ALERT: For the latest news from the 10-day tour to Argentina by the Youth Orchestra (below) of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO), here is a link to Day 6:
By Jacob Stockinger
One of the many summer musical events that have become institutions to look forward to are the two concerts by the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble.
Here are the details, from a press release, for this weekend’s sets of two concerts:
ISTHMUS VOCAL ENSEMBLE RETURNS FOR ITS LUCKY 13TH SEASON
MADISON – When conductor Scott MacPherson –- a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music — convened some of Madison’s top singers in 2002, he had no way of knowing that the newly formed Isthmus Vocal Ensemble (below) would begin one of Madison’s most anticipated summer musical traditions. (You can hear a stirring sample at the bottom in a YouTube video of a live performance by the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble.)
Now in its 13th year, the ensemble -– a professional-level choir of approximately 60 singers –- brings new life to over 500 years of choral music. Amazingly, the choir continues to do it all within a brief two-week rehearsal period.
This intense spirit of camaraderie produces a singular and remarkable experience, year after year.
Madison-area audiences have two opportunities to hear the 2014 program.
The traditional Friday night concert will take place at 7:30 p.m. on this Friday, August 1, at Christ Presbyterian Church, 944 East Gorham Street. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for students and seniors; children 12 or under get in for free. Tickets can be bought at the door or on-line at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/802712
The program will be repeated at 3 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, August 3, at Covenant Presbyterian Church, 326 South Segoe Road. General admission tickets are $15 for adults; $10 for students and seniors. Children under 13 get in free. Tickets can be bought at the door or on-line at: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/802714
This year, the singers will tackle texts in Latin, French (medieval and modern), Russian, German, English and even a form of nonsense language, notated loosely in Finnish, inspired by both Scandinavian folk dance and the Muppets’ Swedish Chef (below).
This year’s performance includes introspective choral masterworks by Henry Purcell, Johannes Brahms, Anton Bruckner and others, exploring the labyrinth of emotions begat by LOSS.
The French chanson “Mille regretz” by the 15th century composer Josquin des Prez (below top) is matched by a modern setting by Andrew Rindfleisch (below bottom). Here is a link top the home website for the Prix de Rome-winning composer Andrew Rindfliesch, who did his bachelor’s degree at UW-Madison:
The choir’s renowned low basses will be on display in Russian works including Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Tebé poyém (We Hymn Thee)” and Alexander Gretchaninoff’s stunning “Ñe rïdáy Meñé, Máti (Do not lament me, O Mother).”
From the German tradition, Johannes Brahms’ Two Motets, Op. 74 (beginning with “Warum ist das Licht gegeben”), join Anton Bruckner’s classic “Virga Jesse.”
Other composers represented include Jaako Mäntyjärvi, Lionel Daunais, Henry Purcell (below), Imant Raminsh and the great spiritual arranger Moses Hogan.
The Isthmus Vocal Ensemble is led by Scott MacPherson (below), director of choral activities at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, who trained at the UW-Madison.
The IVE’s members include professional singers and choral directors, professors, lawyers, students and passionate advocates for the arts. The choir has performed by invitation at the North Central Conference of the American Choral Directors Association, commissioned several world premieres and released two albums.
For more information, visit www.isthmusvocalensemble.org or the choir’s page on Facebook.
ALERT: Catch up on the 10-day tour to Argentina by the Youth Orchestra (below) of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras. Here is a link to Day 5:
By Jacob Stockinger
The final number and encore repetition of the program’s finale pretty much summed it up: It was a grand night for singing.
And indeed it was.
For listening too.
To The Ear, it seemed like after 13 of them, this one was the best Opera in the Park yet.
I know, I know: That is the very same cliche that the head honchos use to close the Olympic Games.
But I mean it. And I haven’t said it before.
Many things might have made it so good, so memorable.
The crowd was very big, maybe setting a record of between 14,000 and 15,000. And it was well behaved and attentive.
Maybe it was the program, which was typical, and given out in a free brochure.
There were excerpts from the three operas that the Madison Opera will stage this coming season at the Overture Center: “Fidelio” by Ludwig van Beethoven; “Sweeney Todd” by Stephen Sondheim; and “The Barber of Seville: by Giachino Rossini. Plus, there were the popular tunes from Broadway shows like “A Little Night Music” by Sondheim, “Kiss Me, Kate” by Cole Porter and “State Fair” by Rodgers and Hammerstein. And let’s not forget the National Anthem to start things off.
It could have been the well-rehearsed Madison Opera Chorus and the confident players of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, all under the baton of John DeMain, but they are usual participants, givens if you will.
It might have been the ever-improved sound system, despite a few glitches.
It could have been the high and even quality of the solo singers. But DeMain and Madison Opera’s gracious general director Kathryn Smith have an outstanding record for picking promising young talent to put on the stage, talent that has ties to the Metropolitan Opera and some other prestigious opera companies.
So when I weigh all the components, what I am left with is an intangible.
That is: What really made this year’s Opera in the Park so terrific was the chemistry between all the elements.
Hunky and flirty bad-boy baritone “toreador” Kelly Markgraf (below right) came out on stage and strutted as he saucily stripped off his summer white dinner jacket and tossed it aside to his competing female admirers.
