The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music datebook: Madison Savoyards to give 6 performances of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “HMS Pinafore” starting this Friday

July 21, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

I’ll confess: I am not a big Gilbert and Sullivan fan.

Maybe it’s because I am too much of a Francophile. (I also don’t like a lot of British TV with the exception of “Masterpiece Theatre” and “MI-5”)

Or perhaps I’m  just humor-impaired. (I also don’t much care for Haydn’s, Beethoven’s or Mozart’s ideas of humor in music either.)

Gilbert and Sullivan (below) are not really classical music figures, so maybe I shouldn’t be putting them on the blog.

But I know plenty of serious classical musicians and classical music fans who relish seeing, listening to and even performing Gilbert and Sullivan’s many operettas. And I’ll admit that I once sang in the pirate chorus in “The Pirates of Penzance” and I did have a fun time watching the G&S bio-pic “Topsty-Turvey.”

Besides, last week I posted several obituaries for and an interview with the late great conductor Sir Charles Mackerras. He was known not only for his Mozart and Handel and Beethoven and  Brahms and Janacek, but also for his — a drumroll, please — Gilbert and Sullivan.

And of course summer —  for the past 48 summers in Madison — means it’s Gilbert and Sullivan time.

Especially this week, I will give the Madison Savoyards production of “HMS Pinafore”  (below, with Dean Messerly as Dick Deadeye and Ryan Thorn as Captain Corcoran.) a post. There is really no other competition on the classical front– or quasi-classical front —  at least.

And the Savoyards deserve the publicity, no matter what is wrong with me.

This year the Madison Savoyards, Ltd. are presenting Gilbert and Sullivan’s first smash hit, HMS Pinafore, at Music Hall on the UW campus on Fridays and Saturdays July 23 and 24, and July 30 and 31, at 7:30 p.m.  There will also be matinee performances on Sunday, July 25, and Sunday, August 1, at 3 p.m. Tickets are $15, $30 (most adult tickets) and $45. Children under 13 are $5, seniors over 60 get a $2 discount. Group discounts are also available (call 262-1500).

Here is part of a press release from The Madison Savoyards:

“The traditional hallmarks of the Madison Savoyards, a full orchestra and costumes, bring the HMS Pinafore to life as Gilbert and Sullivan intended.  The story of romance is chock full of barbs at British society and class differences.

“Gilbert’s fun with words and pointed remarks still bring hoots of laughter to audiences everywhere. Sullivan’s music matches Gilbert’s text with wonderful tunes and sends audience out humming and whistling tunes they already know but forgot were so much fun.

“Not only did HMS Pinafore tie the record for longest opening run in London, it was the first G&S show to enjoy great international popularity.  It has remained a favorite since its first performance in 1878.

(The stage direction of the two-hour show is in the capable hands of Terry Kiss Frank, a well-known local theater director and actress.  Grant Harville, the assistant music director in last year’s “The Yeomen of the Guard,” will be music director and conductor.  Both are experienced in presenting Gilbert and Sullivan operas for the local audiences.”

Tickets are available through the Vilas Hall ticket office (608 262-1500), or on line at

(Adds The Ear: At that web site, you will also find lots of background information, parking directions, a video/audio clip and much more. It’s well worth exploring.)

“The Madison Savoyards, Ltd. has been presenting Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic operas for 48 years and strives to make each presentation come alive by knowing and respecting the special gifts of the authors and gathering a gifted and enthusiastic cast and crew.  The Savoyards last presented “HMS Pinafore” in 2000.”

And what kind of shape is The Madison Savoyards in?

The Ear spoke to board of directors president Jim Cain.

“We’re looking forward to celebrating our 50th anniversary in two years, so that tells you something, ” Cain said. “Like most local arts groups, we’re never very far away from trouble. We have finished the last fews years in the black — though not by much. So we are always looking for donors and contributors, but we’re in good shape.”

The Pinafore cast of mostly local people, Cain adds, ” is good with a lot of strong voices. This community has a lot of good singers with ties to the university and other organizations.”

To whet your appetite, here is a sample of one of the witty musical highlights of “HMS Pinafore” as done by a different troupe that is  if I recall correctly, not as good a G&S company as The Madison Savoyards:

Now educate The Ear:

Are there others who just don’t connect with Gilbert and Sullivan? Why?

And those of you who love Gilbert and Sullivan, can you tell me what is the big attraction?

And what did you think of this local production?

The Ear wants to hear.


Posted in Classical music

Classical music review, Part 2: More photos tell of Opera in the Park’s success

July 20, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

Yesterday, I offered a review of the Madison Opera’s ninth annual “Opera in the Park” concert Saturday night, and I emphasized the performers and performances.

