The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Madison Opera will stage its first-ever production of Mozart’s “The Abduction from the Seraglio” this Friday night and Sunday afternoon

February 7, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend, the Madison Opera presents The Abduction from the Seraglio by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart on Friday, Feb. 9, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 11, at 2:30 p.m. in the Capitol Theater at the Overture Center for the Arts, 201 State Street.

According to a press release, the opera — below is a mock-up of the locally designed and constructed set — will be sung in German with English used for dialogue and in the translated supertitles above the stage. Running time is about 2-1/2 hours with one intermission.

Tickets are $25-$114 with student and group discounts available. Call the Overture Box Office at (608) 258-4141 or visit www.madisonopera.org

With some of the most virtuosic vocal writing by Mozart (below), the opera is an adventure story of love, danger, humor and humanity.

Set in the 17th-century Ottoman Empire, the opera begins when Belmonte, a Spanish nobleman, arrives at Pasha Selim’s palace to rescue three people who had been captured during a shipwreck: his fiancée, Konstanze, and their servants, Blonde and Pedrillo.

A simple escape proves no easy task, and Mozart’s masterpiece weaves together comedy, quiet reflection and youthful optimism, with a happy ending brought about by an Enlightened ruler.

Abduction is a simply marvelous opera,” says Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill), Madison Opera’s general director who will give free pre-performance talks in the third-floor Wisconsin Studio at 7 p.m. on Friday night and 1:30 p.m. on Sunday afternoon. “It’s the opera with which Mozart started to reinvent opera, with not only the expected arias, but also brilliant ensemble work. The very real humanity of the piece – its funny parts, its moving parts and the universal truth of the ending – is extraordinary.”

The Abduction from the Seraglio (Die Entführung aus dem Serail) was Mozart’s first major success. Written for the National Singspiel in Vienna – a pet project of Emperor Joseph II – it premiered in 1782 and was an immediate hit. (You can hear the familiar and captivating Overture in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Like all singspiels, the opera uses spoken dialogue; indeed, the critical role of Pasha Selim is entirely spoken, perhaps one of the few instances of a major opera character not singing a note. In Madison, the dialogue will be performed in English, with the music sung in German (with projected English translations).

With a libretto by Johann Gottlieb Stephanie the Younger – an unauthorized adaptation of a libretto by Christoph Friedrich Breztner – Abduction was one the first successful German-language operas.

It was immortalized in the film Amadeus, and is famous for a possibly apocryphal story in which Emperor Joseph II criticized the work, saying to Mozart, “Too many notes,” and Mozart responded, “Exactly as many as needed.”

Abduction would go on to become Mozart’s most popular opera during his lifetime, but it has been a comparative rarity in the United States. This is Madison Opera’s first production of the opera in the company’s 57-year history.

“Mozart’s music for Abduction is a delight from start to finish,” says John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), Madison Opera’s artistic director and conductor. “Great – and at times excitingly challenging – arias are enhanced by beautiful duets, trios and quartets. It has always been a favorite opera of mine, and I’m so looking forward to Madison Opera’s first production of this masterpiece with an absolutely knockout cast of great young singers.”

Mozart’s phenomenal vocal writing requires a strong team of five singers, and Madison Opera’s cast features a number of returning favorites.

Amanda Woodbury (below) sings the Spanish noblewoman Konstanze, whose aria “Martern aller Arten” is one of the most challenging arias ever written. Woodbury debuted with Madison Opera as Pamina in The Magic Flute last spring, and has recently sung leading roles for the Metropolitan Opera and Los Angeles Opera.

Tenor David Walton (below) sings Belmonte, Konstanze’s fiancé; he debuted at Opera in the Park this past summer, has sung many leading roles for Minnesota Opera, and sings at the Glimmerglass Festival this summer.

Matt Boehler (below) returns as Osmin, the palace overseer with some devilishly low bass notes. He sang Rocco in Fidelio and Leporello in Don Giovanni for Madison Opera, and more recently has sung with Minnesota Opera, Opera Philadelphia, and the Canadian Opera Company.

