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Opera by the ore docks?
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The Three Terrific Tenors. (From the left; Marcus McConico, David Ossenfort and Scott Ramsay.) They will perform at the DECC on Saturday to raise money, and attention, for a proposed Duluth opera festival. (Photo courtesy Duluth-Superior Symphony Orchestra)
Duluth could be adding a new wrinkle to its public performance schedule next summer. The city already hosts music festivals featuring blues and modern rock. If one man's vision comes to reality, Duluth will host a new annual music festival that would be decidedly higher-brow.

Duluth, Minn. — The terms 'high culture' and Duluth are rarely used in the same sentence.

A traditional blue collar community, Duluth may be best identified with an annual blues music festival. But Craig Fields believes there's a yearning for another kind of music at the Lake Superior shore.

Fields has a vision for Duluth.

"To create an annual summer opera festival that would receive national recognition for its outstanding artistic quality," says Fields.

Fields is a semi-retired opera singer - more recently a producer of opera performance. Now he's in Duluth, to organize an annual fine music festival, featuring musical theater from 16th century Milan to Broadway. And he thinks he can pull it off. He says opera has a small, but passionate following.

"That's not an understatement," Fields says. "Opera has a much smaller fan base, of course. So the idea is to market this festival beyond the region here. In fact, if we're going to survive and we're going to flourish, we're going to have to bring in patrons from as far away as Chicago, Milwaukee, Des Moines, Canada, St. Louis, and the Twin Cities, of course."

Field's idea gets something of a public launch this weekend with a performance at the Duluth DECC. A trio dubbed the "Three Terrific Tenors" performs with the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra Saturday.

"These gentleman: David Ossenfort, Scott Ramsay, and Marcus McConico, (who's from Minnesota,) are very, very fine singers."

Scott Ramsay, for example, recently performed at Chicago's Lyric Opera, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis. Ramsay sang the role of Edgardo in Donizetti's 1835 opera, Lucia di Lammermoor.

The three tenors performance this weekend is both a money-raiser and an attention-getter for the bigger show next year. Fields says the idea of a summer festival has been in his head for 10 years.

"I've been coming to Duluth since 1995," says Fields. "And it just became abundantly clear to me that people in Duluth want to see good opera. This concept has been growing and developing in my brain and just won't let go. So I've decided to really throw myself into this and see if we can really build something of quality and that the community will become proud of supporting."

Can opera thrive amidst the ore docks, the railroad yards, and the paper mill? Fields thinks Duluth is a perfect match for musical theatre.

"Well, Duluth has become a very desirable tourist destination, because of the beauty of the lakefront, the development of canal park, all the attractions that are now a part of Duluth," says Fields. "There are a myriad of smaller summer festivals now going on. To combine that with a cultural experience of this magnitude, I think would be a natural fit."

It would tap into what he says is a new fashion, cultural tourism.

"And the cultural tourist is the one who not only goes to seek out a nice place to visit, but they want to have an experience in that nice place," Fields says. "Which is why I think Duluth is the perfect setting for this kind of festival."

The terrific tenors perform Saturday night in Duluth. Tickets have been on sale through the local symphony and from a new Duluth Festival Opera website. A good turnout might help show that locals can actually be lured from their fishing boats on a summer weekend.

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