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.