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Nice notice for White Bear Lake mezzo

Posted by: Graydon Royce Updated: January 13, 2014 - 12:51 PM

Heather Johnson, being fitted last summer for Mill City Opera's "The Barber of Seville."/photo by Courtney Perry.

Heather Johnson, who grew up in White Bear Lake, just got some nice props for her performance as Lizzie Borden in Boston Lyric Opera's production. Johnson was back in the Twin Cities last summer for Mill City Opera's "The Barber of Seville" and mentioned that she would be taking on the title role in the world premiere chamber version of the 1965 opera.

Writing in the February Opera News, critic Kalen Ratzlaff didn't have much good to say about the concept and staging from director Christopher Alden. "Cheap laughs" and "depictions of sophmorically 'edgy' sexual behavior," Ratzlaff wrote. However, the critic waxed on about the singers. "If only one could have lifted them up lock, stock and barrel and dropped them into a production worthy of their gifts."

"In the title role, mezzo-soprano Heather Johnson was fearless, channeling a seething fury worthy of Electra and singing with dramatic focus, power and control."

Johnson sang at Roseville High School and then studied with Dan Dressen at St. Olaf. She has lived in New York for 14 years. Next up, according to her web site is a short engagement of "La Cenerentola" at Intermountain Opera, in May.

New York City Ballet promotes Minnetonka dancer

Posted by: Claude Peck Updated: December 4, 2013 - 11:48 AM
Alexa Maxwell


Childhood dreams can come true. Just ask Alexa Maxwell. While growing up in Minnetonka she wore out a VHS tape of New York City Ballet’s “The Nutcracker,” determined that someday she would dance with the world-class troupe. Last week the 19-year-old signed a contract to join the NYCB corps de ballet.

But dreams do differ from reality. Maxwell wasn’t just handed this big gig. It’s the result of years filled with body-busting effort and personal sacrifice. After studying locally at small dance schools as well as Minnesota Dance Theatre she left home at age 14 to join the prestigious Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet where she worked on her skills intensively and graduated from high school through online courses.

In June 2012 Maxwell traveled to Manhattan for the summer program at The School of American Ballet, NYCB’s official training program founded by the legendary choreographer George Balanchine. She was asked to stay on and by December earned a coveted apprenticeship plus an opportunity to prove herself worthy of a spot with the company. “They see how you perform, your work ethic,” Maxwell said by phone. “You have one year to try out and then [Ballet Master in Chief] Peter Martins either decides to take you on or you find another job.”

So now the newest member of NYCB will be performing in the “Waltz of the Snowflakes” and the “Waltz of the Flowers” sections of Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker” with other exceptionally talented young dancers throughout this month at Lincoln Center. “It’s really exciting, almost all of the shows are sold out,” she said, adding some awe at the large audience she sees when sneaking a peek from backstage.

After “The Nutcracker” Maxwell will prepare for NYCB’s 2014 winter season by learning the “Diamonds” section of Balanchine’s “Jewels” among other signature repertory works. And while Maxwell is thrilled with her new role in the corps she still has goals, including one day ascending to the level of soloist or even principal dancer. But in the meantime, she said, “I’m just going to keep working hard. I’m so happy to be here and I’m feeling very grateful.”

Minnesota ranks 10th for its music contributions, website says

Posted by: Jon Bream Updated: October 25, 2013 - 2:51 AM

Judy Garland

The website complex.com has come up with a ranking of the 50 states “based on their contribution to popular music.” For each state, complex.com lists “artists born there” and “bands formed there.”

Minnesota is ranked No. 10, with New York first, California second, Louisiana third, Georgia fourth and Tennessee fifth.

You can debate all you want about the order. In fact, Dave Bry of complex.com – one of three guys who helped compile the list and alerted me to it – suggested he might rank Minnesota higher himself. But what you can’t debate is the inadequate research of the complex.com staff.

