Arts and Culture

Minnesota Opera postpones premiere of 'Edward Tulane' due to coronavirus

Health concerns halted even the livestream option

Tulane Rehearsal: Singers rehearse “Edward Tulane” at the Minnesota Opera.
Singers rehearse “Edward Tulane” at the Minnesota Opera center in Minneapolis in February 2020. Some scenery and costumes can be seen in the background including a jellyfish for an undersea scene.
Euan Kerr | MPR News

The Minnesota Opera has joined a host of artistic organizations that have postponed or canceled performances in coming weeks, in an effort to contain the spread of coronavirus.

At the opera, this meant postponing the March 21 world premiere adaptation of Minnesota writer Kate DiCamillo's award-winning novel "The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane."

Jack Swanson, Minnesota native singing the title role in Edward Tulane
Jack Swanson, the Minnesota native singing the title role in the Minnesota Opera production of “Edward Tulane” during rehearsal in February.
Euan Kerr | MPR News

The creative team worked hard on the music and libretto for years.

With sets and elaborate costumes ready, the singers were set to tell the story of Edward, a beloved stuffed rabbit, who is lost one day and embarks on years of adventure.

Opera president and general director Ryan Taylor said the postponement decision was tough.

"We found ourselves very precariously balanced," he said.

On one side, there was the deep desire that “the show must go on.” But on the other side, there was the risk of spreading the novel coronavirus, which causes the respiratory illness COVID-19. Dozens of people have died of the disease in the United States. As of Friday, Minnesota has confirmed 14 cases, with one patient in critical condition.

The opera began discussing other possibilities early. Leaders came up with the plan to do at least one Edward Tulane show in an empty theater, but stream it live so audiences could watch remotely.

However, Taylor said so many people were involved in the production, that it became a coronavirus concern in its own right, particularly as it became clear Gov. Tim Walz was going to advise against gatherings of 250 people or more.

"We realized that as we were to move forward in the enclosed theater space with just our artists and crew, then we are actually prioritizing the health and well-being of patrons and audience above that of our artists and crew,” he said. “And they should be equal."

So, the opera dropped the streaming plan and will attempt to reschedule Edward Tulane and the also postponed “Don Giovanni”, likely in the 2021-2022 season.

Meanwhile, ticket holders can get a refund, or a Minnesota Opera gift certificate. But Taylor hopes they will consider asking that the ticket be reissued as a gift to an artist support fund the opera is establishing. That money will go toward paying at least some of what the performers will lose as a result of the cancellation, which could amount to “20 to 30 percent of their income for the year," he said.

The opera cancellations are just two of shows in many venues now off the schedule.

And it's not just the performers who are paying the price. Nicole Fierce, a freelance lighting designer and electrician who works in venues across the Twin Cities, said she is one of about 2,000 people who do similar stage work in the metro area.

"Within the past four days, every person I know who does something similar to what I do has lost at least two months of work," Fierce said.

Martin Moylan contributed reporting to this story.