Celebrating Youth, Raw America, And Opera Picnics

Sam Black



Electoral energy in motion. Photo by John Pocklington
Electoral energy in motion. Photo by John Pocklington
A net of repentance (instead of Hell itself). Photo by John Pocklington
A net of repentance (instead of Hell itself). Photo by John Pocklington

This has been a delightful week with a young opera singer, a chance to revisit American music from around 1910, and an outrageous adaptation of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, for those who like to combine picnics with opera.

Lovely Songs on a Thursday Afternoon

Jenny LeDoux currently sings with Mills City Summer Opera, as well as UM productions in the coming year. Last Thursday she gave a program at Duluth Congregational Church with some less common songs.  In The Tender Land, an opera by Aaron Copland, Laurie sings “Once I thought I’d never grow tall as this fence . . .and as I grew I came to know how fast the time could go.” This lovely aria about the experience of growing up speaks well for a young opera singer on the road to more singing.
She also included “Ain’t it a pretty night,’ from Carlisle Floyd’s very powerful Appalachian opera called Susannah. A more recent opera is based on The Bridges of Madison County, by Jason Robert Brown (2014). The song “Almost Real” shares Francesca’s curious transplant from Italy to Iowa, filled with nostalgia and rich melody. Listening to a wonderful young voice makes me happy about the next twenty years of opera in Minnesota.

An American Individualist

Charles W. Cadman (1881-1946) was a truly American composer whose music captured the public between 1909 and 1940. He has mostly disappeared in our day, but Laurie Bastian shared his Violin Sonata with an intrigued audience over in Bayfield, WI, last Thursday evening. Moments of ragtime, blues, Omaha Indian tunes, leapt from the score in music like you’ve never quite heard before. Bill Bastian sang several songs, based on Omaha and Sioux melodies, but containing highly sentimental lyrics and musical accompaniments. This ‘idealized’ approach to music is what made Cadman famous, and it was also his downfall. Cadman is an important link in the American image, even if it is somewhat defined by that specific historic era of the early 20th century.

Donald Giovanni in Cornlandia with an organic sampler

The hit of the week was a Mozart operatic presentation by Mixed Precipitation, an opera (with picnic) repertory company from the Twin Cities. They are touring the state between now and September 18, and I happened to catch their performance in the Olcutt Park on the west side of Virginia, MN. The current election year led the company to share Donald Giovanni in Cornlandia, an adapted Mozart masterpiece that ‘meets a jukebox of ‘80s hits and modern day political drama.’ ‘Moneytalks’ from AC/DC, ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’ from Bon Jovi, ‘Teach(Treat) Your Children’ from Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young, and ‘The Way It Is’ from Bruce Hornsby, are just several of the jukebox hits interspersed with Mozart arias.
At specific moments during the opera, the cast passes organic treats around, this year celebrating corn, both edible and hilarious. Michael Liebhauser was a riot with a wig as the Donald Giovanni, who is compelled to REPENT by the end of the opera. His many loves, Donna Elvira (Carolyn Cavadini), Paris Hilton (Lizz Windnagel) and, of course, MONEY, were celebrated with Italian arias, rock songs, and a lot of hype. Ted Snuz (Jim Ahrens) and Carly Davidson (Naomi Karstad) frequently stole the show with their attempts to unseat the Donald at the center.
The audience in the park nibbled their snacks, and rolled with laughter as Mozart became an integral part of our 2016 election year. If you get a chance, look at the Mixed Precipitation website and travel to one of the remaining presentations. Jerrod Wendland’s script and Kim Longhi’s direction lives up to Scotty Reynolds’ ambitious approach to picnic opera at its finest. Very irreverent, but very musical, and worth whatever donation you choose to share.