The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: This Sunday, Beverly Taylor retires as associate conductor of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. Kyle Knox will succeed Taylor starting this fall.

June 29, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) has announced that Associate Conductor Beverly Taylor (below) will retire from her current position after 22 years, effective this Sunday, July 1.

Taylor will continue to serve as Director of the Madison Symphony Chorus (below, in a  photo by Greg Anderson).

She will also continue as the Director of Choral Activities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music, where she conducts many groups including the Choral Union (below) and the Concert Choir.

Kyle Knox (below) will become the MSO’s new Associate Conductor, effective in the 2018–2019 season.

“I am delighted that Beverly will continue to work with the Madison Symphony Chorus. The chorus has improved steadily under her direction and will sing some very difficult music in the coming seasons,” said MSO music director John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad). “I also want to thank Beverly for the outstanding help she has given me in the preparation of our concerts over the years.”

“I’ve loved my time as associate conductor of the symphony, and will continue as chorus director,” says Taylor. “But I’m looking forward to more time for guest conducting, visiting friends and family and finishing the two books I’m at work on. I also have a grant to write a basic conducting textbook, and I’m finishing a handbook on how to develop a musical interpretation.”

John DeMain says he looks forward to Knox joining the MSO. “I think Kyle Knox is a natural to step into the associate conductor position. He has distinguished himself in the past few years with his work at the University of Wisconsin, Madison Opera and the Middleton Community Orchestra (below, in a photo by John W. Barker). He also successfully led the MSO in last year’s Concert on the Green.

“His recent appointment as Music Director of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) is a testament to his brilliant talent and will dovetail easily with his duties with the MSO. I so look forward to our working together and welcome him to our Madison Symphony Orchestra family.”

Knox is also very pleased with his appointment.

“My history with the MSO goes back a few years and I have long admired the work of Maestro DeMain and this wonderful group of musicians,” he says. “It is an honor to have been selected for this opportunity and I look forward to happy years of service and collaboration.”

BACKGROUND BIOGRAPHIES

Beverly Taylor has been the Associate Conductor of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Director of the Madison Symphony Chorus since 1996 and Director of Choral Activities at UW-Madison since 1995.

Prior roles include conductor of the Boston Bar Association Orchestra, Music Director of the Back Bay Chorale, and Associate Director of Choral Activities at Harvard University.

Taylor has been a guest conductor at the Arthur Rubinstein Philharmonic Orchestra in Poland, the St. Louis Symphony Chorus, the Vermont Symphony, the Harvard Chamber Orchestra, the Madison Opera, the U.S. Air Force Band and Orchestra, the Harvard Radcliffe Collegium Musicum, and the Wellesley Chamber Singers.

She graduated from the University of Delaware and Boston University School for the Arts and received a fellowship with Chorus America and an orchestral fellowship at Aspen.

Kyle Knox will take over the dual positions of Music Director of WYSO and Associate Conductor of the Madison Symphony Orchestra beginning in the 2018–2019 season.

Past and upcoming conducting credits include Mark Adamo’s Little Women with the Madison Opera; Benjamin Britten’s Albert Herring and The Turn of the Screw, and Transformations; with UW-Madison’s University Opera; the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s 2017 Concert on the Green; Johann Strauss Jr.’s Die Fledermaus and Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Gondoliers and H.M.S. Pinafore with the Madison Savoyards; as well as UW Music Clinic’s High School Honors Orchestra.

Other concerts include Carousel, Sunday in the Park with George, and Sweeney Todd (2018) with Middleton Players Theatre, Jon Deak’s The Passion of Scrooge with Oakwood Chamber Players, as well as regular appearances with the Middleton Community Orchestra.

He was formerly a clarinetist with Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, the Santa Fe Opera and Philadelphia Orchestras, and was on the faculty at UW-Milwaukee. Festivals credits include Tanglewood, Spoleto (Italy), Santa Fe Chamber Music, and Bowdoin College, among others. His debut album, the first commercial recording of Conrad Susa’s chamber opera Transformations, will be released in the summer of 2018 on iTunes. He holds degrees from Juilliard School and the UW-Madison. He  is married to MSO concertmaster Naha Greenholtz. 


