The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music Q&A: Meet opera director David Ronis who makes his local debut in the University Opera’s production of Benjamin Britten’s “Albert Herring” this Friday night in Music Hall with additional performances on Sunday afternoon and Tuesday night.

October 20, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

You may recall that the longtime director of University Opera William Farlow retired last spring. While no permanent successor has been named yet, the impressively qualified David Ronis, from the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College, City University of New York (CUNY), was chosen from a national search and is serving as a guest director this academic year.

Ronis (below, seen talking to the cast on stage) makes his University of Wisconsin-Madison debut this Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall, at the foot of Bascom Hill, with a production of British composer Benjamin Britten’s comic opera “Albert Herring.”  (The opening scene from a Los Angeles Opera production can be heard at the bottom in a YouTube video.) Additional performances are on Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. and Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m.

Albert Herring Rehearsal

Tickets are $22 general admission; $18 for senior; and $10 for student. They are available at the door and from the Wisconsin Union Theater Box Office or call (608) 265-ARTS (2787)/ Buy in person and you will save the service fees.

Here are links with more information about the opera and about Ronis, including a fine profile interview done by Kathy Esposito, the public relations and concert manager at the UW-Madison School of Music:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/2014/09/19/david-ronis-theatrical-emphasis/

http://www.music.wisc.edu/faculty/david-ronis/

http://www.music.wisc.edu/2014/09/19/university-opera-presents-brittens-albert-herring/

And here is a link to David Ronis’ personal website:

http://www.davidronis.com

Finally, here is the email Q&A that David Ronis (below, in a photo by Luke Delalio) gave to The Ear:

David Ronis color CR  Luke DeLalio

Can you give readers a brief introduction to yourself, including when and how you started learning music, your early training and formative experiences, your major professional accomplishments and some personal information like hobbies and other interests as well as current and future plans for your career?

I grew up on Long Island, did my undergraduate degree (a B.F.A. in Voice) at Purchase College, and have lived in Manhattan ever since. I studied both piano and voice as a kid and, in high school, was very much involved in musical theater. After graduating from Purchase, I supported myself by doing a lot of professional choral singing.

Soon after, I started getting hired to sing character tenor roles in opera companies in U.S, Europe and Asia, which I did for a number of years. One of the highlights was being a part of Leonard Bernstein’s A Quiet Place/Trouble in Tahiti when it was done at La Scala Milan, the Kennedy Center and the Vienna State Opera.

At one point in the mid-’90s, when I had less than a full year of regional opera work, I started auditioning for Equity musical theater jobs and was cast in the Los Angeles company of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

In opera circles, I was considered to be a “good actor.” But, to forgive myself (and others), I didn’t really know from good acting! In LA, my new colleagues and friends were actors, as opposed to singers and musicians, and I started seriously questioning my own (lack of) acting technique. After three years of doing Beauty –- in both LA and on the national tour -– I went back to New York, got into in a heavy-duty acting class, and started working in spoken theater, TV commercials (I have some very funny stories about that), and independent films, as well as continuing to sing in opera regionally.

My work in theater completely changed my perspective on stage work in opera and I found myself newly critical of much of the operatic acting I saw.

One day, my friend Paul Rowe (below) –- who teaches voice at the UW-Madison — was in New York hanging out at my apartment (this is very vivid in my mind) and he said something like, “David, you should put this together. You’re now an accomplished actor as well as a singer and you have a pretty unique perspective on how one affects the other.” Bingo!

Paul Rowe

Long story short: I started teaching Acting for Singers classes, doing small directing projects, and very soon got hired at Queens College to direct the Opera Studio. Almost immediately, this transition from performing to teaching just felt right.

I was hired as an Adjunct Lecturer at Queens with only a bachelor’s degree, and decided that I should probably have at least a master’s. So I enrolled in a terrific M.A. L.S. (Master of Arts in Liberal Studies) program at a de-centralized SUNY school, Empire State College. The M.A.L.S. was probably one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. It is a self-designed, inter-disciplinary research degree in which the candidates have to articulate their areas of academic inquiry and pursue them by creating individual courses and working with tutors. Over 2 ½ years, I wrote about 300 pages of material focused on operatic acting and production, research that I still regularly call upon in my teaching.

