A Weekend  With  Great  Stories

Sam Black

Vittorio Grigolo and Diana Damrau as Romeo et Juliette
Vittorio Grigolo and Diana Damrau as Romeo et Juliette

I’ve done this before, and I’ll do it again. For nearly a decade now, we in Duluth are part of 2,000 movies theaters world-wide who broadcast about ten Saturday matinee performances each year live in HD transmission from the Metropolitan Opera house in New York City. Marcus Theaters and Duluth 10 make it happen, and I have attended nearly every opera over this past decade. For about $25 you can have parking and opera from one of the top opera houses in the world: live, with all the ups and downs that that might imply.

Romeo and Juliet as French grand opera

This past Saturday featured Romeo et Juliette, the 1867 opera by French composer Charles Gounod, based, obviously, on the tragedy by William Shakespeare. This was the first time I have ever attended a performance of this opera, and it was even more beautiful than I had heard over the radio in previous years. Vittorio Grigolo was gorgeous, articulate, youthful, and musically very in love with Juliette. The lovely Diana Damrau was passionate about Romeo, and their chemistry on stage (and at intermission) was clearly part of the success of this production.

This was a newly staged production by Bartlett Sher, featuring a single set, like in a British Shakespearean production. The story was told by the actors, and Romeo and Juliet are on stage from beginning to end. When Romeo imagines Juliet behind the light in her bedroom window, he sings of the sun-rise, Ah! Leve-toi, soleil. On Saturday the 3,000 plus members of the MET audience probably applauded for nearly four minutes. There was no encore, but it was clearly desired.

Juliet had already sung her excitement about looking forward to a dazzling life - Je veux vivre dans le reve - although we know it’s going to be shorter than she hopes. And as they come together on their wedding night, the glorious Nuit d’hymenee! melts every amorous heart in the house. They die, of course, and the curtain comes down, but the extended applause brought back the romantic magic of these two singer/actors.

The next treat this season will be Russalka, the Czech fairy-tale (sort of like the Little Mermaid) by Antonin Dvorak, on Saturday, February 25.

From  Verona  To  Paris (via St. Petersburg)

Later on Saturday the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra offered a program of Russian Tales, keeping the Saturday story-telling in motion through the evening. Lots of young musicians joined the DSSO for a performance of the very Russian Marche Slave, by Tchaikovsky, celebrating Tsarist times before they crumbled.

American pianist Jeffrey Biegel then joined the DSSO to share the Second Piano Concerto by Rachmaninoff. The deliciously lovely second movement was the highlight of this performance, with the piano and orchestra singing together a powerful, romantic duet. The first and third movements were too mechanical for my own tastes. I would rather have more fire and emotion.

Even puppets get a chance to dance

Conductor Dirk Meyer closed the concert with the 1947 Suite based on the ballet Petrushka, by Stravinsky. As I’ve written before, Meyer is an incomparable storyteller with his baton. The puppets, the fair, the animals and gypsies who dance, the scuffling, and the death of the puppet Petrushka create visual images, and Meyer brings them to life, even without the dancing of a ballet company. Listening to the flute, the bassoon, the bass clarinet, and the French horn share important parts of these stories is unique to the musical mind of Stravinsky, all the way back in 1910.

Travel the world without ever leaving the very center of Duluth, MN. Take advantage of all the amazing musical and dramatic opportunities right here at the upper end of Interstate 35.