Then soprano Jamie-Rose Guarrine, a very successful graduate of the University of Madison-Wisconsin School of Music, and Canadian mezzo-soprano Wallis “Legs” Giunta, who was making her Madison debut, fought over the dinner jacket while he sang and the audience roared and applauded as it brandished those fabulous — and I mean fabulous – luminescent day-glo light sticks.
Even John DeMain, who conducted the audience in the sing-along finale and encore (below), and the various players and other singers seemed as amused as the audience.
It was big fun.
The weather cooperated, no drops of rain coming until it was over and I was safely in my car.
But The Ear is left with some other things he liked:
I liked the seeing the opera “stars” arrive in a stretch limo (below top) in the park. It was way cool. But so were the carts (below bottom) provided to help those whose mobility was impaired.
I liked the table where you could buy vintage T-shirts going back a decade. And these collectibles were good deals. But they also made me think of Ann Stanke, the founder and longtime general director of the Madison Opera who started Opera in the Park and died in May of 2011. She would have been so happy with such a successful fulfillment of her dream.
I liked the ice cream stand by The Chocolate Shoppe –- the butter pecan was nutty and terrific — and kind of wish they would also had one pizza stand from, say, Glass Nickel. But maybe that gets too complex.
I liked that Madison Mayor Paul Soglin addressed the personal and social benefits to students who participate in the arts, and, citing a new report by the Overture Foundation, pledged to restored a city subsidy of $1.75 million dollars to the Overture Center — the home of the Madison Opera and the Madison Symphony Orchestra — in his next budget.
I liked the tenor Sean Pannikar, who possessed that effortless and smooth Italian tenor tone and great high notes — all put to wonderful use in the aria “Che gelida manina” from Giacomo Puccini’s “La Boheme” and Franz Lehar’s schmaltzy and swoon-inducing “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz.” He was making his debut, and I want to see him return to Madison. Soon.
I really liked the big-voiced mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta, who has high notes and volume to spare. She also made her debut and proved to be another must-return talent, the sooner the better. (You can hear her voice and a profile of her life and career in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
And I am not alone. The audience also seemed to like them both.
Baritone Kelly Markgraf lived up to the standards he set as Mozart’s Don Juan when he sang with the Madison Opera. His bad is s-o-o-o-o good. And Jamie-Rose Guarrine (below) proved a delight to hear, familiar as she is to local audiences. She had pitch, tone and expressive range — and showed it all in a difficult and brief but beautiful aria by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
All four soloists sounded even and great, whether they sang solo, in duets, trios or quartets.
It all offered more proof for The Ear that great opera comes down not to acting or sets or costumes, but to the music and the singing.
And it was a grand night for singing.
Here is a review by Lindsay Christians for The Wisconsin State Journal and 77 Square:
You really should have been there.
But if you weren’t, well, maybe next year you will be.
Still, a lot of you did go this year.
So tell The Ear -– and the Madison Opera – what you thought of Opera in the Park 2014.
By Jacob Stockinger
As I said yesterday, The Ear is finally getting a chance to catch up on some old business, now that live concerts have quieted down a bit for a while.
Here is an overdue review.
MADISON AREA YOUTH CHAMBER ORCHESTRA (MAYCO) EXCELS IN OLD MUSIC AND NEW MUSIC
On Friday, July 11, the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO) performed “Triumph and Delight,” the first of its two concerts this summer. This one was at the handsome new Atrium auditorium, with its bright acoustics, of the First Unitarian Society of Madison 900 University Bay Drive.
Founder and conductor Mikko Utevsky (below), who is currently a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, led the group through an intriguing program that include the Piano Concerto No. 11 in D Major, by Franz Joseph Haydn; the “Reformation” Symphony by Felix Mendelssohn; and the world premiere of a “Experiment No. 1” by his fellow student, composer Olivia Zeuske.
The soloist in the Haydn Piano Concerto was UW-Madison graduate Thomas Kasdorf (below). The Ear recently heard him in the Romantic and evergreen Piano Concerto In A Minor by Edvard Grieg, played with the Middleton Community Orchestra. And the performance was impressive, so expectations were high.
And those expectations were both met and surpassed in the Haydn.
This was not, thank goodness, period Haydn. From what The Ear heard, Kasdorf made no attempt to scale back his part and treat the piano like some Classical-era fortepiano. Instead this was robust and rich Haydn, an interpretation that made Papa Haydn sound more alive than dead. The humor and tunefulness plus the effective, if sparing, use of dissonance, all came through convincingly and in a contemporary way.
Add in the orchestra’s careful attention to part-playing and to dialogue with the piano, and you had a performance that The Ear loved.
The work by Olivia Zeuske (below) proved highly atmospheric –- not exactly 12-tone or atonal, but not exactly not, either. For the most part, The Ear found it appealing, engaging and attractive.
But for The Ear, who admits to being a “tunes” guy, it could have used some kind of melody or motif that was recognizable and repeated. In addition the piece could use more distinctiveness among the three sections, so the structure guides your listening.
True, the very end did seem to build to some kind of climax, and you knew something was about to happen. But a lot of the rest of the piece seemed to have a tad too much lateral drift. A good statement or speech is not made by a series of “um”’s and “you know”’s and similar filler. And it takes more than sound to make music.
