Bon appétit: Opera based on Julia Child comes to Fargo-Moorhead

Actress playing Julia Childs on set
Fargo Moorhead Opera debuts a Julia Child-esque opera star on Friday and Saturday: Mezzo soprano Holly Janz is both in the kitchen and on stage in the one act opera, “Bon Appétit!”
Courtesy of Fargo Moorhead Opera

If you're of a certain age, the voice of Julia Child is unforgettable. She gave a generation of home cooks confidence in the kitchen.

Through her public TV show, The French Chef, she entertained us along the way with her larger-than-life operatic personality.

​​The one-act opera is essentially a re-creation of an episode of The French Chef, Julia Child's show.
​MPR file

This weekend, the Fargo Moorhead Opera company debuts a Julia Child-esque opera star: Mezzo soprano Holly Janz will be in the kitchen and on stage in the one act opera, “Bon Appétit!”

Staged by the opera company, it’s at the TAK Music Venue in Dilworth, Minn. at 1710 Center Ave W. Shows are Friday, Jan. 27 and Saturday, Jan. 28, both at 7:30 p.m.

The one-act opera was written back in the 1980s by the composer Lee Hoiby. It's a short piece — basically a re-creation of an episode of The French Chef, taking some liberties where Julia makes a chocolate cake.

Tom Crann touched base with Janz on All Things Considered this week, ahead of the first performance.

I'm wondering what you thought when you heard there was actually an opera based on Julia Child.

Actress playing Julia Childs on set02
Holly Janz is both in the kitchen and on stage in the one act opera, “Bon Appétit!”
Courtesy of Fargo Moorhead Opera

I thought that sounded great. I love cooking and I like being in the kitchen.

And I coincidentally keep intersecting with Julia Child through different things I've been reading and watching lately, so it seems really kismet that this is coming together.

Did you grow up seeing her on TV, like so many of us did?

No, not quite. But through my training as a singer, she often would be pointed to as an example of what we wanted to do with our voice to get a little bit more hooty, warm quality in the singing.

So I've thought about (her) for a long time without really knowing much about her until I became more interested in her as a cook.

With that voice of hers, I suppose it's really not a big step to opera.

Not really. And she has such a distinct personality and a natural flair for being in front of people. So all those things combined seem to make her a great choice for the stage and for opera.

How do you depict her without doing an impression?

That was a big concern for me.

We talked about making her real and not making her a caricature, trying to honor her in what we were doing — and I really have to make this cake while I'm singing. I think there isn’t time to be too much of a screw up. You just got to do it.

There's a lot of cooking — everything Julia did in the show, you do. How do you do that convincingly?

It is different [than cooking off stage] because we need things to happen in a certain timely fashion. We need the egg whites that I whisk by hand to be firm enough to turn the bowl upside down — and hold it over my head and not fall on my head.

So I have been practicing. I have been working on my whisking endurance. I am not kidding, I have been working on my technique.

It's been fun and stressful, and I think we have arrived. But it's been a process.

Beyond treats for the audience, what can people expect?

They will have cakes served to them and they will be sitting at tables and chairs, so it's a little bit different than your typical venue. And I do have a bit of staging where I wander into the audience. This is interactive in some ways. Bon appétit!

Correction (Jan. 27): An earlier version of this story had the incorrect last name for composer Lee Hoiby. The error has been fixed.

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