The Well-Tempered Ear

University Opera’s original online video project celebrates the life and music of American composer Marc Blitzstein. It will be posted for FREE on YouTube this Friday night, Oct. 23, at 8 p.m.

October 21, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

This fall, University Opera presents its first project of 2020-21 in video format as it turns to the music of the American composer Marc Blitzstein (1905-1964).

“I Wish It So: Marc Blitzstein – the Man in His Music” will be released free of charge on the University of Wisconsin-Madison Mead Witter School of Music’s YouTube channel this Friday night, Oct. 23, at 8 p.m. CDT at the general site www.youtube.com/meadwitterschoolofmusic or the official specific link: https://youtu.be/77FXFZucrWc.

Director of University Opera David Ronis (below top) is the director of the original production and will give introductory remarks. UW-Madison graduate Thomas Kasdorf (below bottom) is the musical director. The production lasts 1 hour and 40 minutes, and features four singer-actors, a narrator and a piano.

Marc Blitzstein’s life story parallels some of the most important cultural currents in American history of the mid-20th-century.

Known for his musicals — most notably The Cradle Will Rock in 1937 (you can hear Dawn Upshaw sing the lovely song “I Wish It So” from “Juno” in the YouTube video at the bottom) — his opera Regina and his translation of Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera, Blitzstein was an outspoken proponent of socially engaged art. Like many artists of his time, he joined the American Communist Party. But he also enthusiastically served in the U.S. Army during World War II (below, in 1943).

Nevertheless, in 1958, long after he had given up his Communist Party membership, Blitzstein (below) was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) where he “named no names.”

An extremely gifted yet underappreciated composer, he was a close friend of and mentor to Leonard Bernstein (below right, with Blitzstein on the left) and traveled in a close circle of American composers including David Diamond and Aaron Copland.

Although openly gay, he married Eva Goldbeck in 1933. Sadly, she died three years later from complications due to anorexia.

Blitzstein’s own death was likewise tragic. In 1964, while in Martinique working on an opera about the anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti, a commission from the Metropolitan Opera, he was robbed and badly beaten by three Portuguese sailors whom he had picked up at a bar. He died the next day of internal injuries. 

Although throughout his life and afterwards, Blitzstein’s work was championed by Bernstein and others, many claim that neither the composer nor his stunning music and beautiful lyrics ever received the attention they deserved. So University Opera is proud to present this show celebrating his life and his works.

“I Wish It So: Marc Blitzstein – the Man in His Music” is a unique production put together by David Ronis. A biographical pastiche, it tells the story of Blitzstein’s life by recontextualizing 23 songs and ensembles from his shows, juxtaposing them with spoken excerpts from his working notes and letters, and tying it all together with a narration.

The result is a dramatic, evocative and enjoyable portrait of Blitzstein’s life and his art, according to Ronis.

“We’ve discovered a lot of “silver linings” while working on this production,” says Ronis. “We were disappointed at not being able to do a normal staged show. But working with video has had tremendous artistic and educational value.

“Our students are learning on-camera technique, not to mention how to work with a green screen (below, with soprano Sarah Brailey), which allows for post-production editing and digital manipulation of backgrounds. They’re also working with spoken text as well as sung pieces. Mostly, we’re just very grateful to have a creative project to sink our teeth into during the pandemic. 

“And the music of Blitzstein is so fantastic, we’re very happy to be able to share it with our audience. This project is like none other I’ve ever done and we’re thinking that it’s going to be pretty cool.”

Research on the project was completed at the Wisconsin Historical Society, where Blitzstein’s archives are housed. University Opera gratefully acknowledges the help of both Mary Huelsbeck of the Wisconsin Center for Film and Television Research, and the Kurt Weill Foundation for their assistance with this project.

The cast features five UW-Madison graduate students: Sarah Brailey, Kenneth Hoversten, Justin Kroll, Lindsey Meekhof (below) and Steffen Silvis.

The video design was done by Dave Alcorn with costumes by Hyewon Park.

