The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Madison Opera’s “Seraglio” stood out for its singing and staging, its local sets and costumes, and provided a crowd-pleasing comic romp in trying times. Plus, Friday brings FREE piano and viola da gamba concerts

February 15, 2018
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FRDAY ALERTS: This Friday’s FREE Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features Eric Miller playing the viola da gamba in a recital of early baroque music by Marais, Forquery, Sainte-Colombe, Abel, Hume and Ortiz. The concert runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m.

Then on Friday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the critically acclaimed guest pianist Marina Lomazov will perform a FREE recital of all-Russian music that includes “Pictures at an Exhibition” by Modest Mussorgsky. Lomazov’s recital is part of a larger event, “Keyboard Day,” that has a French focus and takes place all day Saturday at the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music. See tomorrow’s post for more information about Saturday. For more about Lomazov, go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/guest-artist-marina-lomazov-piano/

By Jacob Stockinger

The Opera Guy filed this review of last weekend’s production by the Madison Opera:

By Larry Wells

On Sunday afternoon, I attended the second and final performance of Madison Opera’s production of Mozart’s “The Abduction from the Seraglio” in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

This comic romp utilized a beautiful set and wonderful costumes designed and constructed in-house. (Below, Matt Bueller as Osmin peers out the door of the palace, or seraglio, at David Walton as Belmont.)

The orchestra, drawn from the Madison Symphony Orchestra and ably led by maestro John DeMain, was situated backstage. This was an effective novelty, although the sound was somewhat muffled, at least from where I sat in mid-orchestra.

The dialogue was in English while the singing was in German with English supertitles. I looked over the lengthy original libretto and was thankful that it had been heavily abridged for this two-hour production.

It had also been updated to be both hip and politically correct about Islamic culture and Turkey, where the story takes place. But it made me idly wonder what the reaction would be if the music had been likewise updated to be more in tune with the times.

The production was all about the singing.

David Walton’s Belmonte (below right, with Amanda Woodbury as Konstanze) was beautifully sung, particularly in the second act. He has a Benjamin Britten tenor voice with remarkable breath control.

Eric Neuville’s Pedrillo was also admirably sung. Neuville is an accomplished comic actor, as well.

Ashly Neumann’s singing as Blonde (below center, with women of the Madison Opera Chorus) was clean, clear and bell-like.

Amanda Woodbury as Konstanze (below right with Brian Belz as Pasha Selim)  was virtuosic. She displayed vocal fireworks several times and was especially effective in her lament toward the end of the first act.

This quartet’s ensemble work in the second act was a vocal high point. (You can hear the quartet from a different production in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

But to me the most impressive singing and comic acting belonged to Matt Boehler as Osmin. His bass was simply majestic. (Below, from left, are Brian Belz as Pasha Selim; David Walton as Belmonte; Matt Boehler as Osmin; Eric Neuville as Pedrillo; Ashly Neumann as Blonde; and Amanda Woodbury as Konstanze.)

The well-prepared chorus appeared briefly in each act, adding some color and motion to the production.

Musically and visually the production was a success. The audience responded with 19 ovations during the performance – yes, I counted. Every time the orchestra reached a cadence and paused, the audience members applauded as if they were at a musical. With the incessant coughing throughout the performance, I felt like I was at a performance of “South Pacific” in a tuberculosis ward.

The audience leapt to its feet at the end, and this made me wonder what it was that they found so praiseworthy. The story itself is inconsequential and has little relevance to life today.

The singing was very good, but this is not La Scala.

The music itself, with the exception of a couple of sublime moments, does little more than foreshadow the mature Mozart of “The Magic Flute.”

I concluded that the opera is unalarming, unthreatening, and simple. This is perhaps what people long for in these trying times.

I do look forward to the Madison Opera’s production of Daniel Catan’s “Florencia en el Amazonas” this spring. Based on repeated hearings of the recording, I guarantee that Madison will be in for a treat. And there is nothing threatening or alarming or complex about the music, despite it being a work of the late 20th century.


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Classical music: The amateur Middleton Community Orchestra excels in difficult music by Wagner and Sibelius.

April 16, 2016
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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 for 12 years hosted 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

It was a short program — lasting under an hour — but an outstanding one, that the Middleton Community Orchestra (below) gave on Wednesday evening.