But I took more photos that I could use in one review.

So here is a gallery with some one-line captions.

Let me know if you enjoy them and would like similar postings in the future. If so, I will do more.

The record crowd in Garner Park was 14,000. That’s big.

But it was an attentive and courteous crowd that read about the program and performers.

The planning is really thorough. No need to worry about getting sick.

Or going when you have to go.

You could bring a picnic dinner (see above) or you could eat with the donors, who had a catered dinner in a tent.

They also received a reserved place up close to the stage.

The event costs more than $200,000 to put on but is offered free. So vendors offered free programs plus flourescent light sticks that sell for $1.

And you could buy a T-shirt to help the cause.

Or an ice cream to enjoy on a hot summer night.

The Madison Opera uses the event to promote its upcoming season but also to thank its donors and sponsors.

They have to build a stage from scratch each year, including generating power , for the event.

Darkness and sing-alongs and flourescent light sticks add a certain charm and glow and feeling of fellowship.

It’s good to remember where you are and why you can be there.

And it is good to remember that opera is a team effort, a group activity.

It’s also good to get in the spirit of the many  love songs and love arias that figure so prominently in opera and musical theater, and to reach for someone close to you, very close to you.

So, what do you think?

Do you like this photo-essay format?

Would you like to see more of them?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music review: From crowd to sound, Opera in the Park scores another big, resounding, record-breaking success

July 19, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

Let’s talk about success.

Let’s talk about Saturday night’s Opera in the Park.

It was a night of firsts for the ninth annual Opera in the Park, the free outdoor concert put on each summer by the Madison Opera.

For one, it was the first time the event drew an officially estimated crowd of 14,000 or so people (up from 13,000 last year) to Garner Park on Madison’s far west side – a new record for an event that started with a couple of thousand.

It was the first time that the Madison Opera and this event used texting to raise money for the Opera in the Park (you can still text the word OPERA to 20222 to donate $10), which is free to the public but which costs more than $200,000 to put on.

It was the first time singing in Madison for three of the four soloists.

And it was the first time for a good deal of the repertoire that the event featured as a preview of the Madison Opera’s next season: Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro,” Kurt Weill’s “The Three-Penny Opera” and Verdi’s “La Traviata.”

The whole event — hosted by Madison Opera’s Allan Naplan and WKOW news anchor Diana Henry (below) — took place under a cloud so to speak: an predicted oncoming storm. As a result, the program was rushed a bit and one number was even dropped. But good fortune smiled on the event as the rain and wind passed north and west of Madison long enough to allow the concert to finish without problems and after providing much enjoyment.

Of course, some things weren’t firsts.

You still heard a mix of opera and musical theater or Broadway tunes. You could still picnic, or you could still be a donor and participate in a catered dinner under a tent with choice up-close seating that was reserved. You could still buy ice cream. You could still socialize.

You could still buy fluorescent light sticks to conduct along during the sing-along portion of the program. You could still hear beautifully through the first-rate sound system. And you could still count on an attentive, courteous audience that took the music seriously for the most part.

Most of all, you could still sample the Madison Opera’s upcoming season and especially the terrific singing talent that the Madison Opera has signed up for the season.

I suppose one should expect to hear great voices — but it still comes as a welcome surprise.

Madison Opera’s general director is Allan Naplan, a former professional touring baritone and artistic director John DeMain was long an opera conductor before he moved to Madison from the Houston Grand Opera to the Madison Symphony Orchestra. So every year, the two men go out to New York and in a couple of days audition hundreds of voices. And what they end up booking is both affordable and laudable. Those men sure know voices and how to pick’em.

Which helps to explain why the singers, despite a few cracked notes here and there, were so even.

Were there stand-outs? Yes. Tenor Rodrick Dixon (below) sang the famous Donizetti aria with 9 high C’s that brought Luciano Pavarotti first fame. And the audience went wild. He really is the Ethel Merman of tenors — with a big, clear, beautiful  voice.

But sopranos Anya Matanovic (below right) and Barbara Shirvis also proved strong and expressive in their singing, the former in Verdi’s famously soaring aria “Sempre Libera” (from “La Traviata”), and the latter in a heartfelt reading of Dvorak’s gorgeous “Song to the Moon” and a wonderfully understated and ironic reading of Stephen Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns” (sung as a tribute to Sondheim’s 80th birthday.)

Baritone Stephen Powell, along with Dixon, turned in a wonderful “Mack the Knife” and, on his own, the “Te Deum” of Scarpia from Puccini’s “Tosca.”

The orchestra players, drawn from the Madison Symphony Orchestra, were terrific in meeting the challenges of outdoor playing—it’s much harder than indoor playing – from the show’s opening with the national anthem (below), with honor guard, to Mozart’s spirited Overture to “The Marriage of Figaro” and to the various accompaniments. DeMain really is a master conductor who seems in constant high spirits.

