The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Excellent singing, acting, orchestral playing, sets and costumes combined to make Verdi’s “La Traviata” one of Madison Opera’s best ever productions

November 6, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

The experienced Opera Guy for this blog – Larry Wells – took in last weekend’s production by the Madison Opera of Verdi’s “La Traviata” and filed the following review. Performance photos are by James Gill.

By Larry Wells

During the first few moments of the Overture to Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata” — on Sunday afternoon in Overture Hall — I had a feeling that this would be a special performance. Members of the Madison  Symphony Orchestra sounded full and alive and attentive to artistic director and conductor John DeMain.

(You can hear the haunting overture or prelude, performed at the BBC Proms by the Milan Symphony Orchestra under Chinese conductor Xian Zhang, in the YouTube video at the bottom,)

Presented by Madison Opera, this performance will remain in my memory as one of the best I have attended here.

The traditional production was well staged by director Fenlon Lamb with beautiful sets (below) designed for Hawaii Opera Theater and provided by Utah Opera. The sets provided a sense of spaciousness and perspective as befits grand houses in 19th-century Paris.

Likewise, the costumes were spectacular, particularly in the masquerade scene (below) in the second act where almost everyone was in opulent black.

The three principal characters were all well portrayed, although tenor Mackenzie Whitney’s Alfredo (below left) seemed rather youthful to be proclaiming he was being reborn by his love for Violetta (below right).

Both Whitney and baritone Weston Hurt (below right), who portrayed Alfredo’s father Germont, sang perfectly well.

But all of my notes seem to have focused on soprano Cecilia Violetta Lopez’s portrayal of Violetta (below left, with Mackenzie Whitney as Alfredo). One aria, duet and ensemble after another was remarkably sung with her pure and crystalline voice.

Lopez is also a talented actress who convincingly conveyed the emotions of the heroine in their wide gamut from care-free courtesan to love-struck woman to abandoned consumptive.

I was close enough to the stage to see the changing emotions flicker across Lopez’s face, and I was very impressed, and ultimately moved, by her performance.

All three of the main characters could sing, but Lopez could really sing and act as well. It was an outstanding performance that left me quite affected.

The chorus sounded wonderful, and the choristers did not overact, for which I was grateful. Their contribution to the finale of the second act made that ensemble heartbreaking. Likewise, the final ensemble at the end of the opera left me bereft.

Altogether conductor, orchestra, singers, chorus, set, costumes and lighting combined to create an unforgettable afternoon. I pay tribute to Verdi for creating an enduring work of art and to John DeMain (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) for an amazing performance.

For more background about the real-life story and inspiration of the opera and more details about the production and the cast, go to: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2019/10/28/classical-music-the-madison-opera-performs-verdis-la-traviata-this-friday-night-and-sunday-afternoon-in-overture-hall/

Unfortunately, I was seated behind an older couple. The woman was obviously very ill and apparently was unable to lift her head high enough to see the stage, let alone read the supertitles. Her partner — I assume it was her husband — patiently whispered a summary of the supertitles throughout the performance.

I believe that people feel that they are inaudible to others when they whisper to their neighbor, but we all know that this is not the case.

I mentioned this to friends during the intermission, and they said that I should say something. However, my Midwestern niceness kicked in and I just endured it. I thought that perhaps this would be the last opera she would ever attend.

Yet I could not help feeling that I would not have enjoyed someone whispering in my ear while music was being performed; and I would have perhaps prepared in advance so that I knew what I would be hearing.

Additionally, I darkly mused that perhaps “La Traviata” is not an appropriate opera to bring someone who is critically ill to.

Readers’ thoughts on this matter would be appreciated.


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Classical music: Pianist Ilya Yakushev returns to play Russian jazz with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra on Friday night, then a recital of piano classics at Farley’s House of Pianos on Saturday night

February 21, 2019
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ALERT: The second of two FREE Friday Noon Musicales — devoted to the music of John Harbison on the occasion of his 80th birthday — will take place this Friday at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive. The Mosaic Chamber Players will perform. The concert runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m. The composer will be there to sign copies of his new book “What Do We Make of Bach?”

