Opera fundraiser featured star performances
The stars glistened inside and out Friday on a crisp fall evening that showcased local operatic talent.
Dozens of opera buffs congregated at the stunning log and stone home of Kevin and Renee Brauer to raise money for the Northern Light Opera Company.
The spacious Potato Lake residence served as perfect host for the opera singers who performed in the scenic living room to invited guests, and at poolside in the lower level.
"This home provides a wonderful venue for the talented soloists to perform," said Park Rapids opera supporter Bob Light. He and wife Pat have starred in several performances.
Bob Light said the Brauer home was appropriate because it perpetuates a European tradition of musicians performing in beneficiaries' homes over past centuries.
The NLOC is in its seventh year. It got statewide recognition earlier Friday when lawmakers touring the Park Rapids area singled it out for injecting vibrant notes into the community, both musical and material.
"Everybody is important to the opera community," said donor and volunteer Jan Swedberg.
"This is a wonderful thank-you to donors and prospective donors," said Pat Light. The fundraiser was a way to thank past donors and reach out to new ones, she said.
The non-profit entity has struggled financially, while attracting a vast array of local talent. With the exception of a few professional musicians from local colleges, the cast is comprised of amateur musicians.
"Can you believe the level of talent they get?" asked one guest after a musical performance by Brinn Krabbenhoft, a Park Rapids daycare provider who has performed in three operas.
Mark Fulfs, a maintenance worker, brought down the house - figuratively - with songs he performed from "My Fair Lady" and "Les Miserables."
Director Paul Dove thanked the attendees and volunteers, but reminded them that the company belongs to the community, not just the opera lovers dressed to the nines Friday night.
"These are music productions that hold up in any venue," he said.
The company has taken risks as it tried to appeal to an audience wider than Gilbert and Sullivan aficionados.
Last summer it put on a production called "Into the Woods," an adaptation of several Grimms brothers fairy tales. Dove passed out financial information indicating the performances lost more than $18,000.
"The crowds were not there," he said. "It happens."
But that hasn't tarnished the fanatical loyalty the community has shown its fledling enterprise. Guests Friday night were enthralled with the Brauer home, and the company that was the real star of the evening.
"You can't beat the venue here," said Jill Johnson, whose husband, Deane, played in the Northern Light Wind Quintet that was the "opening act."
Host Renee Brauer said her home is open to the opera company whenever it's needed. She and Kevin built the spacious property more than two years ago when he retired from Sprint Communications.
They decided against living part-time in Florida and summering here.
"We needed to be a part of a community," she said. The Brauers were lured by the culture Park Rapids had to offer, along with the scenery, the friendly people - and their roots. Renee's father, Orris Wibe, taught in Park Rapids for many years.
Brauers frequently open their doors for charitable causes.
NLOC hopes to assemble a task force to better promote the company and apply for more grants to fund it.
The company announced it will stage "Fiddler on the Roof" in 2009, returning to more traditional, better-known operas.
Meanwhile, it will continue business as usual, relying on the community that gave it life to keep it growing.
"Volunteers are more important than the money," Dove told the audience. "It's not my company. It's your company.
"It has to belong to the community."