Paul de Cordoba, David Mann, Emily Gunyou Halaas and Stephen D'Ambrose in "Opus"
Photo by Petronella Ytsma
Park Square Theatre presents "Opus" through May 29 in St. Paul. Reviews range from "lovely" and "honest" to "discordant and messy." Thinking of going? Read these excerpts of four different reviews; click on the links to read the full reviews. Seen the show? Share your review in the comments section.
...The characters in ...Opus display no ...self-doubt. They are musicians at the top of their profession, playing in an internationally renowned string quartet (the Lazare), lionized, elitist, forging firmly forward. They waste no time reflecting on their one-in-a-million luck. Occasionally they do wax poetic about the amazing music they play, as when Grace rhapsodizes, beautifully, about the "dark, chocolate sound" of a special viola, or when Dorian theorizes that, still playing at the age of 90, he'll come to a musical rest, and "just stop." Lovely.
But such lyrical moments occur, imo, a tad too infrequently. Playwright Michael Hollinger stays focused on the bitter and often nasty politics surrounding the quartet's exquisite music.
...the actors are, to a person (and under the firm direction of Mary M. Finnerty), wonderful. Peter Christian Hansen is marvelous, completely convincing as the passionately troubled Dorian. He wisely avoids off-putting scenery-chewing. Every time he and Elliot (the excellent Paul de Cordoba) are together, erotic sparks fly. Stephen D'Ambrose does wonders with the quietly grounded Carl; his work is understated and very affecting. David Mann plays Alan with sturdy comic fair. Finally, Emily Gunyou Halaas, in a difficult role, lets Grace gush and blush but still manages to give her dignity and resonance. We never doubt Grace's talent.
Indeed, Opus presents us with five performers who are, like the players they portray, at the very top of their game. They make this play well worth seeing.
Peter Christian Hansen, Paul de Cordoba and David Mann
Photo by Petronella Ytsma
There is lots of chewy stuff in Hollinger's play. Hansen shows the fragile personality of a genius who knows he should have been first violin but whose mental health relegated him to viola. Alan, fully aware of Dorian's brilliance, explains to Grace that, "You don't want Joan of Arc leading you. You might want her alongside you, but not leading." Dorian's relationship with the brittle Elliot illustrates how personal passion poisons the professional relationship.
Beyond this, the simple candid details of preparation provide steady entertainment. Elliot turns up his nose at the idea of playing Pachelbel's Canon for the president. "It sounds like a tampon commercial," he sniffs. They argue over strident lyric lines and E-flats that aren't sharp. The actors mime with their instruments to music recorded in C. Andrew Mayer's sound design.
In his quest to make something more of this glimpse, Hollinger reaches for a dramatic conclusion that feels elliptical in the way a TV show might introduce a smoking gun that comes out of nowhere in the last five minutes of the episode. Tense histrionics argue in favor of the moment, even if it's a twisty trick. You should decide for yourself, because the play is worth the trip.
Photo by Petronella Ytsma
Hollinger gets the vibe of musicians collaborating down perfectly (being a violinist certainly helps) and structures the single-act show like a musical piece, sporting slow and quick sections, paralleling earlier moments, or even creating variations on them. It all rises to a tremendous conclusion. Some of the script does feel a bit too Behind the Music, from Dorian's spiral into madness (punctuated by a scene set to music by the Beach Boys, perhaps just to underline the moment a few more times) to Carl's health struggles, but the script stays honest to its intentions and doesn't offer easy answers along the way.
It's also buoyed by a dynamite cast, who take up the bow and run with the characters...
The performers also have to act at being a string quartet, which they do with some success. They certainly have the silent interplay that distinguishes a chamber group in that they look like they are truly listening to each other play. They "perform" to taped music, and while their bowing is good, the lack of movement on the finger board is a bit distracting. They appear to be playing the same note on every piece all night long, which may work for a Phillip Glass piece, but probably not the epic Beethoven that sits at the heart of the play.
Emily Gunyou Halaas and David Mann in "Opus" at Park Square Theatre
Photo by Petronella Ytsma
If Michael Hollinger's play, "Opus," were a piece of music, it would be discordant and messy, filled with themes without variation and chords left unresolved.
Taking seriously the adage to "write what you know," Hollinger - a violist-turned-playwright - has written a play about a top-tier string quartet struggling through the firing of one of its founding members and the attempt to replace him with a young, talented, but naive violist.