Konstanze and Belmonte’s servants, Blonde and Pedrillo, are sung by Ashly Neumann(below top) in her Madison Opera debut and Wisconsin native Eric Neuville (below bottom), who sang Laurie in Little Women for Madison Opera.

Alison Mortiz (below) directs this new production in her debut with Madison Opera. Moritz has directed at opera companies around the United States, including Central City Opera, Tulsa Opera and Tri-Cities Opera.

The sets and costumes (below) are locally made specifically for this production.

The scenery and lighting are designed by Anshuman Bhatia, also in his Madison Opera debut, with costumes designed by Karen Brown-Larimore. As always, the opera features the Madison Opera Chorus and the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

Madison Opera’s production of The Abduction from the Seraglio is sponsored by Kay and Martin Barrett, Fran Klos, Sally and Mike Miley, and the Wisconsin Arts Board.

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Classical music: Here is a true tale of a famous Mozart opera, sexual assault and Trump Tower

December 3, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

World-famous avant-garde stage director Peter Sellars (below, in a photo by Christian Carisius for the European Press Photo Agency) is known for his unorthodox recasting of operas and Bach cantatas.

peter-sellars-2016-cr-christian-charisiuseuropean-pressphoto-agency

But one of his productions, done almost 30 years ago, has proven especially prescient.

It involved the opera “The Marriage of Figaro” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, which years ago he set in Trump Tower.

The plot centers on the medieval “droit du seigneur” that allowed a nobleman to be entitled by law to have sex with a servant on her wedding night before the husband did. (In the YouTube video at bottom is the famous and so breathtakingly beautiful Forgiveness scene, featured in the Oscar-winning film “Amadeus,” with the faithful Countess and the philandering Count that ends the masterpiece opera.)

In 1988 Sellars set the opera on the 52nd floor of the luxurious Trump Tower (below), as the equivalent of an aristocratic estate, of net-feudalistic excess and wealth.

trump-tower-up-to-sky

With great insight and articulateness, Sellars recently discussed with The New York Times the inspired settings in light of the past history, campaign and recent election of President-elect Donald Trump.

The Ear found the interview both enlightening and entertaining, and he hopes you do too.

Here is a link:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/25/arts/music/remember-when-figaro-was-set-in-trump-tower.html?_r=0

It makes you wonder: How will other forms of art deal with the new administration?

Could it be that we are in for more activist protest art, something of a return to the 1960s and such efforts as Barbara Garson’s 1967 “MacBird,” which recast Shakespeare’s tragedy “Macbeth” as a theatrical satire of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, or LBJ, and First Lady Lady Bird Johnson as the Macbeths following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy or JFK?

What do you think?

Can you think of other works that lend themselves to such an approach to contemporary affairs?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Twin-sister pianists, the Naughtons return to their hometown this weekend to perform a Mozart concerto with the Madison Symphony Orchestra. The powerful Symphony No. 5 by Shostakovich is also on the program. On Election Day, what piece of music should be played for the new president-elect?

November 8, 2016
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ALERT: Today is ELECTION DAY. Be sure to vote. Then leave a COMMENT and maybe a YouTube link telling The Ear what piece of classical music should be played for the new president-elect — Republican Donald Trump or Democrat Hillary Clinton.

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement:

This weekend, the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO, below), with music director John DeMain conducting, performs two early 20th-century works. One is neglected and rarely performed while the other one is considered a powerful masterpiece,.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

Madison’s very own Christina and Michelle Naughton (below) also return, for a performance of the witty and energetic Concerto for Two Pianos by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

christina-and-michelle-naughton-2016

The concert begins with Le Printemps (“Spring”) by Claude Debussy, an Impressionist ode to the living.