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Classical music: University Opera wins a national award for its 2014 production of Benjamin Britten’s “Albert Herring.” Plus, Emanuel Ax will perform Beethoven, instead of Franck and Strauss, with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

January 16, 2016
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ALERT: Pianist Emanuel Ax has changed his program with the Madison Symphony Orchestra on March 11-13. He will perform the Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58, by Ludwig van Beethoven instead of the Symphonic Variations by Cesar Franck and the Burleske by Richard Strauss. Also on the program, to be conducted by MSO music director John DeMain, is the “Colas Breugnon” Overture by Dmitry Kabalevsky and the Symphony No. 4 by Gustav Mahler with soprano soloist Alisa Jordheim.

By Jacob Stockinger

This Sunday afternoon at 3:30 p.m., in the Meeting House of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, there will be an Opera Props benefit to help support University Opera.

Here is a link with more information about the event, the performers — including UW alumnus and guest Broadway “Barihunk” Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek (below) as well as UW students — and the program, which includes a reception:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/01/14/classical-music-broadway-star-and-uw-madison-alumnus-joins-students-for-the-university-opera-benefit-this-sunday-afternoon/

Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek baritone

If you are wondering how good the cause is, you might want to know that the University Opera just won a national award from the National Opera Association for its 2014 production of Benjamin Britten’s operaAlbert Herring” (below, in a photo by Michael R. Anderson). 

University Opera Albert Herring Michael R. Anderson

The production was directed by visiting guest opera director, from New York City, David Ronis (below, in a photo by Luke Delalio), who is an applicant in the current search for a permanent full-time head of the opera program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. Kyle Knox, a graduate student, was the conductor and music director.

This is the first such award for the UW-Madison but the fourth for David Ronis.

David Ronis color CR Luke DeLalio

Here is a link to a past posting with more about Ronis and the prize-winning production:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/10/20/classical-music-qa-meet-opera-director-david-ronis-who-makes-his-local-debut-in-the-university-operas-production-of-benjamin-brittens-albert-herring-this-frid/

Here is a link to the UW-Madison‘ s “A Tempo” blog that has the full story about the award and other links as well as a lot of photos:

https://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com

 


Classical music: University Opera will stage Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” this coming weekend and next Tuesday night. The Ear thinks it has all the makings of a Don’t Miss event.

October 19, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The University Opera at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music will stage Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s ‘The Marriage of Figaro” in Music Hall (below, at the foot of Bascom Hill) this coming Friday and Saturday nights at 7 p.m., Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. and next Tuesday night at 7 p.m.

MusicHall2

Tickets are $25 for adults; $20 for seniors; and $10 for students with ID.

The stage director is David Ronis (below, in a photo by Luke Delalio), a guest director from the Aaron Copland School of Music at CUNY in New York City who is here at the UW-Madison for a second year in a row.

David Ronis color CR Luke DeLalio

The Ear recalls that last year’s eclectic and sold-out production by Ronis of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” was a highlight of the season. Ronis drew incredible performances from the students and the costumes and sets, which mixed India‘s Bollywood aesthetic with a traditional Western monastic aesthetic. The opera was well sung and eye-popping in the best sense. It was Big Fun.

Dress rehearsal for The Magic Flute

So The Ear has big expectations of this opera, which he likes even more, and which will be performed by the same stage director and music director, James Smith (below, in a photo by Michael R. Anderson), conducting the UW Symphony Orchestra.

In fact, The Ear is willing to bet that once again Ronis, Smith and student performers will deliver the goods and sell out all four performances, not just the three that were typical of past productions.

UW Chamber Orchestra, James Smith, conductor

The Ear asked Ronis, who is among the national pool of candidates who have applied to fill the post of University Opera director permanently, why he chose another Mozart opera. (Last year, he also did Benjamin Britten‘s “Albert Herring.” This coming April he will do Conrad Susa’s and Ann Sexton’s “Transformations.”)

Here is his answer:

“As far as why we’re doing “Figaro” in light of just having done “The Magic Flute.”  Simple: it was the best choice for the group of students that we have this year in terms of educational value and the current talent pool.  It happened to be Mozart (below) – with absolutely nothing planned or any connection between the two.”

Mozart old 1782

If you would like to know more about the production and about the cast – and also about how to buy tickets — visit this site with the comprehensive press release from the UW-Madison:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/2015/09/23/university-opera-presents-the-marriage-of-figaro/

One final word: The Ear says this Mozart opera is especially known for its sprightly Overture (below in a YouTube video featuring conductor Fabio Luisi and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra).

But even more importantly, The Ear says it is worth a seeing if for no other reason than hearing the sublime forgiveness quartet at the end. (You can hear it in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

The music is otherworldly and heart-wrenching in its beauty.

