Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

Donald Giovanni in Cornlandia
A Picnic Operetta

Mixed Precipitation
Review by Arthur Dorman | Season Schedule

Also see Arty's review of The Drowsy Chaperone

Carolyn Cavadini, Michael Liebhauser, Jim Ahrens, Nick Miller, Naomi Karstad, and Lizz Windnagel
Photo by John Pocklington
Since 2009, Mixed Precipitation has been presenting an annual Picnic Operetta at parks, community gardens, nature centers, and other outdoor locales throughout the Twin Cities and outstate Minnesota. Audiences sit on picnic blankets or folding chairs they carry in with them. The Picnic Operetta itself is a mash-up of classical opera, pop music, satire, farce, dance, and stage design, with the added presence of food shared with the audience at various moments throughout the performance. Believe me when I tell you it is like nothing else, and it is great fun.

This year's production is Donald Giovanni in Cornlandia, liberally adapted from Mozart's Don Giovanni. Along with his modified name, the title character sports an abundantly wavy golden wig, which should tell you where the show's satire is directed. It is primary season and Cornlandia is any Midwest state where every four years politicians troll for delegates. Along with Donald is his campaign chief Corey Lewandowski; opponents Ted Snuz and Carly Davidson (who Ted suggests become his running mate so they can team up to bring down the Donald); journalist Blitz Wolfer; Gina and Tommy, a pair of wide-eyed locals; and for good measure, Paris Hilton and her yappy dog named Masetto, taken from a peasant character in Mozart's work. The tenuous connection between Donald and Ms. Hilton is an investment in a new hotel, to validate Donald's claim of creating jobs for the populace. In addition, from the opera we have the character Donna Elvira, one of Donald's spurned lovers who begs him to change from a life of greed to doing good for others, and a talking statue who is prophesizes Donald's downfall.

The specifics of the story do not make a great deal of sense, even as it touches highlights of the original opera here and there; the essence of a Picnic Operetta is that not making sense is exactly the point. The fun is in busting open the tropes of opera, recognizing the parodies of public figures and societal practices, and the interpolation of pop songs in between Mozart's beautiful arias, making it safe to enjoy serious art without taking it seriously. For example, rather than supertitles to provide the English translations of the Italian lyrics, the meaning is written (in very condensed form) on scrolls, cloths, fans, and other clever places.

Which is not to say the production does not have genuine artistic qualities. Director Kym Longhi assembles the cast in various stage images, and makes great use of the large space in the outdoor setting. Jerrod Wendland's script balances corny jokes and topical jabs while maintaining a glancing resemblance to the opera's storyline. Wendland is also the show's music director, leading a four-piece band that manages to cover the range from Mozart to Bon Jovi, to Crosby Stills and Nash, to Vangelis's theme from Chariots of Fire.

The principals in the cast all have strong voices. Standouts are Naomi Karstad as Carly Davidson, Lizz Windnagel as Paris Hilton (note, Joni Griffith plays this role at the September 17 and 18 performances), and especially Carolyn Cavadini who, as Donna Elvira, does justice to the truly beautiful arias that are part of the show. Michael Liebhauser, as Donald Giovanni, delivers a terrific musical comedy star performance (I would love to see him in one of the lead roles in Spamalot).

The ensemble includes actors of a range of ages, including several children who all fall into place to sing, dance, and speak on cue, in defiance of the overall freewheeling spirit of the occasion. Their costumes, designed by Sarah Bahr, have a carnival-like quality that suits the jocular mood just fine. Nancy Nair provides them with some light-hearted choreography that brings pep to the event, while staying safely in the realm of stage dance for non-dancers.

As for the food, there are five different courses served during the show, all prepared on site. My favorite is the caprese skewer, but all are tasty, offered in small bite-sized portions on trays passed around the audience sitting on picnic blankets or lawn chairs. Most clever is the final treat, a Donald's mini- puff pastry, noted for being full of hot air. By the way, note that all the food offerings are vegetarian.

The Picnic Operetta does not pretend to be serious opera, or even operetta, but a delightful send-up of the form, that can be enjoyed by opera buffs (though a sense of humor about the form probably is essential), and those who don't care for opera, or perhaps have never seen an opera at all. Don Giovanni in Cornlandia is ninety minutes spent in natural surroundings, laughing and having our wits sharpened a bit, enjoying some genuinely lovely Mozart compositions along with some soul tunes, some rock, and some country—and being pampered by the tastes and scents of seasonal foods. The audience includes young and old, and there seems to be something in the Picnic Operetta for everyone to enjoy.

Donald Giovanni in Cornlandia continues through September 18, 2016, at various locations. All performance sites are outdoors. Donation of $10.00 - $20.00 is suggested. For performance dates, locations, ticket information and reservations go to For ticket sales only, call 1-800-838-3006 (Brown Paper Tickets).

Writer and Music Director: Jerrod Wendland Director: Kym Longhi; Production Stage Manager and Artistic Associate: Jacob Miller; Assistant Stage Manager: Akiko Oslund; Choreographer: Nancy Noir: Fight Choreographer: Dave Schneider; Set Designer: Elliot Hayes; Costume Designer: Sarah Bahr; Scenic Artist: Kathy Stewart; Music and Lyrics from Don Giovanni" by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Lorenzo De Ponte; Additional music by Frank Sullivan III and Jim Peterik, Ian Stanley, Roland Orzabal and Chris Hughes, Angus and Malcom Young, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Bruce Hornsby, Morten Harket, Magne Furuholmen, and Pal Waaktaar-Savoy, Vangelis, Falco, Rob and Ferdi Bolland, Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora and Desmond Child.

Cast: Jim Ahrens (Ted Snuz), Isaac Bont (Masetto the Dog, the Statue), Carolyn Cavadini (Donna Elvira), Naomi Karstad (Carly Davidson), Michael Liebhauser (Donald Giovanni), Nick Miller (Corey Lewandowski), Ricky Morisseau (Tommy), Will Schmidt (Blitz Wolfer), Laura Torgeson (Gina), Lizz Windnagel (Paris Hilton). Ensemble: Asher Edes, Ayden Her, Macey Hines, Nicole Kissambou, Akiko Ostlund, Jesse Pollock-Foote, Manny Vazquez and Colin Woolson.