By Jacob Stockinger
The critically acclaimed and long-lived early music group the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble (below) — which uses period instruments and historically informed performance practices — will celebrate the 300th anniversary of the birth of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach this Saturday night. (You can hear a sample of C.P.E. Bach’s appealing music at the bottom in a YouTube video of a Trio Sonata.)
The concert – which includes the work of other rarely performed composers and works — will be at 8 p.m. in the landmark and historic Gates of Heaven synagogue in James Madison Park, at 300 East Gorham Street, in downtown Madison.
Members of the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble include Brett Lipshutz – traverso, recorder; Eric Miller – viola da gamba, baroque cello; Consuelo Sañudo – mezzo-soprano; Monica Steger – traverso flute, recorder, harpsichord; Anton TenWolde – baroque cello; and Max Yount – harpsichord.
Tickets at the door are $20, $10 for students). Feel free to bring your own chair or pillow.
For more information, call (608) 238-5126 or visit www.wisconsinbaroque.org.
Here is the complete program for “Celebrating C.P.E. Bach”:
1. Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (below, 1714-1788) – Trio Sonata in d-minor Wq 145
2 Michel Pignolet de Montéclair (1667-1737) – “L’Amour vangé
4. Johann Philipp Kirnberger (1721-1783) – Sonata No. 8 for traverso and basso continuo
5. Louis-Gabriel Guillemain (1705-1770) – Sonata in Quartet No. 3, opus 12 (1743)
6. Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach – Sonata for viola da gamba and basso continuo, Wq 88/H 510 (1759)
7. Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach – Six New Keyboard Pieces, from the supplement to “Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen,” 3rd edition (Leipzig, 1787). Sonatina I in G Major: Allegro, Wq 63/7; Sonatina V in F Major: Andante, Wq 63/11; Sonatina III in D Major: Allegretto, Wq 63/9
8. Juan Hidalgo de Polanco (1614-1685) ”Quedito, Pasito”
ALERT: TONIGHT at 7:30 p.m. in Old Music Hall (below) at the foot of Bascom Hill, student singers in the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music opera department, under the direction of UW-Madison professors Mimmi Fulmer and David Ronis, will perform a FREE Opera Workshop. Sorry, The Ear has no word on the specific program — and it is not on the UW-Madison School of Music website at http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/uw-opera-workshop/ But it usually features popular arias and familiar scenes from popular operas, all done with piano accompaniment. (JUST IN: The program includes excerpts from: Ludwig van Beethoven‘s “Fidelio,” Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Le nozze di Figaro” and “Cosi fan tutte”; Claudio Monteverdi’s “L’incoronazione di Poppea”; Gioachino Rossini’s “Il barbiere di Siviglia“; Gaetano Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale”; Jules Massenet’s “Cendrillon”; Johann Strauss’ “Die Fledermaus”; Vincenzo Bellini’s “I Capuleti ed i Montecchi“; and Stephen Sondheim‘s “A Little Night Music.”)
By Jacob Stockinger
Our friends at the Oakwood Chamber Players, known for the quality of its performance and its unusual repertoire, send us the following information:
The Oakwood Chamber Players (below) continues to celebrate its 30th anniversary season when the ensemble presents “Remix! Christmas Lights Memories” this coming Friday afternoon and Sunday afternoon.
The two concerts this coming weekend continue the group’s tradition of kicking off the holiday season over Thanksgiving weekend with Christmas-themed music. The concerts will revisit favorite holiday music from the past 30 years.
Guest musicians include Heather Thorpe, soprano, Mary Ann Harr, harp (below top), Jennifer Morgan, oboe (below bottom), and Mike Sczyzs, horn.
The concerts are on Friday, November 28, at 1 p.m. and Sunday, November 30, at 1:30 p.m. Both concerts will be held at the Oakwood Center for Arts and Education, 6209 Mineral Point Road, on the far west side of Madison.
This is the second concert in their celebratory 30th anniversary season series titled “Reprise! Looking Back Over 30 Years”
Upcoming concerts include:
The Oakwood Chamber Players is a group of Madison-area professional musicians who have been affiliated with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. They have rehearsed and performed at Oakwood Village for 30 years.
