‘Everyone needs an Anna DeGraff in their life’

That's what Grammy-winner librettist Herschel Garfein says, and here she is, consulting with University of Minnesota school of music assistant conductor Christopher Owen during a recent rehearsal for "Parables" in a very fine photo snapped last week by my MPR colleague Jeff Thompson. You can hear about the U's production tonight in my story on MPR's All Things Considered.

But meantime, back to the headliner of this blog post.

DeGraff is a Lincoln, Nebraska native, raised by rock and roll-loving parents. She had piano lessons at five, and four-part harmonies with her siblings in the car on the way to church, and now she's a school of music grad student. DeGraff's the wrangler for nearly every facet of the "Parables" production including the visit of librettist Herschel Garfein and composer Robert Aldridge.

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That means cajoling and herding a cast and crew of more than 200 U of M students, faculty and community members through rehearsals as well musical workshops led by Aldridge and Garfein.

It's glamorous work if you get a rush out of schlepping racks of costumes, putting tape on the stage to mark performer's positions, responding to any and all queries put to you including those from pesky reporters, and a million more things.

On the other hand it's pretty heady stuff hanging with Garfein and Aldridge. They just picked up Grammys earlier this year for their "Elmer Gantry" opera production. Their lives include parachuting into unfamiliar situations and counting on the locals like DeGraff to lead them through the jungle.

There is a payoff.

DeGraff is a gifted mezzo soprano and has performed several tunes for other productions that Garfein and Aldridge brought along in their satchel. In fact Garfein tells DeGraff, "don't be too useful, your voice is too good, don't lose your artistic aspirations."

On that front DeGraff's plan after school is to head to Germany where despite the body blows to the European economy there's still strong support for local opera houses. She hopes to sign on with one for a couple of years to pursue her art.