What are my principal influences? I’d say that my principal acting teacher, Caymichael Patten, is a big one. Cay’s a terrific, tough teacher who tells it like she sees it. She has an uncanny knack for “being inside your head –with you.” I learned a huge amount from her and, in many ways, have modeled my teaching on Cay’s. I also have a number of friends – all opera directors working in academia as well as professionally, who are on the same page as I am as far as operatic acting training. They’ve been big influences too -– Stephen Wadsworth (below, who teaches at the Juilliard School) and Robin Guarino, to name just a couple.

As for the future, who knows? I’ve actually never been one to have a detailed life plan. I’ve been very fortunate that opportunities have come my way and I’ve just followed my nose. I do know one thing -– that my passion for directing and teaching seems to be growing (if that’s even possible) and that I very much enjoy working in a university environment.

stephen wadsworth

As an East Coast native, how do you like the Midwest, Madison and the especially the UW-Madison?

I’ve spent plenty of time in the Midwest, mostly working. So I “get” the Midwest and I’m comfortable here. I’m finding what “they say” about Madison to be true -– that it’s a pretty unique place within the Midwest — culturally, politically, intellectually.

I think these are things that make people who are kind of East Coast-centric, like myself, feel more at home, when “home” means lots of intellectual and artistic stimulation. What’s not to like about a city where everyone reads the New York Times and The New Yorker magazine and goes to the Madison Symphony Orchestra!

Madison at sunset

Why did you choose “Albert Herring” by Benjamin Britten (below top) to do this semester and “The Magic Flute” by Mozart (below bottom) to do second semester? Have you staged them before? What would you like audience members here to know about your productions of them?

I make repertoire decisions based on a variety of factors. This year, we needed to do a piece with small orchestral forces in the fall and a full orchestra show in the spring.

I also like to do shows that involve a good number of students. Both the Britten and the Mozart fit those descriptions.

Also, the “who do we have at school” factor is big. We need to do operas that we can cast well from the student population.

And, most importantly, I consider the educational value of various shows. Albert Herring is not only a great piece of music and theater, but there’s so much that the students learn from working on it. The roles are difficult, both vocally and musically. And since it’s a big ensemble show, students are challenged to develop their ensemble singing and acting skills. So far, I’m very pleased with the results.

Benjamin Britten

I’ve directed The Magic Flute before. We’re going to do a version of a production I did some years ago that locates the drama vaguely in a South Asian environment. Flute, for all of its brilliance, is kind of a dramaturgical mess. Who are the truly good and bad guys/gals? Where do we start and where do we end up and what do each of the characters learn for having gone on the journey?

My take on the story very indirectly alludes to a conflict between East (Sarastro) and West (Queen of the Night), and attempts to examine the two opposing forces on the most basic, human level – even if they are iconic figures. Why makes the Queen tick? Why did Sarastro “steal” her daughter and why is he “holding her captive?” These are the questions that intrigue me.

Mozart old 1782

Was there an Aha! Moment – a work or performer, a concert or recording – that made you realize that you wanted to have a professional life in music and specifically in opera?

My Aha! moment? OK, you’re going to think I’m a nerd. As a high school senior, I took a philosophy elective in which I was reading people like Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. At the time, I was obsessed with an LP called “The Genius of Puccini” -– essentially excerpts from operas by Puccini (below) –- which I would play over and over again in my room. I recall going into my parents’ room one night, with record blaring in the background, and ranting on about what I was reading and how it described exactly what filled me up like nothing else. (Cue the big ensemble from the first act of Turandot). From that moment, it was all downhill!

puccini at piano

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

I’d just like to encourage people to come to both University Opera productions. We’ve got a terrific cast for Albert Herring, not to mention an incredibly talented and articulate young conductor in Kyle Knox (below)– Kyle is truly someone to keep your eye on.

Kyle Knox 2

We’ve been having so much fun during rehearsals – laughing a lot! I firmly believe that spirit transfers across the proverbial footlights.

