Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Minnesota 16.6.93: Opera on the Farm and Marcel Waves

Writing all this on the day of the opera performance. What an experience so far. Here’s this American-icon opera being performed at the farm of a gay dairy farmer. This farmer lives in a two-story late-19th century house he got for free when he saw an ad in the paper saying the house could be had for the taking, if someone would haul it away.

The farmer has renovated the house completely, has built a porch on. He has sewn poofy floral curtains with valances and flounces and curls. He has painted the rooms bright outré colors, furnished them with male torsos of store mannequins and other kicky, kitschy knickknacks bought at garage sales and resale shops. He jokes—half jokes—that one day he’ll open a gay b and b for Red Lake Falls.

Red Lake Falls: a French-Canadian, German Catholic settlement in a sea of Norwegian Lutherans. Families up to the 1960s of 10, 12, 23, 4 or 5 of which always became nuns or priests. A European Catholicism with a strong German-Austrian choral tradition, a focus on liturgy rather than ironclad morality, especially in the sexual area.

But nonetheless American, and intensely so, as the assimilationist impulse took over between the two wars. Mot people of our generation had grandparents who grew up speaking French or German, parents who grew up hearing and understanding the old language, but ashamed to speak it. The children now learn their ancestral languages, if at all, in college, and/or when they travel or live in Europe for a while.

It’s in this community, on this farm, that the opera is to be performed. It’s directed by a gay director, the chair of the music department at -----, a senior professor, married with a child. The lead male vocalist is a stunning handsome young gay man who grew up on an organic farm in North Dakota and who plays a heterosexual love role in the opera.

The music department chair at -----, who got the opera for Louis’s farm, is also gay. The Chronicle for Higher Education has sent a reporter to cover the story. Soon after the reporter met me, he told me he had once fallen in love with a waiter named Chuck in Little Rock. He sports two earrings in his right ear.

The local area has contributed a cast of supporting singers, dancers. These are predominantly short, stocky, marcelled French Canadian women in prim-flowered aprons of bright colors clashing with the exercised, larger floral patterns of their frocks. This is the 1940s look the opera demands. One wonders what they would think if they knew that all this culture is transmitted to them by faggots. Do they know and choose not to? If they knew, would they accept and affirm, as long as one was not in their face? Would they turn disdainful, become righteous?

What it feels like is being on the cusp of a cultural revolution of epic proportions. The arts languish for lack of money; Reaganonomics have pulled the plug on them, and their economic life ebbs away, pulse-beat by pulse-beat.

So the Minn. Opera Company has decided to take its show on the road, bring music to the people. And the people—bless their little homophobic, heartland souls—want it, love the party, seem ready to sing and dance.

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