By Jacob Stockinger

Although he has heard the jazz suites by Dmitri Shostakovich many times, The Ear was surprised to learn how many modern Russian composers fell under the spell of American jazz.

Cultural difference combined with cultural exchanges might be one explanation.

But he also wonders if perhaps living in a state of psychological and emotional distress and danger – the Stalinist Terror facing composers in the Soviet Union and the Jim Crow racism facing African-American jazz artists in the United States – created a certain affinity between such apparently different musical traditions.

One thing is certain: the program that Ilya Yakushev (below), who was born and trained in Russia and now teaches at the Mannes College of Music in New York City – promises to be one of the most interesting programs of this season.

During his return to Madison, the Russian virtuoso pianist – who has his own interest in jazz and played a solo version of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” when last here — will perform two programs at venues where he has proven to be a sensational audience favorite.

This Friday night, Feb. 22, at 7:30 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, Yakushev will once again team up with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) and its music director and conductor Andrew Sewell, to perform two rarely heard Russian works that demonstrate the influence of American jazz.

Those two Russian works are “Ten Bagatelles for Piano Orchestra” by Alexander Tcherepnin (below top) and the “Jazz Suite for Piano and Small Orchestra by Alexander Tsfasman (below bottom).

You can hear the Lyrical Waltz from Tsfasman’s Suite in the YouTube video at the bottom.

The WCO complements that with two jazz-influenced works by Igor Stravinsky (below): Suite No. 2 for Small Orchestra and “Ragtime.”

Then the concert concludes with one of the most iconic and well-known pieces of all classical music: the Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

For much more information about Yakushev and the program as well as to a link to buy tickets ($15-$80) go to:

https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performances/masterworks-ii-4/

SATURDAY

Then on this Saturday, Feb. 23, at 7:30 p.m. at Farley’s House of Pianos, 6522 Seybold Road, on Madison’s far west side near West Towne Mall, Yakushev will perform a program of impressive tried-and-true classics as part of the Salon Piano Series.

An artist’s reception will follow the concert.

Tickets are $45 in advance (students $10) or $50 at the door. Service fees may apply. Tickets can also be purchased at Farley’s House of Pianos. Call (608) 271-2626.

Student tickets can only be purchased online and are not available the day of the event. Tickets can be purchased in advance from:

https://www.brownpapertickets.com/producer/706809brownpapertickets.com

For more information, go to: https://salonpianoseries.org

Yakushev’s recital program is:

Adagio in B minor, K. 540 (1788), by Mozart

Sonata in F minor “Appassionata,” Op. 57 (1804), by Ludwig van Beethoven

Vallée d’Obermann, S. 160 (1855), from “Années de pèlerinage, Première année” (Years of Pilgrimage, First Year), by Franz Liszt

The song “Widmung” (Dedication) by Robert Schumann as transcribed for solo piano by Liszt, S.566 (1848)

“Mephisto Waltz No. 1,” S. 514 (1862), by Liszt (below, in an 1886 photo, the year before he died, when Liszt was teaching many students, by Nadar)

In addition, on Saturday at 4 p.m., Yakushev will teach a FREE and PUBLIC master class at Farley’s House of Pianos, where he will instruct local students.

The master class program will include:

Sonata No. 1 in F Minor, Op. 2, No. 1, First Movement by Beethoven; performed by Kevin Zhang who studies with Kangwoo Jin.

Six Variations on “Nel cor piu non mi sento” (In My Heart I No Longer Feel) by Beethoven, performed by Daniel Lee who studies with Irmgard Bittar.

Etude in G-Flat Major (“Black Key”) Op. 10, No. 5,by Frederic Chopin; performed by Alysa Zhou, who studies with Denise Taylor.

Master classes for the 2018-19 season are supported by the law firm of Boardman & Clark LLP.

The concert is supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.

