The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: A curmudgeon vents his complaints concerning the music scene in Madison, Plus, this Sunday Afternoon the Pro Arte Quartet plays Haydn and Dvorak in a FREE concert at the Chazen Museum of Art that will be streamed live

November 4, 2017
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ALERT: The UW’s acclaimed Pro Arte Quartet will perform a FREE concert tomorrow, Sunday, Nov. 5, at 12:30 p.m., at the Chazen Museum of Art in Brittingham Gallery No. 3. The program features the String Quartet in E Major, Op. 53, No 3, by Franz Joseph Haydn and the String Quartet in A Minor, Op. 16, by Antonin Dvorak. The “Sunday Afternoon Live at the Chazen” concert will also be streamed live. Here is a link:

https://www.chazen.wisc.edu/about/news/in-the-news/sunday-afternoon-live-with-pro-arte-quartet-november-5/

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is an essay by Larry Wells, a guest reviewer and a frequent concertgoer. He writes:

“As I have aged, I have become more of a curmudgeon. (My friends and family will readily attest to this.) It is in that spirit that I address some annoyances I have been experiencing over the past few years while attending musical events in Madison.

“I will start with a recent experience, attending University Opera’s performances of “A Kurt Weill Cabaret” at Music Hall (below). The two arms of any seat in the hall have two different numbers. Unless the guest was paying attention as he entered the row, it is unclear which number belongs to which seat. After attending a few shows there, I have figured it out. But I don’t believe I have ever been to a performance there when there hasn’t been confusion about which seat is which. I have routinely heard people asking others (who are generally equally clueless), and I have routinely seen blocks of people shift over one seat. You would think that someone at a great educational institution could figure out a way to make the seating less baffling.

“An equally annoying phenomenon occurs regularly at Mills Hall, also on campus. I discovered that, for choral concerts particularly, the sound in the balcony is far better than the sound on the main floor. However, the doors of the balcony are often locked and the ushers regularly say that the balcony is not open. Upon making further insistent inquiries, I usually manage to get someone to unlock the balcony, but I wonder why it is felt that unlocking it routinely is such an onerous task.

“I will also mention that, regardless of one’s seat location in Mills Hall, it is difficult not to notice that the sound clouds over the stage are in sore need of a dusting and cleaning.

Stephen Sondheim wrote a wonderfully amusing song for “The Frogs” called “Invocation and Instructions to the Audience.” In it the audience is reminded not to talk, cough, fart and so on. (You can hear the piece in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

“At the aforementioned performances in the Music Hall (I went twice), I saw people texting and video recording the performance even though the program has, in very small print, an admonishment not to photograph or film. At a recent choral concert in Mills Hall, texting was rampant during the performance, and there was no mention about turning off cell phones in the program. The bright screens immediately draw the eye away from the stage. I find it extremely distracting.

“At performances given by the UW Dance Department, a loud and forceful announcement at the beginning of each performance instructs the audience to turn off cell phones, no texting, no photos, etc. A similar announcement takes place not only at the beginning of the concert but also at the end of intermissions for performances at Overture Center. I think it is time for the UW Music Department to address the issue in a similar way.

“Another criticism of the way that things are done by the Music Department: Why is it so hard to find out what is being performed at a recital or concert? The Music Department has a good website with a calendar that lists the performances being given on any day, but many times the program is not included in that information. I am disinclined to go to a concert when I don’t know what the program is, and I often will go to a performance just to hear one work if it’s one I am anxious to hear. Thus, I often have to go roaming around the Music Building looking for posters or sometimes even going to the person sponsoring the performance to ask what the program is. It shouldn’t be that hard.

“An issue at Overture Center is whispering. I do not understand how people have lived to the ripe old ages that most of the audience members have and not come to realize that whispering is still audible.

“Two seats away from me at Overture Hall for my symphony subscription is a woman who, at every single performance, starts to cough as soon as the music begins, noisily unzips her purse, reaches in and fumbles around until she finds her cough drop, and then noisily unwraps its cellophane cover. Every time. It is a wonderment to me that she has not discovered that she could unwrap the cough drops in advance and have them at the ready.

“When I subscribed to the San Francisco Symphony, there were bowls of wax paper wrapped cough drops at every entrance. Not a bad idea.

“And then there is the seemingly obligatory standing ovation syndrome that has become a standard feature of every performance in Madison. In the rest of the world a standing ovation is reserved for an extraordinary performance deserving special recognition. Here I think of Pavlov’s dog and sheep. The performance ends, one person leaps to his feet (that’s the Pavlov part) and everyone else stands (that’s the sheep). At the same time the sentiment has been lost, and it all seems rather provincial to me.