Still, The Ear thinks that she has a future and looks forward to hearing more from Olivia Zeuske.
The famous and familiar “Reformation” Symphony by Felix Mendelssohn was not weak except by comparison to the other performances. Some of it seemed a bit muddled, and The Ear wondered if it couldn’t have used more rehearsal time, which more likely went to working with the soloist and the world premiere. Still, the music carries itself in a great way.
Plus, it was set off and spotlighted by a stroke of genius and inspiration in programming. Utevsky opened the entire program with the chorale prelude-type arrangement by Johann Sebastian Bach for orchestra of the hymn by Martin Luther “Ein Feste Burg” (A Mighty Fortress is Our God”). (At bottom, you can hear an arrangement by Leopold Stokowski that sounds a bit Wagnerian and even “Parsifal”-like at the end because of the horns.)
That is the same Lutheran hymn that Mendelssohn, a Jew who converted to Christianity but was nonetheless banned from being performed under the Nazis and Adolf Hitler, used in the finale to his irresistible symphony.
Kudos, then, to this fine group of young up-and-coming musicians, who were warmly applauded by a good size audience of more than friends and family members.
It makes one look forward to MAYCO’s next concert at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 22. That’s when soprano Caitlin Ruby Miller (below) will join then in Samuel Barber’s “Knoxville, Summer 1915” with words by James Agee and music by Samuel Barber; the Symphony No. 9 in E-Flat Major, Op. 90, by Dmitri Shostakovich; and the Overture to “The Magic Flute” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
The advertised venue is Music Hall, though the Atrium auditorium and other venues are still being considered, so stay tuned. Tickets are an affordable $7 with students being asked to donate what they can.
The Ear says: Don’t miss it.
Here is the daily alert for the tour though Aug. 3 by Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) in Argentina. Here is a link to the latest news from Day 3: www.wysotour2014.blogspot.com
By Jacob Stockinger
As I said yesterday, The Ear is finally getting a chance to catch up on some old business, now that live concerts have quieted down a bit for a while.
I have another short review for today.
THE EAR HEARS A GREAT GRIEG SAMPLER AT TALIESIN
Earlier this month, The Ear found himself wondering: Why don’t we hear more music by Edvard Grieg?
Makes sense. One big and difficult ego attracted to another big and difficult ego. One would-be artistic titan wanting to cloak himself in the mantle of another.
But nevertheless on July 14 -– forget Bastille Day — the Hillside Theater (below) at Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green saw an evening sampler of the 19th-century Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, and some other Scandinavian composers, performed, thanks to the Rural Musicians Forum and its director Kent Mayfield.
Called “Songs of Norway,” the program featured the kind of variety that The Ear would like to see in more concert programming: a dozen or so songs; 10 solo piano pieces from the “Lyric Pieces”; and the Sonata No. 2 in G Major, Op. 13, for violin and piano.
I found the music somewhat uneven, but never bad. And all the performances, turned in by three outstanding musicians (below), proved quite satisfying.
University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music soprano Mimmi Fulmer (below) showed fine control and tone while singing songs both a cappella and with the piano. Moreover, her Norwegian diction and pronunciation were quite good, or so I was told by a native Norwegian speaker.
Pianist Michael Keller, a retired professor from UW-Stevens Point, performed admirably both as soloist and accompanist or collaborator. He excelled at conveying the quickly changing moods of miniature Lyric Pieces, of which he played 10 contrasting ones.
And violinist Stephen Bjella, an artist-in-residence at the UW-Stevens Point, played the more ambitious violin sonata with conviction and aplomb.
Now truth be told, Edvard Grieg’s music is no match for the achievement of Bach. Or Beethoven. Or Mozart. Or Haydn, Or Schubert. Or Schumann. Or Brahms. Or Mahler. And so on and so on. But The Ear thinks of Grieg as The Dvorak of the North. I think Claude Debussy once said his works were bonbons filled with snow.
That doesn’t mean his music is without value. His “salon”-like music certainly is enjoyable and worth hearing more often. Major artists like pianists Arthur Rubinstein, Emil Gilels and Stephen Hough play his Lyric Pieces and included several in their active repertoire. I think the violinist Jascha Heifetz also liked his three violin sonatas. And his songs are too rarely heard, perhaps because of the difficulty of singing Norwegian instead of German and French, Italian and English. Plus, the Emerson Quartet won a Grammy with his one string quartet.
So this was a thoroughly enjoyable concert that reminded The Ear that the music of Grieg deserves to be heard more often in live performance than it currently is. Just listen to the lovely Nocturne, played by a contestant in the Grieg Piano Competition, in a YouTube video at the bottom.
Thanks go to Kent Williams (below top), to the Rural Musicians Forum –- which he directs and which is presenting a FREE tango quintet this Monday night at 7:30 p.m. in the Unity Chapel in Spring Green –- to Taliesin and especially to the three performers as well as to the full house (below bottom) that makes such a proposal all the more feasible and appealing.
Hear more music by Edvard Grieg?
As the late Eileen Stritch would sing: “I’ll Drink to That.”
