Julia Child will bake a cake, Lynne Rossetto Kasper from public radio’s “The Splendid Table” will speak and a trio of Young Artists will sing of lost love March 31, 2012, in various venues at The Hotel at Kirkwood Center.
“I think it’s a great idea,” says Cedar Rapids native Karen Brunssen, 58, who now lives in the Chicago area and teaches voice and opera at Northwestern University. She will be channeling Child in the one-act comic opera, “Bon Appetit,” a role she’s performed with about 10 assorted opera companies.
“I love that it’s at the Kirkwood hotel facility and I’m going to be in a cooking studio. That’s probably the best place I’ll ever get to do this show,” she says. “The combination of the two shows — I think that’s just so clever.”
Rossetto Kasper also sings the praises of the lineup, in which half the audience will see Brunssen in “Bon Appetit” in a teaching kitchen while the other half sees the polar opposite opera, “Face on the Bar Room Floor,” in the lobby. The audience will then gather in a lecture room for a discussion and Q&A with Rossetto Kasper, then divide to see the other opera. Afterward, all will gather again for a champagne and chocolate reception featuring a book signing by “The Splendid Table” host. Books will be available for purchase that night.
The event is a bit of a departure for Rossetto Kasper, who will be on the road about 30 or 40 dates this year to promote her new book, “The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Weekends.” (see related story)
“I have been involved in plays,” she says by phone from her home in St. Paul, Minn. “We have a wonderful group here of 100 men — The Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus. I performed with them when they did a food-themed program. It was utterly hysterical.
“This is my first time being the entr’acte with an opera company. I’m trying to decide, should I do one of my diva costumes or just quietly come out on stage,” says the kitchen queen, who describes her age as “between 58 and death.” “I’m so looking forward to this. It sounds like it’s going to be fun.”
“This is an unparalleled new experience for us,” says Daniel Kleinknecht, 51, of Coralville, the opera company’s founder and conductor. “I always like to do things that sort of blur the lines, a bit of this, a bit of that. The idea of ‘what is art,’ ‘what is chamber music’ is always interesting to me.
“We’ve put together an evening that’s just sort of pleasure — two one-act operas dealing with food and drink. The connection is that Lynne will talk about chocolate, then we’ll eat a little chocolate. So food and drink and music — it’s all there.
“It will be unexpected for the audience, because it’s not a traditional concert in any way.”
At $75, the ticket price is higher than usual and the audience capacity will be smaller, at 300, for the production which will cost between $20,000 and $25,000 to present. Both operas will be accompanied by piano.
The music, however, is of the high caliber Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre audiences have come to expect.
“They are fairly demanding,” Kleinknecht says. “Both are 20th century pieces. They have some rhythmic challenges, but the music is very gentle to the ear. The stories are engaging, the plots are wonderful and they’re very contrasting. One is very funny, the other more serious. Audiences are going to be very close to the performers, so they’re going to be very engaged with everything. There are no boundaries between the audience and the singers. They will all be very close to one another.”
They may even have to dodge some flying flour as mezzo-soprano Brunssen simultaneously sings and cooks.
“I’ll be making a chocolate cake,” she says, “and it’s not meticulous at all. It will be quite messy by the time I’m done.
“If anybody knows my personal cooking skills, that’s all the more fun, because they’re limited,” she says. “I have to crack eggs and I have to separate the yolks from the whites while I’m singing. In one show, I was almost thrown off when I cracked an egg and it had a double yolk. Your mind is going, I’m trying to crack and separate and sing. I got through the moment, but not without a bit of a heart flutter. There are all sorts of opportunities for things to be messed up.
“It’s a 20-minute workout,” says Brunssen, who became intrigued with performing during her Jefferson High School days. “You are singing pretty hard, and the multi-tasking — I will always make mistakes and I will always have to recover from them, and that’s fun.”
Describing herself as a tall, big-boned woman like Child, Brunssen recalls seeing Child’s cooking shows on TV when she was a little girl.
“I was too young to be a fan, but I appreciated it,” says Brunssen, daughter of Dean and Ann Gesme of Cedar Rapids.
That appreciation carries over to her portrayal.
“We all kind of laughed at Julia, but with a keen respect for the dignity she brings to the art of cooking,” Brunssen says. “She was the first of the whole ‘cooking-on-TV’ thing. There was something we enjoyed about watching her that was light-hearted. She did make messes. She was self-deprecating in a lovely sense.
“You want to find a balance between the awe we have for her but the vulnerability of cooking. She loved that.”
- What: Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre presents “The Art of Chocolate”
- When: 7:30 p.m. March 31, 2012
- Where: The Hotel at Kirkwood Center, 7725 Kirkwood Blvd. SW, Cedar Rapids
- Features: Two one-act operas: “Bon Appetit,” with Cedar Rapids native Karen Brunsson as Julia Child, and “Face on the Bar Room Floor”; lecture and book signing by Lynne Rossetto Kasper, host of “The Splendid Table” on public radio; champagne and chocolate reception
- Tickets: $75