“I realize that these are all first-world problems of little importance. They are minor annoyances, but that is what a curmudgeon dwells on. And it feels great to vent.”

Do you agree with any of these complaints?

Do you have any major or minor complaints to add?

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: The Oakwood Chamber Players perform an unusual holiday program with a Wisconsin premiere twice this coming Sunday afternoon

November 22, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Oakwood Chamber Players (below) will perform a concert titled Looking Back and Forward on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016 at 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.

Oakwood Chamber Players 2015-16

The performances will both be held at the Oakwood Village University Woods Center for Arts and Education, 6209 Mineral Point Road, on the far west side of Madison near West Towne Mall.

An innovative recipe for A Christmas Carol is a perfect addition to the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

Outstanding musical theater actor/singer baritone Bobby Goderich (below, seen on the right in Madison Opera‘s production of Stephen Sondheim‘s “Sweeney Todd”) will give a tour-de-force characterization of the entire cast of personalities for a rendition of Dickens’s tale in The Passion of Scrooge. A dozen musicians will give Goderich’s flair an abundant platform to show off his singing, humor, and dramatic effects.

bobby-goderich-in-madison-operas-sweeney-todd

The Passion of Scrooge by New York composer Jon Deak (below) is performed annually for holiday concerts at the Smithsonian, and the Oakwood Chamber Players are delighted to present the Wisconsin premiere of this memorable work.

Deak is known for weaving a variety of tales into “concert dramas,” turning words into music and giving instrumentalists the power to evoke speech through their sounds.

The Passion of Scrooge is laid out in two acts as the character struggles to come to grips with the past, present and future, to transform a life of avarice to one of human warmth.

jon-deak

Additionally, the Oakwood Chamber Players will perform music mentioned in the text of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.

When the Ghost of Christmas Past shows Scrooge a celebration hosted by his employer, Mr. Fezziwig, the fiddler plays the tune Sir Roger de Coverley. (You can hear a chamber orchestra version of the work, played by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields under Sir Neville Marriner, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

This traditional English country dance, set for string quartet by British composer Frank Bridge (below) in 1922, will provide an energetic introduction to The Passion of Scrooge. The musical pairing illustrates how creative expression can transform historic works to give fresh perspectives.

Frank Bridge

The Oakwood Chamber Players welcome guests Wes Luke, violin; Katrin Talbot, viola; Brad Townsend, bass; Mike Koszewski, percussion; Mary Ann Harr, harp; Bobby Goderich, baritone; and Kyle Knox, conductor (below).

kyle-knox-2016

This is the second of five concerts in the Oakwood Chamber Players 2016-2017 season series entitled Perspective. Remaining concerts will take place on Jan. 21 and 22, March 18 and 19, and May 13 and 14.

The Oakwood Chamber Players are a group of Madison-area professional musicians who have rehearsed and performed at Oakwood Village for over 30 years.

The program lasts about 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Tickets can be purchased with cash or personal checks at the door: $20 for general admission, $15 for seniors and $5 for students.

Also, conductor Kyle Knox will discuss the music on Norman Gilliland’s show, The Midday, on Wisconsin Public Radio, 88.7 FM WERN, on this Friday, Nov. 25, from noon to 1 p.m.

Visit www.oakwoodchamberplayers.com for more information.

The Oakwood Chamber Players are a professional music ensemble proudly supported by Oakwood Lutheran Senior Ministries and the Oakwood Foundation.


Classical music: The amateur Middleton Community Orchestra opens its sixth season this Thursday night with an all-American program of music by Bernstein, Sondheim and Gershwin.

October 11, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement from the mostly amateur Middleton Community Orchestra:

Dear friends,

The Middleton Community Orchestra (below top) is excited to open its sixth season and present its Fall Concert on Thursday, Oct. 13, at 7:30 p.m. at the Middleton Performing Arts Center (below bottom), which is located at 2100 Bristol Street and is attached to Middleton High School.

Middleton Community Orchestra press photo1

Middleton PAC1

The program includes: Overture to “Candide” by Leonard Bernstein, who conducts his own work in the YouTube video at the bottom; and songs by Stephen Sondheim and George Gershwin, with mezzo-soprano Jessica Kasinski (below top) and baritone Gavin Waid (below middle). Both singers study at the UW-Madison.

Also featured is the Concerto in F by George Gershwin with piano soloist Thomas Kasdorf (below bottom). Kasdorf, a native of Middleton who graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, frequently performs with the MCO .

Jessica Kasinski

gavin-waid

thomas kasdorf 2:jpg

Tickets are $10.  All students are admitted free of charge.

