The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music Q&A: Founder Dean Schroeder talks about the inaugural Handel Aria Competition at this year’s Madison Early Music Festival on Monday night, July 8. | July 5, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

Dean Schroeder is known primarily as a knowledgeable, helpful and amiable local businessman who, with his wife Carol “Orange” Schroeder, owns and runs Orange Tree Imports on Monroe Street.

But the Schroeders are also serious fans of classical music. They attend, participate in and sponsor many events, including the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society and the Madison Bach Musicians.

Their latest venture, though, is especially interesting: they founded the first annual Handel Aria Competition, which they hope will become an annual event at the Madison Early Music Festival that starts tomorrow, on Saturday, and runs through Friday, July 12. Given the global Handel revival in the past decade, the timing couldn’t be more perfect to build audiences for Handel and audiences for the festival.

memf 14 logo

The final round of the competition will be held on Monday night, July 8, at 7 p.m. in Mills Hall as part of the 14th annual Madison Early Music Festival. Admission is FREE and open to the public.

Handel etching

Here are links to a previous blog post about the festival overall, and to the festival’s own website and to a special website about the Handel aria competition:

Dean Schroeder (seen below with his wife Orange) recently talked with The Ear in an e-mail about the Handel aria contest:

Carol %22Orange%22 and Dean Schroeder

How and when did you come up with the idea for the Handel aria competition?

Over the past few years, I have realized my strong affinity to Handel’s vocal music, especially the arias and duets from his many operas and oratorios.

I previously had no appreciation for opera, but one day I was driving down Monroe Street and heard, on Wisconisn Public Radio’s WERN (88.7 FM), an aria that was so delightfully melodic and lively that I had to pull over and listen. It was “Tornami a vagheggiar,” sung by Natalie Dessay (below in a different live performance in a YouTube video) on William Christie’s recording of “Alcina,” also featuring Renee Fleming and Susan Graham.

In that life-changing moment I knew I had to seek it out, and eventually found great pleasure in discovering dozens of other arias from Handel’s works. We are lucky to be in a period of revival of Handel’s music, and I’d recommend YouTube for its countless selection of arias to explore.

How will the contest be run and judged?

The judges will be tenor William Hudson (below top), soprano Ellen Hargis (below middle) and the local music critic, retired UW-Madison medieval history professor and choral singer John W. Barker (below bottom).

The first two are regulars on the Madison Early Music Festival’s faculty, and will be performing in the week’s concerts as well.

The three will have to coordinate on the criteria, applying their expertise to determine the standards they will use to judge. They will determine the top three prizes, which are cash.

The audience will get to vote via ballot for their favorite.  This winner will get a free ticket for tuition to the Early Music Festival next year.

William Hudson



Why did you want to create such a contest? Do you think it will expand the audience for the Madison Early music Festival?

About a year ago, I learned of the annual Handel aria competition in London, which is part of a month-long celebration of Handel (below). Thanks to Paul and Cheryl Rowe, we have been able to create our own competition to encourage young singers as part of the annual Madison Early Music Festival.

They have generously welcomed the idea and worked to make it happen, and I believe it will result in additional interest and enthusiasm for the Festival in the coming years. We were delighted to have almost 50 singers audition this year, and anticipate an increase in future years.

handel big 2

Do you yourselves have a favorite Handel aria or favorite Handel arias? Do you have favorite performers of those arias you could recommend recordings of?

A few years back I was lucky to attend the Lyric Opera’s production of Handel’s “Hercules,” conducted by Harry Bicket.  He brought with him a soprano, for a supporting role, who stunned the audience with her gorgeous voice:  Lucy Crowe (below).

Her latest recording project, Handel’s “Il pastor fido,” is one that I am highly recommending for the talent of the young singers and musicians, as well as the sonic beauty of the performance space: the Temple Church in London.  (There is also an interesting YouTube video of the making of the recording:

lucy crowe

In addition to those singers mentioned, I really enjoy hearing Joyce DiDonato, David Daniels (below), Ian Bostridge, Andreas Scholl, Mark Padmore, Lorraine Hunt-Lieberson, Sandrine Piau, Maite Beaumont … the list is long and growing larger!  A good starting CD might be Harmonia Mundi’s CD box “Handel: Famous Arias.”

David Daniels

Is there anything else you would like to say or add?

I’ve been taking singing lessons from Ben Luedcke (below) for about four years, and have been in all three of his choirs: Madison Choral Arts Society, UW Men’s Choir and Madison Summer Choir (the latter two he founded).

