Closing in on the holiday season

Sam Black

These couple of weeks get extremely busy if you are an artist of just about any flavor, in every corner of the Twin Ports. Just look at the window at the Superior Public Library above. Duluth artist Esther Piszczek has her geometric patterns on display around the library this entire month, including the front windows. Most of the art galleries around the area are bustling with colorful displays, much of which might go home with you during this holiday season.

Gretel is served at the witch’s table
Gretel is served at the witch’s table

Hansel and Gretel to avoid

This past weekend had its ups and downs. As I’ve mentioned before, the Metropolitan Opera, from New York City, of course, has been using HD television to broadcast ten live Saturday matinee performances for the past eleven years. In 2008 they broadcast a performance of E. Humperdinck’s light opera Hansel and Gretel. This past Saturday they shared this opera again. A few people went, and I can only wonder if they were as disappointed as I was. In general, I am very fond of the Met productions, but this one was exceptionally wretched in its presentation. The singing wasn’t all that great, and the staging was simply ridiculous. The witch was sung by a portly tenor, and his demise into the oven was certainly a good thing. All of the masks and costumes seemed to be completely out of taste with the very fine orchestral music. I certainly enjoy this local opportunity to watch one of the best opera companies in the world, but it’s also worthwhile to see the Met create something that flops. All art is part of the human experience, and that’s not always perfect, as you well know.

A Christmas Carol for keeping on stage

On the other hand, the rewriting of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol by Duluth actors Shad Olsen and Jeffrey Madison turned out to be wonderfully arresting. I was considering skipping this production at The Duluth Playhouse because I am plenty tired of the Dickens’ story as presented by high schools, community theaters, and movie houses/television all during this season. I changed my mind after several people involved in the show convinced me it would be different. It was.

Michael Kraklio was Ebenezer Scrooge, indeed. Even as the demeanor of Scrooge changes as he confronts past, present, and future, Kraklio was always totally present in his role. To watch his own evolution was a real treat, even as he surprised all the others in the cast with his turnabout by the end of the story. 

I had two favorite sections:  Gabe Mayfield, as the extremely tall ghost of Christmas present, dwarfed Scrooge with reality in motion. Mayfield’s booming voice and over-towering figure humbled Scrooge into looking at himself with completely new eyes. Secondly, the absolutely silent ghost of Christmas future (played by the ordinarily vocal Louisa Scorich) was haunting. We don’t know the future, so what can be realistically said? Nothing, obviously. The ominous moments Scrooge faced with this very tall, darkly costumed figure, completed his conversion.

The carol singing was a very pleasing touch to the show, and its brevity made the poignancy all the more stunning. This will be performed on The Depot stage through December 17, if you are lucky enough to acquire tickets.
This coming weekend features Arrowhead Chorale at The Depot on Sunday afternoon at 3:00, with brass, percussion, and handbells. Sacred Christmas music from around the world will be the program. Churches all over Duluth will be featuring special musical programs for those of you who like the adventure. At the same time, it’s now Hanukkah, so you’ll find additional lights and singing around town as we go through the darkest days of this current month. Do your best to bring light to friends and strangers in the coming weeks.