The Well-Tempered Ear

Super Bowl weekend is super-packed with classical music in tune with a country in recession and at war. The music includes opera, early music, chamber music and rarely heard art songs related to the UW.

February 2, 2011
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By Jacob Stockinger

This is Super Bowl weekend, a special time for fans of the Green Bay Packers.

But it just so happens that this weekend is also super-packed with events that even the hardiest fans may not make it to everything.

Still, the national  football championship has even caused at least one event to move its performance time up so as not to conflict or lose audience members. But with a kickoff time of 5:30 p.m. (on FOX), there should be time to take in both great music and great football.

The BIG event this week in the opening of the Madison Opera’s production of Bertolt Brecht’s and Kurt Weill’s 1928 “The Threepenny Opera.” The production – sung in English — opens this Friday at 8 p.m. and runs through Feb. 13 in The Playhouse of the Overture Center.

It marks not only the second of the 50th anniversary productions of the Madison Opera, but also the departing production for general director Allan Naplan, who leaves Madison on Feb. 15 to take up duties as the new head of the Minneapolis Opera.

To The Ear, this production seems an inspired choice to do during The Great Recession. (See the interview I did with John DeMain that ran yesterday.)

With music deeply rooted in jazz and Viennese operetta, “The Threepenny Opera” follows the notorious criminal Macheath as he navigates a corrupt world of beggars, thieves and prostitutes in Victorian London. The 2-1/2 hour work has been hailed by Newsweek as “the greatest musical of all time,” and the work contains several numbers that have achieved popularity beyond the stage, including the iconic “Mack the Knife.”

The Madison Opera’s production (which uses a set, below, from the Omaha Opera) of “The Threepenny Opera,” which is based on John Gay’s “ 1728 play “The Beggar’s Operas, is directed by Dorothy Danner, a highly acclaimed stage director of musical theater and opera, with music direction by John DeMain, the Artistic Director of Madison Opera.

The production will also showcase American Players Theatre favorites James DeVita (below center)and Tracy Michelle Arnold (below right).  DeVita, an accomplished actor, author and playwright, takes on the role of the infamous Macheath, and Arnold, described as a “natural charismatic force” by The Chicago Tribune, stars as Jenny Diver.

In her Madison Opera debut, Alicia Berneche (above left) reprises her role as Polly Peachum alongside veteran Broadway performer David Barron as J.J. Peachum. Madison-based artists Amy Welk, Richard Henslin, Liz Cassarino, and Edward Marion complete the cast as Mrs. Peachum, Tiger Brown, Lucy Brown, and the Street Singer, respectively.

Free Pre-Opera talks will be offered one hour before performances on Feb. 4, 6, 11, and 13 in the Rotunda Studio at Overture. (There is no Pre-Opera Talk at Saturday evening performances.)

Performances are this Friday, Feb. 4, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Feb. 5, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, Feb. 6, at 2:30 p.m.; and next Friday, Feb. 11, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Feb. 12, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Feb. 13, at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets run $20-$64. Call (608) 258-4141, (608) 258-4141 or visit

Noted for her inventive staging, guest director Dorothy Danner (below) has directed nearly 200 productions of operettas, musicals and plays throughout the United States, Canada and Belgium, including operas for the companies of Glimmerglass, Houston, Philadelphia, Miami, Cleveland, Minnesota, Cincinnati, Portland, Kansas City, Virginia and for San Francisco’s Merola Program.

Her production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in New York for the Juilliard School garnered wide critical acclaim, as did her PBS Tribute to Gilbert and Sullivan for the Boston Pops and her television staging of Richard Wargo’s opera, Ballymore. A dedicated and inspiring teacher, she was co-founder of the Glimmerglass Opera Young American Artist Program, has served on the faculties of the Juilliard School, the Curtis Institute of Music and the Chautauqua Institution.

But the Madison Opera’s “Threepenny Opera” isn’t the only thing happening on Friday.