Tickets are available at the door. Admission is $20 for the general public, $15 for seniors and $5 for students.
Visit www.oakwoodchamberplayers.com for more information.
The Oakwood Chamber Players are a professional music ensemble proudly supported by Oakwood Lutheran Senior Ministries and the Oakwood Foundation.
By Jacob Stockinger
Valentina Lisitsa (below), the Ukraine-born pianist who has become a YouTube sensation, played a recital here last Thursday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater. It featured music by Ludwig van Beethoven, Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms and Sergei Rachmaninoff.
All four men were accomplished pianists as well as composers.
So you would have thought that nothing could go wrong.
But it did.
From the time she took the stage, Valentina Lisitsa seemed ill-at-ease and unsure of what to do musically. What resulted was a very long concert with too much boredom and tedium.
Her default position seemed to be to play a lot, and then play some more. It turned out to be more like a marathon or a 19th-century “monster concert” than a typical piano recital. I don’t know what the intent of her program was except perhaps to show off her undeniable stamina.
True, the “new media” phenom, who has a clear gift for self-promotion and who attracts avid groupie-like fans to her many YouTube videos and concerts, played for the better part of three hours and never seemed to break a sweat, even in the most difficult pieces.
But I have to concur with The Wise Piano Teacher who said: “It was the worst piano recital I’ve heard in my life, and I’ve heard a lot of them. I came home angry.”
The teacher wasn’t alone.
Except for a few of the miniature intermezzi by Brahms and a few of the ingenious etudes by Schumann, the piano playing seemed disjointed and the music too often lacked musicality.
Now, my instinct is to be generous and to make allowances. Maybe it was just an “off” night. Or maybe she felt ill or sick. Or maybe she has been overbooked or underrehearsed in recent weeks.
I do know that I have heard Lisitsa play much better, though she seemed at her best when she accompanied the gifted American violinist Hilary Hahn (below), who perhaps gave her some interpretive direction.
The Ear kept thinking of the response by Vladimir Horowitz (below) when somebody asked him why he didn’t take the second repeats in sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti or why he didn’t play late sonatas by Beethoven. “I don’t want to bore the audience,” he said.
Lisitsa showed no such concern for the audience. In fact her program, her stage manner and her playing all seemed listener-unfriendly. At times, her recital even seemed condescending and disdainful of the ordinary listener.
As a critic, I have to call it as I hear it. But I take no joy in writing this. There are few enough solo piano recitals in Madison these days, and I had really looked forward to this one. Rarely do I want to walk out of a concert of any sort, especially a piano concert. But this time I did want to walk out -– and I did leave early, during a Franz Liszt encore that was his arrangement of Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria.” I also saw some other serious music fans walk out even earlier.
As for the all-Romantic program itself, here are some snapshots or mini-critiques:
The “Tempest” Sonata by Beethoven (below): This great sonata was frequently reduced from a tempest to directionless wind by dropped or missed notes and choppy interpretation as well as by inattention to dynamics. It just didn’t make sense intellectually or emotionally -– and it is a great masterpiece of emotional depth. And certainly her playing of the same work in a live concert in Paris in a YouTube video at the bottom is better than what I heard live here.
The “Symphonic Etudes” by Robert Schumann (below top): Decca has just released an 85-minute recording (below bottom) of Lisitsa playing these pieces plus the complete Chopin etudes. She seems drawn to etudes, perhaps because they often favor fingers over music. And this woman has fingers and technique to spare, even if she lacks musical ideas. imagination and something to say.
Selected Intermezzi by Johannes Brahms (below): She didn’t stick to the program, and didn’t announce the changes to the audience. She played 14, but after a while they all ran together and it seemed more like 114. Better she should have played a set of just three or four intermezzi as a quiet interlude –- which was their original intended purpose. But instead she too often rushed through them. We missed the poignant melodies and harmonies, the autumnal soulfulness of late Brahms, to say nothing of the careful construction and counterpoint he used.
Sonata No. 1 in D Minor by Sergei Rachmaninoff (below): The Ear thinks Lisitsa knew she has confused and lost her small audience when she went from the long Brahms set directly into the Rachmaninoff sonata. I heard some audience members wonder about what they were hearing – where Brahms had stopped and Rachmaninoff had begun. This sonata is a hard piece to hold together, and it didn’t help that she favored big noise over music, big chords over subtle voices.