The Naughton twins then perform the lyrical Mozart’s Concerto for Two Pianos, followed by a performance of the Symphony No. 5 by Dmitri Shostakovich. It showcases the composer’s artistic triumph over the forces of Soviet repression. This is also the piece conductor John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) conducted for his impressive audition here over two decades ago.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

The concerts are in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, 201 State Street, on Friday night, Nov. 11, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday night, Nov. 12 at 8 p.m.; and Sunday afternoon, Nov. 13, at 2:30 p.m.

An early version of Debussy’s Le Printemps was actually lost in a fire. The piece, originally written in Rome in 1886-87, premiered in Paris in 1913. Upon writing the score, Debussy (below) wrote to a friend, “…I’m calling it Printemps, not ‘spring’ from the descriptive point of view but from that of living things.”

Claude Debussy 1

The Naughtons will then play Mozart’s Concerto for Two Pianos. This piece, which is said to have been a favorite of Mozart (below, with his sister), was originally written for himself and his sister Maria Anna, nicknamed “Nannerl,” to perform. (The concerto was featured in the soundtrack to the Academy Award-Winning film “Amadeus” and you can hear the last movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

This is the first time this piece will be performed by the MSO. The listener will be able to imagine a smile, or at least a sly wink from Mozart to Maria Anna hidden within the harmonic score.

mozart-and-sister-maria-anna-nannerl

Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 was originally completed in 1937. This will be the third time this piece has been performed by the MSO.

The Soviet Union oddly enough was a major influence for this work. In 1933 a doctrine was released, which was intended to control the content and style of Soviet literature and other various forms of art, including music. Soviet music was hence used to serve the propaganda needs of the state.

Symphony No. 5, which the composer subtitled “The practical answer of a Soviet artist to criticism,” is a composition that was written to save Shostakovich (below) from imprisonment. You can hear the personal anxiety of an artist being controlled by the State in this historic symphony.

dmitri shostakovich

One hour before each performance, Anders Yocom (below), Wisconsin Public Radio Host, will lead a 30-minute Prelude Discussion in Overture Hall to enhance concertgoers’ understanding and listening experience.

anders yocom studio head shot cr Jim Gill

For more background on the music, visit the Program Notes by MSO trombonist and UW-Whitewater professor Michael Allsen at: http://www.allsenmusic.com/NOTES/1617/3.Nov16.html

Single Tickets are $16 to $87 each, available online at madisonsymphony.org/naughtons, in person at the Overture Center Box Office, 201 State Street, or by calling the Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

Groups of 15 or more can save 25% by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734.

For more information visit, madisonsymphony.org/groups

Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Box Office, 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $12 or $15 tickets. More information is available at: madisonsymphony.org/studentrush.

Seniors age 62 and up receive 20% savings on advance and day-of-concert ticket purchases in select areas of the hall.

Discounted seats are subject to availability, and discounts may not be combined.


Classical music: Remembering The Modest Maestro. English conductor Sir Neville Marriner died this past week at 92

October 8, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

He played in a string quartet and a symphony orchestra before founding and directing a chamber orchestra that rose to the top ranks of the music world. Then he became a world-famous conductor of larger ensembles, including the Minnesota Orchestra.

He was Sir Neville Marriner (below, in old age), and he died at 92 on Oct. 2.

nevlle-marriner-old

Perhaps because Marriner, who pioneered period practices on modern instruments when playing music of the Baroque and Classical eras, was famous for recording the soundtrack to the Academy Award-winning film “Amadeus,” his death was announced the same day on radio news programs – something that doesn’t happen often and speaks to his popularity and influence.

By all accounts, in the world of many egotistical maestros, Marriner remained modest. For this friendly titan, music mattered most and he was busy conducting right up until the end. Apparently, Marriner was a wonderful man to know and to work with.

