Singer Cecilia Lopez

THEATER REVIEW: La Rondine

Color-blind casting continues to be an issue in American theater.  In opera, one might argue, without it how are artists of color to work?  After all, there isn’t exactly an over-abundance of roles written with characters of color.  And how many opportunities are there to be cast in a revival of, say, Porgy and Bess or Madame Butterfly?  Members of Skylark Opera’s production of Puccini La Rondine – two performers, who are of color, and the director, who is not, commented on the matter by email. Cecelia Violetta Lopez sings the role of Magda, who leaves her setup in the lap of luxury as a banker’s mistress, to go looking for love. Lopez’s solo concert credits include Mahler’s Symphony 4 and selections from Canteloube’s Chants d’Auvergne with the Henderson Symphony Orchestra, Rutter’s Mass of the Children with the Southern Nevada Musical Arts Society, Bach’s Magnificat with the University of Nevada – Las Vegas Symphony Orchestra and Rachmaninov’s Vocalise with the UNLV Chamber Orchestra. “I’ve never experienced a color and/or race issue in my growing career”, she reflects.  “I have been discriminated against in my lifetime, but those instances have been for being Mexican-American and/or female.  Sad, but true.”

Lopez then states, “I think race and opera are completely unrelated to each other. Continue Reading

Michael Murnane, Under Ice, Pillsbury A Mill, Northern Spark, 2012. Photo: Patrick Kelley.

Wander, explore, illuminate together at this year’s Northern Spark

Northern Spark, the magical night each June when sections of the Twin Cities urban landscapes become the canvas(es) for large-scale, often interactive, ephemeral, and community-based art, is celebrating its 5th birthday this month. I am delighted to report that after hours of researching this years’ exhibits and acts, watching project videos, reading artist statements, etc, I have found very little in this years’ offerings that is not somehow captivating, compelling, and/or curious. If ever there was a summer night that justified an all-nighter for any adventurers or art-lovers, Northern Spark is it.  

I couldn’t possibly say that some of these events will be better than others, nor am I interested in doing so. This is my own personal curated vision of what sounds especially delightful and resonates with my own interests. Continue Reading

Soundset 2015 Artist GLAM

Musings of Soundset Musicians

The Twin Cities Daily Planet’s Clara Wang spent some time in the backstage tent hobnobbing with many of the Soundset artists to get exclusive interviews. Enjoy… Manny Phesto

Your last album, “Southside Looking In,” was very connected to your neighborhood, very connected to your roots. How has growing up on the South Side of Minneapolis influenced your music? “I think it’s influenced it a lot. Continue Reading

Ludacris

Soundset 2015 at Canterbury Park

The gates of Canterbury Park opened at 11am sharp to hordes of eager hip-hop fans. The Soundset Music Festival is an exclusively hip-hop music festival created by local music label Rhymesayers eight years ago, an affordable event that draws nationally acclaimed talents as well as local acts. The Rhymesayers event is unique in its focus on urban music and great bargain price (this year it’s $50-$70 for a lineup of the likes of Ludacris, J. Cole, Ice Cube, and Big Sean, just to name a few).

This year, performances were unofficially baptized by Amir Sulaiman’s opening delivery of “Come to the Hills,” a poignant spoken word addressing race, economics, politics, and police brutality. In the Fifth Element tent, Minneapolis rapper Manny Phesto proved that soulful samples can rock a crowd too, spitting conscious fire over signature soul beats. Producer Mike the Martyr joined him onstage for “The Account,” a track from Manny’s last album, “South Side Looking In.”

Doomtree member Dessa was another local act that shook crowds, performing tracks from their new album “All Hands” as well as songs from her recently dropped solo album. In intervals singing, chanting, and rapping, she hypnotized the crowd with folksy metal and plenty of intense eye contact. Vince Staples was a Molotov cocktail in Timberlands, spitting singles from his last EP. Soundset 2015 was packed with many strong newcomers, from deM Atlas to Father, and Vince had the crowd ready to explode in a fiery performance on the Fifth Element stage. Continue Reading

It’s back: Walker on the Green Artist-Designed Mini-Golf

Artist-Designed Mini-Golf is back at the Walker’s Sculpture Garden. As part of the media preview on May 20, my friend and I putted our way through both A and B courses (9 holes each) and lazily kept score. There’s no par for the course, so we just chatted in between strokes and took the time to read about each hole (which were delightfully full of puns). The Walker has a masterful summer event here not only bringing the art outside but creating a way to engage, both with the pieces and each other. It’s no wonder people keep coming back. Continue Reading