All in all, and despite a standing ovation — for her strength and brilliance, one suspects — The Ear found it a night to forget. I have heard Valentina Lisitsa (below) in better form and I wish I knew what happened here.
“Was she annoyed that the house wasn’t full?” someone asked. Maybe, although such an attitude would be highly unprofessional and too peevish or diva-like.
But I do know that when she next appears in a solo recital, I will think twice -– more than twice -– about attending.
That is too bad for me and too bad for her, too bad for the audience and too bad for the presenter.
But everyone’s a critic.
What did others of you who attended Valentina Lisitsa’s recital think?
Did you judge it a success or a failure?
The Ear wants to hear.
ALERT: Today at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center is your last chance to see the Madison Opera‘s production of Ludwig van Beethoven‘s only opera “Fidelio.” The production has drawn high praise from local critics. (Below, in a photo by James Gill, are the lead singers tenor Clay Hilley as the imprisoned Florestan and soprano Alexandra LoBianco as his wife Leonore.) For tickets, call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141.
Here is a review by John W. Barker for Isthmus:
And here is a review by Greg Hettmansberger for Madison Magazine’s blog “Classically Speaking”:
By Jacob Stockinger
Did you hear about Avery Fisher Hall (below)? They want to rename it!!!!
It needs major work and expensive upgrading.
The stakes only get higher and more expensive, of course. But Big Money is no doubt up to the challenge.
Some you may remember the comments I recently posted about the renaming of the Wisconsin Union Theater as Shannon Hall (below) because of generous donations. A plaque would have sufficed, like at Camp Randall Stadium.
It shouldn’t be too hard for Big Money to follow the more modest and more respectable examples of local philanthropists Jerry Frautschi and Pleasant Rowland, who funded the Overture Center for the Arts without plastering their names all over it.
But no! The rich need to splash their names all over the buildings so that we honor wealth more than public service or history.
Or should I say “re-naming rights.”
Officials will even pay the Fisher family millions of dollars to allow the renaming of the legendary hall where so many great careers have started and been put on display for the public.
The Ear didn’t like that, either. But at least the UW-Madison didn’t pay for the family’s permission, didn’t buy back the honor and then turn around and give it to someone else.
Maybe that is the reality of financing projects in today’s income disparity and wealth gap plus lower taxes on the rich that Trickle-Downers want to lower even more.
But it is nonetheless shameful.
What’s next? Avery Fisher Hall becomes David H. Koch Hall?
When do we become the Wal-Mart States of America?
Here is the story that appeared in The New York Times:
Tell us what you think of it.
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
Today is Nov. 22, 2014.
The Ear remembers the deep sadness and immense sense of frustration that surrounded the assassination. American politics has never seemed the same since his death.
He also remembers hearing broadcasts of the Requiem by Gabriel Faure and the “German” Requiem by Johannes Brahms – both fitting choices to honor the dead president.
But since then, The Ear has learned that JFK -– whose own family was well acquainted with tragedy and loss — especially liked the saddest of all music, the “Adagio for Strings” by American composer Samuel Barber. Barber (below) had arranged it from the slow movement of his String Quartet No. 1 in B Minor to a String Orchestra at the request of the world-famous conductor Arturo Toscanini.
By the way, in the original string quartet form, the work was given its world premiere by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Pro Arte Quartet in Rome in 1936. And the original quartet form seems somehow less lush and self-indulgent, more restrained and dignified or even complex, while the string orchestra version seems more overpowering and Romantic.
Compare the two versions for yourself by listening to both of them on YouTube.
And here is the more familiar version for string orchestra in a version that has more than 3 million hits:
Which one do you like best and why?
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
If you don’t already know about A Tempo, you should.
It is the official blog of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.
Started by Katherine Esposito (below), the new concert manager and director of public relations, the blog contains updates about upcoming concerts as well as behind-the-scenes news concerning students and faculty and the entire UW-Madison School of Music.
It is rich with links and sound samples.