Others on the production staff include Will Preston, rehearsal pianist; Elisheva Pront, research assistant and assistant director; Dylan Thoren, production stage manager; Alec Hansen, assistant stage manager; Teresa Sarkela, storyboard creator; and Greg Silver, technical director.

The video will be accessible for 23 hours starting at 8 p.m. this Friday, Oct. 23. Although there will be no admission price for access, donations will be gratefully accepted. A link for donations will be posted with the video. 

University Opera, a cultural service of the Mead Witter School of Music at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, provides comprehensive operatic training and performance opportunities for students and operatic programming to the community. For more information, email opera@music.wisc.edu or visit music.wisc.edu.

 


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Classical music: The new “LIVE From The Met in HD” season starts this Saturday. Will anyone boo or protest the Putin supporters singer Anna Netrebko and conductor Valery Gergiev during the satellite broadcast of the opera “Eugene Onegin” by the gay composer Tchaikovsky? Here are links to the full season and its background.

October 4, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

You know the new concert season is well underway when the major opera houses rev up.

And this weekend marks the start of the new “Live From the Met in HD’ series. It features 10 new productions, including some very well-known work operas and some lesser-known one.

Met Live Eugene Onegin poster

The opening production by the world-famous Metropolitan Opera (below, the interior seen from the stage) in New York City is Tchaikovsky’s opera “Eugene Onegin,” which the Madison Opera staged to critical acclaim last season.

Met from stage over pit

The new production stars singers Russian soprano Anna Netrebko (below) and the Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien.

Met Eugene Onegin Anna Netrebko face

The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra will be conducted by Russian globe-trotting conductor Valery Gergiev (below, in a photo from Getty Images), which is sure to give sparkling account of the tuneful Waltz, probably the most famous and popular moment in the entire opera (at bottom in a popular YouTube video) by that Melody Master of a composer.

Valery Gergiev Getty Images

It is a curious and sure-fire musical combination that may also be controversial, given how both Anna Netrebko and Valery Gergiev have been outspoken supporters of Macho Man Russian President Vladimir Putin (below), despite his oppositional defense of Syria’s dictator Bashar al-Assad and despite his human rights record, especially fostering the oppression of gays and lesbians in Russia. And how ironic it is that they will perform in an opera by Tchaikovsky, who was himself gay,

pro-gay march in russia with putin poster

Here are two popular  posts I recently did about that issue, posts that drew some great reader comments you should check out:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/09/22/classical-music-lets-boycott-them-if-music-superstars-anna-netrebko-and-conductor-valery-gergiev-dont-enlighten-vladimir-putin-about-gays-and-lesbians/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/09/29/classical-music-which-opera-villain-would-vladimir-putin-be/

vladimir putin barechested

One wonders; Will the singer or conductor hear any boos or jeers as they start the production, which the Met’s general director Peter Gelb has refused to dedicate to Russia’s gays and lesbians? It could be interesting. But given the cost of seats at the Met, The Ear suspects not. Art will probably win out over politics, at least on the expensive Mother Ship – though the reception might be more vocal and dissenting in local and more affordable cinemas.

But who knows? Still, one can hope.

pro-gay protest in russian with vodka boycott

Anyway, the “Met LIVE in HD” shows will be screened by satellite at the Point Cinemas on Madison’s far west side and the Eastgate Cinemas on the city’s far east side. The opera starts at 11:55 a.m. CDT and runs just over four hours.

Tickets are $24 for adults, $18 for children.

Below are some links with more information about this opening production and about the full season.

Here is a link to the complete season on 10 productions so you can check for conflicts, set aside dates (encore performances are usually the following Wednesday evening) and buy tickets in advance.

http://www.metoperafamily.org/metopera/liveinhd/LiveinHD.aspx

Here is a useful link to the notes with a synopsis of the plot of “Eugene Onegin”:

http://www.metoperafamily.org/uploadedFiles/MetOpera/8_live_in_hd/4_United_States/cast%20sheets/Onegin%20cast%20sheet.pdf

Here is a link to some videos (below is the ball scene) that may whet your appetite to see and hear the production:

http://www.metoperafamily.org/video/2013-2014/eugene-onegin?src=hdpage

Met Eugene Onegin ball

And here are links to two detailed an dwell researched stories in The New York Times that give the history of the Met Live in HD series and offers insightful critiques of what the series means for live opera and the opera scene in general in the U.S. and around the world.