Better break out the ice water.
By Jacob Stockinger
As you probably already know, The Ear is running a bit behind.
That’s how busy even the summer season has become, when it comes to classical music in the Madison area. And reviews take a second seat to previews and advance Q&A’s that benefit the performers and audiences.
So over the next few days, I want to provide some critiques and reviews, and even more shout-outs, to various events that took place over the past couple of weeks. I hope you will forgive my tardiness.
You should also know that I am not going in chronological order because some things seem more important or more timely, and therefore more overdue, than others.
So, first things first.
Here is the official website of the competition with the results plus background and biographies of all the finalists and other information:
True, the second annual Handel competition is not strictly speaking a part of MEMF. But it is affiliated with MEMF. And since I have already covered the extraordinary MEMF opening concert “The Leonardo da Vinci Codex” by the Toronto Consort, I wanted to bring you up to date with the results of the aria competition, which has begun to attract national and even international attention.
Here are the big point to note: What a difference a year makes!
This year there was no unsatisfactory split or disagreement between the four judges and the public, as there was last year. BRAVO!!!!
This year, both the judges and the public — which had some pretty discerning listeners in it — agreed on the winner: She was Chelsea Morris (below), who might be familiar from other appearances in Madison with the Madison Bach Musicians and Trevor Stephenson, who whom she has released a CD of songs by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Joseph Haydn and Franz Schubert.
Morris met all the criteria that Professor John W. Barker, an insightful critic and devoted Handelian, had outlined in his pre-concert lecture. He emphasized that it was not only about beautiful singing but also capturing the sense of drama in a role, of great diction, of ornamentation, of mastering the Handelian style.
Chelsea Morris did all of them, and the second time proved the charm. (You can hear her entry in last year’s aria competition in a YouTube video at the bottom.) And she is moving from Chicago to Madison as her base, where she will be a Studio Artist with the Madison Opera this coming season So The Ear hopes to score a Q&A with her soon. She won $1,000 and free tuition (worth just under $500) to next summer’s Madison Early Music Festival.
Morris sang “Svelato il cor ti vedo” and “L’amor que per te sento” from “Alessandro” and “O Sleep, why dost thou leave me?” from “Semele.”
Second Prize went to Daniel Moody (below), a countertenor who sang “Pomoe vane do morte! And “Dove aei, amato ben” from the opera “Rodelinda”:
Third Prize ($500) went to soprano Yukie Sato, a Tokyo native who is now based in Basel, Switzerland where she won a similar competition. With much drama, she sang “A Ruggiero crudel” and “Ombre palle” from “Alcina” and “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion” from the oratorio “Messiah.”
You read me right: Tokyo and Switzerland. This past year, some money had been raised to help pay travel expenses, and that paid off in the quality of singing, which was higher overall.
The applicants this time numbered 60, and they came from around the nation and world. That was whittled down to 30, and then 15 and then, in the end, to seven finalists (below) because the judges couldn’t agree on just six.
Each contestant had to sing one aria in Italian and another in English. The Ear likes that. It helped us in judging diction, and helped you to appreciate the range of Handel’s music. But The Ear wishes that in future competitions they would ban arias from “Messiah” since you hear that music enough already.
One downside: Held in Music Hall, the Handel aria smack-down drew an audience about half as big as last year, maybe 250 instead of the 500 in Mills Hall. No doubt that fact that admission this year was $10, while last year it was free, figured in that lower attendance. I would sure like to see it return to free admission, if possible. It is a great way to introduce people to the world of Handel, and draw a general audience –- not just specialists.
But another plus this year was that the singers were accompanied by a small five-person pickup orchestra or consort (below) made up mostly of faculty members and professional instrumentalists from the Madison Early Music Festival. The sound sure added authenticity and helped both the singers and the listeners get into the mood of Handel operas, which have been rediscovered big time. Plus, it was just more fun to listen to with great variety of sound, timbre and tone.
This year’s Handel Aria Competition was nothing short of a triumph. The competition is well on its way to becoming an impressive and fun Madison summertime institution. All thanks go, then, to founders and sponsors Dean and Orange Schroeder (below, holding a bust of George Frideric Handel), the business owners of Orange Tree Imports on Monroe Street, who are such reliable and generous supporters of Madison’s classical music scene.
THE ALL-FESTIVAL CONCLUDING CONCERT
A week ago tonight, the Madison Early music held its All-Festival Concert in Luther Memorial Church, 1021 University Avenue. (MEMF had to use Music Hall and Luther Memorial as alternative venues this summer because Mills Hall at the UW-Madison School of Music was undergoing repairs.)
And speaking of triumphs, the thematic program was based on the sonnet cycle of “Triumph” by Petrarch (below), who examined the importance of Love, Chastity, Death, Fame, Time and Eternity. It is a work that both anticipates and sums up the emerging humanism of the Italian Renaissance.
There are not a lot of specific remarks I can make except that:
The program was well constructed by Grant Herreid (below), who also conducted it.
The orchestra played beautifully and produced big full sound enhanced by the church’s acoustics. Yet a balance was maintained, and vocal and instrumental parts blended.
The various soloists -– and there were many –- were impressive.
Lasting just over an hour, it was a perfect wrap up to a great festival.