Chances are good that by now you have already heard about Marriner’s death. So The Ear is offering some homages that repeat the details of his career and his passing. (Below is a photo of the young Neville Marriner.)

neville-marriner-young

First are two moving testimonies from Marriner’s friend, the British critic Norman Lebrecht, published on Lebrecht’s blog Slipped Disc:

http://slippedisc.com/2016/10/sad-news-neville-marriner-is-gone-at-92/

http://slippedisc.com/2016/10/the-unforgettable-neville-marriner/

Here is the announcement of his death from the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields (heard playing the Adagio by Tomaso Albinoni in the YouTube video at the bottom), which Marriner founded and led for many years:

http://www.asmf.org/sir-neville-marriner/

Here is an exhaustive obituary from The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/03/arts/music/neville-marriner-prolific-musician-and-acclaimed-conductor-dies-at-92.html?_r=0

And here is another obituary from The Washington Post:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/music/neville-marriner-led-renowned-academy-of-st-martin-in-the-fields-dies-at-92/2016/10/02/3bfbb3ec-88b2-11e6-875e-2c1bfe943b66_story.html

Here is a good overview with some audio-visual samples, from the Deceptive Cadence blog on NPR or National Public Radio:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/10/02/195882515/neville-marriner-who-recorded-the-beloved-soundtrack-to-amadeus-has-died

And here is a good summary from famed radio station WQXR-FM in New York City:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/conductor-neville-marriner-dies-founded-london-orchestra/?utm_source=local&utm_medium=treatment&utm_campaign=carousel&utm_content=item5

Sir Neville Marriner was a prolific recording artist, with more than 500 recordings to his credit. The Ear fondly remembers an LP that had the Serenades for Strings by the Czech composer Antonin Dvorak and the “Holberg” Suite by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, which has been reissued as a “Legends” CD by Decca. The playing was warmly heart-felt and superb.

The Ear also loved his complete set of piano concertos by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, done with pianist Alfred Brendel.

What are your favorite Marriner recordings?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Here are people that classical music lost in 2015. Can you think of others?

January 2, 2016
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Each year inevitably brings losses in the world of classical music.

And 2015 was no different.

Yet it some ways it seems to The Ear that the losses are getting harder to bear.

Is it because The Ear is getting older -– and finds that aging is not as desensitizing to death as he had expected?

Is it because so many of the deaths were high-profile figures like the German conductor Kurt Masur, who resurrected the New York Philharmonic and helped broker German reunification; or the distinguished Czech pianist Ivan Moravec, who also played the music for the Oscar-winning film “Amadeus”?

Kurt Masur closeup

ivan moravec playing

Is it because one of them, Metropolitan Opera’s weekly radio host Margaret Juntwait, died much too young from cancer?

Margaret Juntwait

Is it because of a local link, like the dramatic tenor Jon Vickers (below top in a 1998 photo by Graham Trott; and below bottom, as Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes) who performed in Madison when the Madison Opera was still coming of age?

GRAHAM TROTT 19/10/98 JON VICKERS, FORMER TENOR

Jon Vickers as Peter Grimes

Is it because it was someone who helped us, who brought us new beauty, as Robert Craft (below top, signing a copy of his memoir for Naxos) did with his championing of Igor Stravinsky? (In the photo below, Craft, left, is seen with Stravinsky.)

robert craft older

Robert Craft, left, and Igor Stravinsky

And there were others.

Here is a list of the classical music losses compiled by WQXR, the famed FM radio station in New York City:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/memoriam-classical-musicians-who-died-2015/

SURELY THERE WERE OTHER WOMEN AND MEN WHOM CLASSICAL MUSIC LOST IN 2015, ESPECIALLY LOCALLY, WHO HAVE NOT BEEN NAMED.

IF YOU CAN THINK OF SOMEONE, PLEASE LEAVE THEIR NAME AND A DESCRIPTION OF THEIR LIFE AND WORK IN THE COMMENT SECTION.

And to honor all those who were taken from us, The Ear offers one of the best pieces for grieving he knows, the stately and restrained “Pavane for a Dead Princess” by Maurice Ravel in the original piano version.

It is played below in a YouTube video by the late great pianist Shura Cherkassky.

 


Classical music: Renowned Czech “pianist’s pianist” Ivan Moravec is dead at 84.

