Do you know that Sunday, Dec. 1, is World AIDS Day? Most people don’t. This will be the 32nd annual observance of a day to raise awareness of the AIDS pandemic and mourn those who have died.
The pandemic still rages. Drugs are available today that weren’t around when being HIV positive was a death sentence. Millions of people are living with HIV/AIDS. But the crisis isn’t over. Only recently, a new strain of the virus was confirmed.
Grammy-winning librettist Mark Campbell lost many friends to AIDS. “Since I am a survivor, I feel it is my responsibility to never let this story go,” he said earlier this month. “I will always tell this story. I will never let anyone forget about it.”
One way he tells it is in his chamber opera “The Other Room,” written with composer Marisa Michelson. On Sunday, Dec. 1, Arbeit Opera Theatre (AOT) will present the Midwest premiere in a program that will also include selections from Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America” set to music by Ricky Ian Gordon. The event, to be held at LUSH, is a collaboration with LOFTrecital.
Kelly Turpin is AOT’s founder, producer and artistic director. Socially relevant works are her goal. AOT burst on the scene in November 2018 with a new production of Gian Carlo Menotti’s “The Consul,” about a young family trying to flee their totalitarian country.
Turpin is too young to remember the height of the AIDS crisis, when millions were dying. “I’m not of that generation,” she said. “I was looking at this story as something almost foreign that happened 100 years ago. But I wanted to know more about it as an ally/advocate. Even if it’s not your story, you can still make a difference.”
It’s important to Turpin that the lead character – the only character – in “The Other Room” is female-identifying. It was important to Campbell, too.
“The story sprang from a real event in my life,” he said. “In 1992, one of my best friends, Don Ruddy, died of AIDS. After he died, I took care of his boyfriend, Edgardo Heydra. I did what every gay man was doing who was a survivor. If you weren’t in the hospital, you were looking after the partners of people who lost someone.
“One day, Edgardo came over for dinner, and I asked, ‘How was your week?’ He said, ‘Ok, but yesterday was weird. I had to assist a friend with his suicide.’ That was at a time when there was no cure for AIDS. His friend was far along in the disease, and he’d had enough.”
Writing “The Other Room,” Campbell changed Edgardo to a lesbian named Lena. “A lot of our lesbian sisters took care of us,” he said. “We were not well enough to take care of ourselves, and they were at the front lines of activism. I don’t think they get enough credit for all the work they did.”
In AOT’s production, Lena will be played by soprano Victoria Vargas. The performance will be followed by a talkback with Campbell, who is flying in from New York for the occasion.
Coincidentally, he’s here this week as well, working with the Minnesota Opera. Campbell wrote the libretto for the opera version of Kate DiCamillo’s “Edward Tulane,” which will have its world premiere here in 2020. He has also written librettos for the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Silent Night” and Minnesota Opera’s productions of “The Shining,” “Dinner at Eight” and “Manchurian Candidate.”
Campbell wants people to know that while “The Other Room” is sad, that’s not all it is. “Lena has a good sense of humor,” he said. “This is not just a story about death. It’s a story about activism, life, and continuing the memory of a life well lived.”
AOT and LOFTrecital have enlisted a community partner for their event. Representatives from Clare Housing will be on site to talk about affordable and supportive housing for people living with HIV/AIDS in our community.
The World AIDS Day program will take place Sunday, Dec. 1, at LUSH at 4 p.m. Tickets are pay-as-able, with a suggested donation of $20.
Tonight (Thursday, Nov. 21) at Concordia University’s Art Galleries: Opening reception for “Caravan.” The paper is white, the images are brownish-red and splotchy. Skulls and bones jumble together in a mass grave. A dove of peace rests on a skull with flowers for eyes. But these aren’t watercolors. They are painted in the artist’s own blood. Building on a similar exhibit in 2017 called “Latino, Art Migration,” “Caravan” reflects on the humanitarian and political crisis of the migrant caravans, the plight of refugees, and related stories of people forced to walk, including the Navajo Long Walk and the Cherokee Trail of Tears. The 13 featured works were created by 31 international artists working in collaboration. 5-8 p.m. Free. Closes Dec. 13.