And as Mr. Mozart knew so well: Who doesn’t need love and isn’t moved by forgiveness?

 


Classical music: Farley’s Salon Piano Series starts a new season this coming Sunday afternoon with the prize-winning Varshavski-Shapiro piano duo. Plus, tonight is your last chance to hear and see the University Opera’s production of Benjamin Britten’s “Albert Herring.”

October 28, 2014
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ALERT: Tonight at 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall on Bascom Hill, is your last chance to hear the University Opera’s production of Benjamin Britten’s comic chamber opera “Albert Herring,” which is based on a short story by the 19th-century French writer Guy de Maupassant. (Below, in a photo by Michael R. Anderson, is a crucial scene.)

Tickets are available at the door. They are $22 for the public, $18 for seniors and $10 for students.

Here is a link with more information:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/brittens-albert-herring-3/

And here is a link to a review by John W. Barker of Isthmus. The Ear, who saw the Sunday afternoon performance instead of the opening on Friday night, agrees with Barker on the major points:

http://www.isthmus.com/daily/article.php?article=43859&sid=bd26396e522b7c37c6f143f5598af822

University Opera Albert Herring Michael R. Anderson

By Jacob Stockinger

Farley’s House of Pianos will host five concerts in the Salon Piano Series’ 2014-15 season, which starts this coming Sunday:

The Varshavski-Shapiro Piano Duo (below), this Sunday, November 2, at 4 p.m., in music by Schubert, Ravel, Milhaud, Saint-Saens and Poulenc.

varshavski shapiro duet

Pianist Ilya Yakushev (below), Sunday, January 25, 2015, at 4 p.m. in music by Beethoven, Prokofiev and Schumann.

ilya yakushev 3

Pianist Marco Grieco (below), Friday, March 13, 2015 at 7:30 p.m. in music by Johann Sebatsian Bach-Feruccio Busoni, Beethoven, Chopin and Liszt.

marco grieco

Pianist Martin Kasík (below), Saturday, April 18, 2015, at 7:30 p.m. in music by Beethoven, Ravel and Prokofiev.

martin kasik

A spring jazz concert, still to be announced

These concerts constitute the second season of the Salon Piano Series, a 501(c)(3) non-profit founded by Tim and Renée Farley to continue the tradition of intimate salon concerts at Farley’s House of Pianos.

The setting replicates that experienced by audiences throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, and enhances collaboration between performer and audience.

The Series offers audiences the chance to hear upcoming and well-known artists whose inspiring performances are enhanced by the setting and the fine pianos. Some performances are preceded by free lectures. An artists’ reception with light food and beverages follows each concert and is included in the ticket price.

VARSHAVSKI AND SHAPIRO

Here is more about the opening concert:

The program features: “Variations on a French Song”, D. 624, one piano-four hands, by Franz Schubert; “La Valse” for one piano-four hands by Maurice Ravel; the exciting and lyrical Brazil-inspired “Scaramouche” suite by Darius Milhaud (heard at the bottom played by piano superstars Martha Argerich and Evgeny Kissin in a YouTube video); “Variation on a Theme by Beethoven” for two pianos by Camille Saint-Saens; and the Sonata for Two Pianos by Francis Poulenc.

Ukrainian Stanislava Varshavski and Russian Diana Shapiro’s partnership began in 1998, while the two were students at the Jerusalem Rubin Academy in Israel. One year later, they won first prize at the International Piano Duo Competition in Bialystok, Poland.

Stanislava Varshavski-Diana Shapiro

Since then, the ensemble has participated in international festivals and performed solo recitals in at least eight different countries, and has appeared with a number of well-known orchestras, such as the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra, and the New World Symphony Orchestra of Miami.

In 2005, they placed first in the prestigious Murray Dranoff International Two Piano Competition. Varshavski and Shapiro both hold doctorates in Musical Arts from University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, where they studied under Martha Fischer. The duo appeared together at Farley’s in 2012 when they premiered the Villa Louis Steinway Centennial grand (below) that was rebuilt in the Farley workshop. Learn more about the Varshavski-Shapiro Piano Duo at www.piano-4-hands.com.

Farley 1877 piano

SALON PIANO SERIES

Visit http://salonpianoseries.org/concerts.html for complete concert programs, and artist information. Tickets are $35 for each concert and can be purchased online at www.brownpapertickets.com

Tickets are also available at Farley’s House of Pianos and Orange Tree Imports.