Perhaps you want to know about the two performances this weekend (in Mills Hall on Saturday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday night at 7:30 p.m.) by the UW Choral Union and the UW Symphony Orchestra. They include the first-ever UW-Madison performance of the “Te Deum” by Antonin Dvorak (at bottom in a YouTube video) as well as the “Te Deum” of Italian opera composer Giuseppe Verdi and the “Flos Campi” by British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams.
Perhaps you want to know about the school’s beefed up jazz program and early December events under the leadership of pianist Johannes Wallmann (below) and how it cooperates with area high schools.
Perhaps you want to know about the scholarship donation program or catch up on a klezmer workshop that took place this past week.
Or maybe you need to know how to sign up for the annual summer national cello workshop and cello choir (below top), run by UW-Madison cellist Uri Vardi (below bottom) and his wife.
Or maybe you don’t know about the latest award won by the UW-Madison composer Laura Schwendinger (below).
They are all in the latest online issue of A Tempo.
Here is a link.
If The Ear were you, he would bookmark it or subscribe to it.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Madison-based duo Ensemble SDG will perform a concert of early music on this Saturday night, November 22, 2014, at 7 p.m. in the Luther Memorial Church (below), 1021 University Avenue, in Madison, Wisconsin.
The concert will feature special guests William Hudson, tenor, and Katherine Shuldiner, viola da gamba.
The program includes settings of Psalm texts by Heinrich Schütz (below with his psalms at bottom in a YouTube video), Johann Hermann Schein, and Jacques de Bournonville, with a setting by Johann Philipp Krieger of the anonymous canticle Laetare anima mea, as well as sonatas by Giovanni Battista Fontana, Dieterich Buxtehude and Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre.
Ensemble SDG (below) features Madison musicians Edith Hines, baroque violin, and John Chappell Stowe, professor of harpsichord and organ at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. The duo has performed across the United States, and their recording of the complete works of J. S. Bach for violin and keyboard is soon to be released by Arabesque Records.
William Hudson is a founding member and director of LIBER: Ensemble for Early Music and was recently appointed Assistant Professor of voice and diction at Illinois Wesleyan University (Bloomington, Ill.).
Katherine Shuldiner recently graduated from Oberlin Conservatory of Music, specializing in viola da gamba performance. She lives and works in Chicago, Illinois.
Admission to the concert on November 22 is $15; admission is free for students with a valid ID.
Ensemble SDG, a baroque violin and keyboard duo formed in 2009, performs music spanning the entire Baroque period, with a particular focus on the works of Johann Sebastian Bach. The duo has presented works by German, French and Italian composers of the 17th and 18th centuries in recitals from the Midwest to the East Coast. Venues include Fringe Concerts at the 2009, 2011, and 2013 Boston Early Music Festivals; a recital featuring the Brombaugh organ at First Presbyterian Church in Springfield, Illinois; the biennial meeting of the American Bach Society and the annual joint conclave of the Midwest and Southeastern Historical Keyboard Societies; the Michigan Festival of Sacred Music; Wisconsin Public Radio’s Sunday Afternoon Live from the Chazen; and multiple appearances at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, one being a performance of J.S. Bach’s six sonatas for violin and obbligato keyboard. This fall the duo will release a recording of Bach’s complete works for violin and keyboard.
Ensemble SDG takes its name from the epigraph (below top) used by Johann Sebastian Bach (below bottom) to sign many of his works. Soli Deo Gloria (“to God alone the glory”) represents the members’ common approach to music and to life, and it is with this grounding that they approach their technique, choice of repertoire, and interpretative decisions.
Highly sought after as a specialist in historical performance, tenor William Hudson has been described as “positively hypnotic” by Gramophone magazine. An accomplished ensemble singer, Mr. Hudson has performed with many of the nation’s leading early music ensembles including the Boston Early Music Festival Opera, The New York Collegium, The Waverly Consort, The Rose Ensemble, Boston Bach Ensemble, and Ensemble Project Ars Nova (PAN).