Here is the link to the story with historical, demographic and economics background:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/29/arts/music/the-mets-hd-broadcasts-are-changing-opera.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Here is the analysis and critique:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/06/arts/music/met-operas-live-in-hd-series-outside-of-new-york.html?pagewanted=all

If you go, let us know what you thought of the production and whether something unusual happened -– be it a boycott or protest,  jeers or boos.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Let’s boycott them if music superstars Anna Netrebko and conductor Valery Gergiev don’t try to enlighten Vladimir Putin about gays and lesbians.

September 22, 2013
10 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Like everybody else, I am pretty angry, disappointed and frustrated about Russia and the spoiler role it continues to play in defending Syria’s genocidal actions and in blocking justified moves by the United Nations against President Assad and his murderous regime.

Syria family-escapes from-fierce fighting-between free-syrian army-fighters and-government-troops in idlib northern syria in march 2012

But I am also very irritated, annoyed and angered by the way that Macho Man Russian President and former KGB agent Vladimir Putin (below) and the Russian right-wing politicians have stigmatized gays and lesbians and passed laws against the LGBT community.

Russia Armenia

Which is also why I was so proud of U.S. President Barack Obama for openly meeting with LGBT advocates in Saint Petersburg when he recently went there for the G-20 summit of economically powerful nations.

Obama and rainbow banner

So why can’t other important figures speak out about gay rights, as I bet the famous late cellist, conductor and outspoken dissident and defender of human rights Mstislav Rostropovich (below) would have done.

Mstislav Rostropovich

How about the opera superstar soprano Anna Netrebko?

anna netrebko

And how about the globe-trotting and critically acclaimed Russian orchestra conductor Valery Gergiev?

Gergievin NY

You may recall that in the Russian election both of those artists supported the strongman Vladimir Putin as their candidate. (Below top is a photo of Valery Gergiev, on the right, with Vladimir Putin, below bottom, Vladimir Putin greets Anna Netrebko with flowers)

Valery Gergiev and Putin

Anna Netrebko and Vladimir Putin

Isn’t that special? as The Church Lady used to say on “Saturday Night Live.”

Well, The Ear wonders why the two world-renowned classical musicians don’t go to their favored candidate and enlighten him about gays and lesbians? About gay rights as human rights?

I mean is it is not as if they are personally ignorant of or uninvolved in the important role that gays and lesbians play in the world of classical music and opera, and in the performing arts in general.

It is impossible to believe that both Anna Netrebko and Valery Gergiev don’t count gays and lesbians among their closest friends and collaborators.

Why are they holding back?

What are they afraid of?

They are being hypocritical and should be ashamed. (Below is a YouTube video, with almost one million hits, of Anna Netrebko singing the famous aria “Sempre Libera” — Always Free — from Giuseppe Verdi‘s popular opera “La Traviata.)

gay rights march in russia,jpg

Or could it possibly be that they actually support Putin’s oppressive and repressive policy – now official law – that makes it a crime even to speak about homosexuality openly for fear of spoiling and recruiting young people?

Why don’t they speak out against the violent and thuggish beatings that the intolerant Russians have inflicted on gays and lesbians? Why don’t they support gay rights protests and protesters in Russia? And if they have, who don’t we know about it?

It would sure be news, even if it meant bad box office in their native land.

pro-gay march in russia with putin poster

And if it is the case that Netrebko and Gergiev have remained silence and uninvolved, then The Ear says: It is time to boycott their productions, concert appearances and their recordings. It would be similar to the boycott of Russian vodka that gay rights advocates have called for (below).

pro-gay protest in russian with vodka boycott

What do you say?

The Ear wants to hear.


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