The First Unitarian Society’s free Noon Musicale from 12:15 to 1 p.m. at 900 University Bay Drive, will feature the Kendalwood String Quartet (below) in music of Haydn and Debussy. For information, call (608) 233-9774.


At 7:30 p.m. in Oakwood Village West’s Auditorium, 6209 Mineral Point Road, the Oakwood Chamber Players will perform “Lullaby Lane.” The concert will be repeated Sunday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. at the UW Arboretum Visitors Center.

The program includes Gershwin’s Lullaby arranged for string quartet; Saint-Saens’ Piano Quartet; and Arthur Foote’s Nocturne and Scherzo for flute and strings.

For more information and ticket reservations ($20 general admission, $15 for seniors, $5 for students) visit:

At 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, UW baritone Paul Rowe (below top) and UW pianist Martha Fischer (below bottom) will perform an unusual and arresting program of songs composed between 1888 and 1924, a period most significantly defined by World War I.

Selections include six songs from “A Shropshire Lad” by George Butterworth, to poetry by A. E. Housman; three songs by Charles Ives, including “In Flanders Fields”; two songs by Maurice Ravel; “Harfenspieler” I, II and III by Hugo Wolf; and “A Cycle of Love Lyrics,” Op. 73 by Louis Adolphe Coerne, settings of poems by William Ellery Leonard. (Coerne was director of the School of Music from 1910 to 1914 and Leonard was professor of English from 1906 to 1944.)

Admission is free and open to the public.


On Sunday at 1:30 p.m. – moved earlier because of the Packer in the Super Bowl – at the historic Gates of Heaven Synagogue (below), 302 East Gorham Street in James Madison Park – the early music group Eliza’s Toyes will perform.

The program “Treasures of Seville” features music from the late 14th century through late 16th century, composed by Sevillanos such as Morales, Vasquez, de la Torre, Alonso, Achieta, Escobar, Pedro and Fracisco Guerrero and more.

Eliza’s Toyes (below) is a small group of musicians who began as a vocal group in the Madison Early Music Festival, and has grown to include instruments as well: Arielle Basil, soprano; Katherine Peck, soprano; Sandy Erickson, alto/recorders; Theresa Koenig, alto/dulcian; Steve Johnson, tenor; Ben Li, baritone; Jerry Hui, bass/recorders; and Doug Towne, lute.

Prof. Steven Hutchinson, from the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the UW-Madison, will give a pre-concert lecture at 1 p.m. on Seville’s history, and its significance in both the development of Spain as well as music history in general.

Admission is free, but a free-will donation will be accepted

For more information, including performer biographies, recordings and photos, visit:

Earlier on Sunday, “Sunday Afternoon Live from the Chazen” features the Lawrence Chamber Players (below) from 12:30 to 2 p.m. in Brittingham Gallery III at the Chazen Museum of Art. It will be broadcast live by Wisconsin Public Radio.

The program of classics includes Beethoven’s Duo in E-flat for Viola and Violoncello and Brahms’ Trio No. 1 in B Major for Piano, Violin, and Violoncello, Op. 8.

The Lawrence Chamber Players include Lawrence University faculty Wen Lei Gu, Samantha George, Matthew Michelic, Mark Urness, Janet Anthony and Howard Niblock.  John Eckstein, visiting cello professor from the University of Utah, who will be playing for Janet Anthony who is on sabbatical.

Members of the Chazen Museum of Art or Wisconsin Public Radio can call ahead and reserve seats for Sunday Afternoon Live performances. Seating is limited. All reservations must be made Monday through Friday before the concert and claimed by 12:20 p.m. on the day of the performance. For more information or to learn how to become a museum member, contact the Chazen Museum at (608) 263-2246.

A reception follows the performance, with refreshments generously donated by Fresh Madison Market, Coffee Bytes and Step & Brew. A free docent-led tour in the Chazen galleries begins every Sunday at 2 p.m.

Posted in Classical music

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