As a founding member and director of LIBER: Ensemble for Early Music (formerly Liber unUsualis), he has performed extensively throughout North America and abroad at international music festivals in England, Wales, Ireland, Belgium, Germany, France, Latvia, Estonia, and Spain. Mr. Hudson also enjoys an active solo career, singing the Evangelist in Johann Sebastian Bach’s St. John Passion, Apollo in Claudio Monteverdi’s Orfeo, the title role in Giacomo Carissimi’s Jephte, Lucano in Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea, Mercury in Eccles’ Judgment of Paris, and Alessandro Stradella’s oratorio San Giovanni Battista with the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra.
An active scholar and clinician, Mr. Hudson (below, in a photo by Tall & Small Photography) was the winner of the 2009 Noah Greenberg award and has presented at the International Congress of Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo. He has led master-classes and given lecture-demonstrations in medieval performance practice at universities throughout North America. He has recorded with Naxos, Passacaille, Arsis, Titanic and Dorian. Mr. Hudson holds a Master’s degree in Historical Performance from the Longy School of Music and a Doctor of Music in Early Music from Indiana University. He is a Visiting Assistant Professor of voice and diction at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, Illinois.
Katherine Shuldiner graduated from Oberlin Conservatory in viola da gamba performance under the tutelage of Catharina Meints. She has performed with Chicago based ensembles such as The Newberry Consort, BBE: Bach and Beethoven Ensemble, and The OC (The Opera Company).
She has also performed with Washington Bach Consort and La Follia Austin Baroque. Katherine recently finished her two-year term on the board of the Viola da Gamba Society of America and was chosen to perform in the first Early Music America’s Young Performers Festival during Boston Early Music Festival. This past summer, Katherine taught at the Madison Early Music Festival as well as the VdGSA Conclave.
By Jacob Stockinger
Today is the 186th anniversary of the death of the Viennese composer Franz Schubert (below) –- a composer whom I have written about increasingly because I find myself more and more attracted to his compassion and empathy, his sociability and humaneness.
Schubert idolized Beethoven, and yet these days I find much of Schubert’s music more to my taste and sensibility than Beethoven’s.
What plentiful and great music Schubert composed in his short life -– he lived only 31 years, from 1797 to 1828. And what great music he composed in the last six months or so, even as he knew he was dying — including orchestral music, chamber music, vocal music and piano music.
There is so much to choose from.
But today I offer just one of those many YOU MUST HEAR THIS pieces by Schubert: the slow Adagio movement from his late Cello Quintet, D. 956, written shortly before his death from syphilis.
I remember first hearing this piece in “The Love of Life” (below top) a bio-pic about piano virtuoso Arthur Rubinstein, who is seen saying (below bottom) that was the celestial music he would like to die to.
For similar reasons, I dedicate this posting to another extraordinary person who enriched my life immeasurably and who died on the same day, though in a different year, as Franz Schubert -– a person who shared so many of the same wonderful qualities and personality traits that Schubert brought to his music.
You should really one day listen to the whole work, if you don’t already know it. Chamber music simply doesn’t get any better. In fact, music doesn’t get any better.
Listen to it and hear for yourself:
By Jacob Stockinger
Compared to the start of many seasons, surprisingly this fall hasn’t seen a lot of piano music— either solo recitals or concertos.
The Ear says “surprisingly” because box office statistics seem to suggest that piano concerts general draw good audiences. Pianists are favorites as soloists with orchestra fans -– as you could see in October when Russian pianist Olga Kern performed a concerto by Sergei Rachmaninoff with the Madison Symphony Orchestra under conductor John DeMain to a big, enthusiastic house.
Maybe it has to do with the fact that so many people take piano lessons when they are young. Or maybe it is because the repertoire is so big, so varied and so appealing.
And, true to form, next semester promises a whole lot more piano concerts of all kinds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the Salon Series at Farley’s House of Pianos.
Anyway, one piano standout of the fall is about to happen this week.
The program is an outstanding one. It features the dramatic “Tempest” Sonata in D minor, Op 31, No. 2, by Ludwig van Beethoven; the “Symphonic Etudes” by Robert Schumann; a medley of the late piano intermezzi and other miniatures, Op. 116 through Op. 119, by Johannes Brahms, works we hear too infrequently, possibly because they are more for the home than the concert hall; and the rarely played Piano Sonata No. 1 in D minor by Sergei Rachmaninoff.