Middleton Community Orchestra Margaret Barker

There were only two works, but profoundly challenging ones, and associate conductor Kyle Knox (below) really put his amateur players’ feet to the fire.

Kyle Knox 2

The first work was the Prelude to Act I of the opera Lohengrin by Richard Wagner (below). This is music of spun silk, noteworthy for its use of divided violins most of the way through.

That creates a uniquely etherial sound, but one that takes great effort to bring off. The MSO has been developing a surprisingly fine string band. Its violinists met the demands of tone and balance beautifully, producing a performance of transcendent beauty.

Richard Wagner

The other, longer, work was a symphony heard far too rarely. This was the Symphony No. 3 of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (below).

I say quite frankly that it is my favorite among the symphonies of Sibelius. After the post-Tchaikovsky bombast of the First and Second, it was in this Third that the composer first found his own orchestral voice, establishing how to make his instruments and their ensembles work in ways that were totally his.

In its use of variations, and especially of thematic evolution, the Third also drafted the blueprint for the Fifth Symphony, which conductors and audiences adore, but to the cruel eclipse of the Third.

sibelius

This Third– which you can hear in the YouTube video at the bottom– is not an easy work to bring off. Its orchestral textures are full of tricky intricacies. No surprise that, here and there, one might hear quick moments in which the tension slackened. But Knox drew the players through a performance of beauty and power, finely honed and sonorously rendered.

The players clearly relish working under Knox. (The orchestra’s founding father, Steve Kurr, was sitting modestly in the viola section for this concert.) Knox’s own growth as a conductor is paired with his guiding of the orchestra to higher and higher achievements. Just for programming the Sibelius Third, I award him strong praise, but for bringing it off so well I must multiply my accolades.

I take this as a landmark event for the MCO—a genuine achievement. It is sad that the audience was not larger. Madison music-lovers, where are you when music and artistry like this is available to you?

I anticipate ranking this as my “concert of the year” when the final returns are in!


Classical music: The Madison Savoyards will begin paying singers in its summer productions of Gilbert and Sullivan operas. Plus a FREE performance of a rarely heard work by Couperin is on Good Friday at noon.

March 23, 2016
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ALERT: UW-Madison professor and baritone Paul Rowe has sent in the following note: “There is a great, free “concert” or performance on this Friday at Luther Memorial Church, 1021 University Avenue, from noon to 3 p.m. Singers Chelsie Propst and Christina Kay with organist Bruce Bengtson will be performing François Couperin’s “Leçons de ténèbres” or “Lessons in Darkness.” This work is rarely heard in performance at all, much less in this complete form. It is a fabulous piece and a great way to spend a Good Friday afternoon before Easter with its contemplative mood and its beautiful solos and duets. There will also be appropriate readings and some other music as part of the service. It is definitely worth hearing.” 

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is some good news for amateurs and semi-professionals who participate in community music-making and community theater.

For the first time in its 53-year history, the Madison Savoyards, Ltd. will pay its singers. (Below is a photo of the Three Little Maids from last summer’s production of “The Mikado.”)

Madison Savoyards The Mikado 2015

“It is an exciting next step for the organization, and will help us attract the best possible talent,” says newly installed Savoyards board president Shane Magargal. “For over 50 years, the Savoyards has kept these comic operas by Gilbert and Sullivan alive in Madison. This move will help us continue to remain a vibrant part of the local theatrical community for years to come.” (Below, are photos of W.S. Gilbert on the left and Arthur Sullivan on the right.)

Gilbert and Sullivan

Auditions for the Savoyards’ summer production, The Gondoliers, will be held at Edgewood College on Monday, April 4 from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. (Room Regina R5), and on Saturday, April 9 from 1:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. (Mazzuchelli Hall, Room 208).

To schedule a time, send your request via email to audition@madisonsavoyards.org

Information about what to prepare can be found at www.madisonsavoyards.org on the “Auditions” page.

The Gondoliers will run at Music Hall, in the UW-Madison campus at the base of Bascom Hill, on July 29, July 30, August 5 and August 6 at 7:30 p.m.; and July 31 and August 7 at 3 p.m.

There will be pre-performance dinners both Fridays at the University Club.

The Madison Savoyards, Ltd. has been presenting Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas to Madison audiences since 1963, and is pleased to offer The Gondoliers for the fourth time in its production history. (At bottom is YouTube video with a brief excerpt from “The Gondoliers.”)


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