Good news for Penumbra; two more commissions for Minnesota Opera

Photo by Allen Weeks
On stage now at what Kennedy Center president Michael Kaiser called “the most important African-American theater in the world”: a stripped-down, soul-stirring, go-to-church “Black Nativity.”

Following last week’s report on the Minnesota Orchestra’s fiscal year and this week’s announcement of an $8-million gift to the MIA comes more sunny news about Minnesota arts organizations.

Penumbra Theatre is on its way to financial stability. An audit for its fiscal year 2014 (which ended June 30) showed an increase in total net assets of $569,724 and contributions of $505,000. Contributions receivable are nearly $1 million. The 2013-14 season was the first year of a five-year plan the company put in place after it nearly went under in 2012. On stage now at what Kennedy Center president Michael Kaiser called “the most important African-American theater in the world”: a stripped-down, soul-stirring, go-to-church “Black Nativity.” Through Dec. 21.

The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra had a very good year (its FY2014 also ended June 30), balancing its budget and playing to nearly full houses. Doug Grow tells the story here.

Both the Minnesota Orchestra and the SPCO are trying new things to engage and surprise audiences. The Minnesota Orchestra is starting a Classical Sunday Brunch series: Come to buffet brunch in the sparkling Target Atrium on March 22 or May 10, then attend a matinee concert in the hall. The SPCO is hosting a Chamber Music and Wine Event on Jan. 22 in the intimate Music Room at SPCO Center in the Hamm Bldg. Wine from Solo Vino and light refreshments, plus music for small ensemble. Tickets as holiday gifts?


On the heels of its $75,000 NEA Art Works grant in support of “The Manchurian Candidate” (which we saw Saturday in workshop form), the Minnesota Opera announced two more new commissions: “Memory Boy” for 2016, and “Black Sox” for the 2018-19 season.

Based on the YA science fiction novel by Minnesota author Will Weaver, “Memory Boy” is about a Minnesota family trying to survive the aftermath of several volcanic eruptions. Reinaldo Moya is writing the music, Mark Campbell the libretto. (Campbell wrote “Silent Night” and “The Manchurian Candidate” and is also working on “The Shining” and “Dinner at Eight.”) “Memory Boy” was commissioned by Project Opera, the Minnesota Opera’s youth training program for students in grades 4-12.

“Black Sox” puts music to the tale of the inglorious day in 1919 when the White Sox threw the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. Characters include Shoeless Joe Jackson (“Say it ain’t so, Joe!”), Ring Lardner and Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, whose very name sounds like an opera. Composer Joel Puckett will write the score. (Puckett? Baseball? Coincidence?)

On Saturday, the Minnesota Opera’s artistic director, Dale Johnson, noted that “The Manchurian Candidate” is “the fifty-third premiere Minnesota Opera has done.” The company’s commitment to new and contemporary work is remarkable, as is its creation of what Johnson called a “whole body of American work … opera of our time that speaks our language and deals with our issues.” 


The Jerome Foundation has selected the five recipients of its 2014-15 Fellowships for Emerging Artists. Miranda Brandon’s work with the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, the Audubon Society and the Raptor Center informs her series of prints on bird fatalities following window collisions. (Yes, she’s been collaborating with the Audubon on the stadium glass issue.) Regan Golden-McNerney uses altered photographs and drawing materials to depict ecological change in the American landscape. Jess Hirsch explores alternative medicine and healing through interactive sculpture. Installation artist and sculptor Sieng Lee’s work relates to his experience as a first-generation Hmong American. Jason Ramey looks at relationships between furniture and American vernacular interiors and exteriors; a current project focuses on road signs. Chosen from a pool of 252 applicants, each fellow receives a $12,000 award and a spot in a group exhibition at MCAD in fall 2015.

Jerome is now accepting applications for its 2015 Travel and Study Grant program for artists in music, theater and visual arts. Because Arts Board grants no longer support travel outside the state (a restriction imposed in June 2013), the foundation has become even more important to artists and arts administrators whose work depends on travel – for research, collaboration, dialogue, training, study, and investigating work outside of Minnesota. Informational meetings are scheduled for Jan. 21 at the Jerome Foundation offices in St. Paul and Jan. 28 at the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis. A webinar will be held Jan. 27. The application deadline is Feb. 19, 2015. FMI.

The Picks

Starts Friday at the Film Society’s St. Anthony Main Theater: “The Babadook.” Just in time for Christmas, here’s a movie that will scare the dickens out of you. William Friedkin, director of “The Exorcist,” calls it the most terrifying film he’s ever seen. Director Jennifer Kent apprenticed to Lars von Trier. FMI, trailer and tickets ($8.50/$6/$5).

Saturday at the movies: Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg.” Directed by James Levine, with Michael Volle, Johan Botha and Annette Datsch. Hosted by Renee Fleming. Go here, click “Buy Tickets,” and enter your ZIP to find the theater nearest you. If you’re in the Twin Cities, your choices include the Showplace Icon, Eden Prairie 18 and Rosedale 14. 11 a.m.

Holiday Fare

Tonight at Coffee House Press: Cookie House Press. Bring cookies to trade, buy books to give. Coffee House authors will be on hand to sign them. (It’s a known fact: Signed books make better gifts than unsigned books.) CHP’s annual in-house holiday celebration also features a sing-along at the piano. 5-8 p.m. Free.

Friday at Zumbro Lutheran Church in Rochester, Saturday at Hamline’s Sundin Music Hall: Lyra Baroque Orchestra presents “Christmas in the Baroque.” Sounds of the season by Bach, Rameau, and others composers. Zumbro at 7:30, Sundin at 8 p.m. Tickets online or at the door ($6-$23).

Tonight through Dec. 23: A basketful of Nutcrackers. Which is produced more frequently at Christmastime, Handel’s “Messiah” or “The Nutcracker”? It seems this year that Nutcrackers are winning. Here’s a selection: Loyce Houlton’s Nutcracker Fantasy, now in its 50th year. Dec. 19-23 at the State Theatre, $45-$75. Twin Cities Ballet of Minnesota Presents “The Nutcracker.” A full-length, traditional, professional production. Dec. 12-14 at the Ames Center, formerly Burnsville Performing Arts Center, $20-$42. Ballet Minnesota’s “The Classic Nutcracker,” now in its 27th season. With special guest dancer Robert Cleary. Dec. 19-21 at the O’Shaughnessy, $16-$42. “Visions of Sugarplums: A Burlesque Nutcracker.” What, is nothing sacred? Not in this “bawdy yet beautiful makeover.” 18+. Dec. 11-20 at the Ritz, $35.

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Sarah Nagle on 12/11/2014 - 04:49 pm.

    MN Opera

    It looks as if the MN Opera has no intention of producing works pre-1800 except for Mozart. Supposedly there was a Handel in the works but . . .? I understand that there is a firm commitment to new and/or contemporary works, but there are plenty of gorgeous and practically unknown operatic works pre-1800 which could benefit from the MN Opera’s innovative staging and the local dance talent. Remember “Orpheus and Eurydice” from a few years ago? That was gorgeous. I guess the gap will have to be filled by Lyra Baroque, MN Bach Ensemble, and perhaps the nascent Twin Cities Early Music Festival. Heck, even the U of MN Opera has done Monteverdi.

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