Then there was the Madison Opera Chorus, which acquitted itself well indeed, especially in Verdi’s popular drinking song “Libiamo,” and the Madison Youth Choirs, which charmed the entire audience during “Do, Re, Me” (part of the 50th anniversary celebration of the “Sound of Music”).

The audience was generous with applause and cheers, with bravos, standing ovations.

Well, why not? It’s was night of sparkling music and great performances that covered many moods, and makes one look forward to the new season when the Madison Opera will mark its 50th anniversary.

Of the more than 14,000 people in attendance, there was a special person who has every reason to be especially proud.

She is Ann Stanke, the violist and piano player who was a co-founder and former general director of the Madison Opera who was Naplan’s predecessor and who oversaw the first Opera in the Park. She is now bravely and cheerfully battling a debilitating and fatal illness.

Stanke is the mother of Opera in the Park. It would not be the same event – or probably even exist at all – without her.

And Madison would not be the same city without her.

Kudos, Ann, and thank you.

Brava to Ann!

And bravos to all — with hopes for a crowd of 15,000 to mark the 10th anniversary of Opera in the Park next summer.

And if you want couldn’t make it to the event but want to get more of a feel for what it was like, I’ll be posting a photo gallery tomorrow—in the hope that you will respond with your own critical reactions to individual singers and songs.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music meets politics: Palestinian rock-thrower turns violist and uses music to seek peace

July 18, 2010
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By Jacob Stockinger

Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Iran, Israel, the Palestinian territories, Syria, Lebanon  — there is so much gloom, death and bad news coming out of the Mideast that it is good to hear something  upbeat.

Like a good news story.

A humane story about a specific person who is making a difference — one Ramzi Hussein Abduredwan (below, in a  photo by George Bartoli).

It is a good news and humane story that is inspiring and gives me hope.

And, moreover, it is a story — with political ramifications — that  involves music.

Classical music, at that.

It aired on National Public Radio — which henceforth is apparently to be officially called only NPR — a week ago yesterday, on Saturday’s Weekend Edition with Scott Simon.

I hope you will take a few minutes and listen to the story, which will also take you to another story about the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, which was established by the Jewish conductor Daniel Barenboim and the late Palestinian scholar Edward Said. Here is a link:

And I hope you will let me know what you think.

The Ear wants to hear .

Posted in Classical music

Classical music news: Conductor Sir Charles Mackerras dies at 84. Here are obits, an interview with him, and a sample of his Mozart samples

July 17, 2010
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By Jacob Stockinger

One of the interpretive titans of classical music, especially music of the Classical era, has died.

Sir Charles Mackerras (below), a American-Australian-British conductor renowned for his interpretations of Mozart and his opera performances, died Wednesday after a long bout with cancer. He was 84.

Here are links to some fine obituaries, the first English and the second American:

And here is a revealing and entertaining conversation with Mackerras:

There is not a lot The Ear can add to the other obituaries and appreciations.

But I would just say a couple things:

I particularly like Mackerras’ Mozart because he seem one of the few musicians who balances period-instrument practices with modern-instrument performances. In that, he was helped by using a smaller chamber orchestra (the Scottish and Prague Chamber Orchestras) and by his attention to interpretive details that are so vital to Mozart. In short, Sir Charles demonstrated an impeccable taste in and appreciation of Mozart — whose music is even more difficult than Haydn, Handel, Beethoven, Brahms, Janacek and other composers Mackerras performed. (He was also a prolific recorder. A search at yields more than 500.)

That leads me to my second point.

Sir Charles liked his Mozart robust and full-bodied. He fought against what The Ear considers to be a cardinal sin: Music-Box Mozart. That just makes Wolfie seem superficial and does a severe injustice to his gifts.

I imagine that is one reason why famed pianist Alfred Brendel chose Sir Charles (both below) for his final series of recordings of Mozart’s piano concertos. Mackerras, like Brendel, was an advocate of Mozart as a serious, thoughtful and historically important — even revolutionary — composer who was so much more than charming.

So in honor of Sir Charles and Mozart and the team that the two master musicians made up,  here is Sir Charles himself, discussing and conducting some of his beloved Mozart, his favorite composer and the one who brought him so many awards and so much critical acclaim:

Do you know Mackerras’ performances and recordings?

What do you think of his Mozart?

Of his other symphonic and operatic work?

What else would you like to say about Mackerras?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music preview: The Madison Early Music Festival concludes Saturday night with the All-Festival concert of early English choral music

July 16, 2010
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall on the UW campus, the 11th annual Madison Early Music Festival (MEMF) will wrap up its week-long exploration of English music from the 11th through the 16th centuries with the All-Festival Concert.

