On the Aisle

by Max Carlson

There have been quite a few remarkable performances this season. I' ll fill you in on what's been going on so far. One event that took place at Orchestra Hall in downtown Minneapolis was the collaboration of two great choirs from two great schools. The North Park University (thought I'd rub that in) and Minnehaha Academy choirs seemed to cooperate very well, because they were able to combine their unique day at the theatre and excellent gifts of musical talent and put together an extraordinary concert. Both choirs were under excellent direction, with Gordon Olson conducting the Minnehaha Academy choir and Greg Athnos conducting the University's choir and orchestra. Let's all hope that these two schools will come together in the future and put on another successful concert.

I think that the opera Carmen is one of the most popular works around. Probably because of the remarkable melodies and tunes. Who can forget the famous overture? This was a very different performance than the composer, Bizet, could ever have thought. Carmen was very good. She had not only the voice but also the necessary acting skills to make her seem as believable as possible. The performance was modern, and Carmen was a prostitute who worked in a bar. When I saw Carmen, I forgot how violent the action was, but I didn't forget how extraordinary the music was. I think that is what I enjoyed most of all. After awhile, you barely notice what's going on onstage because of the enchanting and exciting music.

Usually, on a trip to New York, I enjoy anticipating and seeing a good Metropolitan Opera production. But, I was let down this year. We saw one of Puccini's greatest operas, Madame Butterfly, at the Met, and I was disappointed with the lead character, Miss Butterfly. She lacked the characteristics needed to perform her role realistically. She was supposed to be a young fifteen-year old girl. However, she was a three-hundred-pounder who was at least in her thirties. She didn't sing very well for that role, either. Her voice was too powerful and massive. It should have been softer and sweeter. I didn't know fifteen-year-olds had voices powerful enough to make the seats vibrate. However, in the Metropolitan tradition of extraordinary scenery, there was a perfect reproduction of a Japanese home surrounded by a beautiful garden on top of a hill. Also, the second act was much more enjoyable because I became used to the soprano. The whole thing wasn't terrible, but it couldn't compare to the recent film version on public television.

Another performance I saw in New York featured the contemporary composer, Dominick Argento, who was commissioned by The Schubert Club to set to music several letters between the famous playwright, Anton Chekhov, and his wife, Olga Knipper. The performance was in a small theater at Lincoln Center. Argento had a soprano (the wife) and a baritone (Chekhov) sing their letters back and forth on the stage while accompanied on the piano. In the tradition of Argento works, the chords were deep and unusual, which gave the communication between the two singers an uneasiness and tension. Credit must be given to Hakan Hagegard, one of the greatest baritones in the world, for performing as Chekhov. Before Argento's piece, Hakan sang some old Swedish folksongs and several other beautiful works. The concert was a success.

Rent has taken Broadway by storm, and my guess is that it will be around for several years because it is one of the few musicals to win both a Pulitzer and a Tony award for best musical. I saw Rent in New York on opening night and, more recently, the Rent roadshow in St. Paul at the Ordway, and I thought it would be interesting to compare the two productions. One of the issues about showing Rent at the Ordway was: Would this type of show, set in a slum, work well in such a nice theater? Immediately, when I saw the stage set-up, I knew it would work. The set was quite different from the New York production. I like the idea of microphoning everyone with headsets because you can hear the music better. However, the music would occasionally become louder than the actors, and it would become difficult to hear their words. Let me say something else about Rent. No matter how tired you are, you will not fall asleep. This musical is packed full with energy. It's all on one set and, when I first saw it, I expected it to be uninteresting because of that. The set makes no difference. The actors and actresses work so hard and grab so much attention that all your focus is on them. This is one great show.

The musical, The Most Happy Fellow, is a famous old musical I didn't know much about. I had only heard about it through an old I Love Lucy Show where Lucy and her friends, Fred and Ethel, go to see this show and get into all sorts of mischief. The Most Happy Fellow was put on stage by the North Star Opera Company and, I have to admit, it was a pretty good performance. It was written by Frank Loesser, who writes in several different styles. There is one song in the show that sounds like it was written by Mozart himself. This musical is filled with all sorts of delightful songs, like "Standing on the corner," "You' re from Big D," and "Joey." This is the kind of show where you walk out feeling all good inside and you hum the familiar old tunes to yourself weeks after the show.

I always enjoy the Rodgers and Hammerstein series of musicals, and The King and I, which is one of my favorites, happened to be put back on Broadway and I got to see it. It was different from the old familiar movie with Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner, but there were some things in it that reminded me of the movie. The stage version seemed a little more comical. The current Broadway King seemed funnier than Brynner, but both Kings have their own little strengths. The lady, Miss Anna, was very good. She had the perfect voice and acting skills to play her role convincingly. Another difference between the two versions is that, in this revival, there were Siamese dance numbers that were beautiful and unusually haunting. Overall, I think this new King and I will be a big success for Broadway.

Till next time.

Max Carlson studies music and cinema at Augsburg College in Minneapolis.

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