Saturday, September 12, 2015

Audra McDonald with the Minnesota Orchestra at Orchestra Hall

Audra McDonald (photo by Autumn de Wilde)
How many chances do you get to see a six-time Tony winner perform? Not many, since Audra McDonald is the only one. I was lucky enough to see her brilliant performance in The Gerswhins' Porgy and Bess a few years ago, and was thrilled to find out that she'd be opening Minnesota Orchestra's 2015-2016 season right here in Minneapolis. Plus, it's a great excuse to go see the beautiful Minnesota Orchestra, something I'm not often able to do with my busy theater schedule. This opening concert of the season was a wonderful mix of composers and musical theater selections, which is great for someone who's not that familiar with orchestral and classical music. With so many talented musicians, under the animated direction of Osmo Vänskä, and the added gloriousness of Audra McDonald, it was a thrilling evening of music! And it will be repeated tonight - there are a few seats still available so act quickly if you'd like to experience this wonderful event.

The orchestra performed seven pieces (sans Audra) from a variety of composers, including a lovely 9-11 tribute (the concert was on the 14th anniversary) comprised of Aaron Copland's Letters from Home and Samuel Barber's stirring Adagio for Strings. Jacques Offenbach's familiar Overture to Orpheus in the Underworld was also a crowd-pleaser. But as marvelous as the orchestra is, I was there to see Audra, so her seven songs were the highlight of the evening for me.

Dressed in a beautiful floor-length black gown  with sheer panels on the skirt (BTW, the orchestra members looked pretty swanky too in their tuxes and evening gowns), Audra joined the orchestra for a selection of songs from musicals, several of which I was unfamiliar with. She started with the happy and hopeful love song "When Did I Fall in Love?" from Fiorello!, followed by a heart-breakingly sad love song "I Had Myself a True Love" from St. Louis Woman. With Audra's great skill she's able to make the audience feel every emotion of each very different song. She told us that she never wanted to sing "I Could Have Danced All Night" from My Fair Lady because it was just too popular and cliche for a soprano. But thanks to advice from a friend, she "got over herself" and started singing it. But because it is so popular, she asked the audience to join her. When Audra asks you to sing, you sing, even if you can come nowhere near those high notes!

After the intermission, Audra came back with the lovely and melancholy "Moon River" from Breakfast at Tiffany's (a song Audrey Hepburn really did sing, as opposed to My Fair Lady) and the super fast and fun "I Can't Stop Talking About Him" from the Fred Astaire movie Let's Dance. Then Audra shared with us her feelings of loss and confusion after 9-11, and sang for us her musical balm and answer to her question "what's it all about, what really matters?" - "Make Someone Happy" from Do Re Mi. Finally, Audra concluded her portion of the concert with a sentimental favorite of mine, a song that she sang live on TV during NBC's live broadcast of The Sound of Music*. Audra was the best thing about the show (read more of my thoughts on that here), and it was an absolute thrill to hear her sing "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" live and in person, instead of just live and on TV. This is a song that always gives me chills, especially in this performance with Audra and the magnificent orchestra.

So there you have it folks, a beautiful opening to a beautiful new season at Orchestra Hall! They have lots of great things planned (including a "Beethoven marathon") so be sure to check out their website to find one or twenty concerts that pique your interest. A few things that pique my interest are "See Jane Sing!"- a cabaret show starring Glee's Jane Lynch, "Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs" (self-explanatory), and "Rodgers and Hammerstein at the Movies" (replacing the previously announced South Pacific due to "licensing issues," perhaps because the Guthrie is doing it next summer?). There's a wide array of concerts and events offered, so you're sure to find something to love.

*Be sure to mark your calendars for The Ordway's production of The Sound of Music this December featuring a fabulous local cast.