Review: “Sweeney Todd” with Theater Latté Da

Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is considered one of the greatest—if not the greatest—musicals ever written. This is quite a twist of fate; by most conventional measures, there are few shows that seem less destined for success. When it opened the show was completely unconventional, with a blood-drenched storyline that seemed ready-made to send audience members racing for the exits in horror. It is not surprising that its original Broadway run took a sizable financial hit, and its original London run fared even worse.

Yet the show didn’t die a quiet death after its Broadway closing, but rather jumped from greater to greater success. Over time, audiences adjusted to the idea of a musical in the horror genre, and came to appreciate how boldly Sweeney Todd shattered convention and redefined what a musical could be. After repeated listens, music lovers fell under the spell of the score’s limitless depths and marveled at how Sondheim was able to create and build a sense of relentless tension that lasted through the final chord. Audiences also came to rally behind the deliciously complex characters—characters who are almost devoid of any redeeming value but are just too mesmerizing to stop watching. Plus, there is the greater appreciation for the hilarious moments of dark comedy, which paradoxically release and tighten the underlying tension. We’ve finally caught up to Sweeney Todd’s brilliance.

The show is… well, a perfect musical feast. And from the moment I first saw it (strangely enough, while I was in the seventh grade), I have unabashedly loved it.

Theater Latté Da has just launched a new production of Sweeney Todd, which follows their hugely successful production of Sondheim’s Into the Woods from last seasonTo be brief, this is a riveting, hands-down fantastic production… easily one of the best I’ve seen. Performances run through October 25 at the Ritz Theater in Minneapolis, and you definitely should snap up any ticket you can lay your hands on. Continue reading

Autumn: A Listening Guide

Fall is here!

With dusk coming on earlier and earlier, there’s a new crispness to the air. It is a time when iced tea gives way to apple cider, and school buses start to nudge out ice cream trucks on neighborhood streets.

In honor of the new season, let me provide a listening guide to some of my favorite autumn-themed works of classical music, listed alphabetically by composer. Please feel free to share your own favorites in the comments. Enjoy! Continue reading

Great News for the Met (and a Few Questions for Peter Gelb)

There is some very good news today about the Metropolitan Opera—the Met announced Wednesday that it closed its most recent fiscal year in the black, with a $1 million surplus and a balanced budget. This is a fantastic development, and I congratulate everyone who made it possible.

But I must say, today’s announcement is all the more remarkable in that just over a year ago, the Met was claiming its finances were in catastrophic shape; as a result, General Manager Peter Gelb demanded that its unionized musicians and workers take sacrificial pay cuts to keep the company afloat. Gelb was most clear and insistent on this point, arguing that the unionized workers needed to take cuts totaling $35 million or else. This wasn’t a one-time claim… he made this point in a variety of interviews throughout the summer of 2014.

Well, today’s announcement makes a mockery of everything Mr. Gelb said during those contentious labor negotiations. Several statements he made (along with other statements from the Wall Street Journal article that reported the good news) have raised some serious questions, as well as my hackles.  I’d like to respond. Continue reading

Season Openings!

Over the past 48 hours I’ve had the distinct pleasure of being a part of two season openings: those of the Minnesota Orchestra and the Minnesota Chorale. And the year ahead looks fantastic for both!

Allow me to share a sense of the celebrations, which not only provided outstanding performances, but served as a reminder of the power and importance of music in our community. Continue reading

Minnesota Orchestra Balances its Budget!

Hooray! A very nice bit news has started making the rounds—the Minnesota Orchestra has posted a balanced budget for the just-ended fiscal year. The Orchestra’s press release is here; additional coverage can be found at the Star Tribune, Minnesota Public Radio, and Pioneer Press.

Without further ado, congratulations to all involved! This is a tremendous accomplishment.

Of course there are a few obvious caveats, including the fact that these are the preliminary, unaudited results.

But still. This is a phenomenal achievement. The numbers tell the tale: Continue reading

For Labor Day

Greetings, and Happy Labor Day to my readers!  Today has particular resonance in the world of classical music—over the last year we’ve had a number of orchestras and opera companies go through labor disputes, and several additional disputes are starting to bubble over.

For today however, I wanted to leave you with short piece of music that sums up this day and this time of year perfectly:  “The Promise of Living” from Aaron Copland’s opera, The Tender Land.  The setting is the Midwest during the Depression.  Two migrant farm workers have just arrived at a family farm… just in time for harvest.  In “The Promise of Living,” the workers and the family look ahead to the work of bringing in harvest, sharing in both the work and the bounty.  The song also celebrates family, community, and God’s blessings.

There are many videos of the song out there, as Copland’s later choral arrangement has become a bit of a stand-alone hit.  But I wanted to share this one that keeps the original context intact.  Enjoy, and Happy Labor Day!

* * *

“The Promise of Living”
Music by Aaron Copland, text by Horace Everett (pseudonym of Erik Johns)

The promise of living with hope and thanksgiving
is born of our loving our friends and our labor.

The promise of growing with faith and with knowing
is born of our sharing our love with our neighbor.

For many a year we’ve known these fields and known all the work that makes them yield.
Are you ready to lend a hand? We’ll bring in the harvest, the blessings of harvest.

We plant each row with seeds of grain, and Providence sends us the sun and the rain.
By lending a hand, by lending an arm, bring out from the farm,
bring out the blessings of harvest.

Give thanks there was sunshine, give thanks there was rain.
Give thanks we have hands to deliver the grain.
Come join us in thanking the Lord for his blessing.
O let us be joyful. O let us be grateful to the Lord for His blessing.

The promise of ending in right understanding
is peace in our own hearts and peace with our neighbor.

O let us sing our song, and let our song be heard.
Let’s sing our song with our hearts, and find a promise in that song.
The promise of living.
The promise of growing.
The promise of ending is labor and sharing our loving.


Plotting Out Success: The Mission-Money Matrix

A short time ago, I posted my general thoughts on the notion of “sustainability,” detailing some of my issues with how performing arts organizations (and by extension, non-profits generally) have been using this concept. Or to be more accurate, how they are misusing the concept.

But this of course brings up another set of questions: specifically, how does a group determine if its programs are truly sustainable? Or in a broader sense, worth doing?

I’d like to suggest a tool I’ve used quite successfully in a couple of groups I work with: the Mission-Money Matrix. This is a simple graph that helps an organization determine if a program or activity is worth the investment of time and resources that an organization puts into it.

In essence, it provides a quick reference tool that allows you to evaluate a program’s sustainability in a holistic way, covering mission and finances within the overall framework of your organization’s capacity. Continue reading