The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music news: This Saturday the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s “Space Place” will offer FREE background to the Madison Opera’s upcoming production of Philip Glass’ opera “Galileo”

January 9, 2012
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

The “music of the spheres” may be old metaphor, but it is also a new reality in which classical music and astronomy mix, especially in opera.

Increasingly, it seems like scientists are the equivalent of artist-heroes in the 19th century. They now have the makings of dramatic opera, at least in the 20th century. Philip Glass’ “Einstein on the Beach” and John Adams’ “Doctor Atomic” about J. Robert Oppenheimer come immediately to mind. And I am sure there are others.

But one of modern operas scientists-heroes is Galileo Galilei (1564-1642, below), the same 16th century Italian pioneering astronomer whose discoveries about  sun-centered solar system were banned by the Roman Catholic Church and who drew the attention of the playwright Bertolt Brecht when he wrote his play “Galileo,” with famed actor Charles Laughton in the title role.

Minimalist composer Philip Glass (below), who turns 75 on Jan. 31, also wrote an opera in 2001 about “Galileo.” And that opera is what the Madison Opera will stage Jan. 26-29 in the Overture Center’s Playhouse. (It is a singular production, since you will not find a recording or pictures from previous productions of Glass’ “Galileo.”)

For information about the opera, the cast, the times and date of performance, and tickets, visit:

You will notice that the Madison Opera is offering an Up-Close preview for “Galileo” on Jan. 22 from 1 to 3 p.m. in the Lecture Hall of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art in the Overture Center. Admission is $20. Here is information about that:

But perhaps even more intriguingly, the Madison Opera and the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Space Place, located at 2300 South Park Street, are teaming up to offer a FREE event that explores the discoveries and legacy of Galileo. (A page  from his notebooks is below.)

The program is called “Galileo’s Heavens” and will take place on this Saturday, Jan. 14, at 4 p.m. Space is limited, and the deadline for reservations is this Wednesday.

Reservations can be made online at or by calling Madison Opera at (608) 238-8085.

The opera company hopes to have several singers from the cast there.

Here is a capsule description:

“The adventurous and curious are invited to learn more about Galileo’s work and inventions through a special event hosted by UW Madison’s Space Place.

“Tour the Space Place exhibit hall, receive an introduction to Galileo’s amazing discoveries from Space Place Director, and UW astronomer Dr. James Lattis (below).

“View Jupiter (below top) and Venus (below bottom) through a telescope from the Space Place observation deck (weather permitting).

“In addition to these free activities, you can try your hand at invention and continue astronomical observing at home by purchasing a Galileoscope telescope kit, which Space Place will help you assemble.

“The event (hot cocoa included) is free; the Galileoscope kits are $20 each (cash or check only).

The reservation deadline is this Wednesday, January 11.

The relevant websites to visit for information about the “Galileo’s Heavens” event are:

UW Madison Space Place website:

If you want to know more about the “Galileo-scope” telescope that attendees can build, visit:

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