If any of your readers are hesitant (perhaps because they tend to respond to 19th century Romantic pieces and might be reticent to go to an opera with which they’re not familiar), I can confidently say that Albert Herring is a very accessible piece –– extremely entertaining and, at times, quite moving. The physical production is coming along –- all in all, I’m very excited about the show.

Albert Herring Rehearsal

 

 


Classical music: The Opera Student Showcase concert this Sunday afternoon will introduce David Ronis as the new director of University Opera and spotlight University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate soprano Shannon Prickett.

September 12, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a the press release for the University Opera’s Student Showcase that will take place this coming Sunday afternoon and will preview the talent and productions of the upcoming season:

“A concert of favorite melodies by Vincenzo Bellini, Giuseppe Verdi and others -– mostly operatic but one clearly comic -– will be presented by students from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music’s opera program.

The concert will take place this Sunday afternoon, September 14, at 3 p.m. in the First Unitarian Society of Madison’s Landmark Auditorium (below) at 900 University Bay Drive.

FUS1jake

Directing the concert and this year’s University Opera program will be David Ronis (below, in a photo by Luke DeLalio), currently on leave from the Aaron Copland School of Music at City University of New York, and Hofstra University. He is serving as the interim successor to longtime director William Farlow, who retired from the University of Wisconsin-Madison last spring. (At bottom is a YouTube video of the work that the versatile Ronis recently did at Queens College with an early music version of Luigi Rossi’s opera “Orfeo.”)

Here is a link to a press release, issued by the UW-Madison School of Music when David Ronis was chosen from a nationwide search last spring, with Ronis’ impressive background:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/2014/07/11/school-of-music-announces-david-ronis-as-visiting-director-of-opera/

David Ronis color CR  Luke DeLalio

Most of the singers will appear in this year’s productions of Benjamin Britten’s Albert Herring this fall and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Magic Flute in the spring.

Here is a link to information about the upcoming season of the University Opera:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/opera/

But one singer -– soprano Shannon Prickett (below top) – is an alumna returning from her current work as Resident Artist at the Minnesota Opera.

While in Madison from 2011 to 2013 and working on her Master’s of Music degree, Prickett performed lead parts in Puccini’s La Bohème, Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Luigi Cherubini’s Medea, Pietro Mascagni’s L’amico Fritz, and Verdi’s Requiem.

In the Showcase concert, she will sing arias from Verdi’s I Lombardi, Giacomo Puccini’s Manon Lescaut, and a dramatic duet from Verdi’s Aïda with new mezzo-soprano doctoral student Jessica Kasinski, below bottom. (The Ear has no word on specific works to be performed.)

Shannon Prickett head shot

Jessica Kasinski

Other singers will take on arias by Mozart, Donizetti, Bellini, Richard Strauss and even Flanders and Swann: That number requires good humor as well as pianistic skill from the accompanist, and will provide a treat for fans of the multi-talented and critically acclaimed Thomas Kasdorf (below), another graduate of the UW-Madison.

Thomas Kasdorf

The concert is a benefit for the University Opera that sponsored by Opera Props, which supports the University Opera. Admission is a contribution of $25 per person, $10 for students. A reception follows.


Classical music Q&A: What should newcomers and old-timers know about this year’s Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society concerts? What has changed and what has stayed the same? How do co-founders and co-artistic directors Stephanie Jutt and Jeffrey Sykes measure the success of a BDDS season? Part 2 of 2.

June 10, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Some people might refer to it as one of the highlights of the summer music season in Madison.

The Ear prefers to think of it as a high point of the entire season in Madison. He waits all fall, winter and spring to find out the next theme, the next repertoire, the next performers.

I am talking about this Friday night when the Madison-based chamber music group the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society will open “23 Skiddoo,” its new six-concert, three-weekend and three-venue season at 7:30 p.m. in The Playhouse at the Overture Center. (Below is the poster for the 23rd annual season.)

23Skiddoo logo

And this summer series shows no sign of disappointing.

Much of the BDDS concert format or formula will remain the same: familiar classics of the repertoire mixed in with rarely heard artists and works, including commissions and a world or local premiere; familiar local performers mixed in with imported top-flight imported musicians; and the signature atmosphere that combines chatty levity with serious first-rate music-making.

Am I excited? You bet! And should you be too.