The  concert features not only faculty members and festival students or participants, but also guest performers and community members.

The choral and instrumental concert will feature famous works by John Taverner and Thomas Tallis as well as works by Robert Carver, Robert Johnson and Christopher Tye.

Tickets are $17, $14 for students with ID and seniors over 62, and will be available at the door.

At 6:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, UW emeritus professor of Medieval History and early music expert John Barker will give a free pre-concert lecture on Christianity and the fear of the arts under the Tudor monarchs.

To offer a preview of the concert, the festival co-artistic directors baritone Paul Rowe (below top) and soprano Cheryl Bensman Rowe (below bottom) recently answered an e-mail Q&A for The Ear:

What is the purpose of the all-festival concert in terms of participants/performers and the public?

In order to include as many different performers as possible in the All Festival concert, we have chosen several large, primarily choral works that would have been performed with voices and instruments. The Tudor era is known for smaller works but these pieces display some of the large works including Thomas Tallis’ motet for 40 voices and the “Western Wind Mass” of Taverner.

What variety of styles will be represented this year?

This year’s festival has a wider than normal historical focus. We will have concerts containing music from Medieval to Elizabethan times. We have added new wrinkle by combining “original” instruments with film in the Robin Hood concert on Monday night.

What are the total forces you expect to be performing?

The total number of participants is not set yet, but we expect to have approximately 120 musicians on stage for the final concert.

Piece by piece, can you tell readers briefly what they should listen for or take away?

It is not really necessary to take each piece individually. It may be more useful to talk about what the pieces have in common and how they differ.

The main works on the program are examples of sacred choral music from the Tudor era (featured in the recent HBO series called “The Tudors”). The things to listen for in this type of music are the changes from chordal (homophonic) writing to fugue-like imitation between voices and the dance rhythms that all of these composers incorporate into the structure of the music.

Another favorite technique is to alter the meter of the music either explicitly or by writing rhythms that blur the bar lines creating a feeling of great flexibility. The changes between sections are usually signaled by changes in the text. The music immediately reflects these changes with great freedom of expression. These characteristics are most obvious in the giant choral work of Tallis (below) that is written for 8 separate five-voice choirs. The voices sometimes sound all at the same time and then switch to trading imitative phrases back and forth between the various choirs.

The logistical problems of this kind of piece are many and Tallis handles the structure very adeptly and to great effect. As a contrast, the mass by Taverner is for four voices. Even in this smaller format, the composer incorporates the same kind of variety of harmonic and rhythmic texture, albeit on a much smaller scale.

Will you two be singing in the concert?

We always enjoy the communal music making and positive energy that comes from preparing for and performing in the final concert. We wouldn’t miss the culmination of the week any more than we would miss the party afterwards.

This year, despite a bad economy, the MEMF has increased attendance while other early music festivals around the county have reported decline. To what do you attribute this?

We have a lot of local support and many of our participants come from the upper Midwest. The cooperation between the various musical groups in Madison has meant that we try not to compete with each other for audience members.

It allows Madison and Dane County residents to take in all the different kinds of performances that are produced by the local organizations. It also seems many people are looking for activities closer to home. We in this area are very lucky to have so many excellent choices.

How successful has the past week of learning and performing been? What stands out for you?

Every year the Madison Early Music Festival provides us with new opportunities and new challenges. There is so much great music to learn about and the chance to put it in historical context is always illuminating.

Each year a community of people is formed that is unique. We all strive for gaining knowledge and experience as we study, practice and learn together. We looked forward to this coming week with anticipation of just such an experience. We hope the audiences will join us on this journey of exploration of this fascinating country and its artistic and social history.

If you went to the Madison Early Music Festival — either the All-Festival Concert or some other event — let readers and musicians know what you thought?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music interview: Benjamin Bagby to perform epic “Beowulf” at the Madison Early Music Festival this Friday night

July 15, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

This Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall – with a free pre-concert lecture in Mills Hall at 6:30 p.m. Benjamin Bagby (below, in a photo by Stephanie Berger), who teaches at the Sorbonne in Paris, will play a six-string period harp as he performs excerpts from the Anglo-Saxon epic poem “Beowulf” as part of the Madison Early Music Festival. This year, the festival is exploring early English music from the 11th through the 16th centuries.

Tickets at the door are $17, $14 for seniors over 62 and students.

Then on this Saturday at 1:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, Bagby will take part of a FREE and PUBLIC roundtable discussion about Beowulf. Other participants include Wisconsin Public Radio host Norman Gilliland and UW-Madison professor John D. Niles.