July 29, 2015
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The renowned Czech pianist Ivan Moravec (below) — known as “a pianist’s pianist” — died Monday at the age of 84. He died in Prague of complications from pneumonia.

ivan moravec playing

Moravec was known especially for his interpretations of Chopin, DebussyBrahms and especially Mozart – his playing of a Mozart piano concerto was heard on the soundtrack of the popular and Academy Award-winning film “Amadeus,” which you can hear in a YouTube video at the bottom. He also played composers from his native land including Antonin Dvorak, Bedrich Smetana and Leos Janacek.

Ivan Moravec vertical young

Here are some obituaries:

From Gramophone magazine:

http://www.gramophone.co.uk/classical-music-news/pianist-ivan-moravec-has-died

From Classical Music magazine:

http://www.classicalmusicmagazine.org/2015/07/ivan-moravec-9-november-1930-8210-27-july-2015/

From Voy Forums with mentions of awards:

http://www.voy.com/221392/165442.html

From critic Norman Lebrecht‘s blog Slipped Disc:

http://slippedisc.com/2015/07/a-great-pianist-has-died/


Classical music: Chamber music group Con Vivo! celebrates the anniversaries of maestro John DeMain (20 years) and composer Richard Wagner (200 years) in the opening concert of its 12th season this Friday night. Plus, violinist sisters Alice and Eleanor Bartsch discuss their upcoming concert Thursday morning on WORT FM.

November 6, 2013
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ALERT: Classical radio host and blog friend Rich Samuels writes: This Thursday morning, beginning at 7:08 a.m., I’ll be airing on my WORT 89.9 FM show an interview I recently recorded with sister UW violinists Alice and Eleanor Bartsch (below in a photo by Katrin Talbot) regarding their Friday night concert in Overture Hall with Madison Symphony Orchestra organist Samuel Hutchison. They will talk about the Friday evening program and give us brief samples of the Vivaldi and Bach they’ll be playing. They also tell us about how they are planning for careers in a music business that is evolving in challenging ways seemingly by the day. MSO concertgoers will recognize the Bartsch sisters as members of the MSO’s first violin section. Alice is a UW Madison senior; Eleanor is studying for a master’s degree in performance at the UW School of Music as well as for an MBA at the School of Business.

Alice  and Eleanor Bartsch (c) Katrin Talbot

By Jacob Stockinger

con vivo! … music with life (the core musicians are pictured below)  begins its 12th season of chamber music with a concert entitled “Baker’s Dozen” on this Friday, November 8, at 7:30 p.m. at First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Ave., across from Camp Randall.

Con Vivo core musicians

The performance will feature the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Music Director John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) conducting chamber music by Richard Wagner and Mozart.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of opera composer Richard Wagner (below), the chamber music gem “Siegfried Idyll in its original version will be performed.

Richard Wagner

That will be followed by the piece that had a starring role in the movie “Amadeus,” Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s masterpiece the “Gran Partita Serenade for Winds.” (Hear the third movement, the heartbreaking Adagio, in a YouTube video with still photos from the Oscar-winning movie “Amadeus” at the bottom.)

mozart big

“We are very excited to be a part of Maestro DeMain’s 20th year in Madison as he returns to con vivo! to conduct our biggest production ever!

“Tickets can be purchased at the door for $18 for adults and $15 for seniors and students. Audience members are invited to join con vivo! musicians after the concert for a free reception to discuss this chamber music literature and to hear about their Carnegie Hall debut this past December.

Artistic Director Robert Taylor, in remarking about the concert, said:

“With 20 musicians performing, this concert promises to be a spectacular event in the history of con vivo! We are delighted to have Maestro DeMain return after his rendition of Igor Stravinsky’s “A Soldier’s Tale” with us two seasons ago. We continue the tradition of bringing to our audience works that are familiar and some that are new in perhaps a not so familiar format. So come join us for our post-Carnegie Hall debut season.”

con vivo! is a professional chamber music ensemble comprised of Madison area musicians assembled from the ranks of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, and various other performing groups familiar to Madison audiences. 


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