Some of my favorites are the piano trios, quartets and quintets performed by the San Francisco Trio. They will be playing here again, including one trio by Dmitri Shostakovich and another by Antonin Dvorak.

Other favorites of The Ear are the symphonies by Franz Joseph Haydn and the piano concertos by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in the long-neglected chamber music reductions intended to be performed as “house music” in private homes. This summer includes one of the most popular Mozart piano concertos –- again.

I love the string works that BDDS plays – and this summer I will get to hear Claude Debussy’s phenomenal Violin Sonata, the last work he composed, and Maurice Ravel’s unusual Sonata for Violin and Cello.

BDDS cello duo

I especially love piano music: the more, the better. This summer I will get to hear two of the best: Jeffrey Sykes, who possesses the chameleon-like gift of Richard Goode in that he can sound absolutely natural and at home in just about any musical style, from Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Modern. But this summer is a twofer. Sykes will also perform two-piano pieces by Sergei Rachmaninoff, Witold Lutoslawski and Maurice Ravel with the celebrated University of Wisconsin-Madison virtuoso Christopher “Kit” Taylor.

BDDS piano jumbotron

Then there is the fabulous new clarinetist,  Alan Kay, of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, performing the sublime Clarinet Trio by Johannes Brahms.

You can hear all that plus a lot more, including a generous serving of South American music — tangos by Astor Piazzolla and songs by Carlos Guastavino — that flutist Stephanie Jutt brought back from her sabbatical year in Argentina.

But you can check out the programs for yourself. I challenge you to find one that just doesn’t interest and impress you.

Here is a link to the compete new season:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/04/07/classical-music-bach-dancing-and-dynamite-society-announces-its-23rd-season-23-skiddoo-this-june-with-an-emphasis-on-latin-american-chamber-music-a-midwest-premiere-by-american-co/

You might recall that The Ear has been so impressed with consistent high quality of the BDDS programs and performances that he named the group Musician of the Year for 2012. Here is a link to that posting:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/12/31/classical-music-madisons-bach-dancing-and-dynamite-society-is-musician-of-the-year-for-2012/

And here is a link to the BDDS website with full details about the dates, time, venues, programs and performers’ bios.

http://bachdancinganddynamite.org

The co-founders and co-artistic directors flutist Stephanie Jutt and pianist Jeffrey Sykes, agreed to an email Q&A that has run in two parts.

The first part ran yesterday. Here is a link to Part 1:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/06/09/classical-music-qa-how-do-you-make-chamber-music-both-fun-and-fine-co-directors-stephanie-jutt-and-jeffrey-sykes-discuss-this-summers-23rd-annual-three-weekend-three-venue-season-of-t/

Here is Part 2:

bddsjuttandsykesjpg

What would you like young people and newcomers to know about BDDS?

SJ: This is the perfect concert to go to if you haven’t been to a concert since grade school. It’s a perfect concert to take a date to – he’ll think you’re smart and artistic. She’ll think you’re thoughtful and edgy. The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society is perfect for novices and connoisseurs alike.

JS: We are VERY user-friendly. We know that classical music concerts, and chamber music concerts in particular, can sometimes feel as if they are designed for the “initiated.”

We promise to give you an experience that makes great music FUN to listen to, not a chore, and certainly not like listening to a sermon at church. Whether you’ve been to a thousand chamber music concerts or none, you are welcome at our concerts, and we have something for you. (Below top, playful playing card uniforms are worn for a “Jokers Are Wild” program.)

BDDS 6 2013 Card costumes

What would you like fans and longtime audience members to know?

 JS: We are so inspired by your loyalty, your generosity, your roll-up-your-sleeves offers to help in hundreds of ways, big and small. We get many of our best ideas from our audience, so keep talking to us, because we are listening! If I could ask a favor, please bring a friend or two to a BDDS concert – someone that hasn’t been before. That’s the way we build our audience, one listener at a time.

SJ: We love you and we wouldn’t be here without your incredible enthusiasm and generosity! But if we could ask you a favor: bring someone new to a concert, someone who has never been to hear BDDS — or chamber music — before. Our very best advertising has always been word-of-mouth.