The Ear spoke to Bagby via e-mail asked him about his 20 years of doing his critically acclaimed performance around the. Bagby referred readers to his website, which has information including background, reviews, interviews and a video-audio excerpt. Here is a link:

However, Bagby also answered some questions.

How did you get started doing this dramatic recitation? How many appearances/shows do you do in a typical year and where around the world have you performed Beowulf?

Here is a similar question from the New York Times with my answer:

Q: Why do you think this is happening? Your involvement is obviously a long and scholarly one, but what is contributing both to that and to this general fascination with and different revivals? Are there political factors? Even religious ones?  Is there something about the period(s) in history “Beowulf” represents, are there other phenomena in popular and high culture that have led people back to it? And what do the different approaches being taken say about the appeal of the subject?

A: Beowulf’, an archaic oral tale transmitted — possibly for centuries — by bardic performers, was finally written down at some point about one thousand years ago and has since entered into the calmer textual realms of ‘literature’ and ‘poetry.’ And yet, it never lost its terrifying archaic core, the nostalgia of the early medieval English kingdoms for their tough germanic ancestors, the bizarre intermingling of pagan and Christian views of life and fate, a warrior’s world of weapons and golden rewards dispensed by the clan chieftain while hearing sung war-stories in the mead-hall.

One of the driving forces in this world is fear: not so much fear of the mortal enemy living nearby as fear of the unknown evils of the darkness, in the case of Grendel and his mother monstrous beings who are only vaguely like humans, who eat human flesh, and who cannot be easily touched by traditional human weapons. It is only Beowulf who can defeat the monster Grendel, by leaving aside his weapons and vowing to fight with bare hands. It defies logic.

Maybe this has something to do with Beowulf’s wide appeal and the many different interpretations which have been based on the story: it is by definition archaic, shifting, not based on reason or logic or any other ‘modern’ mindset. Scholars will debate endlessly whether or not the story is Christian, but there is no real solution. The foamy-necked Beowulf boat has room for many modern passengers.

Finally this: Unlike tales of knights in shining armor and deeds of chivalry, Beowulf is from the far reaches of European history, a world of tribes and blood vengeance; it was already ‘medieval’ in the 11th century, already ancient, terrifying, and able to hold listeners spellbound. And of course it goes without saying that part of its huge appeal today rests simply in the fact that it is made up of such beautifully crafted images and sounds.

In brief, what is the historical significance of Beowulf? How do you describe what you do? A historical recreation of how the original poem was read aloud?

“Beowulf” is the only surviving epic text in English. It was copied into a manuscript (below) in ca. 1000 but is probably based on a much older orally transmitted tale. We still possess the manuscript and it is the sole source.

What I do is a performance, presenting the story in much the same way it would have been heard by listeners more than 1,000 years ago.

The text was never “read aloud” since by the time of the manuscript production it was already a historical document. It was “performed,” using all the arts of the storyteller: voice (singing and speaking and everything in-between), instrumental accompaniment on the 6-string harp (below), and physical movement (limited due to the instrument).

How has your performance changed over the years?

Since 2000 it has changed only in small ways that I would notice.

How do your audiences typically react to your reading and playing? What have they said you about it?

I like to think they react positively, but then I’m the wrong person to ask. Try the Press rubric on my website for some opinions. With few exceptions, the people who speak to me about my performance have expressed a positive point of view. Please note that my performance is not a ‘reading’.

What does “music” add to the text and what does the text illuminate the music?

We know that oral poets performed such texts musically, with harp accompaniment. It’s even mentioned in the Beowulf story. The text is formally structured and suits musical realization, but nothing I do is composed or written down.

I am using the text and the instrument to re-enter the realm of oral poetry performance in early medieval England. Please see the program notes on my website for more information about text and also about the instrument.

What should people listen for in a language they cannot understand and in a music that is far back in time?

Translated into modern English, the text gains in comprehension but loses its identity. Text is music; if you translate it, then it’s a different music and that’s not what would interest me.

Is there a modern translation of  “Beowulf” you recommend such as Seamus Heaney’s, which was a bestseller a few years ago?

Again, I’m the wrong person to ask since I only work with the original. Seamus Heaney’s translation is beautiful and thoughtfully done, a fine poem in itself.

Here is a sample of Bagby’s “Beowulf” from YouTube:

If you go to hear Bagby and “Beowulf,” what did you think?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music preview: Ninth annual Opera in the Park this Saturday will incorporate texting donations for the first time as part of the fun

July 15, 2010
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By Jacob Stockinger

If Opera in Park (below) isn’t the single biggest and most ambitious live classical music event that takes place in Madison, it is hard to think of what is.