Co-founders and co-artistic directors UW-Madison baritone Paul Rowe and Cheryl Bensman Rowe, who both sang in the chorus parts, also announced that next year’s theme will be Early Music in Central and Eastern Europe, including Czechoslovakia, Poland and Bohemia.
By Jacob Stockinger
This Monday night at 7:30 p.m. the Yzafa Quintet will perform a FREE concert of tangos at the Unity Chapel in Spring Green. Members of the quintet include (bottom left to right) Doug Brown, Michael O’Brien, August Jirovec, Amber Dolphin and Jamie Davis.
To The Ear, it sure seems like this certainly has been the year for South American music in general and tangos in particular in the Madison area.
The Wisconsin Youth Chamber Orchestras’ Youth Orchestra (below) left yesterday for an extensive 10-day tour of Argentina, the home of the tango, which legend says was first danced in brothels.
Here is a link to background about the tour:
And here is a link to the tour blog:
Earlier this summer, The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society performed a dozen tangos by Astor Piazzolla and other composers with the help of Uruguayan pianist and tango master Pablo Zinger (below).
And flutist Stephanie Jutt (below), who is a co-founder and co-artistic director of BDDS, who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and who is principal flute with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, has performed and recorded a bunch of tangos she brought back from a sabbatical year she spent in Argentina.
Well, you really can’t blame them at all for programming tangos.
Was there ever a sexier or more sensual, more seductive dance –- even if you don’t actually dance it?
And Madison isn’t alone in succumbing to Tango Fever.
Here is a note from our blog friend Kent Mayfield, who heads up the Rural Musicians Forum and is bringing the urban decadence of the tango out to the wholesome farm fields in south-central Wisconsin:
TANGO TAKES THE SPOTLIGHT IN SPRING GREEN CONCERT
The region’s only group specializing in traditional Argentine tango, Quinteto Yzafa, takes the spotlight in a concert in Spring Green’s Unity Chapel on Monday night, July 28, at 7:30 p.m.. The concert is part of an annual series sponsored by the Rural Musicians Forum. (You can hear a sample of a tango by the Quinteto Yzafa in a YouTube video of a performance in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at the bottom.)
The tango is a partner dance that originated in the 1890s in working class districts of Buenos Aires and along the Río de la Plata, the natural border between Uruguay and Argentina. Soon it became wildly popular around the world.
The dance derives from the Cuban and Argentine dance styles. It is said to contain elements from the African community in Buenos Aires, influenced both by ancient African rhythms and the music from Europe.
In 2009, the tango was declared part of the world’s “intangible cultural heritage” by UNESCO.
Quinteto Yzafa (pronounced “ee-SAH-fuh”) is dedicated to a fresh, dynamic approach to traditional Argentine tango music.
With backgrounds in classical music as well as jazz, bluegrass, Arabic music, Latin American folk and popular dance styles, the musicians perform tangos, waltzes and milongas from the 1910s through the present day.
Their dynamic new arrangements have the variety and intensity to entertain concert audiences, but they never lose the danceable essence of the true tango. They delight schoolchildren and serious tango dancers alike.
The ensemble’s sound features the bandoneón (below), the characteristic 71-button relative of the accordion whose distinctive timbre is essential for traditional tango music, filled out with the rich tones of a full string section (violin, cello and double bass) and piano.
“There was something about the combination of sinuous, expressive melody interspersed with periods of brutal dissonance and percussive playing that lodged itself in my memory,” O’Brien says.
That was the beginning of a life-long interest which has led him to learn Piazzolla’s own instrument, the bandoneon, travel to Argentina to study, research and perform tango music, and even to make a career out of it. In his day job, O’Brien is a professor of ethnomusicology. O’Brien has created for the group a repertoire of little known and original tangos, waltzes and milongas as well as many tango classics.
Quinteto Yzafa has passion and zing … At times bold and brash and at other times heartbreakingly tragic, it covers every emotion in the spectrum.
The Unity Chapel (below top is the exterior, below bottom is the interior) is located at 6596 County Road T, just east of Highway 23. The chapel is a living testament to the simple and contemplative lives early settlers created for themselves in southwest Wisconsin.
There is no ticket charge but a freewill offering to support the concert series will be taken.
For more information: www.ruralmusiciansforum.org
OR contact Kent Mayfield firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Jacob Stockinger
To loyal and even devout fans, they are known simply as “G&S.”
And since 1963, a devoted group of Madison singers, musicians and stage crafters have produced the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan.
This summer’s production is “Princess Ida,” one of the later G&S shows by the dynamic duo of satirists who were so entertainingly portrayed in the 1999 film “Topsy-Turvy.” “Princess Ida” opens this Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall. (It was previously performed by the Savoyards in 1967, 1980 and 1999.)
The seven performances, including two SUNDAY (not Saturday, as erroneously first stated) matinees at 3 p.m., take place at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. The hall is located on the UW-Madison campus at the foot of Bascom Hill.
Here is a link to the home web page of The Madison Savoyards. You can find more information including: directions and connections to purchase tickets; the dates and times of performances; background about the Savoyards and about Gilbert and Sullivan; reviews of past productions; videos and recordings; pre-performance dinners; information about how to support and participate in the group; and even a newsletter.
