North Country Opera

by | Oct 10, 2022 | Music

On Friday, October 7, 2022, we were one of the lucky few sitting in Mancelona’s Green River Schoolhouse for the opening night of the 40th Anniversary Revival of the musical “North Country Opera.”

Photo by North Country Opera 2022

North Country Opera

“The cast and crew knocked it out of the park last night! You and the entire audience laughing, crying, clapping, and cheering…and singing the whole evening! One of the most moving events of my life. This show is a “must-see” for any Michigander! Thank you, everyone!” said Bill Farmer, another person lucky enough to be present on Friday night. 

Green River School House

“I’ve hosted many special events at the old schoolhouse; weddings and receptions, graduations, wakes, bar mitzvahs, square dances, video shoots, township meetings, harvest gatherings, and musical concerts. As well as my annual HOOTENANNY summer festival. But when Barb Schmidt and Ron Miller, producer and director of Jay Steilstra ‘s “North Country Opera,” approached me about hosting this iconic play, I’m not kidding, I was overwhelmed with pride. I’ve followed this production since its inception in 1982, so this is a special honor for myself and the entire Williams family,” John Williams said. 

Photo by John Williams

Is it an opera? 

You may be wondering, is it an opera? Ron Miller, the director, explained in an interview with Owen Gosling, the director of Cheboygan Arts Council, “North Country Opera, you could say it’s a folk opera, but it’s not an opera in structure. It’s a folk musical. There’s a storyline. A complete storyline, a love story. All the songs written by Jay Steielstra tell the story of the people who live in the U.P. It takes place up in Grand Marais.” 

“I’ve had a bunch of songs for a number of years. How it came to be is I took the songs and strung them together, so a plot of sorts developed,” Steielstra said in a 1982 Ann Arbor News article promoting its premiere at the original Performance Network In Ann Arbor. “Since then, it has been revived in 1992, 1993, and 2003.” 

Jay Steielstra

“For decades, Jay Steielstra has performed his songs in bands, duos, and trios across the state and Midwest, and in 2017, he was awarded a Special tribute by the State of Michigan for his lifetime of artistic brilliance and unwavering dedication to protecting Michigan’s unique environment and natural resources for generations to come,” Alexandra Dailey reported in the Record-Eagle. 

Steve Girbach wrote a nice article feature in the Manchester Mirror about Stielstra. “Dave Siglin, Director of The Ark in Ann Arbor (1969–2008), has referred to Jay as “Michigan’s Poet Laureate” and considers Jay to be “a founding father of the Ann Arbor music scene.” Kinda makes sense, knowing that Jay has written more than 180 songs. Musical poetry in truth. Simple songs with topics covering love, nature, social injustice, life truths, Michigan, and so much more.” 

40th Anniversary

Now you may be wondering why is the “North County Opera” so magical. 

In the same interview with Gosling, David Menefee said, “I think it’s the story everybody wants to see come true. It’s a beautiful story. I’m not going to tell you how it goes or how it ends, but yeah, you walk out feeling good; that’s the important thing you walk out feeling good. I’ve noticed people come out of here laughing.” 

Being first-timers to the North Country Opera and Jay’s music and lyrics, there was a sense of magic in the air. The audience was riveted on the stage. There is a lot of Michigan humor in this play which kicked up quite a bit of laughter. The music wove through the story, and everyone in the Green River Schoolhouse on Friday night was enthralled. The schoolhouse itself became a character in the opera, adding to that sense of being “up north” in Michigan.

Don’t miss this once-in-this-lifetime opportunity! Check for ticket information on


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  1. Thank you Chuck and Brenda for supporting the Arts in our beautiful state. I’m so happy you made it up on opening night

    • Thank you, Johnny! You’ve set the gold standard for supporting local music.

  2. What a wonderful show and the setting was also amazing. The cast and the performances were stellar. The band superb. Bravo to the producers, director and to Jay.

  3. Well, I just heard about this, and wish I could see the revival in Ann Arbor, but it’s sold out! Way back in 1982, I saw the original performance and so much of it is memorable, still.

    • I am so sorry, Kate. Maybe we should petition the producers for more performances. Maybe a few above the bridge? Seeing it at the schoolhouse was magical but at the bar in Grand Marais…that would indeed be perfect.


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