MUSIC REVIEW | Gypsies invade Mankato for “Kiss Me, Kate”

Minnesota Opera’s Carmen may have closed, but its gypsy cast – the titular zingara included – appeared to be alive and well on Sunday, when four of the principles appeared in the Mankato Symphony Orchestra’s concert performance of the musical Kiss Me, Kate. Unlike their last onstage appearances, there were no stabbings involved and hippie chic was nowhere to be seen. The general mood of Sunday’s concert was pleasant and amiable: an afternoon idle to enjoy some excellent music with a full orchestra. Kenneth Freed led the orchestra with from the podium, while the spotlight fell alternately on Bergen Baker (Mercédès in the previously mentioned production), Brad Benoit (Le Remendado), Rodolfo Nieto (technically not present at said production, but who’s to quibble about an extra barihunk?), and Victoria Vargas (one of the Carmens). Technically, each member of this quartet sang a character in this abbreviated version of Kiss Me, Kate, but none of those details matter nearly so much as the basic recipe of classically trained singer + live orchestra + fun musical theater songs. Continue Reading

Photos by Patrick Dunn

MUSIC REVIEW | New Kids on the Block at the Xcel

On the surface, one would not think there would be a lot of overlap between fans of Nelly, TLC, and New Kids on the Block. While all three are essentially a sort of danceable ’90s pop, there’s something about the mental image each group conveys that makes it difficult to put them together. Take that gritty, sexy, maybe a little vulgar, club sound from Nelly, mix it up with the smooth almost R&Bish sound of TLC, and throw in the, well, straight pop sound of the prototypical boy band that inspired all those knock-offs in the ’90s, and you’d seem to be on the right track to make about the most indigestible musical smoothie you could ever fix up. Really, the only common thread I can think off for all of this is “songs I had to listen to on the school bus growing up because the driver wouldn’t change the station from KDWB.”

But given the audience reaction throughout the evening, this trio of 90s superstars (for the sake of ease we’ll lump them in there, even though NKOTB had a bit of the ’80s in, too) were a perfect match. The crowd was electric all night for this eclectic mix of talent, which delivered a very, very good show last night at Xcel Energy Center. Continue Reading

Kathryn Fumie as the title character in Theatre Unbound's all-female production of Hamlet. Image by Richard Fleischman Photography.

THEATER REVIEW | Theatre Unbound serves up an all-female “Hamlet”

Let’s get this out of the way right up front. You should go see Theatre Unbound’s production of Hamlet because you should see Kathryn Fumie in the title role. Not because it’s a woman playing Hamlet. Because it’s a great actor playing Hamlet. Just like every Hamlet I’ve seen over the years, in good productions and bad, the problem with Hamlet is never the actor playing Hamlet. Continue Reading

Mezzo-soprano Joyce Di Donato.

MUSIC REVIEW | Joyce DiDonato dazzles, entrances at Ordway

The Schubert Club closed out the 2014-2015 run of of its International Artist Series with some good news and a bang. The good news was that, despite reports to the contrary, classical music is alive and well in some quarters: ticket sales for this five-concert series hit a new record for the Schubert Club. The bang was a sterling performance by mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato. DiDonato is one of classical music’s preeminent stars, an opera singer who fills houses and attracts a dynamic fan base that cuts across age groups. Her performances are renown not just for her vocal beauty and skill, but also for her acting and character portrayal. Where, then, to begin with describing Tuesday’s recital? Continue Reading

Chicago Band 2013

MUSIC REVIEW | Chicago at the State Theatre

Chicago came into the State Theatre on May 19 loaded to the teeth with a full catalogue of hits and classics that span over 40 years, and they unleashed a wide variety of those hits, from the funky and jazzy to the slow jams and ballads, upon a largely energetic and enthusiastic audience. Right from the get-go, trombonist James Pankow, one of four founding members of the act still with the band, was into the show, moving with a swagger and energy that maybe one wouldn’t expect from the guy who is rocking the trombone. … Wait, did you expect me to say a man his age? Oh no, let me tell you, there was no sign of age on Pankow, nor really any sign of age or rust on this lot. Continue Reading