Tickets are available at the door on the night of the concert, and in advance at the Willy St. Coop West. The box office opens at 7 p.m.

There will be an informal meet-and-greet reception after the concert.

Middleton Community Orchestra reception

For more information about how to support or join the MCO, go to www.middletoncommunityorchestra.org or call (608) 212-8690.

We hope to see you there!

Co-founders Mindy Taranto and Larry Bevic


Classical music: The Oakwood Chamber Players open their new season this Saturday night and Sunday afternoon

September 6, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Oakwood Chamber Players will kick off their 2016-2017 season with a concert entitled “Looking Across the Table: Can We Find Common Ground?” on this coming Saturday night, Sept. 10, at 7 p.m. and Sunday afternoon, Sept. 11, at 2 p.m.

Oakwood Chamber Players 2015-16

The concerts will both be held in the Oakwood Village University Woods Center for Arts and Education, 6209 Mineral Point Road, on Madison’s far west side.

Tickets can be purchased with cash or personal checks at the door: $20 for general admission, $15 for seniors and $5 for students.

Visit www.oakwoodchamberplayers.com or call (608) 230-4316 for more information.

The season’s theme of “Perspective” is full of interesting viewpoints on life and relationships; the blended use of diverse musical styles with film and theater will help the audience see things from another’s point of view.

Here is a link to a preview of the entire season:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/08/31/classical-music-oakwood-chamber-players-start-their-perspective-concerts-on-sept-10/

This weekend’s program concert will begin Cafe Music for piano trio by the Michigan-based composer Paul Schoenfield. The work draws inspiration from a range of styles including 20th-century American, Viennese, gypsy and Broadway. (You can hear the catchy music in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Paul Schoenfield BW klezmerish

Cuban composer Paul Colina’s “Stairway to Midnight Café” has a delightful current of dance influence and is dedicated to his friends in the First Coast Chamber Ensemble.

The Oakwood Chamber Players will welcome guests to the stage for the charming Dixtuor by French composer Jean Françaix (below). The engaging interplay of strings and winds creates an atmosphere of instrumental commentary parallel to an upbeat social gathering.

Guest musicians include Maureen McCarty, violin; Katrin Talbot, viola; Brad Townsend, string bass; Jennifer Morgan, oboe; and Juliana Mesa-Jaramillo, bassoon.

Jean Francaix

Famed British composer Sir Edward Elgar (below) wrote Elegy, a poignant adagio, when processing the untimely loss of a friend and colleague. He created a piece that tugs at the heartstrings of both listeners and performers.

Edward Elgar

This is the first of five concerts in the Oakwood Chamber Players’ 2016-2017 concert season. Remaining concerts include “Looking Back and Forward” on Nov. 27; “Looking Within” on Jan. 21 and 22”: “Looking Through the Lens” on March 18 and 19; and “Looking Closely at the Score” on May 13 and 14.

The Oakwood Chamber Players are a group of Madison-area professional musicians who have rehearsed and performed at Oakwood Village for over 30 years. They have experience with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and other groups and institutions.

The Oakwood Chamber Players are a professional music ensemble proudly supported by Oakwood Lutheran Senior Ministries and the Oakwood Foundation.


Classical music: Jacques Offenbach’s fantastical masterpiece “The Tales of Hoffmann” will be performed by Madison Opera on Friday night and Sunday afternoon. Here is Part 1 of a two-part preview

April 12, 2016
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ALERT: The concert by the UW-Madison Contemporary Chamber Ensemble that was scheduled for this Saturday has been CANCELED due to illness.

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s friends at the Madison Opera write:

Madison Opera will present two performances of  “The Tales of Hoffmann” by French composer Jacques Offenbach (below) this weekend.

Jacques Offenbach

The production will be performed in Overture Hall of the Overture Center on Friday at 8 p.m. and on
 Sunday at 2:30 p.m. It will be sung in French with projected English translations.

Tickets are $18-$129. Student and group discounts are available. Tickets can be purchased at the Overture Box Office, 201 State St., Madison, and by calling (608) 258-4141 or visiting www.madisonopera.org

This will be the company’s first production in 20 years of Offenbach’s masterpiece, which moves in a fantasy world. It offers showpiece arias for the bravura cast, the gorgeous “Barcarolle,” and a moving tribute to what it means to be an artist. (You can hear the famous and familiar Barcarolle in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

THE STORY

As he sits in a tavern, the poet Hoffmann drinks, smokes and encounters Lindorf, his rival for his current lover, the opera singer Stella.