Tickets for “Princess Ida” can be purchased at the Wisconsin Union Theater Box Office, by phone at (608) 265-ARTS, or online at www.uniontheater.wisc.edu
The story, adapted from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s epic poem, “The Princess,” is set in Medieval Europe. Princess Ida, betrothed in infancy to Prince Hilarion, has forsworn men and is now head of a women’s school that teaches philosophy, science and the fickleness of men. Intent on winning her heart, Hilarion and his friends set out on a quest that involves sneaking into Ida’s school disguised as women, and culminates in an epic sword-wielding battle.
“It’s just good old Gilbert and Sullivan fun,” says stage director Audrey Lauren Wax (below), who works with StageQ in Madison. “Who doesn’t love the fact that there are three siblings who look nothing alike and the only real connection they have is that it takes three of them to equal one full brain!”
Music director Grant Harville assures audiences that “fans of Sullivan’s contributions to these collaborations will hear exactly the sorts of features that attract them to these works.” Musical numbers run the gamut, from silly patter songs including, “Whene’er I Spoke” and “If You Give Me Your Attention,” to more poignant, lyrical numbers such as, “I Built Upon a Rock.”
Action, plot twists and the generous doses of humor sprinkled throughout Princess Ida will certainly keep audience members on their toes.
The cast includes some veterans of the stage, with Milwaukee native Naiza Delica (below left in a photo by Jane Wegenke) as Princess Ida, Donald Dexter (middle) as King Gama and UW-Madison senior William Ottow (below right) as her romantic counterpart, Prince Hilarion.
William Rosholt and Donald Dexter appear as the dueling kings Hildebrand and Gama, and Patrick Chounet and Steven Groth play Hilarion’s two loyal friends, Cyril and Florian.
Gama’s three sons are played by Jim Chiolino, Alec Moeser and Matt White, and Rachel Bishop, Ann Baltes and Tiffany Orr appear as Lady Blanche, Lady Psyche and Melissa.
The cast includes over 30 members from the Madison area, including four families.
Music director Grant Harville (below) agreed to a Q&A with The Ear:
Can you briefly introduce yourself to readers?
I received my doctorate at the UW-Madison School of Music. This is my fourth Madison Savoyards production, and my fifth Gilbert and Sullivan show overall. I’m currently the Music Director and conductor for the Idaho State-Civic Symphony, and I teach at Idaho State University. But my ties to Madison go back a good 20 years now, and The Savoyards have been a rewarding way to stay active during the summer.
How does “Princess Ida” fit into the overall work of Gilbert and Sullivan, especially compared to such famous works as “The Pirates of Penzance,” “The Mikado” and “HMS Pinafore”? What does it share with the others and what separates it from them?
It’s a testament to the astonishing success of Gilbert and Sullivan’s collaboration that “Ida” was considered a failure, running for a “mere” 246 performances.
A lot of the characteristics found in their other projects are present here: punny, silly, clever, occasionally slapstick humor; ridiculous, buffoonish characters; and a lifetime’s worth of good tunes. Some of my favorites from “Ida” are “Gently, Gently,” “I Am a Maiden” and “The World Is But a Broken Toy.” (You can hear the opening of “Princess Ida” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
Sullivan is — and was in his own day — criticized for writing music that was “beneath him,” but I’ve never found that criticism fair. The melodies are perfectly constructed and brilliantly apt text settings; and there are plenty of traps for the company that underestimates the complexities of these scores.
G&S had a formula, to be sure, but there’s enough generic music out there for us to recognize that this is better than that. There’s a reason the duo has found a permanent place in the repertory while countless other works have gone by the wayside.
What do you find so appealing about the stream of William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan (below)? Do you find any relevance in “Princess Ida” to society and politics today? Can you elaborate?
I think what keeps bringing me back as a music director is how much I fall in love with the music each summer. No matter how good the drama is, or how funny the dialogue is, it’s the music that attracts me.
Because of its parody of feminism, “Ida” is perhaps more controversial than others of the operas. The parody that today’s audiences will recognize most readily is probably Lady Blanche, a university professor whose thinking has become so abstract that it no longer makes any sense.
What would you like the public to know about this particular production -– the cast, the musicians, the sets and costumes, whatever?
The Madison Savoyards expects, though certainly doesn’t require, a very high level of familiarity from some of its audience — to the degree that if a few words are transposed in the dialogue, there are people who will notice. (Not that such familiarity is required; G&S is extremely accessible.)
Because the company is dedicated to this repertoire, they devote all their resources to making the productions as polished as possible. That means beautiful sets and costumes, full orchestra accompaniment, outstanding staff support.
I’m proud of our cast and crew; they make a remarkable commitment to be in the show, and I think audiences will see it manifested on stage.
By Jacob Stockinger
It is a massive and complex event to stage, from choosing the right food vendors to supplying enough porta-potties and glow sticks.
The music starts at 8 p.m. and runs about two hours in Garner Park, on Madison‘s far west side off at the intersection of Mineral Point and Rosa Roads. It features four guest vocal soloists or singers, plus John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), the artistic director of the Madison Opera and the music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, conducting members of the Madison Symphony and the Madison Opera Chorus.