Farley’s House of Pianos is located at 6522 Seybold Road on Madison’s far west side near the Beltline and West Towne. Plenty of free parking is available at Farley’s House of Pianos, and it is easy to reach by bicycle or Madison Metro.

 

 


Classical music: Friday night is another big Train Wreck that offers lots of great classical music choices: the Westminster Abbey Choir of London, the UW-Madison Pro Arte String Quartet and Edgewood College’s Fall Choir Concert as well as the opening night of University Opera’s production of “Albert Herring.”

October 21, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Friday night is, as The Wise Critic likes to call them, another big “Train Wreck.”

That is because there are so many fine but conflicting concerts to choose from.

Yesterday, The Ear posted an interview with David Ronis, who talked about his own background and about the University Opera’s production of Benjamin Britten’s comic opera “Albert Herring.” It opens Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall with repeat performances at 3 p.m. on Sunday and 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday night.

Here is a link:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/10/20/classical-music-qa-meet-opera-director-david-ronis-who-makes-his-local-debut-in-the-university-operas-production-of-benjamin-brittens-albert-herring-this-frid/

But that opera opening night is just the beginning.

Here are three other events that merit your attention and consideration:

The WESTMINSTER ABBEY CHOIR

On Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, The Westminster Abbey Choir of London, England opens the 10th anniversary season of the Overture Concert Organ (below), custom built by Klais of Bonn, Germany.

Overture Concert Organ overview

From the Madison Symphony Orchestra: “For nearly 1,000 years, inspiring choral music has filled the vast cathedral of London’s Westminster Abbey, the site of every British coronation since 1066. (At the bottom in a popular YouTube video, you can hear the choir singing British composer John Rutter’s “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” at the 60th wedding anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip.)

“Now, this renowned 40-voice choir (below) comes to Madison to sing with the Overture Concert Organ in a program of music from the 11th century to the Renaissance and 20th century, featuring the works of Orlando Gibbons, George Frideric Handel, Sir Hubert Parry and William Walton.

“Praised by the Sydney Morning Herald as “…One of the great choral powerhouses of our time,” The Choir of Westminster Abbey has performed for numerous notable events including, Evening Prayer in the presence of Pope Benedict XVI in 2010 and the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in 2011, which was seen by a worldwide television audience of over two billion people. In June 2012, the Choir made a historic visit to Rome, when it sang, at the Pope’s invitation, alongside the Sistine Chapel Choir.

Westminster Abbey 3

“When not touring the world with destinations such as Sydney, Hong Kong, Washington, D.C., and Moscow, The Choir of Westminster Abbey works on a celebrated series of recordings for Hyperion. Their critically acclaimed recording Mary and Elizabeth at Westminster Abbey received the Gramophone Critics’ Choice Award and has been hailed as “a showcase for English choral singing at its most charismatic.”

Westminster Abbey in abbey 2

General admission for the concert is $20 and tickets can be purchased at www.madisonsymphony.org/westminster, the Overture Center Box Office or (608) 258-4141. Student rush tickets are $10 on the day of show with a valid student ID (see www.madisonsymphony.org/studentrush).

This concert is sponsored by Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation, W. Jerome Frautschi Foundation, and Alfred P. and Ann M. Moore.

To see the Overture Concert Organ series of concerts for 2014-15 or to subscribe at a 25 percent savings, visit:

www.madisonsymphony.org/organseason14-15 or call (608) 257-3734.

Westminster Abbey in abbey CR Bill Prentice

PRO ARTE QUARTET

On Friday night at 7:30 p.m.in Mills Hall, the Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer), which has been artists-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music since 1941, will perform a FREE concert.

The program is: String Quartet in D Major, Op. 71 No. 2 (1793) by Franz Joseph Haydn; String Quartet No. 4 (1936) by Alexander Zemlinsky (1936); and the popular String Quartet in F Major, Op. 96 “American” (1893) by Antonin Dvorak.

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

EDGEWOOD COLLEGE

On Friday night at 7 p.m., Edgewood College will present its Fall Choral Concert in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive. Admission is FREE.

The Edgewood Chamber Singers, under the direction of Albert Pinsonneault (below top), will be joined by the Women’s Choir, under the direction of Kathleen Otterson (below bottom) and the Men’s Choir, under the direction of Sergei Pavlov.

There is no admission charge.

Sorry, The Ear has received no word about specific works on the program.

Albert Pinsonneault 2

Kathleen Otterson 2


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

 

 


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