Once upon a time, you could listen to George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah” and bask in its radiant beauty, emotional power and story: Christ’s birth, sacrifice, and resurrection.
You can still do that this weekend, when the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, unable to perform in person, streams a December 2018 performance recorded and filmed in the Ordway Concert Hall.
Or you can tune in a half-hour early for a virtual panel discussion about the composer’s involvement in the transatlantic slave trade. In 2013, a music librarian at the University of Minnesota discovered that Handel was an investor in the Royal Africa Company, an official British slave trading company. He profited.
Increasingly, the arts are having to face the inconvenient fact that many works in the classical canon come with baggage. In November, prior to streaming its 2016 production of Wagner’s “Das Rheingold” as part of its 2020 fall season, Minnesota Opera held a panel discussion that focused on Wagner’s anti-Semitism. Before COVID canceled much of the opera’s 2019-20 season, it was planning a panel about Mozart’s misogynistic “Don Giovanni,” originally scheduled for May 2020.
Racism, sexism and colonialism are rampant in historical operas, musicals, plays and ballets, along with politics and attitudes considered wrong and offensive today. Human sensibilities are evolving; “The Taming of the Shrew,” “Miss Saigon” and “Cosi fan tutte,” et cetera, are not. So what do we do with these problematic masterpieces?
The SPCO’s artistic director and principal violin Kyu-Young Kim wrote in a blog post, “We only recently came across this [news about Handel] and we felt that this was important information to share with our audience – to discuss it and talk about how it affects our relationship with [‘Messiah’].”
This decision is also in keeping with these words from the SPCO’s website, part of a statement issued in early June after the killing of George Floyd: “We know we can do better. We want to do better. We must do better. We will do better.”
Recorded earlier for broadcast this weekend, the panel discussion includes Steve Swayne, musicologist at Dartmouth College and president of the American Musicological Society; Jeannette Sorrell, artistic director of Apollo’s Fire and conductor for the featured “Messiah” performance; and Ahmed Anzaldúa, founder and artistic director of Border CrosSing. Kim is the moderator.
For the SPCO’s 2018 “Messiah,” the soloists were soprano Carine Tinney, countertenor Reginald Mobley, tenor Rufus Müller and baritone Jesse Blumberg. The chorus was The Singers, whose artistic director is Matthew Culloton. Here’s the concert program.
V is for virtual, L is for live and in person.
Once more, the preponderance of events on Thursday is not our fault, but why does everyone hate Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday?
V Thursday, Dec. 17, 12 noon: Schubert Club: Courtroom Concerts: “Songs for the Season.” Abbie Betinis will host an archival video presentation of a concert from Dec. 2016, with new introductions and interviews with the composers. Featuring carols by Minnesota composers, this is always one of the most popular programs in the Courtroom Concerts series. With soprano Carrie Henneman Shaw, alto Laura Betinis Healy, tenor Nicholas Chalmers, bass Timothy C. Takach, Zacc Harris on guitar and Audrey Slote on cello. FMI including concert program. Free. The concert will be available to stream on demand after Thursday’s premiere.
V Thursday, Dec. 17, 7 p.m. Twin Cities Jazz Festival: Jazz Fest Live: Holiday music presented by Minnesota jazz musicians. Starting in November, every artist and group who performed for Jazz Fest Live also recorded a holiday song. These weren’t streamed at the time but were saved for a special broadcast of their own. Tune in to hear Connie Evingson, Charmin Michelle, Gypsy Mania Hot Club, the trio of Will Kjeer, Dave King and Charlie Lincoln, the Steve Kenny Quartet and more wish you a jazzy Christmas. Free. Go here to save your spot.
V Thursday, Dec. 17, 7 p.m.: Mixed Blood Theatre: Zealous Hellions: Aditi Brennan Kapil and Andrew Hinderaker: “From Mixed Blood to Netflix.” Kapil spent 25 years at Mixed Blood as an actor, writer, director and administrator. Hinderaker wrote “Colossal,” a 2014 Mixed Blood production (and its most ambitious piece at the time). When Hinderaker was hired as creator and executive producer of the Netflix series “Away” – a space drama starring Oscar winner Hilary Swank as commander of a mission to Mars and Josh Charles (“The West Wing”) as her husband back on Earth – he brought Kapil in as a staff writer. “Away” was canceled after the first season, but it should still be fascinating to hear these two talk about their careers, their lives in theater, and what it was like to work on a TV series during COVID. On Facebook Live. Free.
V Thursday, Dec. 17, 7 p.m.: Gris Literatura: Joy in the Midst of Crisis: A Reading/Roundtable with Hawona Sullivan Janzen, Glenn North, Bryan Thao Worra and Michael Kleber-Diggs. A Minneapolis-based literary nonprofit founded in March 2020 by David Bayliss, founder and original host of Cracked Walnut’s Poets & Pints series, Gris Literatura works to expand poetry’s accessibility and scope. At its second reading/roundtable, Janzen, North, Worra and Kleber-Diggs will talk about how poets find and express joy when surrounded by conflict, brutality and upheaval. It’s a good question and one that should elicit thoughtful, even inspiring responses, especially from this group. FMI and tickets (pay-what-you-can, $5 minimum; $20 suggested). P.S. Gris Literatura also believes in paying poets.
V Friday, Dec. 18, 12 noon: Humphrey School of Public Affairs: Kate DiCamillo and John Schumacher: “The Power of Story: Children in a Time of Sadness.” On Monday, PBS News Hour launched a new series, “Invisible Scars: America’s Childhood Trauma Crisis.” Coincidentally, and helpfully, two-time Newbery Award winner DiCamillo, about whom Booklist has said, “Her biggest strength is exposing the truths that open and heal the human heart,” will talk with John Schumacher, the Ambassador of School Libraries for Scholastic, about the solace and hope that literature offers. She’ll also read from her work. Free, with registration required.
V Friday, Dec. 18, 7 p.m.: The Dakota: “A Christmas Celebration with the Steeles.” The five siblings – Jearlyn, J.D., Fred, Jevetta and Billy – have sung together since childhood. They’ve been called the First Family of Twin Cities Music, but their careers are far from provincial. Together, separately and in combinations, they have sung on soundtracks, albums, and stages. Jevetta is an Oscar nominee; as a group, they’ve earned an Emmy nod. Last year’s Christmas Celebration was at the Fitzgerald. This year, they’ll livestream from the Dakota stage. FMI and tickets ($20). Also Saturday, Dec. 19, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, dec. 20, at 4 p.m.