He recalls how his nemesis seems to appear constantly in his life, and urged on by his fellow bar patrons, tells the three tales of his loves: Olympia, who turns out to be a mechanical doll; Antonia, a singer who dies of a mysterious illness; and Giulietta, a courtesan who steals his reflection. His adventures take him from Munich to Venice, always accompanied by his most faithful love, his muse.

The opera ends back in the tavern, as Hoffmann’s muse consoles him and urges him on to the higher purpose of art.

Madison Opera Hoffmann set 2

PRAISE AND BACKGROUND

“The Tales of Hoffmann is one of my absolute favorite operas,” says Kathryn Smith (below in a photo by James Gill), the general director of Madison Opera. “I love the music, the story, the myriad facets to the characters, and the fact that no two productions of this opera are identical. It has comedy, tragedy, drinking songs, lyrical arias, and even some magic tricks.”

Offenbach’s final opera, “The Tales of Hoffmann” premiered in 1881 at the Opera-Comique in Paris. The title character was based on the writer E.T.A. Hoffmann, now most famous as the author of the original “Nutcracker” story; the different acts were adaptations of Hoffmann’s own short stories.

Offenbach was celebrated for over 100 comic operettas such as “Orpheus in the Underworld”; “Hoffmann” was intended to be his first grand opera. Unfortunately, he died before completing the opera, and other composers finished it. Over the past century, there have been many different versions of the opera, with different arias, different plot points, and even different orders of the acts.

Kathryn Smith Fly Rail Vertical Madison Opera

“The Tales of Hoffmann, for me, is the perfect blend of great music and
 great theater,” says John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), the artistic director of Madison Opera and the music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. “It’s particularly fun to conduct because the orchestra plays a central role in
the moment to moment unfolding of the drama, and Offenbach achieves this at the same time as he is spinning out one gorgeous melody after another.”

John DeMain full face by Prasad

THE CAST

Madison Opera’s cast features a quartet of debuts in the leading roles. Harold Meers (below), who sang at Opera in the Park in 2015, makes his mainstage debut as Hoffmann, the poet.

Harold Meers

Sian Davies (bel0w) makes her debut singing three of Hoffmann’s loves – Antonia, Giulietta and Stella – a true vocal and dramatic feat. Jeni Houser returns to Madison Opera following her most recent role as Amy in Mark Adamo’s “Little Women” to sing the role of his fourth love, Olympia. She has also appeared here in George Frideric Handel’s “Acis and Galatea” and Stephan Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd.”

Sian Davies

Baritone Morgan Smith makes his debut as Hoffmann’s nemesis, who appears in forms both sinister and comic.

Making her debut as Hoffmann’s sidekick Nicklausse, who also turns out to be his Muse, is mezzo-soprano Adriana Zabala.

Returning to Madison Opera as the four servants is Jared Rogers, who sang Beadle Bamford in Stephen Sondheim‘s “Sweeney Todd.” Thomas Forde, last here as Don Basilio in Giaocchino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville,” sings the dual roles of Luther and Crespel. Robert Goderich, who sang Pirelli in “Sweeney Todd,” sings Spalanzani, the mad inventor. Tyler Alessi makes his debut as Schlemil.

Three Madison Opera Studio Artists round out the cast: Kelsey Park as the voice of Antonia’s dead mother and William Ottow and Nathaniel Hill as two students.

SETTING

Madison Opera’s production is set in the Roaring 1920s, with stylish costumes that are perfect for Offenbach’s fantasy that travels time and location.

Madison Opera Hoffmann set 3

Kristine McIntyre (below), who directed Jake Heggie‘s “Dead Man Walking” and Giuseppe Verdi’s “A Masked Ball” for Madison Opera, stages this complex story that has a vast dramatic scope.

Kristine McIntyre 2016

Tomorrow: Artistic and music director John DeMain and stage director Kristine McIntyre address the differences between the reputation and the reality of “The Tales of Hoffman.”


Classical music: Puccini’s gift for heart-touching melody allows both beginners and veterans to connect with his timeless operas in a way that has been largely lost in contemporary music, says John DeMain. He will conduct the Madison Opera’s production of La Bohème this Friday night and Sunday afternoon.

November 12, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

On this Friday night, Nov. 13, at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon, Nov. 15, at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center for the Arts, the Madison Opera will perform its production of Giacomo Puccini’s evergreen “La Bohème.”

The opera will be sung in Italian with English surtitles.

Tickets are $18 to $129 and are available from the Overture Center Box Office (608) 258-4141 or from www.madisonopera.org. Student and group discounts are available.

