Minnesota Opera's "Doubt"

Can John Patrick Shanley’s play Doubt be turned into an opera? Yes, but only if everyone talks less.

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Courtesy MN opera
New Opera — Doubt is yet another new work produced entirely by MN Opera.

Playwright John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt won a Pulitzer Prize and was made into an Oscar-nominated film starring Meryl Streep. Now, in an ambitious and original effort, Minnesota Opera is transforming Doubt yet again, into an opera that receives its world premiere at the Ordway.

At first look, Doubt may seem an unlikely choice for an opera, because it involves deep moral and philosophical themes and lots of dialogue. “[Trimming the dialogue] was a lot of what we had to do,” says composer Douglas J. Cuomo, who wrote the score. (Shanley himself wrote the libretto.) “In making it less talky, we created more space for ruminations—arias. That’s the challenge.”

Set in 1964, at the cusp of great changes in the Catholic Church, the story concerns a progressive priest, Father Flynn, who is accused by a reactionary nun, Sister Aloysius, principal of the Catholic school, of abusing the only black student, after the innocent Sister James raises suspicions.

The libretto is only about a third of the length of the original play, says Cuomo. “The story and characters are the same, but we’ve rethought it in ways that can do what the other mediums could not.” That includes the addition of the chorus, both children and adults. Also new is a more developed relationship between Sister James and Father Flynn. “There is more about Sister James. Her arc and growth are more important.”

Cuomo doesn’t come from a traditional classical background; his early training was in jazz, and those influences are clear in Doubt. “I have always been interested in new music, including contemporary classical music, and in a theatrical setting,” he says. Jan. 26–Feb. 3. Ordway Center, 345 Washington St., St. Paul, 612-333-6669,