The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music review: Madison’s maestro John DeMain gets raves for conducting Verdi’s “Aida” for the Virginia Opera | October 24, 2011

By Jacob Stockinger

Whenever he is in town and conducting, a lot of attention deservedly goes to John DeMain (below, in a photo by James Gill), the music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Madison Opera.

And rightfully so.

But it is easy to forget that Madison has a musician with a national and international reputation, known especially for conducting opera.

And it is good to be reminded of the top talent we have here in our midst, for 18 years now, but which we sometimes take for granted.

So The Ear thought it would be a good idea to check in and see what the critics said about DeMain and his new production of Verdi’s iconic and popular but problematical and difficult-to-stage “Aida” that he conducted and took on tour to Norfolk and Fairfax for the Virginia Opera, based in Richmond, which also featured the Richmond Ballet.

After all, that is where the jet-setting DeMain went right after he opened the MSO season with its 9/11 commemoration featuring works by John Adams, Grieg and Beethoven; and where he was when, for the second MSO concert of the season, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra’s Resident Conductor Ward Stare came to guest conduct the last program with Rossini, Lalo and Sibelius.

That was a fine performance. But somehow, I think we grant liberties, license and the benefit of the doubt to an out-of-town guest more than to a veteran resident.

Not to worry, DeMain will be back on the podium for the Madison Opera’s performances on Nov. 4 and 6 of Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin” and then again for the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Nov. 11, 12 and 13 concerts with violinist Midori in the Shostakovich Violin Concerto No. 1, Haydn’s Symphony No. 104 and Ravel’s “La Valse.”

In the meantime, we have to ask: So how did Maestro DeMain do with the Virginia Opera’s “Aida”?

As they say, Read all about it:

First there is The Washington Post, critic, formerly of the New york Times, Anne Midgette, who is notoriously difficult to please – just ask superstar tenor Placido Domingo with whom Midgette recently got in an nasty spat – but who was quite pleased with this production of “Aida”:

Here are some other less prominent but no less laudatory and positive reviews:

Clearly, DeMain did himself and the Virginia Opera proud.

Which is to say he also did Madison proud.

Posted in Classical music


  1. Have a thought for your blog. Why are Opera Conductors so many times very fine symphony
    conductors? Levine, Solti, Abbado and others come to mind. It might be, that these conductors
    try to make the symphonic repertoire as colorful as possible. The different orchestra members are,
    so to speak. “singers.” In Europe many music directors conduct opera and symphony. Madison is unique.
    Like to get your thought on this, Dr. Jake.
    Best, Barbara DeMain

    Comment by Barbara DeMain — October 24, 2011 @ 12:46 am

    • Hi Barbara,
      I think you make excellent points and i agree with you completely.
      Singing is really the basis of all instrumental music, except perhaps percussion, and opera conducting helps to sharpen accompanying skills and the ability to bring out and contrasst competing or complementary “voices” and lines.
      BUT: Madison is not unique. John DeMain also does both symphony and orchestra conducting.
      And I say they feed each other, even here in Madtown.
      During his recent master class at the UW, keyboardist and period pianist Malcolm Bilson urged students to step away from the piano and just sing their compositions or pieces to get a better idea about how to perform and interpret them. Wise advice from a master, no?
      Thanks for reading and replying and being there as a good friend of me and my blog.

      Comment by welltemperedear — October 25, 2011 @ 9:44 am

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