Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Opera "Rockland" is for everyone

Pictured here, from left, are Leslie Hill, Esa Ruuttunen and Fia Hill Murray, in Nivala, Finland, for the Old World Premiere of Rockland last month. The Hill sisters are granddaughters of Alfred Laakso, who wrote the first-hand account of the 1906 events on which the opera is based. Esa Ruuttunen sings the role of Alfred Laakso in the opera. (Photo courtesy Pine Mountain Music Festival)

HOUGHTON -- The new opera Rockland, a Pine Mountain Music Festival (PMMF) production, with a cast of nearly 50 and an orchestra of over 40, will have its New World premiere at 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 15, and at 3 p.m. Sunday, July 17, at the Rozsa Center for the Performing Arts in Houghton.

Last month, the "Old World Premiere" of Rockland took place in Nivala, Finland. The audiences there felt connected to the opera because many had ancestors who had emigrated to Michigan around a century ago. The idea of the opera came from a first-hand account of the 1906 events written by a Finn in Rockland named Alfred Laakso, and his descendants will be on hand for a reception after the July 17 performance.

The opera is based on actual events in the town of Rockland, Ontonagon County, in 1906, when about 100 Finnish miners went on strike and two of them were shot and killed by sheriff’s deputies.

"There is so much in this opera that is both real and symbolic," said Peter Van Pelt, PMMF executive director. "The heart of the story is literally true, but in a broader sense the opera speaks of the entire history of the U.P. and its mining heritage and different ethnic stories. It’s powerful."

Tickets for the opera are selling well, Van Pelt reported, but there are still seats available.

"This opera is for everyone," Van Pelt noted. "Opera is another way of telling a story, like a book or a movie or a stage play, but with opera you get the thrill of hearing great music and well-trained opera voices -- and that is something that everyone can appreciate."

After one recent rehearsal, a PMMF staff person said, "I knew the principal singers would be well prepared, but I was unexpectedly blown away by the quality of the chorus -- what glorious sound!"

The chorus is composed of local singers plus a number of undergraduates from Concordia College and the University of Michigan.

Tickets for Rockland are available from the Rozsa Center box office, 877-746-3999, or at the door if space permits. The box office is currently operating out of the Student Development Complex at the top of MacInnes Drive in Houghton.

Click here to purchase tickets on line.

Pine Mountain Music Festival presents a season of opera and classical music each June-July in the Dickinson County area, the Marquette area, the Keweenaw Peninsula, and other towns in the Upper Peninsula. Visit www.pmmf.org or call 888-309-7861 for more information.

Editor's Note: Click here to read about artist Mary Wright's "Story Line" project -- more than 7,000 cloth panels telling stories of ancestors -- now displayed in and around the Rozsa Center in conjunction with the opera Rockland.

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