The Salon Piano Series is a nonprofit founded to continue the tradition of intimate salon concerts featuring exceptional artists. To become a sponsor of the Salon Piano Series, please contact Renee Farley at (608) 271-2626 or email renee@salonpianoseries.org


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Classical music: The amateur Middleton Community Orchestra opens its new season this Wednesday night with local flutist Iva Urgcic as soloist in a program of Reinecke, Glazunov and Haydn

October 8, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

The mostly amateur, highly acclaimed and very popular Middleton Community Orchestra (below) will open its new season this Wednesday night, Oct. 10, at 7:30 p.m.

As usual, the concert will take place in the comfortable Middleton Performing Arts Center (below) that is adjacent to Middleton High School at 210 Bristol Street. Parking is plentiful and free.

Tickets are $15 general admission, but students and children are admitted free. The box office opens at 6:30 p.m. and the auditorium opens at 7 p.m. Advance tickets can be purchased at Willy St. Coop West. Student tickets are available only at the door.

The season includes the “Autumn” section from “The Seasons: by the Russian composer Alexander Glazunov; the Symphony No. 100 by Franz Joseph Haydn; and the rarely heard Flute Concerto in D Major, Op. 283, by Carl Reinecke (1824-1910). (You can hear James Galway playing the first movement of the Reinecke Concerto in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here is the Wikipedia entry for Reinecke (below, in a photograph from 1890): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Reinecke

The conductor of this concert is Steve Kurr (below), the MCO’s resident conductor:

The flute soloist is the distinguished and very busy Iva Urgcic (below), who this past year also co-founded the award-winning LunART Festival, a series of new music from all-women composers with all-women performers and poets; and who took over this year as director of the Rural Musicians Forum in Spring Green. She did her graduate work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music where she was a winner in the annual concerto competition.

Also as usual, there will be am informal meet-and-greet reception after the concert.

For more information about how to join or support the Middleton Community Orchestra or to see the concerts and programs for the rest of the 2018-19 season, go to: http://middletoncommunityorchestra.org


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Classical music: Madison Area Concert Handbells (MACH) turns 20 and will give three performances of “Bells of Christmas” this coming weekend. Plus, there is a FREE concert of women composers on Friday at noon and a FREE community string quartet concert on Thursday night

December 7, 2016
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ALERT 1: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale at the meeting house of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features Sarah Gillespie, French horn, and Susan Gaeddert, piano, in music by women composers: Fanny Hansel, Clara Schumann, Kay Gardner and Andrea Clearfield. The concert runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m.

ALERT 2: The Hunt Quartet, made up of UW-Madison graduate students, will perform a FREE concert at the Beth Israel Center, 1406 Mound Street, on Thursday night at 7:30 p.m.

The program includes the String Quartet No. 2 by Sergei Prokofiev,  the String Quartet in G Major Op. 77, No. 1, by Franz Joseph Haydn, the “Langsamer Satz” (Slow Movement) by Anton Webern.

The string quartet is a joint community outreach project of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and the Madison Symphony Orchestra, and is funded by Kato Perlman. It plays at many local schools. For more information, visit: http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/hunt-quartet/

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has been asked to post the following information:

It’s the 20th anniversary of Madison Area Concert Handbells (MACH) and we’re celebrating!

Our Bells of Christmas concerts will feature some best-loved pieces from the past along with exciting new ones that will showcase our ringers’ and soloists’ talents. MACH’s founder and Director Emerita, Susan Udell (below, front center with baton), will be conducting the December concerts to bring an air of fun-filled nostalgia and continuing excellence to our programs.

madison-area-concert-handbells-susan-udell-in-front-center

Performances are on Friday, Dec. 9 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, Dec. 10, at 7:30 p.m. in the Middleton Performing Arts Center (bel0w), 2100 Bristol Street, Middleton. The center adjoins Middleton High School.

Middleton PAC1

There is another performance on Sunday, Dec. 11, at 3 p.m. at St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church, 5700 Pheasant Hill Road, in Monona.

