The Well-Tempered Ear

Madison Classical music Best Bets Jan. 27-Feb. 2: It’s Julia Faulkner Week, featuring the UW mezzo in Benjamin Britten’s opera “The Turn of the Screw” and the PBS film “The Audition.”

January 27, 2010
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By Jacob Stockinger

The post-holiday intermission is over and the classical music scene is picking up steam.

It might as well be called Julia Faulkner Week. The former professional mezzo-soprano (below right), who for many years sang in opera houses throughout Europe and with some of the leading orchestras around the world — she has recordings of Pergolesi, Verdi, Mozart and Lee Hoiby on the Naxos label — is now a highly respected University of Wisconsin-Madison teacher as well as a professional singer. And you can see her live and in film on TV this week.

It’s recognition she deserves.

First, a reminder that tonight, Wed., Jan. 27,  at 9 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Television at 9 p.m. “Great Performances at the Met” features “The Audition.” (Timing may depend on President Obama’s State of the Union address.)

Directed by award-winning filmmaker Susan Froemke, “The Audition” looks at the intense pressures young opera singers (below center in a photo by Ken Howard of The Met) face as they struggle to succeed in one of the most difficult professions in the performing arts.  Faulkner, who won the Met auditions that launched her career, appears in the film.  

The feature-length documentary takes viewers behind the scenes at the Metropolitan Opera’s National Council Auditions, where each year thousands of hopefuls compete for a cash prize, the chance to sing on the Met stage and the opportunity to launch a major operatic career. (Madison’s Kitt Reuter-Foss also won the Met auditions.)

The film covers the dramatic week leading up to the finals of the 2007 auditions, focusing on three tenor contestants: Michael Fabiano, a fiery 22-year-old grappling with his inner demons; Alek Shrader, a 25-year-old who attempts to sing nine high Cs in the fiendishly difficult aria that made Pavarotti a star; and Ryan Smith, who at age 30 and with little formal training, is pursuing his dream of an operatic career.

“The Audition” is both a suspenseful competition narrative and a revealing backstage look at what it takes to make it as an opera singer.

Watch and tell us what you think of the content of the various programs, and whether local and national public television should do more classical music concerts, shows and specials?

Then on Thursday, Jan. 28, at 7:30 p.m., the Madison Opera opens a four-performance run of Benjamin Britten’s 1954 opera “The Turn of the Screw” – based on Henry James’ famous ghost-story novella. (Alistair Sewell as Miles and Caroline Worra as the Governess are seen below in a ghostly photograph taken by James Gill for the Madison Opera.)

The shows are in the Overture Center’s Playhouse – a first for the Madison Opera. (The company has been trying out smaller, winter operas in various venues. Two years ago, it staged sellout performances of Aaron Copland’s “The Tender Land” in the Promenade Theater and last year, it was a sellout of Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte” in the Capitol Theater.)

Additional performances are on Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are still available, but sales have been picking up fast and the best seats still available are on Thursday night.

“We’re hoping for sellouts of all four performances, which would be fantastic,” says Brian Hinrichs, the director of communications for the Madison Opera.

Another reason for interest is that the production features of local talent and people with UW ties: Gregory Schmidt (former student of Mimmi Fulmer) and Jamie Van Eyck (alumna and current doctoral student and Paul Collins Fellow, who studies with Julia Faulkner.)

Julia Faulkner will sing an adult title role. The two juvenile leads will be sung by Jennifer DeMain (below right, the daughter of Madison Symphony Orchestra’s music director and conductor John DeMain); and by Alistair Sewell (below left, the son of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s music director and conductor Andrew Sewell.) For more information about and interviews with the two young singers, see the posting of January 8 on this blog.

Players from the Madison Symphony Orchestra will be under the baton of John DeMain, the artistic director of the Madison Opera who is known for his operas conducting around the nation and world.

For more information and tickets ($20 and $52), call the Overture Center box office at 608 258-4141 or visit the link below to the Madison Opera:

Over at the UW School of Music, things are still picking up steam.

But a major faculty concert has been postponed. A recital scheduled for this Friday, January 29, by soprano Mimmi Fulmer and pianist Christopher Taylor has been rescheduled to Sunday, April 25, 2010 at 7:30 p.m.

Also on Friday, the free Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society, from 12:15 to 1 p.m. will features rarely performed string trios by Beethoven (C Minor, Op. 9, No. 30 and Schubert (B-flat major, D. 471) with Laura Burns, violin; Marie Pauls, viola; and Sarah Schaffer, cello.

Admission and coffee are free at the First Unitarian Society Meeting House, 900 University Bay Drive. For information, call 608 233-9774.

On “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen,” you can hear – live or on the Wisconsin Public Radio – the Prometheus Trio (below right) on Sunday, January 31, at 12:30 p.m. in Brittingham Gallery III at the Chazen Museum of Art.

The program will feature Paul Moravec’s “Mood Swings” from 1998 and Antonin Dvorak’s great Trio in F Minor.

The Prometheus Trio consists of faculty members at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music in Milwaukee, and is currently celebrating its 10th season performing masterworks by composers like Beethoven and Mozart. Players include Scott Tisdel on cello, Timothy Klabunde on violin and Stefanie Jacob on piano.

Posted in Classical music

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