The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: University Opera director Wiiliam Farlow talks about his retirement at the end of this season, and the rewards and challenges of staging opera at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

September 5, 2013
7 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

University Opera director William Farlow has announced that he will retire at the end of the current season, after spending 15 years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

During his tenure, attendance has grown and the productions have received critical acclaim. (Below is soprano Emily Birsan, who went on to the Lyric Opera of Chicago, in the University Opera’s production of Jules Massenet‘s rarely heard opera “Thais.”)

Thais Birsan

The Ear knows Farlow as an amiable man who is always willing to help the local music scene and to promote his own vocal and instrumental students, a number of whom have gone on to important careers.

His productions at the UW-Madison are staged at Music Hall (below) at the foot of Bascom Hill.

MusicHall2

Farlow’s repertoire choices have ranged from such standards as Giacomo Puccini’s “La Boheme” (below) and Franz Lehar‘s “The Merry Widow,” in a YouTube video at the bottom) to rarities and out-of-the-way works that he felt would be good for students to do. He has used both traditional and updated stagings.

University Opera La Boheme Photo 2

Here is a link to the University Opera home website that incudes productions, dates and times, and other information:

http://music.wisc.edu/opera

And here is a link to Opera Props, the support group that helps University Opera:

http://cpanel101.mulehill.com/~uwoperap/

Farlow (seen below in a photo by Kathy Esposito, the new concert manager and director of public relations at the UW School of Music) recently gave an email interview to The Ear.

William Farlow by Kathy Esposito

Can you give us some brief personal and professional background including when and why you came to the UW and why you are retiring? 

I came to the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the fall of 1998 after teaching at University of Arkansas-Fayetteville for five years. I came here because I felt I needed a new challenge -– which it certainly turned out to be!

I am retiring because I have spent the last 50 years of my life doing opera. It started when I was 15 and played in the second violin section for a production of Verdi’s “Aida.” I have continued into my mid-60s and feel it’s time to move on to the next chapter of my life. (Below is a photo of William Farlow in a rehearsal.)

Farlowrehearsing Cosi2004

Will you stay in Madison after you retire?

I have no immediate plans to move.

What are your plans for after retirement? Do you have special hobbies or activities you want to pursue? Will you continue to freelance as an opera director?

I will continue as Artistic Advisor to Fresco Opera Theatre and Operations Consultant to the Des Moines Metro Opera as well as continue to judge voice competitions –- I’ve been a judge for the Metropolitan Opera’s National Council Auditions for 30 years –- and to give master classes.

I do not plan on directing in the future and have turned down all offers for 2014, one of which was a complete “Ring” cycle of Wagner.

I can’t wait to cook more and read.

William Farlow witn roses

What are you most proud of during your tenure at the UW?

The huge variety of repertoire and quality productions we have been able to offer, and the phenomenal younger singers and instrumentalists.

What makes doing opera at a university school of music special or distinctive in your view, and what advice would you pass along to your successor?

There are so many more repertoire choices for university opera than for many professional companies. My advice is “Good luck” and “Leave no stone unturned.”

What was the best part of directing at the UW? The most frustrating part?

The best part was working with the opera’s music director and conductor James Smith (below top), who is such an extraordinary musician and colleague, and with soprano and associate director of University Opera Mimmi Fulmer (below bottom), who is the best everything.

The most frustrating part? FUNDING!!

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

Mimmi Fulmer

How healthy is the opera program now at the UW-Madison? What challenges do you see in the future?

The program is in good shape for now, but the challenges will continue to be recruitment and funding.

Why did you choose operas by  George Frideric Handel (“Ariodante” on Pct. 25, 27 and 29) and Hector Berlioz (“Beatrice and Benedict” on April 13, 15 and 19) for your farewell season?

My choices for this season are the same as they always have been — operas that give the most opportunities to the most singers.

Handel etching

berlioz

Is there anything else you would like to say? 

The last 15 years have been the most challenging and rewarding of my career. I have had the great honor of directing so many great works that I wouldn’t have dreamed would be possible at this point in my career.


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