Tickets in advance are $12 for adults and $9 for students 16 and under; and $9 for seniors; at the door, tickets are $15 and $12 respectively.

Advance tickets are available at Cool Beans Coffee Café, Ward-Brodt Music, Metcalfe’s Market at Hilldale, and Orange Tree Imports.

Advance tickets can also be ordered. Go to http://www.madisonhandbells.org

To pay with check or money order, you can order by mail — please print an order form and mail with payment to MACH. Advance ticket prices apply.

Group tickets (10 or more) can be ordered in advance for $10 per person, whether adult, student or senior. These are not available at the door; to order, please print an order form and mail with payment (check or money order)

PROGRAM NOTES

Here are program notes written by Susan Udell:

“The Bells of Christmas” opens with the timely reminder that Christmas is Coming before an array of pieces that unfold the events of Christ’s birth. “Wake, Awake,” a stirring arrangement of Philipp Nicolai’s “Wachet Auf,” is replete with giant chords, flowing passages, and the resonance of bass chimes as the city of Jerusalem is made aware of the Savior’s importance.

Next, an arrangement of the 17th century French tune “Picardy,” “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence,” features mysterious random ringing of bells and hand chimes while the melody is intoned. This evolves into a burst of fiery 16th-note passages and a maestoso statement of the tune before subsiding into the sound of silence punctuated by random chimes once more.

A lively Caribbean tune, “The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy,” arranged by one of the handbell world’s top composers and arrangers, Hart Morris, gives a change of pace with its syncopation and moments of percussive instruments.

madison-area-concert-handbells-big-bells

The noted English composer John Rutter’s “Angels’ Carol” follows, sung by our favorite guest vocalist from the past, Carrie Ingebritsen, and our own Rachel Bain; their voices blend beautifully with a liquid handbell accompaniment to give the angels’ message from that long-ago night.

Another favorite soloist, Barbara Roberts, takes the leading part in an excerpt from Benedetto Marcello’s sonata for flute that has been combined in a Gigue with “Forest Green”, an alternate tune for “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” A bell tree duet of “Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella” follows, played by MACH members Caitlin Ristow and Karen Paschke.

Then it’s time for an audience sing-along in Christmas Carol Fest III. “How Great Our Joy” closes the first half of the concert with variations on the carol “While By My Sheep” and then another opportunity for the audience to sing as “Joy to the World” affirms the events that occurred in Bethlehem so long ago.

After a brief intermission, renowned handbell composer Cynthia Dobrinski‘s arrangement of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” brings sobering and dramatic music that climaxes in a joyful affirmation that, despite all, God will prevail. Carrie Ingebritsen will help illuminate what the music portrays as she sings the verses accompanied by the bells. (You can hear a sample of Cynthia Dobrinski’s music for handbells in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

madison-area-concert-handbells-playing

An energetic “Comfort, Comfort Ye My People” follows, based on tunes by Louis Bourgeois and George Frideric Handel, also arranged by Cynthia Dobrinski. Next, her arrangement of “On Christmas Night All Children Sing” (Sussex Carol) brings us to a light-hearted celebration of the holiday as seen through the eyes of children.

Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky’s famed “Nutcracker Suite” is then represented as our MACH ringers present a challenging, full-bodied arrangement of its March as transcribed by noted handbell composer William Griffin.

Former MACH member, Janet Rutkowski, returns as handbell soloist for “The Tin Soldier,” an amusing rendition of that well-known tune. Then the ever-popular “Up on the Housetop” details the gifts children anticipate at Christmas and depicts Santa’s arrival, descent of the chimney, and filling of stockings before he departs in a flash of sound.

Our concert concludes with a joyful, foot-stomping “Caroler’s Hoedown,” created and arranged by Valerie Stephenson, who received her graduate degree in composition from the University of Wisconsin-Madison many years ago.

We hope you will join our 20th year’s celebration by attending one of our concerts. We will recognize past ringers and Board of Directors members in our programs as a special tribute of thanks for their support over the years.


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