Diversity is an Artistic Style Around Duluth

by Sam Black

Beth at the piano, Sarah, Vicki, Jenny, Cal, Jeff in Carlton with LOON
Beth at the piano, Sarah, Vicki, Jenny, Cal, Jeff in Carlton with LOON

In typical fashion, I attended three vastly different musical offerings on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday of this past week. And this was the Bluesfest weekend, which I did not attend, but heard rather clearly from my back yard. Just for the record, the Lyric Opera of the North (LOON) hosted an outdoor evening at the Historic Scott House in Carlton, the Organ Historical Society of North America brought 150 guests from the Twin Cities to Duluth for four recitals on Friday, and Mixed Precipitation offered a Picnic Opera - Philemon & Baucis - at the Northern Delicious farm near Babbitt.

Summer Sparkler:  childhood dreams

Pianist Beth Sobczak drove a steady line last Thursday, while Sarah Lawrence, Cal Metts, Vicki Fingalson, Jeffrey Madison, and Jennifer LeDoux offered about seventeen different songs from the world of opera and Broadway musical. Even the audience was asked to sing Sunrise, Sunset, and A Spoonful of Sugar. Fingalson/Madison were hilarious sharing Kitty’s Life is Purr-fect, A Dog’s Life is Rrruuf! from the musical Clever Grethel. Metts sang A Bit of Earth, one truly beautiful moment from The Secret Garden, followed by Laurie’s heart-opening aria from The Tenderland, sung by Lawrence. As they all joined to Make Our Garden Grow (from Candide) the evening could not have been better.

Bruce Bengtson at the Felgemaker, Oshkii Giizhik singers, Sacred Heart Music Center
Bruce Bengtson at the Felgemaker, Oshkii Giizhik singers, Sacred Heart Music Center

Pipe Organ Fans in Duluth

The North American group known as the Organ Historical Society had its 2017 conference in the Twin Cities last week. About 350 folks gathered to attend more than 30 performances on a variety of pipe organs. On Friday, about 150 enthusiasts boarded buses for Duluth, and were entertained by four organists on five very different pipe organs. Certainly a highlight of the afternoon was listening to Bruce Bengtson create music on the newly restored Felgemaker organ at Sacred Heart Music Center in the middle of Duluth. At one point he was joined by local artist Lyz Jaakola and her group of about six singer/drummers who shared the Ojibwe text Zhaabwii (To Survive), a composition for organ, drummers, and singers by Hovland-based composer William Beckstrand. This was a powerful, haunting centerpiece to a very musical day.

The World Redeemed by Jupiter, Philemon, and Baucis:  Mixed Precipitation in Babbitt
The World Redeemed by Jupiter, Philemon, and Baucis:  Mixed Precipitation in Babbitt

Picnic Opera out in the middle of the gardens

To keep creativity flowing, we drove up to the south side of Babbitt on Saturday to catch a lot of sunshine, as well as an amusing opera production. Mixed Precipitation, from the Twin Cities, provides Picnic Opera - - outdoor opera hosted by vegetable farms, including creative food samples. 
This year, the operatic story involved Philemon & Baucis, husband and wife from an Ovid story about changes. Jupiter and Mercury are looking for a place to spend the night. Only Philemon and Baucis offer their home, so the gods protect the couple from the destruction of their home town. When they both come to die, they are turned into an intertwining pair of trees in the boggy terrain.

Music from Franz Joseph Haydn was blended with music from Queen (Mercury, May, Taylor, Deacon), all adapted by director Scotty Reynolds and musician Gary Ruschman. 
Jupiter(Isaac Bont) and Mercury(Maddie Neal) warn about global warming and about future comets and asteroids that might interfere with earth’s orbit. Philemon(Alejandro Magallon) and Baucis(Anna Hashizume) were equally at home with the musical world of opera and rock. Young lovers (insects Rowland Hawkins II and Joni Griffith) had to die in the dark, awful clouds, only to be happily restored to life in the bliss of innocence.

Finally, Jupiter and Mercury look questioningly at the future of earth, but hope for the best as all the difficulties of the moment are redeemed and celebrated. These productions are enthusiastic and wonderful each summer. The small band and the whole cluster of singers clearly enjoy their message of music, love, diversity, and hope for the future. This troupe will be back on the Iron Range next summer with another Picnic Opera.