Tonight and tomorrow at the Walker: Ted Hearne: “In Your Mouth.” His influences are vast, his style unpindownable, his works multidimensional and personal, his topics diverse: displacement, gentrification, corporate personhood, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the media’s response to Hurricane Katrina. A composer, singer, bandleader and recording artist, Hearne was a finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize. His latest, “Hazy Heart Pump,” came out in October, but he won’t perform that. Instead, he’ll give the world premiere of a song cycle inspired by Dorothea Lasky’s poetry, amid a real-time installation by conceptual artist Rachel Perry. We’ve been listening to a lot of Hearne’s music and we hardly know what to make of him, but we wouldn’t miss this for anything. It’s worth pointing out that this co-commission with the Walker is one of the final events in the SPCO’s Liquid Music Series. 8 p.m. both nights. FMI and tickets ($26/20.80 members). On Thursday, Lasky will give a free pre-performance reading at 7 p.m. in the Walker’s Cityview Bar.
Saturday at the Black Dog: Twin Cities Jazz Sampler Volume Three CD release. In 2014, musician, bandleader, and tireless maker and promoter of jazz Steve Kenny produced the first crowd-funded “Twin Cities Jazz Sampler.” The 13 tracks were an overview of the movers and shakers on our local jazz scene, including Chris Bates’ Red 5, Atlantis Quartet, Bryan Nichols Quintet and Kenny’s own Illicit Sextet. Volume Two came out in 2016, with tracks by Cory Healey’s Beautiful Sunshine Band, Mancrush, JT Bates and the Adam Meckler Quintet, among others. Volume Three will be released this Saturday at Kenny’s main stomping grounds, the Black Dog, where he is nearing his 300th consecutive week of bringing live jazz to Lowertown. Artists this time include Red Planet with Bill Carrothers, Javier Santiago, and the JC Sanford Quartet. Three of the bands on the new CD will perform. The disc will be for sale, along with a box set of all three volumes in the series … so far. 7 p.m. FMI. You can reserve a seat for $20 or just walk in for free.
Friday at the Museum of Russian Art: Russian Art After Dark. TMORA is a great space for a nighttime party. For three hours on Friday, you can explore the galleries, chat with docents, artists, musicians and community members, enjoy pop-up musical performances and light bites, and stop by the cash bar for feature cocktails and (of course) vodka. Current exhibitions are “Christmas With the Tsars,” “After the Explosion: Documenting Chernobyl,” “Mystical Imprints: Marc Chagall, Ben-Zion, and Ben Shahn,” and “Soviet Posters from the TMORA Collection.” 8-11 p.m. FMI and tickets ($25/20 members).
Sunday at HUGE Theater: Queer and Funny Improv Festival. Minnesota’s first-ever festival dedicated to improv by people who are LGBTQ+ will make its debut here with performances, workshops, a panel and a jam. Anyone may attend. The evening show will feature Queer Ensemble, Invisibi, Sober Queer History and The Other Jeannie Retelle. 9:30 a.m.-10 p.m. FMI, schedule and tickets ($15 show, $40 workshops).
Looking for a classy, fun and sober New Year’s Eve party? The Parkway has you covered. Presented in partnership with Hazelden Betty Ford and Dissonance, the recently renovated theater on Chicago Avenue will feature live music by HALEY and her band and an opening set by Spotify chart-topper Lydia Liza. There will be hats, favors, a photo booth and a countdown to midnight, plus a menu of nonalcoholic cocktails and other booze-free options. They’re calling the party “Revolution 2020: A Zero Proof New Year’s Eve,” and tickets start at $45 advance. 8 p.m. doors, 9 p.m. show.