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Mellon Foundation helps Minnesota Opera keep it fresh

ALSO: Fringe is fast approaching; pop-up art returns to the State Fair; books meister Hans Weyandt comes out from the stacks; and more.

The new money will go toward three commissions: “The Manchurian Candidate,” “The Shining” and “Dinner at Eight.”

For any art form to survive, it must innovate and grow. Minnesota Opera knows that; its landmark New Works Initiative (NWI) program commissions new operas and stages revivals of contemporary works, freshening and expanding the repertoire. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation also knows that; it just gave Minnesota Opera a three-year, $750,000 gift — its third major gift to the opera in six years. The first, $500,000 in 2008, helped fund the NWI, and the second, $750,000 in 2011, supported the creation of the opera “Doubt,” which premiered here in 2013.

Mellon’s latest gift raises its total support of the NWI to $2 million to date. The new money will go toward three commissions: “The Manchurian Candidate,” “The Shining” and “Dinner at Eight.” Minnesota Opera President and General Director Kevin Ramach called Mellon’s act “a great testament to the vitality of the operatic art form in the 21st century.

The Fringe is fast approaching (it starts July 31) and next week we’ll tell you how to work it like a pro. Meanwhile, get a taste of what to see (and not to see) at Fringe Previews #2 on Monday, when 30 different companies perform three-minute previews, laced together with Fringe executive director Jeff D. Larson’s intros and wry comments. At Fringe Previews #1 last Monday, we saw several intriguing bits and were reminded that anyone can get into the Fringe; shows are chosen by lottery, not jury. Seriously, that could be yours truly on stage, playing “Carmina Burana” on the accordion. 7 p.m. at the Rarig Center. Admission: $4 Fringe button, available there. 

Pop-up art will return to the Fair with a new lineup and in specific locations. Launched last year, “Arts A’Fair” brings performing arts groups to our state’s great get-together for on-the-spot shows. Returnees include In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre and Minnesota Centennial Showboat. New this year are Black Storytellers Alliance, HUGE Improv Theater, Open Eye Figure Theatre, Voice of Culture Drum & Dance, Z Puppets Rosenshnoz and more. Performances will take place in the Education Building Courtyard and KSTP Heritage Plaza at the new West End Market (old Heritage Square). You can find your favorites on the daily schedules when they go live later this year. 

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If anyone knows books, it’s Hans Weyandt, former co-owner of Micawber’s Books in St. Anthony Park and editor of “Read This! Handpicked Favorites from America’s Indie Bookstores.” It fits that he’s the latest artist-in-residence in Coffee House Press’s “In the Stacks” program. Weyandt will spend a month in the Minneapolis Central Library’s Special Collections exploring its History of Books and Printing collection, which covers bookmaking, typography, collecting, and printing. At 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 18, he’ll give a talk at the library. 

Those attending this year’s Rondo Days in St. Paul on Saturday will have a rare opportunity to help create an important new work of public art. Forecast Public Art, SoulTouch Productions and In the Footsteps of Gordon Parks are in the early stages of planning a Gordon Parks Memorial in downtown St. Paul. Parks was a celebrated photographer, humanitarian, composer, author and filmmaker who got his start in the city; here’s a brief biography.

The memorial site is planned for the Landmark Center plaza. Forecast and SoulTouch want to ensure that the memorial is thoughtful and meaningful, honors Parks’ values and legacy, and encourages young men and women to walk in his footsteps. At Rondo Days, you’ll be able to meet and talk with Parks’ family members about his life and legacy, learn more from actor Ronald Collier, who will be playing Parks, and contribute feedback and ideas for the memorial by filling out a survey or participating in an interview. You can also complete the survey online.

The Picks

Today (Friday, July 18) at the Mall of America: The Daughters of Norway National Convention’s Bunad Show. Not just for Norwegians, but admirers of folk art and fashion. More than 50 Daughters of Norway will wear their handcrafted, intricately stitched bunads (folk costumes) from various areas of Norway, after which Mall retailer Moods of Norway will showcase the latest fashions from the land of the fjords. 6–9 p.m. in the Rotunda. Free.

Saturday on the Minneapolis Convention Center Plaza: Creative City Challenge Play Day. Part of the Minneapolis Aquatennial, presented by Northern (the people who bring us Northern Spark), this will be a day of arts, activities, collaborative music-making and games centered around “Balancing Ground,” winner of this year’s Creative City Challenge. FMI.

Saturday at Midtown Global Market: The Fourth Annual Midtown Global Music Festival. Multicultural music and dance reflecting the Market’s neighborhood. Outdoors and indoors on three stages. 2–8 p.m.

Saturday at the Dakota: Mary Fahl. The former lead singer of the chamber-pop group October Project, Fahl has a voice you don’t forget; think goose bumps and tears. Her self-released album “Love and Gravity” features a gorgeous version of “Both Sides Now” and many originals including “Exiles (The Wolves of Midwinter),” written for an audiobook by Anne Rice. (“Exiles” was co-written with John Lissauer, who produced Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”) Listen to “Exiles” here. 8 p.m. FMI and tickets ($28).

Monday at Midway Stadium: Saint Paul Art Collective Night. The Saints take on the Sioux Falls Canaries, and ticket sales benefit the Collective, creators and hosts of the Saint Paul Art Crawl. The Art Baseballs — 76 one-of-a-kind works of art by Minnesota artists featured in “The Art of Baseballs” exhibition at Union Depot — will be available for sale during a silent auction. View all of the baseballs here. The game starts at 7:05 p.m. FMI and tickets ($9).

Tuesday at the Woman’s Club of Minneapolis: Dan Chouinard & Maria Jette “The Siren’s Song: Wodehouse & Kern on Broadway” CD Release. Most of us know P.G. Wodehouse as the creator of “Jeeves & Wooster.” But he was also a lyricist for many musical comedies including collaborations with Jerome Kern, Cole Porter and Sigmund Romberg, writing songs with titles like “Polly Believed in Preparedness,” “Bungalow in Quogue” and “Were Going to Be Pals.” No one has more fun with these songs than pianist-vocalist Chouinard and soprano Jette. Her clear, pure voice floats and darts through the sometimes tricky lyrics, each word polished to perfection (“He could not tell chimpanzees his/Brand new stock of Ford car wheezes”). His touch on the keys is light and playful. Their concert will be a spiffing good time, and it’s free. In the 1920s-era lounge overlooking Loring Park. Doors at 7 p.m., program around 7:45. The bar will be open and CDs with fat booklets available for purchase.

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Plan ahead:

Saturday, July 26: Jazz at TMORA. In January 2008, when saxophonist Irv Williams was 88, he released a CD called “Finality.” What a tease. Next Saturday at The Museum of Russian Art, he’ll celebrate his 95th birthday and release his latest CD, “Then Was Then, Now Is Now,” at a concert featuring guitarist Steve Blons and bassist Billy Peterson. Beloved by all who hear him, Williams – known as “Mr. Smooth,” but not because he makes smooth jazz – still plays the sax better than most people one-quarter his age. Many of his past birthdays were celebrated at the Artists’ Quarter in St. Paul, now closed. 7 p.m. FMI and tickets ($25-$30). Because special events at The Museum of Russian Art often sell out in advance, you might want to jump on this.