The ninth annual event – which will take place this Saturday at 8 p.m. in Garner Park on Madison’s far west side – will probably draw more than 13,000 people, depending on the weather and the program’s appeal. (The rain date is Sunday.)

As usual, the event -– put on by the Madison Opera -– will feature Madison Opera artistic director John DeMain conducting instrumentalists from the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Madison Opera Chorus and four guests soloists who will be featured in the Madison Opera’s three shows during the upcoming season.

The repertoire  (use the link below) is also drawn from the Madison Opera’s new season, which offers Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro,” Kurt Weill’s “The Three-Penny Opera” and Verdi’s “La Traviata.”

In addition, the concert will celebrate the 80th birthday of Broadway titan Stephen Sondheim’s – whose credits include “West Side Story” – and the 50th anniversary of “The Sound of Music.” It will also feature a Donizetti aria that made Luciano Pavarotti famous for its 9 high C’s, plus Dvorak’s lovely “Song to the Moon” as well as selections from “Phantom of the Opera.”

For more information about the event, including parking, soloist biographies, history and repertoire, visit:

And here is an account from someone– a Madison Opera staff member — who works on the event:

Allan Naplan (below), the general director of the Madison Opera and the person in charge of Opera in the Park, recently spoke to The Ear about the event:

This is your sixth Opera in the Park. Is it still fun for you, John and the musicians?

Oh yeah. It’s very fun. This event is a tremendous experience from the planning and execution to the outcome, which has been such a big success. In a given season we get to choose three pieces for the season but for Opera in the Park, we have such a vast array of the entire repertoire to offer.

We get to show the full spectrum of opera and its evolution, including operetta and musical theater and Broadway. We really both experience the occasion as a chance to offer a full range of musical experience. If we can show that connection, that’s important.

I can’t speak for the orchestra musicians, but the principal singers are amazed every time they step out into the park and see 13,000 fans. It’s amazing and unheard of in most of their careers. There are a few opera companies that do concerts out-of-doors, but on a per-capita basis Madison is the biggest and has the highest percentage of attendance.

What about overall costs and logistics? Can you give readers some idea of the complexity of the event?

It costs more than $200,000 to put on. There is no ticket revenue so it is also balanced through contributions and extraordinary foundations and corporate supporters, which love to touch such a wide public.

It’s very complex to set up. We’re basically creating an actual theater in Garner Park. We have to bring in all the power, the lighting — for the safety of the audience, we use massive house floodlights as well as the stage lighting – and we have to bring in all the infrastructure, including the porta-potties, which increase every year. We are creating a theater park from scratch.

We usually get upwards of 13,000 people. To be able to sustain this number is wonderful, and I think we basically are doing that. With the remarkable retention, it is constantly growing. We’re filling the park right now and that is something we want to achieve. It’s like filling Overture Hall – there is a spirit that comes from performing for a capacity crowd.

Are there new things you have added?

The repertoire, of course, is new because it will reflect the new season. Other than that, the event is pretty well established by now.

Aside from repertoire, this year we will have donations by texting. You can text the word “Opera” to 20222 and a $10 donation will be made to the Opera in the Park fund. This has become a very popular method of making a contribution, whether for Haiti or other causes. People are so tied into mobile phones and don’t bring cash to the park.

The texting audience is vast and includes all ages, but it also attracts young people. Texting is so easy to do, it has become second nature to them.

Do have special messages or warning for those who attend?

Just to urge people to obey the usual rules of the park – no grills, no alcohol, no dogs. But we encourage picnic dinners and hope that families make a full evening out of it. The park opens at 7 a.m. and right at 7 a.m. there are people putting down their blankets for the performance.

How attentive do you find the crowd compared to other events or concerts?

It is very different from, say, Concerts on the Square. We start later. Performers feel they have the audience’s attention. The hillside slope of the park helps. Everyone is facing forward toward the stage, so you can’t help but be focused on the stage.

Plus, the human voice has a significant way of attracting attention that is different from an orchestral sound. It brings more personality to the expression of art and grasps someone’s attention.

How do audiences generally behave and react to the music?

It’s tremendous. We get very loud applause. And we typically sell about 7,000 light sticks. People love to participate in the performance, which includes a sing-along.

Next year is the 10th anniversary. Is Opera in the Park here to stay?

That’s our intention. But there is no ticket revenue, so it’s a hard thing to predict. It can never be a sure thing. If it has survived the last nine years, that’s a pretty good sign.

Does it help Madison Opera’s attendance during its regular season? Does it increase donations?

We’ll have about 250 people attending the pre-concert donation support dinner. It’s crucial. It’s key. It thanks generous supporters who make the event possible and provides an entry point for people to become associated with the Opera in the Park and with Madison Opera.