The event is a chance for the opera company to preview the new season as well as to offer tried-and-true tidbits and hits, and even to offer some popular and classic Broadway show tunes.
It generally attracts more than 10,000 listeners — the record is about 14,000 — who can dine informally outdoors and then listen to the music.
For more details about Opera in the Park, here are some links:
This overview includes park hours and rules plus a schedule and address and affiliated events:
The repertoire or program that includes music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Giuseppe Verdi, Ludwig van Beethoven, Giacchino Rossini, Giacomo Puccini, Gaetano Donizetti, Ruggero Leoncavallo, Franz Lehar, Charles Gounod, Georges Bizet (including the famous “Toreador Song” from “Carmen,” which you can hear in a YouTube video at the bottom), Cole Porter, Stephen Sondheim and Richard Rogers:
This link features the biographies of the guest singers:
In the run-up to the event, Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill), the Madison Opera’s general director, agreed to a Q&A for The Ear. She covered the past season, the upcoming season and Opera in the Park as well as the role of the new Opera Center that is located only a block away from the Overture Center for the Arts in downtown Madison.
What kind of artistic and financial shape did the Madison Opera emerge from for the past season? How does it compare to past seasons and your expectations?
This was artistically one of our strongest seasons ever. Although it is only my third season –- and only the second that I planned –- I have heard from a number of long-time patrons that Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking (below, in a photo by James Gill) was one of the greatest operas in the company’s history, and we all agree it was an artistic turning point.
That was my hope in programming the opera -– in my grant application to the NEA, I referred to it as “a stake in our artistic ground” -– so it is gratifying that it exceeded even my own goals in its impact.
I was also very proud of Puccini’s Tosca, as doing the classic operas well is the best way to make sure they thrive, and that The Daughter of the Regiment, by Gaetano Donizetti, was so well received. The latter was our first midwinter show in the Capitol Theater in five years, and its success lets people know that our February show is an important part of our offerings.
Our fiscal year doesn’t end until August 31, so it is too early to say definitively where we will end financially. We had some challenges this year, as we learned the costs of running the new Madison Opera Center (below) and saw ticket buyers lean toward less expensive tickets. But it has in general been a strong year, and we hope that our supporters will help us finish the fiscal year in the black.
Can you rank the shows in terms of popularity? Did you learn anything special from the season?
The Daughter of the Regiment was in a smaller theater, so it sold the best in terms of percentage of house, but Dead Man Walking was the best-seller in terms of number of tickets, slightly outselling Tosca. In fact, it outsold everything we have done but Don Giovanni in recent years, and even outsold operas like Faust and The Flying Dutchman — something I do not think anyone would have predicted for a 21st century American opera in Madison.
The main thing I learned from the season is to take chances.
Dead Man Walking was far from a sure thing: We lost many subscribers because of it, but single ticket-buyers, including a number of first-time opera-goers, made up the difference. I know that many people attended Dead Man Walking thinking they would not care for it, so it is a tremendous achievement that so many people were blown away, ranking it as one of the greatest artistic experiences of their lifetimes. There is no way to plan for that success, but if a company only offers Carmen and Madama Butterfly, it will never find the world beyond it.
The season also solidified a trend that every arts group in the U.S. is seeing: Last-minute ticket buying is now the norm. We sell around 20 percent of our tickets in the week before a show opens, regardless of the show’s title or what time of year it plays.
That is simply how arts ticket buying works these days, and I am guilty of it, too. So while it is nerve-wracking for me as a producer, it is something we need to learn to accept, rather than panic about.
What role did the new Madison Opera Center play in the past season’s productions?
The Opera Center, which officially opened only nine months ago, was designed to be both our administrative and artistic home, and it was certainly that. Apart from being a beautiful facility in which to work, it enabled us to do more outreach activities and hold multiple rehearsals simultaneously.
For example, during Dead Man Walking, John DeMain could work with cast members on music in the downstairs studio while Kristine McIntyre was staging the opening fight scene upstairs.
It also became a home away from the hotel for the artists, particularly on Dead Man Walking, which had a large cast, emotionally intense scenes, and long rehearsal days. They cooked in the kitchen, used the music library, and set up their laptops in our offices.
We were even able to let Michael Mayes’ dog, Pete, hang out in the Opera Center, so cast members could play with him on their breaks. That is very much what I wanted the Opera Center to be and why it is designed the way it is, so it was gratifying to see it used that way.
For example, below are photos of Dead Man Walking stars (below top, Michael Mayes, who sang Joseph De Rocher, and Alan Dunbar, who sang Owen Hart) on a break from rehearsals, playing their guitars in the Michael Klos Music Library of there Opera Center; and of Michael Mayes and his dog Pete (below bottom), who also seems to be singing as part of a photo shoot in our costume shop downstairs.
Will next season bring any major changes to the Madison Opera?
Next season is about building on the major changes of the past year -– the creation of the Madison Opera Center, which allows us to do more education programs such as Opera Novice, which proved very popular in its first iterations this year; the continued expansion of the repertoire; and a strategic look at how to build upon our recent success for the future.
How and why did you choose the operas for next season?