Puccini’s classic opera tells of the lives, loves and losses of a group of young artists in a bohemian quarter of Paris.

La Bohème has been an audience favorite since its first performance on Feb. 1, 1896 ( below is the original poster from 1896 by Adolfo Hohenstein) at the Teatro Regio in Turin, Italy, and is performed by opera companies around the world.

Its popularity over the past century is undiminished and its ravishing score has inspired generations of artists, including the composer Jonathan Larson, who used it as the basis for his award-winning 1996 musical “Rent,” and Baz Lurhmann, director of the 2001 movie “Moulin Rouge.” It also played a pivotal role in the movie “Moonstruck” with Cher and Nicholas Cage.

La Boheme 1896 poster by Adolfo Hohenstein

For more information about the Madison Opera’s production and cast, read the Q&A that The Ear did with Kathryn Smith, the general director of the Madison Opera. Here is a link:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/11/09/classical-music-puccini-was-a-master-crafter-of-drama-says-kathryn-smith-the-madison-operas-stages-its-production-of-la-boheme-this-friday-night-and-sunday-afternoon/

By The Ear’s reckoning, John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), has spent close to 50 years in opera. He is the artistic director of the Madison Opera and music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, and will conduct the singers, orchestra and choruses for the two performances of “La Bohème.”

He graciously agreed to share his experience and knowledge in an email Q&A with The Ear:

John DeMain full face by Prasad

What about the story makes “La Bohème” such an enduring classic for both first-timers and veterans?

First of all, it’s a love story involving young adults trying to make it through their young years living from hand to mouth. They are college or post-college age, and are living life on the edge, enjoying great camaraderie, as college roommates enjoy to this day.

We have all lived through the tragedy of disease or plagues affecting various parts of the world in our own time. Mimi has tuberculosis, and we have seen how HIV/AIDS, SARS and Ebola have taken young lives in our own time, robbing people of the chance to live out their lives and loves. So, there is always some part of a story like this for people, both old and young, to connect with.

And what about the same aspect in the music?

Once we enter into the world of Italian “verismo,”or realism, we basically have music that is timeless. The music vividly underscores the action of the drama in great detail from moment to moment.

The interplay of the various leitmotifs manipulates our emotions, leading us to enjoy a good laugh at the interplay of the guys, or Musetta’s outrageous carrying on to make her “ex” jealous and win Marcello back. Then the music engages us in the great sadness of losing Mimi to her disease and robbing Rodolfo of his loved one ( in the final scene below from a production by the Houston Grand Opera, which John DeMain used to head before coming to Madison).

Our great film composers and composers of musical theater all learned from Puccini how to connect the emotions of the drama to the music and vice-versa.

HGO La Boheme

HGO La Boheme

Is Puccini’s reputation as a serious and innovative opera composer, not just a popular one, being reexamined and revised upward in recent years?

Puccini’s output as a composer was limited both in scope and in number. He focused primarily on opera and gave us 12 works in that form. To this day, La Bohème, Madama Butterfly, Turandot and Tosca remain in the top echelon of opera’s most popular works.

Puccini (below) labored over each of his operas for long periods of time, rewriting to get these pieces as close as possible to perfection, creating librettos and music that soars emotionally, melodically and harmonically. His Fanciulla del West (The Girl of the Golden West), Turandot and even parts of Butterfly are great examples of Italian Impressionism.

But while Bohème has a few touches of impressionistic harmony, most of the opera stays within a late Romantic harmonic vocabulary.

I think we appreciate more than ever Puccini’s capacity to write unforgettable melody that goes to the very core of our being. Indeed, we lament that most contemporary scores can’t achieve that, and therefore, they don’t have the same relationship with our audiences today. (You can hear that in the arias sung by Luciano Pavarotti and Fiamma Izzo in a YouTube video at the bottom. Listen for when the audience applauds Pavarotti singing a high C.)

puccini at piano

Are there special things you would like the public to know about this particular production? Do you have comments about the concept and cast, sets and costumes?

I would like to encourage people who have never been to an opera to come and see La Bohème. There are still people out there who don’t know that we have English titles over the stage that simultaneously translate the opera into English.

The acts are not long, the drama flows at almost the same rate of time as it would if it were just spoken without music. And the young stunning cast we have assembled will thrill young and old alike.

This, like Carmen or Madama Butterfly, is the perfect opera for a first-timer. For the rest of us, it is a chance to thrill once again to one of the most beautiful scores ever composed for the operatic stage.

 


Classical music: Puccini was a master crafter of drama, says Kathryn Smith. The Madison Opera stages its production of “La Bohème” this Friday night and Sunday afternoon.