Lodged somewhere between comedy and drama, "Opus" tries to do many things - educate the audience about the mysteries and magic of classical music, interpret the particular dynamic of a small group of people, articulate the pressure inherent in trying to do anything at an extremely high level. But in his zeal to multi-task, Hollinger winds up doing a halfway job all the way around: Characters and situations are only partially developed; crises arise manufactured and are left unplumbed; personal entanglements are presented and then abandoned.
The result is a 90-minute play that moves in fits and starts; one that neither makes us laugh heartily nor think deeply as it lurches toward a melodramatic and unsatisfying climax with a lazy attempt at resolution.
Posted at 11:01 AM on May 18, 2011
by Marianne Combs
Students from Ramsey International Fine Arts Center in Minneapolis sing music written for them by Mexican composer Lilia Vázquez through the VocalEssence ¡Cantaré! program.
Photo credit: Stephen Maturen
Each year the government of Mexico presents the Ohtli Recognition Award to civilians living outside the country for contributions made to the empowerment of Mexican and Mexican-American communities in the United States. Typically each Mexican embassy can give out one award each year.
This year, the winner of that award in Minnesota is Philip Brunelle, artistic director of Vocalessence.
On Monday, May 16, Ana Luisa Fajer, the Consul of Mexico in St. Paul, presented Brunelle with the award at the quarterly VocalEssence board meeting in downtown Minneapolis.
In presenting the award to Brunelle, Fajer said:
"Mexico has decided on this occasion to give the award to someone who has shown passion, commitment, and involvement with education, with culture and with music and in bringing communities together. The best way to do this is through the ¡Cantaré! program, and so this year the award goes to Philip Brunelle."
Vocalessence's ¡Cantaré! community engagement program brings composers from Mexico directly into Minnesota classrooms as artists-in-residence with elementary schools, high schools, colleges and community organizations. The composers work directly with students and the community throughout the year, culminating in a a concert presenting the world premieres of music written especially for each chorus by Mexican composers.
"Ohtli" means "to pave the way" in the Nahuatl language, one of the many indigenous languages of Mexico.
A public presentation of the Ohtli award will be made at the VocalEssence ¡Cantaré! Community Concert at Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in Saint Paul on Tuesday, May 24 at 7 pm.
The cover of Central High School's yearbook from 1890
Image courtesy of Hennepin County Library
Who knew that the most popular books in the Central Library's special collections are old yearbooks?
But, as it turns out, the 50 oldest yearbooks - which date from 1890 to 1922 - are so fragile, and also so in demand, that the Hennepin County Library has digitized them.
Now people can browse them at their leisure on the HCL website.
The digitized yearbooks can be searched by name or browsed by a particular school or year.
The yearbook digitization project is made possible by Minnesota's Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and is administered by the Minnesota Historical Society. More yearbooks will be digitized and added to the collection in the future. The remainder of the project will be funded by a gift from the Professional Librarian's Union of Minneapolis.
Librarian Heather Lawton says the yearbooks are commonly sought by family historians, people trying to track down former classmates or planning class reunions, or children looking for material for a parent's or grandparent's retirement or anniversary party.
Interested in donating an old yearbook to the collection? Contact Special Collections at 612-543-8200 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The Producing Director for the U of M's Department of Theatre Arts and Dance, Tom Proehl, died suddenly in early April.
Today the U of M announced it has found in interim replacement for Proehl while they search for a new producing director: Peg Guilfoyle.
Guilfoyle has worked in the Twin Cities for a long time, for both the Poets in the Schools program and the Guthrie Theater (she's the author of the book "The Guthrie Theater: Images, History, and Inside Stories." Her work has also included projects at the Ordway, at Mixed Blood and the Triple Espresso Company. Additionally, she has written commentary and nonfiction for newspapers and for Minnesota Public Radio.
Paul Theroux is a travel writer and novelist. His most recent book is "The Tao of Travel: Enlightenments From Lives on the Road." (Steve McCurry Studios)
Today on Midmorning Kerri MIller interviewed travel writer Paul Theroux who has a new book out titled "The Tao of Travel: Enlightenments From Lives on the Road." The book combines his own thoughts on travel with gleenings from the likes of Mark Twain and Susan Sontag.
The conversation included not only Theroux's thoughts on travel - and the joys of travelling alone - but also the trips of listeners who called in to share their adventures. For example, Jim in Minneapolis biked from Beijing to Paris over four months, and said it was a great way to meet new people.
Have you ever taken a risk to travel somewhere off the beaten path? Where did you go, and what compelled you to make the journey? What did you get from it? Any regrets?