Charismatic Words And Music From 1915 to 1939

Sam Black

I subscribe to the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra, so you can be pretty sure that I will be in the audience on any given concert night. This past Saturday was one of the delights Music Director Dirk Meyer has brought to Duluth. He enjoys sampling the growing array of musical scores from great movies that are available to be performed live, while the audience watches the original movie. I admit that it’s a treat rich in sound, with a wonderful movie at the same time. And, as most of you know, it’s a one time event:  either you were at the concert, or you missed your chance!

The movie on the big screen was The Wizard of Oz, black and white and color, with all the songs and sentimentality communicated by the young Judy Garland and the composer Harold Arlen. While the evening was stimulating, there were some problems. My guess is that the DECC sound system could be improved for programs like this. The sound of the dialogue in the movie had to be loud enough to be heard over a live, full orchestra. That created enormous distortion, since all the sound was coming from frontal speakers.

It’s always a challenge for the conductor to keep pace with tempos set by someone else, but Meyer is quite a gifted accompanist, and the majority of the movie music happened right when it was supposed to. As I have written before, I can watch the movie and enjoy the music, or I can listen to the different instruments on stage and ignore the movie, but I can’t fully do both. Saturday night I chose to watch the movie. I heard the music, but I was not attentive to the delights of the musicians on stage, who weren’t really in a position to watch the movie. I still like the concept and will definitely come to the next feature.

The delights of the dead, alive again in words from Spoon River

The stunning event of my week was attending the UMD production of Spoon River:  the brilliant, intimate poetry of Edgar Lee Masters from 1915 in a crisp new dramatic rendition by Tom Isbell, along with musician Andy Kust, both UMD theater faculty. Since there was no intermission, I was spellbound for ninety minutes while nine young actors portrayed sixty different Spoon River (Illinois) residents, based on their expanded epitaphs.

The five men and four women were spectacular as they changed personae every few moments, and shared a large chunk of life in the fictional town of Spoon River in the early years of the twentieth century. In particular, Bryan James Fargo, Erik Meixelsperger, and Kayla Peters surprised me with each new character they brought to the stage. Facial expressions, gestures, accents, varied enormously in the twenty characters these actors brought back to life.

Some camp-meeting hymns were shared; the great song about pleasing animals (most familiar in the Aaron Copland setting) was a riot, sung by all nine actors with a variety of peculiar imitative sounds. This drama runs again October 7-10 at 7:30pm at the MPAC auditorium at UMD. This slice of 1900 Americana should not be missed.

Loon Duluth With Rossini’s Unforgettable  Barber

When you read this column, the first performance of G. Rossini’s  The Barber of Seville will have passed, but the second performance will be Saturday night, 10 October, in the Superior High School Auditorium, starting at 7:30. Lyric Opera of the North (LOON) is starting their second decade with Jeff Madison, Vicki Fingalson, and conductor Dirk Meyer leading the performance. If you like a good farce, with exciting music, order your ticket and support our local opera company.

Do all you can to enjoy and support the artful delights of the Twin Ports.