I see lots of performances and attend lots of exhibitions and events — more than most people. But I don't think it matters how many cultural events you get to experience each year. The important thing is cherishing the good ones. To me, memorable cultural experiences live on. They get woven into the texture of my life.
Each year, I pick 20 Fresno-area cultural memories to salute. It's always a hard task, not so much because of all that I manage to get out to see, but rather how much I know I miss each year. That was certainly the case in 2013.
As I emphasize every year: Keep in mind that for purposes of this list, I'm using "cultural" as shorthand for "theater-classical-music-opera-visual-arts." (Or, to be more specific: Stuff That Donald Munro Covers That He Manages To Get To.) Unless I cloned myself and refused all vacation time, there's no way I could attend every event I'd want to. But I try to get to as many as I can.
You can discuss my choices, blast my omissions and offer your own suggestions at fresnobeehive.com. Here's my list in alphabetical order.
1. Inon Barnatan, Fresno Philharmonic. The orchestra's all-Tchaikovsky program was made positively combustible by Barnatan, who in the third movements of the Piano Concerto clanged the upper octaves like a blacksmith feverishly pounding out a creation.
2. Constantine Pappas in "The Barber of Seville." Mark this in the promising young artist category. With an excellent cast, great singing and an always upbeat confidence, this production was one of the strongest California Opera titles I've seen in recent years. And the amiable Pappas demonstrated a preview of what his big, pleasing voice can offer in the future.
3. "Breakthrough," Fresno Art Museum. The museum started off 2013 with a bang with this terrific show featuring six vibrant artists with Fresno connections.
4. The ensemble cast of Fresno State's "Clybourne Park." Director Kathleen McKinley and her assured actors did justice to this impeccably written, Pulitzer Prize-winning play, which gets sharp laughs on the prickly subject of race relations.
5. Josh Montgomery's choreography in "A Chorus Line." The best-danced Children's Musical Theaterworks production in years, this ambitious show was boosted by a great 16-piece orchestra.
6. Kurt Fitzpatrick's "Cathedral City," Rogue Festival. The Brooklyn-based performer's one-man show really stuck with me. In this extended riff on going under general anesthetic for back surgery, Fitzpatrick bopped along in a rapid-fire whirl of pop culture references, personal revelations, goofy side-trips into B-movie Adventureland and musings on mortality.
7. National tour of "Dreamgirls." Solid, soulful vocals and an upbeat energy (especially in the dynamic second act) pumped up this tour. But the top draw for me was the fascinating and effective scenic design, consisting of rotating LED panels, which added another theatrical texture to this oft-told tale.
8. Jeremy Denk, Keyboard Concerts. The MacArthur "Genius Grant" winner's interpretation of Beethoven's Sonata No. 32 in C minor was somehow muscular and gentle and fierce and tender, all rolled into one. The sonata storms to a near cacophony of rhythmic turbulence and repeated key changes, but it manages, wondrously, to resolve. As Denk told us, it's as if Beethoven was telling us that no matter what happens along the journey, we are not lost.
9. "Double Vision: Images in Fabric," 1821 Gallery & Studios. This dual quilt exhibition by artists Kirby and Lura Smith, who incorporate digital photography and painting into their works, took the medium in new and stirring directions.
10. Mark Applebaum, Fresno New Music festival. Easily the weirdest entry on this list, this trippy concert at Fresno State by the avant-garde composer was a hoot. There's something reassuring knowing that there are people like Applebaum out there, gallant knights thrusting and parrying along music's edges, wreaking a little havoc here and there, perhaps even drawing a trickle of blood.
11. Mozart Requiem, Fresno Philharmonic. In its all-Mozart program, the orchestra and the Fresno Community Chorus Master Chorale delivered an inspired rendition of the iconic Requiem.
12. The 40th anniversary of Good Company Players. Easily the top cultural story of the year, the milestone was feted with a big special show at the Tower Theatre in June — and then the company immediately got back to the happy routine of two productions a week.
13. Sara Gettelfinger in "Grey Gardens." Her presence in the StageWorks musical Fresno production of the story of the black-sheep aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis enveloped me so completely in an unforgettable world that I almost forgot to breathe.
14. Terry Lewis in "I Am My Own Wife." Talk about bravura roles: In this tale of famed 20th century German transvestite Charlotte Von Mahlsdorf, Lewis played all the characters, more than 40. This Stageworks Fresno production nudged us toward a deeper understanding not only of an interesting historical figure but also the nature of history itself.
15. M Street Arts Complex. Downtown Fresno welcomed an impressive new studio and gallery space for artists. Julia Woli Scott and Christina Rea curated "Spectacle: A Closer Look at Fresno" to inaugurate this upscale venue, which is fast becoming an ArtHop tradition.
16. "New Wrinkles Turns Silver." The beloved senior musical revue made it to 25 years old, and it sure knew how to throw a party.
17. Danielle Jorn and Leslie Martin in a scathing site-specific production of " 'Night, Mother." Director Adam Schroeder used the living room and kitchen of a private Prather home to draw 20 audience members at each performance into a vivid, crushingly intimate perspective.
18. Francisco Vargas' work in the Arte Américas exhibition "Nothing Wasted." His "Red Baby Grand," which he repurposed from a piano burned in a house fire, was clever, provocative and beautiful.
19. "Soft as Animal," Fresno Dance Collective. Leave it to Amy Querin's dedicated NOCO company to offer up another sterling Rogue Festival dance offering. The work featured a prominent integration of dance with non-narrative film, a strong focus on aerial choreography, and a contemplative (but occasionally combustible) style of movement.
20. Fred Bologna's direction of "Young Frankenstein." It takes a special knack to translate a goofy Mel Brooks musical (not his best) into a small, slick, happy production. This Good Company Players show still has a week in its run, by the way. Call it 2013's gift to 2014.
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6373, email@example.com and @donaldbeearts on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.