I aim for balance with every season: a mix of pieces with different plots by a variety of composers, with at least one classic piece and at least one Madison Opera premiere.
It has been 12 years since we last performed The Barber of Seville, so it was time to share this classic comedy with our audiences. For a new generation of opera-goers, our production might as well be a world premiere; I certainly remember the first time I heard Barber and discovered the glories of Giacchino Rossini (below).
To balance Barber, we wanted something more serious and not-as-classic. Madison Opera did a single performance of Fidelio by Ludwig van Beethoven (below) in concert 28 years ago, but has never staged the opera. Although it is Beethoven’s only opera, he was far from a rookie composer, and the score is just brilliant, with a powerful storyline and a truly moving choral ode to freedom.
Our middle piece, Sweeney Todd, is both a Madison Opera premiere and an American classic. Although it premiered on Broadway, it has lived in the opera house since 1984, when the Houston Grand Opera performed it, conducted by John DeMain. Both witty and tragic -– it has a higher body count than any opera we have performed recently –- the stunning score by Stephen Sondheim (below) requires powerhouse voices to sing, and we certainly have them in this production. Plus it is a delight to produce it with the full orchestra, rather than the reduced version many Broadway productions use. I look forward to offering Madison yet another side of what opera can be.
After I set the season, I noticed two things that no one will believe are coincidences: We are following up one opera set in a prison (Dead Man Walking) with another (Fidelio). And The Barber of Seville follows “The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” which is Sweeney Todd’s subtitle. None of this was deliberate, but it will perhaps make good marketing.
What else would you like to say or add about the past season, the next season and perhaps also the Opera in the Park this summer?
I am tremendously grateful to everyone who has been involved with Madison Opera in the past year. We have done so much, from building the Madison Opera Center to the vast amounts of outreach that led up to Dead Man Walking. There were literally hundreds of people who supported us, performed with us, and joined us for education events, and none of this would have been possible without them.
I am also, of course, very much looking forward to Opera in the Park on this coming Saturday, July 26. It is truly a highlight of what we do, and we have four exciting soloists this year: Jamie-Rose Guarrine (below top), Wallis Giunta (below second), Sean Panikkar, (below third) and Kelly Markgraf (below fourth), as well as our wonderful Madison Opera Chorus and the Madison Symphony Orchestra. It will be a great night. You won’t want to miss it!
By Jacob Stockinger
This is a reminder.
This is A Tale of Two Tours.
Like the tours, both of which will run exactly from July 24 through August 3, the two local groups will also offer competing sendoff concerts at exactly the same time — tonight, Tuesday, July 22, at 7 p.m.
But it is best not to dwell on the conflict or competition.
Instead, The Ear prefers to see it as a reminder that Madison, Wisconsin, is a great place to be not only for culture in general and for classical music, but for classical music education, which has been shown again and again by researchers to reap lifelong benefits in terms of development and maturity.
It involves two FREE sendoff concerts by two important groups of young musicians in Madison.
One is by the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras’ Youth Choir, under conductor UW-Madison professor James Smith, which will perform tonight at 7 p.m. at Olbrich Botanical Gardens on Madison’s East side. The program, a preview of the concert fare to be performd in Argentina, features music by Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, Peter Tchaikovsky and Alberto Ginastera.
Here is a link to a previous blog posting about the WYSO concert:
The other concert is the Madison Boychoir (below, in a photo by Jon Harlow), which will perform tonight at 7 p.m. in the Covenant Presbyterian Church, 326 South Segoe Road, on Madison’s near west side.
And here is a statement from Nicole Sparacino, the director of development for the Madison Youth Choirs:
“By a strange coincidence, the MYC send off concert is the same night as WYSO’s send off concert, and the dates of both tours are exactly the same, July 24-August 3!
“It’s pretty neat to think that, combined, over 100 of Madison’s finest young musicians will be sharing their talents on two very different parts of the world’s stage at the same time.
“Over the course of the tour, 71 MYC boys ages 9-18 will sing in medieval cathedrals, perform a joint concert with the National Youth Choir of Scotland, and have the chance to meet hundreds of other young artists from across the world. Our boys will even get the chance to test their foreign language skills, as they will have the honor of singing the national anthems of all participating countries during the festival’s Opening Ceremony. (You can see a promotional video for the Scotland tour at the bottom in a YouTube video.)
“We’re so excited for the boys to have this outstanding opportunity.
“Tonight, over 70 boys ages 9-18 from Madison Youth Choirs (MYC) will share an exciting free concert with the community before taking off to perform at the Aberdeen International Youth Festival in Scotland.
“As the only boychoir from the United States invited to perform at the festival, MYC’s lads (below, in a photo by Jon Harlow) will pay homage to the rich musical traditions of their homeland, from folk songs to cowboy melodies.
“It will perform classic boychoir repertoire in three different languages. Concert selections will include the Shaker tune “Simple Gifts,” the powerful “Anthem” from the musical Chess, “Laudamus Te” by Antonio Vivaldi and the Shakespeare and “Macbeth”-inspired “Sound and Fury.”’
The latter is a world premiere work by composer Scott Gendel (below), who is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.
For further information: visit www.madisonyouthchoirs.org or call (608) 238-7464.