At this point, I've pretty much achieved "professional audience member" status. And I have zero shame about that fact. This summer has held a true embarrassment of riches when it comes to performance arts...opera! Orchestra! Experimental theater! Concerts! You name it, I've been there, and probably loved it.
After a hiatus during our European trip (omg, recaps coming up at some point...eek!), I kicked off the summer arts calendar with the Minnesota Orchestra Diamond Anniversary Symphony Ball. As covered here, the night was a complete delight...no better way to spend an evening than all dressed up, drinking champagne, and listening to "Rhapsody in Blue."
Later that week, Jodester called me in as a reserve date to "Bridges of Madison County" at the Orpheum! I had never read the book or seen the movie, and didn't know the plot beyond the fact that it had to do with those famous covered bridges in Iowa...then I found out that Jason Robert Brown, genius behind "The Last Five Years" and "Songs for a New World," wrote the music. I summarily died and went to heaven, and knew that whatever else the show held, it would have amazing music. And I was right. Take a listen below:
Delightful, right? While I thought the book was a little weak and the show got a bit long, the music was just as delightful as all my favorite JRB standards. I looped the soundtrack on repeat for most of the rest of the month, with no shame.
One of my favorite annual events in the Twin Cities is the Minnesota Orchestra's "Symphony for the Cities" concert series in area parks. We went to the fabulous Harriet Bandshell to watch associate conductor Roderick Cox lead the orchestra through everything from Star Wars to Wagner, ET to "1812." And, nerd that I am, I was DEAD set on making sure we had a front-row seat.
Worth it, when you're up against crowds like this. It never fails to make me incredibly happy to see such a diverse crowd of people attend the shows...anything that exposes a person to classical music, whether they're die-hard groupies like me or the concert is their first and only experience, is worth it in my eyes.
Doesn't hurt that the night (and our view, and the performance!) was perfect, either. I cried through the Armed Forces tribute...I always do...and played the piccolo part for "Stars and Stripes Forever" in my palm right along with Roma Duncan. SO in love with this amazing orchestra. The Twin Cities are lucky to have them!
The unequivocal highlight of my summer this year was Adele. I have so much to say on that subject, in fact, that she merits her own post. Stay tuned, campers. She's unbelievable live.
Mid-July found the Jodester and I back at Orchestra Hall for Sömmerfest! The Orchestra's annual summer concert series, an unbelievable feat of over a dozen performances in two weeks, never ceases to totally blow my mind. Under the directorship and coordination of Andrew Litton, now in his 13th year of Sömmerfest, the programming has grown increasingly ambitious and continues to draw true stars to perform.
The Brahms Double Concerto this year featured the unbelievable duo of Nicola Benedetti on violin and her boyfriend, cellist Leonard Elschenbroich. The Double Concerto's first movement quickly became my most-played Spotify track of the month...sweeping, lush interplay between the cello and violin, and a stunning crescendo in intensity to the gorgeous conclusion. It was the "1812 Overture," however, that brought me to tears.
The attacks in Nice had taken place that night, and listening to the slow lyricism and searing drama of the Overture in the face of that news gave me goosebumps. It felt, to me, like the entire orchestra played with a little bit of extra fuck-you passion...like each and every one of them somehow had something to prove. Maybe that music, like the human spirit, transcends everything...I don't entirely know, but it was amazing.
My first Guthrie trip of the summer was with this fabulous crew, for Open Call night at "South Pacific!" We all received fabulous neon orange leis in keeping with the evening's theme...which the Guthrie went all out supporting! We were treated to signature tiki drinks, Polynesian munchies and a killer hibiscus rum punch after the show, and even the weather cooperated...it was a stupidly humid 95 degrees the night of the show! The musical itself was expertly cast, with standout performances across the board, and as usual, the set design was exquisite. The show is still on through this weekend - if you have nothing to do in the Twin Cities, do yourself a favor and get there!
Just two days later, Michael popped back down to the Cities for the Sömmerfest closer...Verdi's opera "Otello" in concert! Our seats were clearly terrible...
...and we clearly hated the entire production. KIDDING. Sitting front/second row for an opera is now my favorite thing to do (especially after "Tosca" in March), and the concert format offered a new perspective on the fantastic soloists, particularly Iago (played by Stephen Powell, our Scarpia from "Tosca!"). Add in the mass of the Minnesota Orchestra, the Minnesota Chorale, AND the Minnesota Boy Choir, and with nearly 300 people on stage it was utterly overwhelming...in the best way.
I broke out of my usual Guthrie-and-orchestra rotation for a quick trip to the Dakota in August for Marc Broussard with the fam. We've been obsessed with him since his first couple albums, over a decade ago, but this performance was unique in that he and his dad performed as a duo! Hearing him talk about how his love for and taste in music was deeply influenced by his father added an entirely new nuance to the show. With old favorites like "Home," "The Wanderer," and "Lonely Night in Georgia," along with covers of everything from "Change the World" to "The House at Pooh Corner," I died and went to proverbial heaven about six times over the course of the night.
Just a couple weeks ago, AJ and I headed to a night of the Minneapolis Fringe Festival! Staged for two weeks annually, Fringe focuses on amateur theater, dance and performing arts, and you never really know what you're going to get in each 60-minute block. We tried to go to one show, but it was sold out, so we ended up at "The History of B-List Movie Actors" for our first option, and a ballet about "the natal passion" and passage of time and maturity for our second. Both were incredibly different from anything I've ever seen, and that's what's so crazy and fun about Fringe.
The hands-down most powerful piece of theater I've seen this summer, however, and likely this year, is the Guthrie's production of Ayad Akhtar's "Disgraced." Hal, AJ and I rushed tickets last Thursday, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't still finding myself wrestling with it even today. The play is the most-produced work of the 2015-2016 theater season nationally, and with good reason...it's a completely incendiary, jarring, visceral piece of theater that left me so tense I had sweat running down my back by the end of the show. The show confronts and challenges what feels like everything: racism, sexism, nature versus nurture, religion, politics, terrorism and fanaticism, cultural appropriation and denial. At a brief 90 minutes, there's not a wasted line of dialogue or gesture in the entire work, and it continually ratchets up to new levels of complete shock, no-holds barred outrage, and life-shattering action and assumption. Friends, if you see one piece of theater ever in your year, make it "Disgraced." I can't say it vehemently enough - this was true world-class theater, and it is exactly the kind of work that needs to be seen. It runs through this weekend at the Guthrie, and rush tickets are only $25...do yourself a favor and go!!!
PHEW I'M EXHAUSTED even just re-living this summer's shows. Let's be friends and go find an audience to be a part of soon, k? I've got over 30 performances coming up in the next calendar year, with more to be added, undoubtedly! Here's to being the world's most insane arts geek!