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Professional opera will debut in historic Mancos setting

Performance to be held at Menefee Barn
Ryan Brown, artistic director and founder of Opera Lafayette, studied at Juilliard after playing the violin from a young age. He and his family inherited the Reddert Ranch from his grandparents. They still raise cattle there.

Live performances are slowly reemerging as a possibility, particularly outside crowded cities.

And in Mancos, Opera Lafayette, a professional opera company based in Washington, D.C., will debut its version of “The Blacksmith Opera” at the Reddert Ranch, across from the historic Menefee Barn and Blacksmith Shop on Echo Basin Road, in October.

The performance is a special one for Ryan Brown, founder and artistic director of Opera Lafayette because the Reddert Ranch has been in his family for generations.

“This is the first time I’ve combined my performance life and my ranch life,” Brown said.

Originally, the opera company planned to play in Mancos Opera House, but it was too small for state COVID-19 guidelines. So Brown decided to take “The Blacksmith” to another building from the early 1900s – Menefee Barn.

Opera Lafayette brings new interpretations to historical music masterpieces, and the Mancos Valley provides the perfect backdrop for a revitalization of the 18th century French comic opera, Brown said.

The adapted story is set in the West in the late 19th century and incorporates American folk songs where the original French songs would have been. The team created a violin, guitar and fiddle arrangement for the songs.

Musicians from the Mancos community rehearse for The Blacksmith Opera, alongside professional musicians from the District of Columbia, New York City and Colorado Springs.

Andrew Saletta, a music instructor in Mancos, organized six local musicians to join the three professionals for some of the songs. He also is teaching Mancos students some of the folk songs, and the kids will perform with the ensemble on Oct. 7. Parents are invited to attend.

Folk songs include “I Ride an Old Paint,” “Red River Valley” and “Old Gray Mare,” but the lyrics are changed to match the opera’s plot.

The story follows a blacksmith’s daughter, who is in love with a cowboy. However, the blacksmith’s sister is vying for the same man.

The 18th century opera has “human comedic situations everyone can relate to,” Brown said.

In one scene, the young cowboy drinks the wrong potion, one that was meant for a horse. He passes out, and the other characters think he is dead.

The scene resembles the Italian writer Giovanni Boccaccio’s “The Decameron,” which was written during the plague in Florence in the 14th century, Brown said.

Nick Olcott, the stage director, adapted the opera from the original French version.

The two performances originally scheduled for Oct. 10 and Oct. 11 sold out, so Opera Lafayette added a third performance, on Friday, Oct. 9. Tickets are on sale for $25 on the Mancos Creative District website.

According to the news release, up to 50 ticket holders who contact the Mancos Creative District to express their preference to see “The Blacksmith” in a smaller setting will be invited to attend the dress rehearsal Tuesday, Oct. 6, instead of the Saturday or Sunday performance.

Proceeds from the Oct. 9 performance will benefit the Mancos Cattlemen’s Association, since it will be held at the barn where Brown’s family has raised cattle since his grandparents settled on the ranch.

Brown said he hopes members of the association will attend the performance. Some of the older ranchers might even remember his grandfather, Fred “Doc” Reddert, who was the only veterinarian in town at the time.

His grandmother, Lottie Reddert, recorded the town history. And according to her book of stories, “The Blacksmith” “won’t be the first time the French fiddle is played in the mountains” of Colorado, Brown said.

On the old map near the Lizard Head Pass trailhead, Menefee Switch marks where the Menefee Barn is now. The local histories recorded by Brown’s grandmother include mention of a French man named Lafayette Guymon, who would go up into the mountains to play songs for old dances, Brown said.

While the “whole community loves that opera house so much,” Brown said he is excited to host the audience on the ranch.

Menefee Barn on the Reddert Ranch in Mancos. Ryan Brown, artistic director of The Blacksmith Opera, debuting in Mancos in October, said the ranch is where his grandparents raised cattle.

Opera Lafayette will space out hay bales for people to sit on, but audience members are encouraged to bring chairs if they want, Brown said.

The audience size is limited to 150 people per night under state guidelines, and audience members need to be at least 25 feet away from performers on stage. Microphones will ensure they will be heard.

“It was challenging to reconceive of it outdoors,” Brown said. The team needed to figure out where and how to get performers around to the back of the barn, where they will place a trailer for costume changes.

But the image of the sun slowly setting over the performance in such a beautiful place is worth creating a whole new performance space, Brown said.

The cast and crew hope to take the opera to the District of Columbia in March and New York City in June, but “everything is still so up in the air regarding indoor performances in cities,” Brown said.

Cast members will start arriving over the next few days so they have time to quarantine before rehearsals begin toward the end of September.