BDDS 4 ovation

Do you any favorite repertoire or programs? What are the virtues of each of the three different venues, and which one is the most popular venue with public? How do you measure the success of a season?

SJ: Oh dear – my favorite concert always is the one I’m currently playing, and our concerts are on such a level that I’m captivated by virtually everything. I don’t mean to gush, but since I’m the flutist, I’m not in all the pieces, so I get to watch and listen as some of them get put together.

It’s thrilling to watch the development of ideas and the intense communication between the artists, which the audience can truly appreciate in the small venues in which we perform. At Taliesin, the audience can literally read the notes on the page, and sometimes they do! We love that aspect of our performances, and it’s something our audiences only experience at BDDS.

JS: I love all our programs, so it’s hard to pick a favorite. During the process of putting together the season, any music we don’t like almost always gets weeded out 🙂

As for what I’m actually playing, again I’m happy about everything I’m playing—but I suppose if pressed, I’ll say that I’m especially looking forward to playing two-piano music with Kit Taylor again. Ravel’s “La valse” and Rachmaninoff’s “Symphonic Dances”—they are such juicy masterpieces, both originally written for two pianos, and really, really fun to play.

I’m also very self-indulgently looking forward to playing the Mozart concerto in Week Two. We pianists are so lucky—27 concertos by Mozart, and 19 of them absolute masterpieces. I hope to play one every year until I make my way through all of them.

I’m also very much looking forward to the Dvorak Piano Trio in F minor in Week Three. (Editor’s note: You can hear the Boston Trio play the first movement of the Dvorak Trio in F minor at the bottom in a YouTube video.) I’ve never played it before, and I love it so much. It’s music of such incredible depth and emotional honesty. (Below is the San Francisco Piano Trio with pianist Jeffrey Sykes, violinist Axel Strauss and cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau.)

San Francisco Trio 1

Venues:

They are all great. Each has its pluses and minuses. I’d suggest you try them all on for size! (Below top is The Playhouse at the Overture Center; below middle is the Stoughton Opera House; and below bottom is the Hillside Theater at famed architect’s Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green.)

BDDS Playhouse audience

StoughtonOperaHouse,JPG

taliesin_hillside2

Measuring the success of a season.

1. Well, one measure is certainly financial—this is the “butts in seats” measure. We want a butt in every seat! Aside from meaning we’ve had great ticket sales, the energy of a full house is incredibly exciting.

2. Another measure of success is whether the season as a whole, and the concert programs individually, have a successful narrative arc. I think (hope) they do (will). Of course, you never really know until you actually do the programs…

3. Yet another measure of success is fairly internal—how the chemistry works for these artists playing these pieces together. It’s always a risk mixing musicians and pieces. We’ve had a pretty good success rate with this, but we do make mistakes now and again. We’re all pros, and we will pull it out for performance whatever has happened in rehearsal, but there is something fundamentally satisfying about great chemistry in the rehearsal process.

4. And yet another measure of success is the effect everything has on the audience. We all love a thunderous, spontaneous standing ovation. But even more than that, I love it when a piece ends and is followed by a very pregnant silence in the audience, like you’re so caught up in the moment that you forget to breathe. THAT is a sure sign of success. I think we have possibilities for a couple of these this season.

BDDS standing ovation

What else would you to say or add?

SJ: We have a wonderful FREE children’s concert on Saturday morning, June 14, at 11 a.m. in The Playhouse of the Overture Center. It is called, “Getta Move On, Kids!” and is sponsored by CUNA Mutual, and that is getting a large and enthusiastic audience. It is friendly for children of all ages -– so please join us!

Hightail it to the Overture box office or our BDDS website and buy a season ticket. Student tickets are only $5 and we’d love to see more music loving students in our audience. BDDS comes only once a year and it means to me that summer’s here!

JS: Thank YOU, Jake, for being such a loyal fan and supporter of BDDS!

 

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Classical music: Is it au revoir — or adieu? The UW Chamber Orchestra will play a FREE concert this Sunday night, but then will be axed and fall silent next season.

April 29, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear hears: The UW Chamber Orchestra (below) will NOT exist next school year.

uw chamber orchestra USE

But not before it performs its final concert of the current season -– FREE and open to the public — this coming Sunday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall. Under the baton of acclaimed longtime conductor James Smith (below), the chamber orchestra will perform what seems a fitting final program.

