The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: University Opera stages a compelling and fully engaging cabaret of Kurt Weill songs | October 29, 2017

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s friend and colleague, The Opera Guy, has filed the following review.

By Larry Wells

I attended a nearly full-house opening of University Opera’s “A Kurt Weill Cabaret” Friday night in Music Hall on Bascom Hill.

The 90-minute show was comprised of about 20 numbers from the body of works by Weill (below, in a photo from the German Federal Archive. The ensembles, solos and duets were arranged into three sections with a loose narrative structure linking the pieces.

Throughout the evening I was unaware of the passage of time, which is one of my acid tests for a good performance. Likewise, I felt fully engaged.

Many of the numbers will be familiar to Weill’s fans. The well-known “Whiskey Bar/Alabama Song” was the opening solo for Sarah Kendall, who performed it more as a Puccini aria than as the world-weary, boozy Jenny. It was a novel and strangely compelling interpretation.

(Kendall performing “Whiskey Bar” with the company, is below in a photo by Michael R. Anderson, who took all the performance photographs)

More convincingly conveyed was “I’m a Stranger Here Myself” performed by the sprightly and clear-voiced Emily Weaver. “My Ship” sung by Miranda Kettlewell (below right, singing the Ice Cream Sextet with Alec Brown) was perfectly enunciated and movingly sung.

Since there were no supertitles, clear enunciation was a problem in a couple of the performances.

Likewise, mention should be made of Emily Vandenberg’s haunting rendition of “Surabaya Johnny.” (You can hear the legendary Weill interpreter Lotte Lenya sing “Surabaya Johnny” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

My favorite performances of the evening included “‘Youkali” by Talia Engstrom. My notes simply said “Perfection.” And my perennial favorite Courtney Kayser (below) did not disappoint with “J’attends un navire” and “Denn wie man sich bettet.” She is an excellent actress, possesses outstanding musicianship, and commands a clearly focused voice.

The women singers seriously overshadowed the men’s solo performances. I was wondering why that might have been. One possibility is that the men, who are trained operatically, find that they need to scale back their vocal projection for lighter vocal fare and in doing so sound constrained.

(Below, from back to front and left to right, are: Alec Brown, Jeff Larson, Jake Elfner, Sarah Kendall, Talia Engstrom, Matt Chastain in the “Benares Song.”)

Having said that, I thought Matt Chastain’s “Oh the Rio Grande” from the not well-known “Johnny Johnson” was both well sung and amusing to watch.

My companion admired the voice and acting of Alec Brown, and we both believed that Tim Emery is a dead ringer for a young Jimmy Stewart.

Some of the most compelling moments were the ensembles from Weill’s heavier works. “The Benares Song” highlighted Weill’s gravitas as a composer as did “Zu Potsdam unter den Eichen” from “Das Berliner Requiem.”

The cast members’ acting and vocal skills came to the forefront in these ensembles. (Below is “Zu Potsdam unter den Eichen” with Matt Chastain, Miranda Kettlewell, Alec Brown, Tim Emery, Emily Weaver, Eliav Goldman and Jeffrey Larson in the foreground).

Daniel Fung (below top) heroically provided the piano accompaniment without slacking for even a moment. Kudos to him. He was joined by a string bass and drum all conducted by Chad Hutchinson (below bottom) with unflaggingly appropriate tempi and dynamics.

This was the seventh production by David Ronis (below in a photo by Luke Delallio) for University Opera at the UW-Madison, and his consistently novel approach to the productions has made each one a joy. His commitment to quality and novelty is admirable.

I am eager to see what Ronis has in store for us this coming spring with “La Bohème” to be staged at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

I highly recommend attending “A Kurt Weill Cabaret,” which will be repeated this afternoon at 3 p.m. and Tuesday evening (Halloween night) at 7:30 p.m. Admission for the general public is $25; $20 for seniors; and $10 for UW students.

For more background and information about getting tickets, go to:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/10/23/classical-music-the-university-opera-performs-a-unusual-and-original-kurt-weill-cabaret-this-coming-friday-night-and-sunday-afternoon-and-next-tuesday-night/

http://www.music.wisc.edu/2017/09/27/university-opera-presents-a-kurt-weill-cabaret/

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4 Comments »

  1. […] University Opera stages “compelling and engaging” production of Kurt Weill songs. “Throughout the evening I was unaware of the passage of time, which is one of my acid tests for a good performance. Likewise, I felt fully engaged.” Read the review on The Well-Tempered Ear. […]

    Pingback by Student Recitals – Alumni News – Steve Miller Jets In – Kudos for Recent Concerts – Hunt Quartet in Stoughton – EARS goes to the Science Festival | A Tempo! — October 31, 2017 @ 3:55 pm

  2. A treat to be able to hear these wonderful Kurt Weill songs. Some have such very important messages in the lyrics. But, if the vocal performance department refuses to teach diction, lyrics get lost as they did in last evening’s performance. These talented students need to be trained to fill much larger auditoriums than Music Hall. They need to learn to use more support and much clearer diction. To not be easily heard nor understood, is a lesson for the faculty. We learn from our students.

    Comment by Ingraham — October 30, 2017 @ 3:05 pm

    • Do you really think that the vocal performance department at UW “refuses to teach diction?” Plus, you are using a bad choice of words. Diction usually refers to a choice of words; what you likely mean is pronunciation, enunciation or perhaps even better delivery. Please remember that the performers at this event are students and they are in a learning process.

      Comment by fflambeau — October 30, 2017 @ 10:29 pm

  3. It’s nice to see Kurt Weill get the attention that he deserves. He was a major talent and has been neglected likely due to his political leanings (far left).

    Who cares? His music is divine.

    It would be nice to see more of his work. Again, the UW Music Department seems to lead the way and the professional groups in Madison lag well behind performing stodgy but what they believe are financially rewarding performances. If I recall correctly, a professional opera company in Los Angeles scored big with Weill’s City of Mahoganny.

    Kudos to the UW.

    Comment by fflambeau — October 29, 2017 @ 6:29 am


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