The NLMF: Local people come together to make it happen

There is a lot of work that goes into producing an opera— sets, costumes, lighting, great voices, great orchestra, technical crews and choruses. For The Barber of Seville, more than 100 peopleare involved in the production.

Many of these people are local, including Alvin Rintala and Art Cherro of Aurora, who have been building the sets for the NLMF for the last 13 years, beginning with Cherro’s single-handed “ark building” for the Noye’s Fludde production in 2005. At the time, he was the master carpenter at Bradach Lumber in Aurora. The lumber company agreed to let Cherro build the set, and when owner Ed Bradach saw this practically sea-worthy ark filling up his gigantic lumber shed, he told his cousin Veda: “Don’t bring me anymore projects like that! What do you think we are? Broadway?”

In fact, Bradach Lumber has been one of the big supporters of the festival over the years, and now retired Cherro and Rintala team up each season to do the building of the new production “I started doing it as something nice to do for the community,” Cherro said.“But, over the years, I look forward to seeing what plans get sent to us for construction.Putting all the pieces together and watching how it gets used on the stage is always exciting. Alvin (Rintala) and I have turned into a good team.”

“I like to be involved in something creative. It is very different than the work I do all year-round.”Rintala said.

The fully professional cast assembles on the Iron Range in late June to begin rehearsals, both at Mesabi East School and at Chisholm High School. “Without the huge generosity of these school districts, it would be impossible for us, on the budget we have, to continue,” NLMF Artistic Director Veda Zuponcic, an Aurora native, said. “But I think this generosity stems from the old Iron Range idea that the school is the center of the community. Schools on the Iron Range have always tried to do more than just teach reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic and had active arts programs as well.

“We try to involve the community as much as possible,” Zuponcic added. “We pay high school crew members, technical support staff, local choristers and instrumentalists, dancers, wardrobe mistresses and make a point of buying everything we canlocally. We also house our professional artists and those enrolled in our Young Artists programs—about 75 people—for four weeks each season. Hotels, B&Bs, restaurants, rental car outlets and supermarkets all know when we are in town. And that was one of our original missions: To support the Iron Range main streets.”

The NLMF budget has grown to about $380,000 a year, of which only 15 percent comes from ticket revenue. “We are so gratified that so many Iron Range residents have seen professional opera over the years, with great voices and excellent production values,” Zuponcic said.“We want to fill theaters with interested audience members … to do that, we need to keep ticket prices lower than in Metro areas.

“We did a survey last year of our audience’s occupations. Among the responses were electrician, a Boundary Waters Canoe Area guide, nurses and teachers. I love that we reach this market. We’re also proud of the fact that we have spent more than $1 million right here on the Iron Range in the last 10 years.

“This is our 15th season and I’m sometimes asked, ‘How long will this festival continue?’ My response is always the same: As long as people keep coming and filling seats, we’ll keep moving ahead,” Zuponcic said.

What that means, of course, is that the biggest job is raising money, according to Zuponcic. Senator David Tomassoni has been the driving force behind major grants from Explore Minnesota Tourism. State arts agencies, including Minnesota State Arts Board and the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council, provide support, as does Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation.

Private giving, tuition and corporate support from Minnesota Power, Minnesota Energy and Lake Country Power, Gilbert Bank,the Chisholm Foundation, the Donald Gardner Trust for the Humanities, the Jeno Paulucci Foundation and smaller Range businesses fill out the budget.

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