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

What could be a better farewell than a program that features two homages: One to Francois Couperin (Dance Suite) by Richard Strauss (below top) and one to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart by French composer Jacques Ibert (below bottom). And then comes the true Mozart in a true masterpiece: the Symphony No. 39 in E-Flat Major.

richard strauss

Jacques Ibert

The UW-Madison has not released any specific information yet about the reasons involved in canceling the UW Chamber Orchestra, which, together with the UW Symphony Orchestra, makes up the orchestra program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

But from what The Ear hears, the decision has to do with several factors.

Because there are fewer scholarships, there are fewer students coming into the school and therefore entering the performance groups.

There are also fewer students because some major professors who attract a loyal following from afar are retiring. They include tuba player John Stevens, University Opera director William Farlow and pianist Todd Welbourne.

Other full-time faculty are leaving the UW-Madison School of Music (violinist Felicia Moye, below, to McGill University, soprano Julia Faulkner to the Lyric Opera of Chicago school) and have been replaced with one-year appointments (oboist Kostas Tiliakos, singer Elizabeth Hagedorn, violinists Eugene Purdue of Madison and Leslie Shank of the Twin Cities, below, tubist Tom Curry and University Opera director David Ronis from CUNY’s Aaron Copland School of Music in New York City). And short-term instructors simply do not attract as many loyal students, especially those whose talent is on a superior or professional level.

Felicia Moye color

Leslie Shank

Here are some links to stories about the new incoming academic staff from the terrific blog Fanfare:

http://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2014/04/22/paq-tour-disanza-award-new-faculty/

Plus, there have been some financial problems, which have also caused the UW-Madison School of Music to scale back the new performing space it is seeking to build, and to substitute one-year appointments for tenure-track professorships.

All in all, the UW-Madison School of Music, which has traditionally enjoyed a fine reputation and a high ranking among public music schools, faces some serious challenges.

The only large instrumental classical ensemble that will continue to exist will be the UW Symphony Orchestra, but all the musicians I have talked to say the two groups offer very different playing experiences.

And The Ear finds it ironic that the smaller-scale chamber orchestras generally seem to be thriving around the country far more than the larger, more ambitious and more expensive symphony orchestras and opera companies, many of which face serious financial challenges. (Below is the famed St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, in which violinist Leslie Shank plays.)

St Paul Chamber Orchestra

I have not heard reactions about axing the UW Chamber Orchestra from staff or students -– perhaps because they have not yet heard the news — but I would welcome hearing some in the COMMENTS sections of this blog. I also think that members of the public and listeners should chime in with their reactions.

To The Ear, the demise of the UW Chamber Orchestra is a sad shame. After all, the question seems to ask itself: How does a major public School of Music maintain its status without providing the experience and repertoire of the smaller orchestra?

We will see.

In the meantime, I suggest that the performance this Sunday night is a MUST-HEAR concert. (Below is the UW Chamber Orchestra rehearsing with conductor James Smith.)

UW Chamber Orchestra rehearsing under James Smith

We really don’t know yet whether this is an au revoir or an adieu -– a temporary good-bye or a permanent farewell, no matter what the initial intent is.

But The Ear knows this much: In almost any organization, it is a lot easier to get rid of something than to revive it or bring it into being. Inertia is a powerful institutional force. So I would like to see a public groundswell or reaction to either keep  the UW Chamber Orchestra active next academic year or to bring back the UW Chamber Orchestra after a one-year sabbatical — if that sabbatical really is necessary.

The Ear has many wonderful memories of the UW Chamber Orchestra, in both solo concerts but also in collaborating with the UW Choral Union (below) and the UW Concert Choir.

UW Choral Union and Chamber orchestra full view 12-2011

Here, at the bottom in a YouTube video is one of those moments: from several years ago, the first movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s iconic Fifth Symphony:

 

 

 

 

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Classical music: Opera director David Ronis of CUNY is named to succeed William Farlow. University Opera’s production of Hector Berlioz’ charming “Beatrice et Benedict” is a fine and fitting tribute to the longtime tenure of retiring director William Farlow. The last performance is tonight at 7:30 p.m.

