Tasty opera comes to Luverne
"The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude."
-- Julia Child
WORTHINGTON -- It's a recipe for a night of charming entertainment: Take a professional opera singer and infuse her with the personality and dialogue of TV chef Julia Child, combine with the talents of a local funeral director and priest and finish with a dollop of fine food and beverages.
This delicious dish is "Bon Appétit!" a short -- and comedic -- opera that will be performed Saturday at the Historic Palace Theatre in downtown Luverne.
"A composer named Lee Hoiby took one of Julia Child's TV shows, used the dialogue verbatim, and thought it would be good to do as a first opera for people who are afraid of opera," explained Emily Lodine, who will portray Child. "It's good for kids, too, because it's short, and she was funny. Julia Child was incredibly funny because she just went with the flow of whatever happened while she was cooking."
The "French Chef" episode that Hoiby used as a basis for his opera features Child making a classic chocolate cake.
Lodine, a nationally known opera singer who lives in rural Magnolia, has performed "Bon Appétit" at venues around the country -- including recent dates in Brookings, S.D., and Green Bay, Wis., and another scheduled for June in Austin, Texas -- but this is the first time in her home territory of southwest Minnesota.
The script calls for Child to have two kitchen assistants -- Chef Felix and Chef Oscar, a nod to "The Odd Couple" with similar idiosyncrasies -- and community members are recruited for those roles in the locales in which it is performed.
"That's the challenge," she said. "I've never done it with the same people, and I think this is the 11th time. But it's always new because everybody involved is new. You just make it work."
For the Luverne casting, a list of prominent local individuals was compiled for consideration.
"We thought about who would be perfect for it and decided on the town undertaker, Jeff Hartquist, who is 28 years old and adorable, and the other chef is the Catholic priest, Father Tom Jennings -- he's crazy and is very excited about doing this," Lodine described with a laugh. "He told me one time that he loves knives, and that makes me wary. ... I may need bed rest in the hospital after this."
Before "Julia" and her assistants take the stage at the Palace, the evening's agenda will begin at 6:30 p.m. on the other side of Luverne's main drag, at the Coffey Haus, 111 E. Main St.
"We'll start here at the Coffey Haus with some of Julia Child's favorite hors d'oeuvres," explained Tammy Makram, who has been researching Child's recipes for appropriate fare. "She liked lots of things with brie, and there will be a cash bar with wine and beer available."
Live music, featuring local performers, will be presented at both the Coffey Haus and the Historic Palace Theatre in advance of the main event. "Bon Appétit!" will begin at 7:30 p.m. and last about 25 minutes. Debra Reid, a pianist from Augustana College, will serve as accompanist for the opera.
During the course of the show, Lodine -- with the help of Hartquist and Jennings -- will assemble the ingredients and concoct the chocolate cake, although the time doesn't allow for actual baking. But the cake will make an appearance -- and be available for sampling by audience members -- across the street at the Coffey Haus following the show.
Lodine looks forward to sharing her tribute to Child with her friends and neighbors -- and giving them a taste of opera at the same time.
"It's very hard to get (the accent of) somebody like that," she said, launching into her rendition of Child's voice. "I can talk like her sometimes, but it comes and goes. Some people make her sound British, some people make her voice too low, but people forgive. And I have a great, great wig. She's still taller than me, and I like that."
Before she attempted her first performance of "Bon Appétit!" Lodine had a brief correspondence with Child.
"I wrote her when I knew I was doing the first one, at the Madison Opera in Wisconsin," Lodine shared. "I wrote her a note and said I was honored to be singing her words for 25 minutes and that she was a big inspiration to me, and she wrote me back. It was on a postcard. I still have it on my fridge. She thanked me for writing and talked about a family reunion and 88 of her relatives being there. And she said, 'I'm glad you enjoy being me.'"
In order to plan for food, reservations are needed for "Bon Appétit!" by Friday. Contact the Carnegie Cultural Center, (507) 283-8294.