November 9, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Anyone want to bet that it qualifies as almost everyone’s first and still favorite opera?

On Friday night, Nov. 13, at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon, Nov. 15, at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall at the Overture Center for the Arts, the Madison Opera will perform its production of Giacomo Puccini’s evergreen “La Bohème.”

The opera will be sung in Italian with English surtitles.

Tickets are $18 to $129 and are available from the Overture Center Box Office at (608) 258-4141 or from www.madisonopera.org. Student and group discounts are available.

The classic opera by Puccini (below) tells of the lives, loves and losses of a group of young artists in a bohemian quarter of Paris.

puccini at piano

On Christmas Eve, the poet Rodolfo and the artist Marcello burn pages from Rodolfo’s latest drama, trying to stay warm in their garret. They are joined by their roommates, Colline and Schaunard, and head out to celebrate at Café Momus.

Staying behind, Rodolfo answers a knock on the door and meets his new neighbor, a seamstress named Mimi. The two fall instantly in love, and the opera charts the course of their relationship, as friendship, poverty, and illness intersect in what has often been called “the greatest love story ever sung.”

La Bohème is simply perfect,” says Kathryn Smith, Madison Opera’s General Director. “The passionate music is perfectly matched to the very emotionally true story of young people dealing with life in all of its happiness and sorrow. Bohème never ages and is perfect for both opera newcomers and opera omnivores.”

La Bohème has been an audience favorite since its first performance on Feb. 1, 1896 at the Teatro Regio in Turn, Italy, and is performed by opera companies around the world. Its popularity over the past century is undiminished and its ravishing score has inspired generations of artists, including the composer Jonathan Larson, who used it as the basis for his award-winning 1996 musical Rent, and Baz Lurhmann, director of the 2001 movie Moulin Rouge. It also played a pivotal role in the movie “Moonstruck” with Cher and Nicholas Cage.

“La Bohème is one of the reasons I fell in love with opera and wanted to become an opera conductor,” says John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), Madison Opera’s Artistic Director and conductor. “It has glorious lyricism, engaging and ultimately gripping theater, and is sumptuously written for the orchestra. It is a perfect specimen.”

John DeMain full face by Prasad

The cast features a mixture of returning Madison Opera artists and debuts.

Following her performance at Opera in the Park 2015, Eleni Calenos (below) makes her main stage debut as the seamstress Mimi, a role she has previously performed at Palm Beach Opera.

Palm Beach Opera "La Boheme" dress rehearsal Thursday, January 15, 2015.

Palm Beach Opera “La Boheme” dress rehearsal Thursday, January 15, 2015.

Making their Madison Opera debuts are Mackenzie Whitney (below) in the role of the enamored poet Rodolfo and Dan Kempson, singing the role of his friend and artist Marcello. Whitney recently sang in Rappacini’s Daughter with Des Moines Metro Opera; Kempson has recently sung with Santa Fe Opera and Fort Worth Opera.

Mackenzie Whitney La Boheme

The other bohemian friends are played by faces familiar to the Madison Opera audience. UW-Madison alumna Emily Birsan (below) sings Musetta, Marcello’s on-and-off again lover, a role she just performed at Boston Lyric Opera.

Emily Birsan MSO 2014

Liam Moran returns as the philosopher Colline, following his performance as Don Fernando in last season’s Fidelio. Alan Dunbar (below, in a photo by Roy Heilman), last seen here in The Barber of Seville, sings Schaunard. They are joined by Evan Ross, debuting with Madison Opera as Benoit and Alcindoro.

Alan Dunbar CR Roy Heilman

This traditional staging is directed by David Lefkowich, who directed The Daughter of the Regiment for Madison Opera.

David Lefkowich 2013

Madison Opera’s general manager Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill) generously answered an email Q&A for The Ear:

Kathryn Smith Fly Rail Vertical Madison Opera

What about the story makes “La Bohème” such an enduring classic for both first-timers and veterans?

The story is such a universal one that it is instantly relatable for opera newcomers, but still carries an emotional immediacy for those who have seen it before. A group of 20-something friends struggle financially, have fun together, fall in love, break up and deal with illness and death – this is a story that plays out in real life every day. As audience members, I think we grow with La Bohème: what moves you the most when you are 23 years old might be Act III; later in life, Act IV might strike a stronger chord.

And what about the same aspect in the music?

Puccini’s music is so emotional and melodic that it appeals to every ear, and it is so perfectly tied to the story that it is impossible to separate the two. “O Soave Fanciulla” could only be a love duet, and the heartbreak of Mimi’s phrase, “Addio, senza rancor” sums up every painful romantic breakup in just a few notes. (You can hear soprano Anna Netrebko and tenor Rolando Villazon sing “O Soave Fanciulla” in a concert version at the bottom in a YouTube video.) 

