Season Endings Simply Make Me Want More

Sam Black

Alluring dancers from La Cage aux Folles from the Duluth Playhouse
Alluring dancers from La Cage aux Folles from the Duluth Playhouse

        Theatrical and concert seasons don’t really stop in our generation, but there is a sense of rotation that offers a brief pause before a new burst of energy pours out of these organizations. As I mentioned recently, the Duluth Playhouse production of La Cage aux Folles was a very memorable evening (or two). Who gets credit for that?
        Director Michael Matthew Ferrell took on his 6th production here in Duluth, and his vision no doubt powered the whole performance from beginning to end. His choreography, assisted by Krysti Wiita, created a sense of energy that also enthused the cast, right down to the final good-bye to the audience from George, the emcee/host. Andy Kust brought his musicianship into play, as he coached Isabella Wurm to be an effective music director. The balance between cast and band was much better on my second viewing, which is always a sign of good communication.

        Scene design, lights, and sound were put together by Curtis Phillips, Jeff Brown, and Joe Birdseye, and helped us all keep focus on the important moments as they unfolded.
        Still, the sheer intensity of the relationship between Georges (Shad Olsen) and Albin/Zaza(Tod Petersen) was the most tangible evidence that this play mattered to the entire cast and production team. The poignant balance between “With Anne on My Arm” and “With You on My Arm” creates a parallel message that ought to be simpler in real life than it actually is. When Zaza(Petersen) ends Act I with “I Am What I Am,” the power of the diverse human experience is poured across the entire auditorium.

        Finally, when Jean-Michel (Matias Valero) reprises “Look Over There,” the concluding message of love and respect carries through the entire finale.

Alexander Korsantia embracing his love of Chopin from the DSSO Facebook pages
Alexander Korsantia embracing his love of Chopin from the DSSO Facebook pages

Explosions and fine lace all during the same two hours

        With an amazingly diverse program of three pieces, the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra closed its 85th season with pomp and tympani. The suite “Valentino Dances,” by Minneapolis composer Dominick Argento brought saxophone and accordion into the orchestra to celebrate the tango-filled short life of Rudolph Valentino. This energy returned later with the explosive Symphony # 4 by Peter Tchaikovsky. 

The middle part of this musical sandwich was a performance of the 2nd piano concerto by Frederic Chopin, with Alexander Korsantia at the piano. Conductor Dirk Meyer demonstrated his own ability to offer radically contrasting music back to back, and led the DSSO with amazing finesse in this Chopin delicacy. It was like a thrilling exercise in delicate lace embroidery separating two energetic and brilliant displays of flashing lights and thunderstorms.

Korsantia’s ability to make his fingers move with the intricacy of Chopin’s writing was a treat. The contrast between robust and delicate moved rapidly back and forth throughout the work. Meyer shaped the DSSO to imitate these melodious passages.
Ultimately, the rushing scales and pulsing tympani won over the evening performance. Tchaikovsky starts with a brass challenge, adds a blissful dialogue between plucked string instruments and sweetly singing woodwinds, but returns to the bluster right to the powerful conclusion. Meyer was smiling at his tempos, the DSSO players were smiling and applauding Meyer, even as the house stood and applauded soloists and orchestra with great enthusiasm.

Announcing the First Annual Heritage Fund Drive

For all of us who love the DSSO, Executive Director Rebecca Peterson has just launched the first Annual Heritage Fund Drive, to insure that the standards of the past 85 years can be maintained. Youth orchestras, chamber programs, as well as the classical and pops concerts, all need to be supplemented by funds outside of ticket prices and gifts. A group of donors have committed $120,000 between now and the end of June as a match for others who might meet their challenge.

The Heritage Fund itself will continue under the leadership of Peterson, who can be reached at 218-623-3777, as well as for further information. Watch for more details about the many ways that gift dollars can support various aspects of the overall DSSO productions. See how quickly the goal of $500,000 can be put together.