing around ideas for her upcoming production of Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro," Jack Bowman thought of a setting that already had the right ambience.

Why not stage it Glensheen, the historic Congdon Estate?

It was a natural pick for Bowman, who not only is the dean of fine arts at the University of Minnesota Duluth, but also the director of Glensheen.

"It's a very ambitious project," said Bowman, who will be conducting the orchestra during the opera. "It's going to be absolutely phenomenal."

And unconventional.

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"The Marriage of Figaro," is at 7 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, and also Aug. 9-11 at Glensheen, where it will be performed as a progressive opera, moving through different rooms of the mansion for the four acts. Tickets are $50, and seating is limited to 50 per night. Call 726-8910 or go to www.glensheen.org .

The opera opens in Susanna's boudoir, which is re-created downstairs, in the mansion's rec room. From there, the audience will be guided to the living room on the main level, where dark wood and a fireplace help create the countess' bedroom. The tour moves outside to the carriage house -- the Count's room -- for Act 3. The dramatic finale is staged on the terrace and garden area.

"Part of our responsibility is to bring Glensheen to life," Bowman said. "We are re-creating one of the great works of western art."

There are additional things to consider in staging a progressive opera. Bowman said the orchestra will move along with the show, meaning four sets of pit lights and four timpani. Some of the mansion's furniture and artifacts were put in storage to accommodate the sets and audience seating.

Not to mention an additional level of intimacy with opera-goers.

"There will be no faking," said Hagen, who plays the role of Cherubino in addition to producing the show. "It all has to look good up close."

Greg Dokken, who is playing Count Almaviva, said the performers have to be more mindful of their exits since they are not on a conventional stage.

"It does change things a little bit," said Dokken. "People can see more things that are happening near entrances and exits. You're still walking through the audience, so they see the transitions."

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Early run-throughs have gone well, Hagen said.

"It's been a time for creative problem-solving," she said. "As much as I love the show, I've been excited about the process. Watching how beautifully it fits together and watching the costumes come to life. It's one of the most rewarding experiences I've had in production."

Glensheen mansion
Duluth's Glensheen mansion will set the stage for a progressive opera production of "The Marriage of Figaro." The opera begins on the main level in the rec room, then moves on to the living room. Act 3 will be staged in the mansion's carriage house before the finale on the garden terrace. (2008 file / News Tribune)

Christa Lawler is a former reporter for the Duluth News Tribune.
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