Is Puccini’s reputation as a serious and innovative opera composer, not just a popular one, being reexamined and revised upward in recent years?

I think that may be a question for critics and academics! In our world – the performance world – Puccini has always been highly regarded, as his shows have been wildly successful with audiences, regardless of what critics or other composers might write. “La Bohème” was definitely harshly criticized when it was new, with phrases like “musical degradation” tossed about, but it has been one of the most performed operas around the world ever since.

What do you think is the most overlooked or underrated aspect of “La Bohème” and of Puccini in general?

I think people overlook how tight the dramaturgy is. There is not one page of Bohème that could be removed without having the entire structure collapse. Most 19th-century operas can — and do —  benefit from cuts, but Puccini doesn’t waste time, either musically or dramatically. In addition, the music really illustrates the story. There are specific moments where the music tells us what happens on stage, and as long as you obey the music, the story will work.

Are there special things you would like the public to know about this particular production? Do you have comments about the concept and cast, sets and costumes?

This is a traditional production, but that doesn’t mean it looks exactly like every other La Bohème, as every cast and director brings their own ideas and chemistry to the mix.

We have a spectacular young cast who are perfectly matched with each other and will bring this classic story to vivid life.

We have two exciting debuts, with Mackenzie Whitney as Rodolfo and Dan Kempson as Marcello.

Returning to us are Eleni Calenos (Mimì), who sang at Opera in the Park last summer; Emily Birsan (Musetta), who graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and who last sang with us in 2010; Alan Dunbar (Schaunard), who was last in Rossini’s Barber of Seville; and Liam Moran (Colline), who debuted in Beethoven’s Fidelio last fall.

Add in our wonderful Madison Opera Chorus, the Madison Youth Choirs and the Madison Symphony Orchestra, and it will be a musical and dramatic feast.

 


Classical music: The Middleton Community Orchestra closes out its fifth season next Wednesday night with music by Marquez, Bruch, Brahms and the never-fail Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1.

May 29, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Middleton Community Orchestra (below) will present its final concert of the season on Wednesday, June 3, at 7:30 p.m.

Middleton Community Orchestra press photo1

The concert will take place at the Middleton Performing Arts Center (below, exterior and interior), attached to Middleton High School.

Middleton PAC2

Middleton PAC1

This concert concludes MCO’s fifth year.

On the program is Danzon No. 2 by Mexican composer Arturo Marquez; the “Haydn” Variations by German composer Johannes Brahms; the slow Adagio movement from the Violin Concerto by Max Bruch with MCO concertmaster Valerie Sanders (below top) soloing; and the never-fail Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-Flat Minor by the Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky –- the same exciting concerto that launched the career of Van Cliburn — by performed by the talented Middleton native, Thomas Kasdorf.

Valerie Sanders MCO 2015

Tickets are $10 for general admission.  Students are admitted free of charge.  Tickets are available at Willy St. Coop West and at the door. The box office opens at 7 p.m.

There will also be a meet-and-greet reception (below) after the concert.

Middleton Community Orchestra reception

Here is information about pianist Thomas Kasdorf (below):

He is a recent graduate of UW-Madison School of Music with his Bachelor of Music in Piano Performance, where he studied with Christopher Taylor.

thomas kasdorf 2:jpg

He was an inaugural member of the Perlman Piano Trio, which awards scholarships and performance opportunities to talented undergraduate students to give performances of chamber music.

His work with the Perlman Trio (below, with cellist Maureen Kelly and violinist Eleanor Bartsch) has been featured in performances on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Live at the Midday” series and as part of Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society’s House Concerts series, as well as in Middleton Community Orchestra’s inaugural season performance of Beethoven’s Triple Concerto.

Perlman-Trio Thomas Kasdorf piano, Eleanor Bartsch violin and Maureen Kelly cello

He was named co-winner of the Irving Shain Woodwind and Piano Duo Competition, with collaborative partner, flutist Morgann Davis. He was awarded the Bolz Prize of the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Concerto Competition and performed Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A Minor at their Spring Youth Concerts.

He has performed in master classes given by Nadja Salerno-Sonnenburg, Pinchas Zukerman, Sam Rhodes, Steven Isserlis, Ronald Leonard, Ralph Kirshbaum, Jonathan Miller, Timothy Eddy, Robert MacDonald, Jeffrey Siegel and Adam Neiman.

