Photo by Autumn de Wilde
Audra McDonald | Photo by Autumn de Wilde
A new theater season has dawned, galleries are loaded with fresh exhibits, and the volume of dance, opera, and live music is sure to keep you off the couch until after Christmas. Of course, this makes for some tough decisions. Here are my favorites for the upcoming arts season, based on the wisdom of my personal experience, the piercing clarity of my own judgment, and some fine guesswork.
1. Faces of War: Russia in World War I (1914-18)
Thanks to The Museum of Russian Art, Twin Citians who have availed themselves of the museum’s extraordinary exhibits by now have a fairly thorough working knowledge of Russian history.
Faces of War: Russia in World War I (1914-18) will extend the museum’s ongoing history lesson by exploring the Russian experience of World War I.
Organized like a multimedia documentary, and drawing from previously classified military archives, the exhibit will include plenty of suffering and hardship. Russia lost 2.5 million people in the war, including more than one million civilians, so the civic and social costs were extraordinary. Russia’s involvement in the war also ended with the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, which led to the rise of the Soviet Union.
If you’ve never been to The Museum of Russian Art, this exhibit will offer the opportunity to see it at its best. It’s the most underrated museum in the Twin Cities by far, yet it keeps mounting one amazing exhibit after another. Sept. 26–March 13. The Museum of Russian Art
2. Minnesota Orchestra: Season Opener, with Audra McDonald
Having finally righted the ship with a new contract deal, the return of Osmo, and a successful Cuban culture exchange, the Minnesota Orchestra opens its new season with a concert featuring Tony-winning actress/singer Audra McDonald. Best known to the public as Dr. Bennett on the TV show Private Practice, McDonald is also an accomplished soprano who, among other things, played Billie Holiday on Broadway last year. In other words, she has pipes, and knows how to use them. Sept. 11–12. Orchestra Hall
3. Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion
Having christened its new concert hall, the SPCO will fill it with gorgeous music. Featuring singers from the renown London vocal ensemble, the Gabrieli Consort, it’s not hard to predict that Bach’s masterpiece will sound exquisite. Oct. 9–11. Ordway
4. Henry IV, Part I
Over the years, Ten Thousand Things artistic director Michelle Hensley’s mission to bring theater to the disenfranchised and imprisoned has evolved into an equally potent ethos of stripping plays down to their raw, essential roots, allowing the drama to live as much in the viewer’s imagination as it does on the stage itself.
Ambition has never been in short supply at TTT, either. Let’s face it, no one does Henry IV, Part I, in part because it’s just one of four plays in the so-called “Henriad.” But it’s also the first play in which Shakespeare’s beloved Falstaff appears, there’s plenty of violence involved, and the play’s rowdy tavern scenes are legendary. Oct. 8–Nov. 1. Ten Thousand Things
Photo by Luke Isley
5. Ballet West
Ballet West, the subject of the reality TV series Breaking Pointe, makes its Northrop debut with a program set entirely to American music, namely the scores of Leonard Bernstein and George Gershwin, performed by a full orchestra. Oct. 3. Northrop
6. Delacroix’s Influence: The Rise of Modern Art from Cézanne to van Gogh
My favorite art exhibits are ones that serve as a gentle guide toward some kind of epiphany, or at least a greater understanding of how the art on display fits into the larger flow of creative ferment that inspires such extraordinary achievements of imagination and skill. The Minneapolis Institute of Art’s landmark show on the French master Eugène Delacroix promises to be just such an exhibition.
In modern art, an astonishing number of roads lead to Delacroix. According to MIA curator Patrick Noon, Delacroix was the “engine of revolution” who influenced virtually everyone after him, particularly the impressionists and symbolists, laying the aesthetic and theoretical foundation for much of modern art. Delacroix directly influenced such storied artists as Paul Gaugin, Edgar Degas, Vincent van Gogh, and Claude Monet, which led to the even bolder experiments in form, light, and color found in the work of later artists such as Matisse and Renoir.
As it happens, our own James J. Hill was America’s foremost collector of Delacroix, so the MIA has an impressive trove of the artist’s work to begin with. This exhibit will include 30 works by Delacroix, along with a wide range of paintings by artists such as Paul Cézanne, Vincent van Gogh, Édouard Manet, Paul Gaugin, and many others.