Ben Luedcke.1jpg

I’m a tenor, and the Handel I’ve attempted includes: “As Steals the Morn” (a gorgeous duet, sung by Ian Bostridge and Lynne Dawson in a YouTube video at the bottom); “Waft Her, Angels” (a plaintive aria from the oratorio “Jeptha,” which we just saw in Boston by the Handel and Haydn Society and which will be sung by our tenor on Monday); AND I’ve sung the soprano part an octave down in these duets: “Io t’abbraccio” and “Son nata a lagrimar” (the lament from “Giulio Cesare”) … I love the duets, and it works surprisingly well to “flip” parts!

Handel was a master of every voice range and expresses a wide range of emotions.  His arias are very approachable and engaging, and many are extremely moving.  It is so good to see the increase in appreciation for Handel’s genius, beyond just “Messiah,” (which everyone knows and loves).  I loved the Madison Opera’s and John DeMain’s production of “Acis and Galatea,” and look forward to more local productions of Handel, including the University Opera’s upcoming presentation of “Ariodante” on  October 25–29.

Along with hearing more Handel, I hope more people will try singing his gorgeous arias and duets.  I’ve only been singing a few years, but have attempted a few of them with credible results. They are not beyond the average singer, and they are greatly satisfying to sing.



  1. […] Classical music Q&A: Founder Dean Schroeder talks about the inaugural Handel Aria Competition at… ( […]


    Pingback by What I’ve Been Singing This Week (I): I Know That My Redeemer Liveth: Handel | Poetic Mapping: Walking into Art — August 22, 2013 @ 7:46 am

  2. Turning anything into a contest changes its nature. It’s the difference between watching Julia Child and watching “Iron Chef.” You introduce factors that have nothing to do with the enjoyment of music.

    I understand that competition is endemic to American life and as traditional as a blue ribbon on a pie at the county fair. But it requires winners and losers, and if a singer is declared a loser in front of an audience that has just heard her sing her heart out, it is both public and humiliating. I don’t think your own skin is so thick about musical competitions that you can fail to grasp this.

    But, since we have the Handel Aria Smackdown debut ahead, maybe the losers can exit singing “He Was Despised” from “Messiah.”


    Comment by Ron McCrea — July 6, 2013 @ 9:15 am

    • I think you have a point but are being overly dramatic about this aria competition, which bugs you for some reason and is hardly a smack-down. It sounds a lot more cooperative than competitive.

      These singers are all good and have been pre-screened. The judges don’t declare losers, and three out of the eight get cash prizes.
      Just some will be deemed better than others. Others can always disagree.

      Who does better Chopin? Rubinstein or Hororwtz or Pollini or Ax? Taste and subjectivity always come into these so-called “competitions.”
      Like “Iron Chef”? Too pop culture.
      But also not individual enough to be like Julia Child.
      More like the Beethoven sonata contest at UW,
      or maybe the Met auditions?
      Or the Van Cliburn and Tchaikovsky piano competitions?

      RE my own thin skin at losing a piano competition when I was young?
      Sure, I was disappointed.
      But I was not devastated enough to turn away form music or the piano.
      And I learned exactly what I needed to know:
      I didn’t have the talent or the stage temperament for a professional career as a pianist.
      Better to learn it at 16 then at 25.

      I expect that nobody will be despised.
      But that aria from “Messiah” might just be the winner!


      Comment by welltemperedear — July 6, 2013 @ 9:50 am

  3. Call me peevish, but there is something that bothers me about the very idea of a Handel aria competition. Why burden this delicate pleasure with the reality show ritual of winners, losers, and public humiliation?

    Let there be auditions ahead of time, but let performance be for art and enjoyment only.


    Comment by Ron McCrea — July 5, 2013 @ 1:18 am

    • Hi Ron,
      Thanks for reading and replying.
      I’ll let other readers determine whether you are being peevish.
      I just think you are wrong.
      I don’t see how this is like some reality TV show.
      It is a pretty self-selecting audience, for one, that attends the Madison Early Music Festival and Baroque music in live performance.
      And, for another I just don’t see where there is public humiliation that comes into the picture.
      Preliminaries have already been held.
      I suspect all the finalists will be quite good and none will embarrass himself or herself.
      And I also look forward to hearing some new arias, given that there are so many arias in so very many Handel operas and oratorios that I don’t know.
      And besides the contest, there are performances “for art and enjoyment only” just about every other night from this Saturday to next Friday.
      The aria competition should be great fun and an excellent exposure to greta music.
      Sounds like a winner to me on all counts.
      Let’s see what other readers and early music fans think.


      Comment by welltemperedear — July 5, 2013 @ 10:34 am

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