Here is whom complex.com cites in their Minnesota write-up:

Artists Who Were Born There:  Bob Dylan, Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, Paul Westerberg, Prince, Slug

Bands Formed There: Atmosphere, Eyedea & Abilities, Hüsker Dü, Low, Information Society, The Replacements, Soul Asylum, The Time, Vanity 6

That's all. Really?

Here is a quickie list of some acts that were overlooked:

Andrews Sisters

Andrews Sisters

Not mentioned in born here: Andrews Sisters (right), Judy Garland, Rock Hall of Famer Eddie Cochran (above, right), Gary Puckett,

Not mentioned in Bands Formed Here: Koerner Ray & Glover, Trashmen, Castaways, Vixen, the Suburbs, Lipps, Inc. (“Funkytown” was bigger than all of Information Society’s singles combined), the Jets, Babes in Toyland (lead singer Kat Bjelland is listed under born in Oregon); Sounds of Blackness, Mint Condition, Semisonic, Next, Bad Plus, Doomtree, Owl City.

Here is the link to complex.com’s rankings:


The Trashmen doing "Surfin' Bird" on "American Bandstand":

Rolling Stone: Prince ranks No. 2 on list of today's best live acts

Posted by: Jon Bream Updated: August 1, 2013 - 1:10 AM



Prince/ Photo by Kevin Mazur/ Wire Image

Prince is No. 2 again. Rolling Stone named Bruce Springsteen the king of current live concert performers, with Prince second and the Rolling Stones third.

You’ll recall this summer Entertainment Weekly cited Prince’s “Purple Rain” as the second greatest album of all time. But we digress.

Rolling Stone assembled 24 music-biz insiders to cast votes including managers Irving Azoff and Jon Landau, several promoters including two from the Bowery Presents, the music booker for “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” three music journalists including two from Rolling Stone and a bunch of artists, including two members of Fall Out Boy, both Tegan & Sara, Trey Anastasio of Phish, Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, Lars Ulrich of Metallica, Perry Farrell of Jane’s Addiction and Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes.
Cliff Burnstein of Q Prime Management which works with Metallica, Muse, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Josh Groban, among others, said of Prince: "He's a better guitarist than you are. He's a better singer than you are. He can dance better than you. His songs are better than yours. You might have a better jump shot, though."
Rounding out the Top 10 were Arcade Fire, Neil Young, Jay-Z, Radiohead, Jack White, Rage Against the Machine and My Morning Jacket.
Here’s a link to Rolling Stone’s list of the 50 greatest live acts now.

Is Prince's 'Purple Rain' 2nd best album ever? Yes, says Entertainment Weekly

Posted by: Jon Bream Updated: June 27, 2013 - 5:21 PM



Entertainment Weekly has published the list to end all lists: The 100 All-Time Greatest – movies, TV shows, albums, novels, plays, etc.

Prince’s “Purple Rain” is ranked No. 2, behind only the Beatles’ “Revolver.” Debate amongst yourselves. We’re just delivering the information. EW asks if “Purple Rain” is the “sexiest album ever”? You might ask where is “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” ? Not on the EW list.

As for other Minnesotans, Bob Dylan checks in at No. 6 with “Blood on the Tracks” and at 27 with “Highway 61 Revisited” while the Replacements’ “Let It Be” lands at No. 62.

On the sidebar chart of 10 Biggest Heartbreaker songs, two were penned by Minnesotans: Dan Wilson co-wrote No. 5 “Someone Like You” with Adele, and Prince penned “Nothing Compares 2 U,” rated No. 9 as sung by Sinead O’Connor. On the 10 Greatest Dance Jam list, Prince's "Kiss" is No. 2, behind Beyonce's "Crazy in Love."

On the greatest plays of past 100 years list, August Wilson’s “Fences” rated No. 5 and his “Piano Lesson” placed 48. “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller was No. 1.

In TV, the Minneapolis-based “Mary Tyler Moore Show” shows up at No. 4, with “The Wire” topping the list.

In a list of 10 Greatest Graphic Novels, Neil Gaiman's "Sandman" ranks No. 4.

I think it’s safe to speculate that Gen X critics, for better or worse, dominated the judging.



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