The arts express what we may not be able to communicate otherwise. They help us understand that one question may be answered truthfully in many different ways. New Orleans’ upcoming cultural season provides an opportunity to experience this form of expression through dance, opera and orchestral music. Don’t be afraid to expose yourself to a power that can potentially change your attitudes and beliefs.
The highlights this year are Jake Heggie’s opera “Dead Man Walking,” Gustav Mahler’s “Resurrection Symphony” and Twyla Tharp’s 50th Anniversary Tour.
Most of us are familiar with the film Dead Man Walking, featuring Susan Sarandon as Louisiana’s Sister Helen Prejean, who wrote the book. Prejean, a Roman Catholic nun of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Medaille, wrote about being a spiritual adviser to convicted murderers on Death Row at the Louisiana State Penitentiary (Angola). Jake Heggie’s opera is based on Prejean’s book, with the libretto by Terrence McNally. Although the opera in its treatment of the death penalty may seem out of reach and unapproachable, the accessibility of the music will gain your affection. It’s modern opera, but don’t let that scare you—New Orleans will more than likely not get this opportunity again.
Choreographer Twyla Tharp’s distinguished career—which has mixed modern dance with classical ballet—provides a fantastic 50th anniversary program for the New Orleans Ballet Association.
The program opens with “Fanfare,” composed by John Zorn, followed by “Preludes and Fugues”—set to J.S. Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier”—and concluding with “Yowzie,” which incorporates the music of New Orleans’ Henry Butler and Steven Bernstein.
The Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO) opened the newly renovated Orpheum Theater last month with Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony. If you missed it but happen to run into Jason Marsalis he can vocalize the entire first movement, reproducing the orchestra sounds with his voice and smacking his lips for the timpani parts. Believe me: I have witnessed this.
The LPO has some interesting and inventive programs, including a program entitled “The French Connection.” Although César Franck was born in Belgium (but lived and worked as an adult in Paris), his Symphony in D minor caused French composers—led by Saint- Saéns—to decry that Franck’s symphony was too German. Charles Gounod called it “incompetence pushed to dogmatic lengths.” The controversy made it very difficult for Franck to get his symphony performed. Although politics undermined the symphony’s first performance, within several years it was regularly being programmed across Europe and in the United States. It’s ironic that Saint-Saens’ “Organ Symphony” and Franck’s Symphony in D minor are both significant French symphonic masterpieces. You will come out of the theater humming the music, as the symphony has an irrepressibly infectious ear-worm melody.
So take Pablo Picasso’s advice—“I am always doing things I can’t do; that’s how I get to do them”—and take the opportunity to explore opera, ballet and orchestral music.
See you out there!
Verdi: “La Traviata” – October 9 and 11, 2015
Strauss: “Die Fledermaus – November 13 and 14, 2015
Heggie: “Dead Man Walking” – March 4 and 6, 2016
Puccini: “Tosca” – April 8 and 10, 2016
Twyla Tharp 50th Anniversary Tour – October 24, 2015
Dance Theatre of Harlem – November 21, 2015
Malpaso Dance Company from Cuba – March 11 & 12, 2016
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago – April 2, 2016
Che Malambo from Argentina – May 7, 2016
Stravinsky’s “Dumbarton Oaks”; Barber’s “Capricorn Concerto”; Handel’s “Music for the Royal Fireworks”; and Bach’s Suite No. 3 – October 1, 2015
Rossini’s “L’Italiana in Algeri” overture; Tchaikovsky’s “Capriccio Italien”; Mendelssohn’s “Italian Symphony”; Beethoven’s Romance No. 2 – October 14, 16 and 17, 2015
Ravel’s “Piano Concerto for the Left Hand”; Mozart’s “Paris Symphony”; Franck’s Symphony in D minor – October 22 and 23, 2015.
Dvorak’s “Cello Concerto” and Sibelius’ “Four Legends from the Kalevala” – October 30, 2015.
There’s No Place Like Home: The Wizard of Oz – November 6 and 7, 2015
Mendelssohn’s “Violin Concerto”; Schubert’s Symphony No. 9; Webern’s “Variations for Orchestra” – November 19 and 20, 2015.
Orpheum Holiday Spectacular with the 610 Stompers – December 12 and 13, 2015
Soul Revival: The music of Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder – January 16, 2016
Arrival from Sweden: The Music of Abba – May 14, 2016.