We receive many, many donations at and after Opera in the Park. We feel the impact resonates throughout the season and the year. A gift made in December may reflect having gone to Opera in the Part. We know that people buy tickets from the brochure for the regular season that will be available at the park. In the days and weeks after Opera in the Park, we will see a large number tickets sold.

Come the fall, people will remember Opera in the Park and that we previewed the season. So it has an impact. Next season we have very recognizable operas, but the impact is especially huge with unknown repertoire. We take it as a chance to celebrate Madison Opera.

If you go to Opera in the Park, let The Ear know about what you thought of it.

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music datebook: Best Bets for July 14-20 include a collision between Opera in the Park and the finale of the Madison Early Music Festival as well as the return of native son pianist Eric Daub. Plus, Happy Bastille Day!

July 14, 2010
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By Jacob Stockinger

It still amazes me.

You wouldn’t expect a city of Madison’s size to have so many classical music events that listeners are forced to make uncomfortable choices.

But that is indeed the reality.

Such scheduling conflicts usually happen several times during the regular concert season.

But it also happens this week during the summer: On this Saturday night, for example, you can attend the free, popular and superbly done Opera in the Park (below top); or you can attend an appealing all-choral concert that culminates the week-long Madison Early Music Festival. (It isn’t the first time the two worthy events have conflicted in scheduling.)

Both events will be treated more at length on this blog later this week. But here are summaries that may help you make up your mind.

The Madison Opera’s ninth annual Opera in the Park will feature four imported vocal soloists, instrumentalists from the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Madison Opera Chorus -– all under the baton of Madison Symphony Orchestra maestro and Madison Opera artistic director John De Main.

The event – to start at 8 p.m. Saturday night in Garner Park on Madison’s far west side – has drawn more than 13,000 listeners. The park opens at 7 a.m. and people start putting down blankets right then, some 13 hours before curtain time.

This year’s program includes excerpts from the Madison Opera three productions during the upcoming season (Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro,” Kurt Weill’s “The Three-Penny Opera” and Verdi’s “La Traviata”) as well as an 80th birthday tribute to Broadway titan Stephen Sondheim and the 50th anniversary of “The Sound of Music.”

Here is a link with more information about the event, the performers, the program and the park including parking at CUNA Mutual and Research Park:

Also on Saturday night in the All-Festival concert by the Madison early Music Festival (MEMF), below, which this year has explored English music from the 11th through the 16th centuries.

(Other festival events this week include a free lecture today at 11 a.m. on Chaucer; various faculty artists performing secular Medieval, Renaissance and Elizabethan music on Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; and the acclaimed scholar-performer Benjamin Bagby in a harp-oral performance of the epic poem “Beowulf” in the original Anglo-Saxon on Friday at 7:30 p.m.)

The All-Festival performance – which will be lucky to draw 5 percent of the house that Opera in the Park will draw — will feature major choral works by Thomas Tallis, John Taverner and others including Robert Carver, Robert Johnson and Christopher Tye. The concert will be conducted by Bruce Gladstone and David Douglass. Performers will include professional early music groups that have acted as faculty members, festival “students” and community members.

Tickets at the door are $17, $14 for senior over 62 and students.

Tickets include a free one-hour pre-concert lecture by UW emeritus professor of Medieval history John W. Barker at 6:30 in Mills Hall.

For more information, here are links:

Earlier on Saturday, the festival also offers a FREE public  roundtable discussion on scholar-performer Benjamin Bagby about his performing “Beowulf” in the original Anglo-Saxon with an Anglo-Saxon harp. The roundtable, sponsored by Wisconsin Public Radio, will be held at 1:30 p.m. in Mills Hall. WPR host Norman Gilliland and UW scholar John D. Niles will also participate.

Then later on Sunday a native son returns to Madison. Concert pianist Eric Daub (below), will appear in a salon concert at 7:30 p.m. at Farley’s House of Pianos, 6522 Seybold Road, on Madison’s far west side.

Daub’s program includes 32 Variations on an Original Theme, WoO 80 by Beethoven; selections from “Impresiones íntimas” by Federico Mompou; the Sonata in A minor D 784 (op.143) by Franz Schubert; and “Andalucía” by Ernesto Lecuona.

Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for seniors and students with ID.  A reception follows the concert.

Tickets can be reserved with a credit card by calling 271-2626. You can purchase tickets at Farley’s House of Pianos, 6522 Seybold Road, Madison, or Orange Tree Imports on Monroe Street.

Daub, who holds a doctorate in Piano Performance from the University of Texas at Austin, is a professor of piano and music theory at Texas Lutheran University in Seguin, Texas. He was born in Kyoto, Japan, and grew up in Lawrence, Kansas, and Madison, Wisconsin.

