Rising opera star from Edina comes home for ‘A Holiday Special’

Melissa M. Munoz

Gretel got her.

Liv Redpath was an Edina eighth-grader when that fairy-tale character — who’s seduced by a witch’s giant gingerbread house — convinced her to become an opera singer. She sang the role at age 14 in a production of Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel” staged by Minnesota Opera’s youth program, Project Opera.

“After I sang that Gretel, I was totally hooked,” she said last week.

Flash-forward 12 years and Redpath was singing the same role with the Los Angeles Opera opposite two major mezzo-sopranos: Susan Graham as the witch and two-time Grammy-winner Sasha Cooke as her brother Hansel.

It’s among the increasingly high-profile parts sung by this rising star soprano, a featured singer in Minnesota Opera’s streaming Christmas cabaret.

Redpath has landed leads with the Santa Fe Opera and the Cincinnati Opera as the saucy comedy troupe leader, Zerbinetta, in Richard Strauss’ “Ariadne auf Naxos.” And she was a cover (or understudy) for another Strauss opera at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, “Der Rosenkavalier.”

Plus she’s become a go-to soprano soloist for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, with whom she’s sung Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and recently recorded a movement from Gustav Mahler’s Fourth Symphony at the Hollywood Bowl for its winter gala, streaming Feb. 6.

That was a return to action for Redpath, who’s been at her family’s Edina home since COVID marched in nine months ago, just as she finished making her European debut with Deutsche Oper Berlin in Giacomo Meyerbeer’s “Les Huguenots.”

Among the dates erased from her calendar: a season-opening concert with pianist Lang Lang and the L.A. Philharmonic; soloing on Handel’s “Messiah” with both the New York Philharmonic and the National Symphony in Washington, D.C.; and her full-fledged Met debut in Alban Berg’s “Lulu.” Not to mention a planned return home for Mozart’s “Requiem” with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.

After recording the Mahler in L.A., she flew home to join two fellow Project Opera alumni and a former Minnesota Opera resident artist for Sunday’s livestreamed performance of “A Holiday Special,” which will be broadcast at 7 p.m. Saturday on Classical Minnesota Public Radio (99.5 FM) and is available on demand through Dec. 27 at mnopera.org.

“Then, fingers crossed, I am flying to Amsterdam to do Christmas concerts [this Sunday night] with the Radio Filharmonisch Orkest, the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic,” she said. “Those are still going on without an audience, but broadcast.”

So what does a rising opera star do while sequestered at her childhood home? Sing, of course.

“I’m young [28], and I’ve tried to look at this time as a gift,” she said, “digesting a lot of other pieces and roles that I know will come up for me in the future. It’s been nice to learn them in less high-pressure time structures. So that’s been my silver lining. I’ve gotten to catch up on my dream roles.”

Something different

For one who knew that she wanted to be an opera singer, Redpath took the unusual path of attending Harvard University. While it’s renowned for having top departments in many academic disciplines, music is not among them.

“My parents thought I was a little crazy, just because they knew I wanted to be a singer,” she said. “But, in the end, it really was the best place for me. I knew that Harvard had this immense extracurricular life that allowed students to participate in, arguably, more music than I would have gotten to do had I gone to a conservatory.

“But I really wanted to go to Juilliard [New York’s prestigious Juilliard School] for grad school. And it worked out, thank goodness.”

After receiving her master’s degree from Juilliard, Redpath spent three years as an L.A. Opera “young artist” and has been engaging in all of this “freelancing” since.

As for Minnesota Opera’s “Holiday Special,” it’s an unmasked but socially distanced affair from the stage of St. Paul’s Ordway Concert Hall. The music director is pianist Joseph Li, a veteran of similar undertakings with the New York Festival of Song.

“On the first day, he said: ‘My goal is for you guys to feel really comfortable and sing to people like you sing in the car. You, raw, like they’re in your living room.’ ”

Or that you’re in theirs, he could have said, for that’s the streaming scenario.

The two other Project Opera alums on the program have a number of Houston Grand Opera productions on their résumés: baritone Thomas Glass (another Edina High grad) and mezzo-soprano Zoie Reams. Completing the quartet is tenor Daniel Montenegro, most recently seen here as romantic lead Alfredo in Minnesota Opera’s 2014 production of Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata.”

Among the concert’s highlights are Reams torching it up on “Little Girl Blue” and purring through “Santa Baby,” while Glass delves smoothly into the bass range for the Drifters’ doo-wop “White Christmas” and brings a gently swinging baritone to “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”

Redpath’s peak comes on Joni Mitchell’s melancholy “River,” especially when she glides confidently into the stratosphere on the high lines.

It has the feel of accomplished opera singers casually holding forth around the piano at a holiday party, offering plenty of humor, but tenderness, too. As local classical organizations’ holiday streams go, this one is warm cocoa with extra marshmallows.

Rob Hubbard is a freelance classical music critic. • [email protected]

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