April 15, 2014
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EDITOR’S NOTE: Please note that some reviews of productions last weekend are being delayed to make room for previews of the many upcoming concerts and musical events this week.

NEWS:  David Ronis (below) of Queen’s College and the Aaron Copland School of Music at the City University of New York (CUNY) has just been named as the interim one-year visiting director of University Opera, to succeed William Farlow. Here is a link to the official press release with his impressive resume on the blog Fanfare:

http://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2014/04/14/ronis_press_release/

David Ronis BIG BW USE

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

The University Opera at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has a long history of including rarities in its productions, rarities that audiences are not likely to see elsewhere.

For his farewell offering as he retires at the end of this academic year, director William Farlow (below, in a photo by Katherine Esposito) has put on a particularly enterprising novelty. That “Beatrice et Benedict: — is the last and most successful of the three operas by the early French Romantic composer Hector Berlioz.

William Farlow by Kathy Esposito

Berlioz (below) wrote the libretto as well as the music, freely adapting his stripped-down version from the play “Much Ado About Nothing by” Shakespeare — an author whose works he adored. Berlioz cast it in the form of the opéra comique, combining set-piece musical numbers with spoken dialogue. It was the same form used not only by Jacques Offenbach, but also by Georges Bizet for his “Carmen.” Nevertheless, Berlioz infused the form with his own individual wit, imagination, and personality. The score is full of absolutely beautiful music, with a dip into satire as well. (You can hear the opera’s Overture performed by Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields at Carnegie Hall in You Tube video at the bottom.)

berlioz

The UW Opera presented this opera before, in 1988, in the days of Karlos Moser, in a semi-staged concert performance. This time, Farlow has given it a complete staging, employing mostly exemplars of the gifted vocal talent the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music has been drawing lately.

(The last of three performances is tonight at 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall at the foot of Bascom Hill.)

In the performance I attended Sunday night, the feuding lovers, the two title characters, Shakespeare’s Beatrice and Benedick, were sung by the agile soprano Lindsay Metzger and high tenor Daniel López-Matthews. (Below right and left, respectively, in a photo by Max Wendt). The other pair of lovers, Hero and Claudio, were portrayed by the powerfully voiced soprano Anna Whiteway and tenor Jordan Wilson. The local commander, Don Pedro, was taken by bass Erik Larson.

berlioz UW Opera Beatrice et Benedict 2 CR Max Wendt

To these the cast added two veterans. Edgewood College teacher and mezzo-soprano Kathleen Otterson (below) is a long-standing veteran of UW Opera and Madison music-making, always welcome any time, in anything, including the role here of Ursula, Hero’s friend. And baritone Benjamin Schultz, a returned alumnus, sang the comic role that Berlioz invented, Somarone, as a caricature of the pompous rivals and academics who were the composer’s life-long opposition.

Kathleen Otterson 2

Following a frequent practice when this opera is presented outside of France, the vocal numbers were sung in the original French, while the revised dialogue was given in English. It’s a workable solution to a problem for singers who can sing in French, but really can’t speak it well. Fine as the singing was, it was clear that they were not uniformly comfortable singing French.

Still, many moments were truly gorgeous, notably the Hero-Ursula duet in Act I, and the ladies’ trio in Act II, as well as the offstage wedding chorus.

By and large, Farlow’s stage direction was careful: in the vocal set pieces often relatively static, though, that was certainly preferable to too much action. In the case of Somarone’s Act I scene, Schulz was made to go much too far beyond satire, into exaggerated silliness. And Beatrice’s over-acting in Act I really compromised the character’s self-assured sassiness before her “fall.”

Still, even with so much of the dueling wordplay of Shakespeare’s original removed, Metzger and López-Matthews engaged well as the couple who had to be tricked into discovering that their outward hostility covered a profound attraction.

A particular asset was the pit orchestra that conductor James Smith (below) was able to work up very successfully to Berlioz’s tricky requirements.

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

William Farlow departs leaving us with many debts to him, including this demonstration that Berlioz’s gem of a comic opera really deserves more regular presentation.

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