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The Friday Five for May 23, 2014
A few fantastic arts and culture events on this holiday weekend.

It is a time for somber reflection, but this holiday weekend also signals the start of summer, and it’s usually more about boats, brats and beer (as opposed to being about Beethoven, Balanchine or Beckett.) But there are a few substantial offerings for those who are particularly serious about their art and culture.

#3: The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra at The Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist.

Why? Because the MSO’s so-called “Chamber Series” offers some of the most interesting programming in its season, including this concert featuring the Milwaukee Symphony Chorus and principal violist Robert Levine. Francesco Lecce-Chong is again at the podium, this time conducting Ralph Vaughn-Williams’ Flos Campi, a lush evocation of the Song of Solomon (featuring Levine as soloist). There are also excerpts from Wagner’s Tannhauser. But the featured work is Luigi Cherubini’s gorgeous Requiem, a fitting piece for the spacious cathedral.

#2: World’s Stage Theatre Company’s Phaedra’s Love at the Grand Avenue Mall.

Why?  Because the late British playwright Sarah Kane is known for her theater of extremes, unflinching evocations of desire and pain that have earned her a cult following despite her tragically abbreviated career. Based on Seneca’s ancient drama about Phaedra’s love for her stepson, Hippolytus, Kane's 1996 play is filled with wit, unsparing emotion and violence. It’s not surprising that this adventurous offering is thanks to Gretchen Mahkorn’s gutsy company, and director Leda Hoffman, who in her short directing career has already taken on Shakespeare’s King Lear, the heady absurdism of Eugene Ionesco, and a feminist variation on Homer’s Odyssey.

#1: The Florentine Opera’s Sister Carrie at the Lueders Florentine Opera Center (926 E. Burleigh St.).

Why? Because you thought the opera season was over. But the arias go on with the Florentine, which is admirably helping develop new work—this adaptation of Theodore Dreiser’s classic American novel--for the repertory. The company’s production of Elmer Gantry was highly acclaimed, winning two Grammy Awards. And the Florentine now offers a work in progress by that opera’s creative team, composer Robert Aldridge and librettist Hershel Garfein. Soloists Daniel Belcher and Adriana Zabala (Sesto from the Florentine’s recent Giulio Cesare) lead the cast, along with students and faculty from the University of Minnesota, which is collaborating on the project. This workshop production is a must for anyone interested in contemporary music.

Main photo courtesy of the MSO.

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