He received a Bachelor of Music in Piano Performance from the University of Wisconsin in 1982, studying the piano with Tait Barrows and Leo Stephens, and jazz piano with Ted Jackson and Richard Davis.

In 1985, he moved to Austin, Texas to pursue a Master of Music and a Doctor of Musical Arts in Piano Performance at the University of Texas at Austin, studying piano and accompanying. His doctoral thesis was on composer Frederic Mompou.

Daub has a wide range of experience as a solo recitalist, chamber musician, recording artist, accompanist, church musician, arranger, jazz, blues and gospel pianist, and rock keyboardist.  He has worked repeatedly with various singer-song writers in the Austin area co-writing, arranging, and recording music in a variety of styles. His musical collaborations have brought him into contact with musicians from many stylistic genres.

For more information, visit:

If you go to any of the events — Opera in the Park or the Madison Early Music Festival – be sure to let the rest of us know what you thought of it.

Be a critic.

The Ear wants to hear.

And to mark today’s celebration of Bastille Day, here is superstar tenor Robert Alagna singing an operatic arrangement by Berlioz of the French national anthem “La Marseillaise.”

Posted in Classical music

Classical music news: Mahler turns 150 and a new Mahler website — with a People’s Edition — has been launched by Deutsche Grammophon and Decca records

July 13, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

Attention, all Mahlerites!

Or is it Mahlerians?

This past Wednesday, July 7, was the 150th anniversary of the birth of composer Gustav Mahler (below). (And 2011 will see the 100 the anniversary of his death.)

Two big record labels – Deutsche Grammophon and Decca – have come up with what The Ear thinks is a great idea for marking and marketing the event.

In addition to regular new releases and reissues plus a special Mahler website, they are setting up a “People’s Edition” that invites ordinary listeners to design an appropriate anniversary edition of the classical giant.

Here is the “original text” – that is, the press release:

(New York, NY) July 7, 2010 – During this Mahler anniversary year Deutsche Grammophon and Decca lead the way by honoring the revolutionary composer with Mahler 150.

Certainly one of the most influential composers of symphonies and song-cycles, Mahler will be feted with a website that encourages exploration of his works, a “People’s Edition” (below) selected and programmed by listeners, and an impressive line-up of new releases and rare re-issues.

Today is the 150th anniversary of Mahler’s birth and the composer will be celebrated with numerous live concerts (including a recital with Thomas Hampson in Mahler’s birth-house in Kaliste, Czech Republic which will be web-cast live on htttp://

Deutsche Grammophon and Decca join the celebration by launching a new website devoted to the richest catalog of Mahler recordings in existence as well as beginning a number of long reaching initiatives.

The Mahler 150 website,, is devoted to the composer and his music and will offer full-track streaming of the complete Deutsche Grammophon and Decca Mahler catalogs – featuring some 180 symphony recordings – with integrated shop links for instant purchase on CD or download.  (Full-track streaming will be available for all titles next week, though most are available now).

Additionally, there will be a comprehensive out-of-print section of over 60 recordings, including important recordings that have become virtually unobtainable and legendary performances from the archives that are being made available for the first time in digital form via the DG Web Shop.  (No purchase is necessary to enjoy the free streaming and to participate in the voting).

“Mahler – The People’s Edition” invites music lovers to compile and vote online for their own dream cycle by taking advantage of our full-track streaming to compare any or all of the combined Deutsche Grammophon and Decca 180 recordings of Mahler symphonies.

The “winning” complete set will be released as a CD box-set this fall.

A host of major new releases will also accompany the celebrations, including Pierre Boulez’s new Cleveland Orchestra recording of “Des Knaben Wunderhorn” with mezzo Magdalena Kožená and baritone Christian Gerhaher; a new recording of Thomas Hampson performing “Des Knaben Wunderhorn” as well scheduled for January 2011; and the Mahler Complete Edition (below) on 18 CDs (already available) featuring classic recordings by Claudio Abbado, Leonard Bernstein, Pierre Boulez, Riccardo Chailly, Carlo Maria Giulini, Bernard Haitink, Herbert von Karajan, Rafael Kubelik, Zubin Mehta, Seiji Ozawa, Giuseppe Sinopoli and Sir Georg Solti.

Mahler himself famously proclaimed: “A symphony must be like the world. It must contain everything.”

Inspired by that challenge, Mahler 150 will embrace his vast musical world in a multi-dimensional format certain to engross Mahler lovers everywhere as well as create new admirers for this endlessly fascinating composer.

His time is now!”

What do you think of the idea of a People’s Edition?

Do you intend to contribute to it?

Do you have a favorite Mahler symphony or work and a favorite performance of it?

The Ear to hear.

Posted in Classical music
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