Opera And Poetry On The Road; Murder And Mayham Recedes

Sam Black

Bring Back The Strolling  Minstrels

Much to my surprise on Saturday evening, instead of going to the opera, the opera came to me. Alcina’s Island, by George F. Handel, opened at Covent Garden in April, 1735, using melodies and lyrics from a variety of others, which was Handel’s normal style. The 2015 traveling sequel was called Escape from Alcina’s Island, created by Scotty Reynolds and Marya Hart, and staged on the FOOD  FARM in Wrenshall, MN, by Twin Cities-based Mixed Precipitation, a.k.a. Home of the Picnic Operetta.
Instead of wandering knights trapped on Alcina’s Island, this production featured over-the-road truckers equipped with CBs and southern drawls. Handel arias were mixed with trucker songs I heard on the radio between 1978 and 1988 while I was hanging wallpaper in Oklahoma City. Songs by George Jones, Dave Dudley, Tammy Wynette, Kitty Wells, and others were sung back to back with Italian arias from the original opera. The effect was hilarious and very entertaining.
The intricate Italian singing by Carolyn Cavadini (Alcina) and Lizz Windnagel (her sister Morgana) blended convincingly with Six Days on the Road, Diesel Smoke-Dangerous Curves, Heartaches by the Number, and The Race is On.  Dan Piering, the snared truckdriver Ruggiero(Ruddy) is freed by his fiancee Bradamante (Maggie Lofboom), and the assistance of truck wizard Melisso (Justin Spencer).
A variety of finger snacks were passed around to the audience, and the quartet of instrumentalists were amazing acrobats in the wind as they juggled about 24 clothespins every time they needed to turn pages. What an amazing treat for the three or four dozen folks who dropped in to tour the Food Farm!

A  Superior Collection Of  Verse In Motion

Easily sixty or more people showed up at Zeitgeist Arts Cafe on Sunday, 23 August, to celebrate Jim Perlman day, as announced by Duluth City Councillor Emily Larson. The occasion was the launch of Amethyst and Agate, a collection of seventy poems about Lake Superior, newly published by Holy Cow! Press. Twenty-seven writers read from their poetry, and more than seventy visual art works will adorn the Zeitgeist walls for the next two months.
Once again, these poets came to the audience, and several poets will travel to other Minnesota sites to celebrate the release of this new collection. Watch for book readings/signings in your community in the coming months.

Local  Blood-Bath  Has  Been  Concluded

The Teen Summer Intensive productions at the Duluth Playhouse closed Sunday with the school edition of Stephen Sondheim’s musical, Sweeney Todd. I celebrate these productions because I am not a teen-ager, but I am greatly excited about teen involvement in all aspects of the arts. Liz Larson directed this production, with Noah Cornwell in the role of Sweeney, Maddison Nachtsheim as the creative Mrs. Lovett, Bayley Anderson as the innocent young Johanna, and Elina Walchuk as Tobias Ragg, an assistant to Mrs. Lovett’s kitchen who finally understands the barbarous activities and brings them to a halt.
The overall sound and lighting was troublesome. Characters were frequently standing in dark places on stage, and the cheek microphones possibly convinced the actors that projection was not necessary. Consonants were often lost in the house.
At the same time, this youthful production was definitely permeated with intensity, from the opening to the very last murder. “A Little Priest,” as the finale to Act I was magnificent, for example. Then Mrs. Lovett does her best to seduce Sweeney with her fantasy of making love “By the Sea.” He is too vengeful to give in, but the staging was some of the best in the show. The coming generation of stage activities in Duluth appears to be in an incredible growth spurt. I am hopeful that more will follow.