The focus of the show will be on connecting the influential dots between Delacroix and such masterworks as Manet’s “Music in the Tuileries Garden,” showing specifically how Delacroix’s techniques and ideas manifested themselves in other artists’ work. This is the most ambitious Delacroix exhibit in more than half a century, and is a cornerstone of the MIA’s 100-year anniversary celebration. No one should miss it. Oct. 18–Jan. 10. Minneapolis Institute of Art
7. Joshua Bell, Violin
Superstar violinists don’t come along very often, so when they do, attention must be paid. Snaring Bell is a coup for The Schubert Club, whose International Artist Series is responsible for bringing some of the world’s finest classical musicians to town. What’s special about this performance is its intimacy. Bell will be playing his 300-year-old Stradivarius, accompanied by internationally acclaimed pianist Sam Haywood—and that’s it. There’s no better way to find out why Bell is so highly regarded than to hear him, and him alone, make that Strad sing. Nov. 1. The Schubert Club, Ordway Concert Hall
Only 3 years old, Dark & Stormy has quickly become one of the most reliably provocative and intriguing theater companies in town. The company’s 2015 season opens with William Mastrosimone’s Extremities, a play that starts as a rape revenge fantasy when a rape victim turns the tables on her attacker, but soon turns into a more complicated indictment of the criminal justice system. Smart, intense, and sometimes shocking, it’s a perfect vehicle for the Dark & Stormy juggernaut. Aug. 27–Sept. 19. Grain Belt Warehouse
In an odd but interesting pairing, local playwright Jeffrey Hatcher and composer Chan Poling have collaborated to create a musical about the infamous mansion in Duluth where the upper crust holds its weddings, and where a double murder once occurred. Wendy Lehr stars. Oct. 3–25. History Theatre
Photo courtesy The Guthrie Theater
Baylen Thomas plays Atticus Finch.
10. To Kill a Mockingbird
Interest in the stage version of Harper Lee’s timeless classic was bound to be high anyway, but with the release of a recently discovered “new” novel by Lee (Go Set a Watchman) and all its attendant publicity, Lee is suddenly on everyone’s mind.
The timing couldn’t be better for the Guthrie. Set in Depression-era Alabama, To Kill A Mockingbird is a faithful and moving amalgamation of the book and movie, both of which have been seared so deeply into our collective consciousness that any significant deviation would likely be met with revolt. The play is a proven dramatic vehicle (the word “tears” is mentioned in every review of it ever written), and though spare stagings are de rigueur, the Guthrie’s set designers will likely deliver an eye-catching and evocative backdrop for the trials of Atticus Finch and Scout. Recent events in Ferguson and elsewhere have also made the story’s theme of racial injustice depressingly relevant.
For all of these reasons and more, To Kill a Mockingbird is a sure-footed first step in Guthrie artistic director Joseph Haj’s inaugural season. He didn’t have much to do with it, but he will certainly reap the rewards. Sept. 12–Oct. 18. Guthrie Theater
11. Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia
Perhaps it was inevitable that hippies would once again be hip. That’s a good thing, though, because the larger culture’s tendency to dismiss the counterculture movement of the late 1960s and 1970s as a leftist fever dream fueled by drugs and an iffy work ethic is a mistake. It’s easy to make fun of hippies, but in reality the movement was trying to do something very difficult: imagine a different, better way of life than the one being sold to the masses by corporate America.
Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia is an ambitious attempt to chronicle the revolutionary ferment of the period through the work of artists, architects, and designers inspired by the era’s free flow of ideas and possibilities. In addition to art, the exhibit will feature experimental furniture, alternative living structures, immersive media environments, trippy films, and other artifacts of the 1960s imagination. Not incidentally, attendees will also leave with a greater appreciation for how the movement has influenced modern life. Next time you take out the recycling, you’ll know where the idea came from. Oct. 24–Feb. 28. Walker Art Center
12. Ariadne auf Naxos
The setup to Richard Strauss’s comic opera is a dinner party where two forms of entertainment—a serious opera company and a comedy troupe—are accidentally booked to perform at the same time, which they do. Operatic hilarity ensues. Sept. 26–Oct. 4. Ordway
13. Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue
Former Theatre de la Jeune Lune founder Robert Rosen directs Quiara Alegría Hudes’s tragicomic play about three generations of a Puerto Rican family scarred by war. Sept. 11–Oct. 4. Park Square Theatre
Jungle Theater founder and artistic director Bain Boehlke officially handed the reins to Sarah Rasmussen earlier this year, but it’s director Joel Sass who has been the most responsible custodian of the Jungle brand for the past several years. Sass returns to direct local veterans Terry Hempleman and Angela Timberman in Sharr White’s two-hander about a previously married couple who haven’t seen each other in 20 years, and still have a few issues to work out. Sept. 4–Oct. 18. The Jungle Theater
15. Dreams of the Fallen
This year’s “lemonade out of lemons” award goes to Iraq war veteran Brian Turner and composer Jake Runestad for turning Turner’s war experience into an elegiac masterwork for chorus, piano, and orchestra. Dreams of the Fallen is based on Turner’s poems, which don’t necessarily address his combat experience directly; they often involve the impact of extreme violence on soldiers years after they’ve left the battlefield. The performance will also include Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings and Vaughan Williams’s Toward the Unknown Region. Oct. 11. The O’Shaughnessy
16. Paul Shambroom: Lost
In the highest-profile project yet since opening its new project space, the Minnesota Museum of Art is presenting a Paul Shambroom trifecta. Lost features three different projects by the celebrated local photographer with the international pedigree. The title project, Lost, involves imagery of tattered lost-pet flyers shot throughout the United States, and is accompanied by a digital slideshow of pets reunited with their owners. The second project, Shrines: Public Weapons in America, involves war weaponry that’s been repurposed as public monuments. The third project, Gloves, features more than 100 photos of lost gloves, and is a collaboration with Albuquerque photographer Andy Mattern, who shares the same fascination for homeless handwear. Aug. 20–Oct. 18. Minnesota Museum of American Art
17. The Jungle Book
With this new adaptation, the Children’s Theatre Company will ask audiences to momentarily forget about the Disney version of Rudyard Kipling’s story. This may be easier for the kiddies than their parents or grandparents, for whom the Disney version is so deeply seared into their consciousness. But fear not: No one reinvents the classics better than CTC. Sept. 29–Dec. 6. Children’s Theatre Company
Photo by Annette Yoosefinejad
18. Sarah Michelson, tournamento
Walker performing arts curator Philip Bither uses the phrase “athletic virtuosity” to describe New York choreographer Sarah Michelson’s groundbreaking aesthetic. One of the most dynamic artists at work today, Michelson blends movement, visual art, music, and ideas in all kinds of bold, innovative ways. Tournamento is a Walker-commissioned piece, and this is its world premiere. Sept. 24–27. Walker Art Center
19. Jack Whitten: Five Decades of Painting
In what can be thought of as a companion piece to its Hippie Modernism exhibit, the Walker is presenting a 50-year retrospective of painter Jack Whitten, an artist who embraced abstract expressionism in the 1960s and never let it go. A true artist’s artist, Whitten has toiled away in his New York studio for decades, without much fanfare, inventing and reinventing the possibilities of abstraction and paint, often creating his own processes and tools to do it. Whitten is enjoying a late-career resurgence following a flurry of shows in New York, where abstraction is once again all the rage. Sept. 12–Jan. 24. Walker Art Center
20. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Following last season’s success with Master Class and OLIVER!, director Peter Rothstein and Theatre Latté Da take on Stephen Sondheim’s bloody tragicomedy Sweeney Todd. The surest sign that this production will succeed: It stars Sally Wingert and local theater’s current “it boy,” Tyler Michaels. Sept. 30–Oct. 25. Ritz Theater
Tad's Top 10 Concerts
TAYLOR SWIFT, Xcel Energy Center, Sept. 11-13
KRAFTWERK 3D CONCERT, Northrop, Oct. 7
THE WHO, Target Center, Oct. 10
MADONNA, Xcel Energy Center, Oct. 8
MATISYAHU, Pantages, Oct. 24
MARK KNOPFLER, The Orpheum, Sept. 29
ED SHEERAN, Xcel Energy Center, Sept. 15
THE GLOAMING, Walker Art Center, Oct. 9
LYLE LOVETT AND JOHN HIATT, The State, Oct. 17
SHANIA TWAIN, Target Center, Sept. 26
Photo courtesy Xcel Energy Center