Tickets are $40, $42 and $45; $10 for UW-Madison students.
For more information, plus a video and some reviews, visit this link:
And here is a link to a story about her unusual career that appeared in The New York Times:
This is Valentina Lisitsa’s third appearance at the Wisconsin Union Theater. She has performed there twice when she accompanied American violinist Hillary Hahn in what The Ear found to be memorable programs that offered a wonderful balance of dynamics in a chamber music partnership.
Lisitsa has established a special reputation for building her live concert and recording career not through the traditional ways or by winning competitions, but through using new media. In particular, she has amassed a huge following with something like 62 million individual views of and 98,000 subscribers to her many YouTube videos.
So impressive was her record with YouTube, in fact, that the venerable record label Decca offered her a contract. Her first release was a live recording of a recital of music by Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninoff and Scriabin that she gave in the Royal Albert Hall in London — a recital for which she let her fans determine the program through voting on-line.
Then she recorded the complete knuckle-busting Rachmaninoff concertos, an all-Liszt album and a bestselling CD of “Chasing Pianos” by the contemporary British composer Michael Nyman, who wrote the well-known score for the popular gothic romance film “The Piano.”
Here is a link to an interview Valentina Lisitsa did with NPR (National Public Radio):
Now she has a new and nuanced recording out of the complete Etudes, Opp. 10 and 24, by Frederic Chopin plus the “Symphonic Etudes” By Robert Schumann that she will perform here. (You can hear Chopin excerpts from the new CD in a YouTube video at the bottom.) The Ear is betting that, if an encore is in the offing this Thursday night, it will be a Chopin etude or two from the new recording — perhaps a slow and poetic one, perhaps a virtuosic one, or perhaps one of both kinds.
Her Madison appearance features a big and difficult program. But Lisitsa has the technique and power, the chops, to bring it off. She also demonstrated how she combines that substantial power with sensitive musicality in memorable solo recitals at Farley’s House of Pianos. And she claims to have developed a keyboard method that allows her to play difficult music for long periods of time without strain or injury. To one admiring reader comment about the new YouTube etude video, she says simply: “Playing piano is easy!”
Well, good for her! But I say go and judge for yourself — and don’t forget to enjoy the music as much as the musician.
By Jacob Stockinger
Political prisoners and prisoners of conscience are the hot topics of an old opera that is celebrating its bicentennial this year.
When you look around the world and see the struggle in fighting terrorism, religious intolerance and political tyranny as well as the difficult and thwarted stirrings of democracy in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, “Fidelio” — the only opera composed by Ludwig van Beethoven (below) — seems a timely and even inspired choice to stage.
That is exactly what the Madison Opera will do in Overture Hall of the Overture Center this Friday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. The opera will be sung in German with English supertitles.
Single tickets are $18-$125. Call (608) 258-4141 or visit the Overture Center box office.
A Madison Opera staged premiere, “Fidelio” is “a passionate ode to freedom, and the triumph of love over tyranny,” according to a press release from the Madison Opera.
“To rescue her husband, a political prisoner, the noblewoman Leonore (below, played by Alexandra LoBianco) disguises herself as a man and works at the prison where she believes her husband is held. Beethoven contrasts the evil of Don Pizarro, who has ordered his enemy imprisoned and starved, with the inner strength and bravery that enables Leonore to rescue her husband.
“Ranging from breathtaking arias to stunning choral music, Beethoven’s score is truly sublime, with an ever-building dramatic intensity that leaves audiences exhilarated. The famous “Prisoners’ Chorus” is one of the most beautiful choral tributes to freedom ever written, and one of the reasons Fidelio has resonated across the centuries.
“Madison Opera performed Fidelio in concert in November 1986, but this is the first time the company has presented the opera fully-staged. Sung in German with German dialogue and projected English translations, Fidelio is the only opera Beethoven ever wrote, premiering in its final form in 1814.
“Fidelio is a truly great opera,” says Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill), Madison Opera’s General Director. “It has both light and dark moments, with real emotion underlying the intense drama. Above all, the score is a masterpiece from one of classical music’s greatest composers.”
“Fidelio” also marks the start of Madison Opera’s 10th season in Overture Hall, whose exceptional acoustics have been a primary factor in the company’s growth and success.
“It is absolutely thrilling for me to finally have a chance to conduct Beethoven’s operatic masterpiece,” says John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), the Madison Opera’s Artistic Director and conductor who is also the music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. “I have loved this music passionately for years, and can’t wait to perform this great work in the acoustic splendor of Overture Hall. We have a thrilling cast of singers, the Madison Opera Chorus and the Madison Symphony Orchestra, all up to the demands of the mighty Beethoven.”
Pre-opera talks will be hosted by Kathryn Smith one hour prior to each performance.
Here is a background story, with more interviews, written by Mike Muckian that appeared in the Wisconsin Gazette.
And here is an email Q&A that stage director that Tara Faircloth (below), who is making her Madison Opera debut, granted to The Ear:
Can you briefly introduce yourself, with some background and current activities as well as future projects and plans?
A Georgia native, I make my home in Houston, Texas, in a 1935 Art & Crafts bungalow that I am slowly renovating and restoring. I work primarily in opera, and take special pleasure in my work with young people: I am a semi-regular director at Wolf Trap Opera, and the dramatic coach for the fine singers in the Houston Grand Opera Studio.
Some of my most beloved projects have been a beautiful (if I do say so!) production of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress at Wolf Trap, a Dido & Aeneas with Houston’s Mercury Baroque in collaboration with the Dominic Walsh Dance Theater, and a very recent production of Claudio Monteverdi’s Il Ritorno di Ulisse at Rice University. I am very much looking forward to a new production of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin at the Arizona Opera, and my first Le Nozze di Figaro, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, at the Atlanta Opera.
I like to create productions that are whimsical and humorous with intense moments of emotional connection.
How do you situate Beethoven’s “Fidelio” among other major opera and opera composers? What makes it special?
Fidelio is Beethoven’s only opera, a work that he re-wrote three times. It has been called a “secular oratorio,” and it is full of the passion that typifies so much of Beethoven’s work.
When listening to Beethoven’s music, I personally feel as if the score can barely contain all of the emotion he is trying to express, that it is stretched to its absolute limit, and somehow there is an underlying tension, a sense that if it were possible, he would want you to feel even more than he has been able to write down.
What is your overall concept of the opera? Do you see it as having to do with the Enlightenment and political movement toward democracy?
Fidelio has been subject to a multitude of interpretations since its inception. In many ways, the score is a blank slate: the characters are not described in great detail, there is no mention in the score of the exact political situation at hand, and even Florestan’s “crime” against Pizarro is not identified explicitly. Instead we have a story of brutal revenge versus great love: a universally appealing theme.
With its dream of a government free of tyranny, and the inherent worth of the individual man, Fidelio certainly has a very healthy dose of Enlightenment principles.
However, in many ways it may be seen as ushering in Romantic era ideals. It is full of sweeping emotional moments: perhaps the most famous is the Prisoners’ Chorus “O welche Lust” (at bottom in a YouTube video), which begins with an ecstatic appreciation of the beauty of a single breath of fresh air.
The fact that Beethoven gave the most beautiful music in the entire opera to a chorus of common prisoners shows us, I think, his belief that our connection to a higher power and our longing for freedom is inherent and universal to every man.
Does Beethoven’s opera hold lessons for today about current events?
As a director, I am not really one to look for lessons in our literature. Instead, I hope to engage our audience in a very human drama, to make them FEEL something and to connect with them. I think that experiencing music and drama in this way makes us more empathetic and open to other human beings, and that can only make the world a better place.
This is your debut in Madison. Do have impressions of the city, the opera and orchestra, either firsthand or through others?
I travel a lot for my work, and every time I have mentioned I will be in Madison, people simply gush about what a lovely place it is. In addition to the charming beauty of the city, I’ve noticed there seems to be a big focus on beer and cheese. So, basically it is heaven.
What you would you like to add or say?
Fidelio is an opera that is rarely performed. It takes massive forces: large orchestra, large chorus, and very large voices. I think we have quite a group assembled here, and hope your reading audience will take advantage of the opportunity to hear the work of one of the world’s most beloved composers.