Thomas has worked in a variety of roles (both on and offstage) with a multitude of local theatre groups in over 100 different shows. With a specialty in the oeuvre of Stephen Sondheim, he has been called upon to arrange and perform reduced or solo orchestrations of Sondheim scores, including “A Little Night Music,” “Sunday in the Park with George,” “Putting It Together,” “Sweeney Todd,” “Side by Side by Sondheim,” “Into the Woods” and, most recently, “Company.” He proudly serves on the board of directors for Middleton Players Theatre, and was the director of the company’s recent production of “Les Mis.”

Last year’s performance of the Grieg Piano Concerto (below) was Thomas Kasdorf’s third performance with the Middleton Community Orchestra. He had performed the Triple Concerto by Ludwig van Beethoven as part of the Perlman Trio, and the Piano Concerto in A major by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

MCO june 2014 Thomas Kasdorf plays Grieg

He has just concluded a wildly successful collaboration with MCO to produce a staged production of “Carousel,” and he says he is looking forward to his performance of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with the MCO. (You can hear Van Cliburn play the opening movement of the concerto in a YouTube video at the bottom. It has some great shots of hands and fingers.)

 

 


Classical music: The Madison Symphony Chorus will give two performances of a concert to welcome spring this Sunday afternoon.

March 18, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is the latest of what The Ear hears from the Madison Symphony Orchestra:

Spring might seem like a long way off, but it isn’t. In fact it officially arrives in the Northern Hemisphere this Friday at 5:45 p.m. CDT.

MSO chorus director and MSO assistant conductor Beverly Taylor and the Madison Symphony Chorus (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) will usher in the warmer weather this Sunday, March 22, at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.

That is when they present the “It Might As Well Be Spring” choral concerts in Promenade Hall at Overture Center for the Arts.

MSO Chorus CR Greg Anderson

The concerts will feature classical music selections from Johannes Brahms and Aaron Copland, a traditional spiritual, and the song “It Might as Well Be Spring” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical “State Fair.” (You can hear the original in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Audience members will also enjoy choral renditions of poems by Walt Whitman, Robert Bridges and the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi.

Madison Symphony Orchestra Principal Pianist Daniel Lyons (below) will accompany much of the music.

Dan Lyons

Tickets are $19, available at madisonsymphony.org/springchorusconcert, at the Overture Box Office (201 State Street) or by calling (608) 258-4141.

Formed in 1927, the Madison Symphony Chorus gave its first public performance in 1928 and has performed regularly with the Madison Symphony Orchestra ever since.

The chorus (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) was featured at the popular Madison Symphony Christmas concerts in December and will be joined by four soloists for the MSO’s performance of Ludwig van Beethoven‘s “Choral” Symphony No. 9 (“Ode to Joy”) on May 8, 9 and 10.

MSO Chorus from left CR Greg Anderson

The Chorus, conducted by Beverly Taylor (below) is comprised of more than 125 volunteer musicians from all walks of life who enjoy combining their artistic talent., New members are always welcome. Visit madisonsymphony.org/chorus for more information.

Beverly Taylor MSO portrait COLOR USE

 


Classical music: Madison Opera’s first-ever “Sweeney Todd” excels in singing and stage work. It also draws striking parallels between Victorian England and contemporary America. The last performance is today at 2:30.

February 8, 2015
15 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Loyal readers of this blog know very well the name of Mikko Utevsky. The young violist and conductor is a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin School of Music, where he studies with Pro Arte Quartet violist Sally Chisholm and plays in the UW Symphony Orchestra.

Utevsky, who has won awards and impressive reviews for his work in music education since his days at Madison’s East High School, is the founder and conductor of the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra, which will perform its fourth season next summer. He has been named the new Music Director of a local community orchestra, The Studio Orchestra. The ensemble has a website here (www.disso.org).

You can check out his many honors and projects by typing his name into the search engine on this blog site.

Utevsky offered The Ear a guest preview review of this weekend’s three performances of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” by the Madison Opera in the Capitol Theater in the Overture Center.

I immediately took him up on the offer. After all, he is a fine and perceptive writer who, you may recall, blogged for this post when he was on tour two summers ago with the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) tour to Vienna, Prague and Budapest.

Here is the review by Mikko Utevsky (below) with production photos by James Gill:

Mikko Utevsky with baton

By Mikko Utevsky

Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd!

Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s 1979 masterpiece of musical theater tells the gruesome legend of Benjamin Barker, now Sweeney Todd, returned to London after unjust imprisonment to take revenge on the judge who wronged him and stole his daughter. With his baker accomplice, Mrs. Lovett, he slaughters unsuspecting Londoners and has their bodies baked into meat pies.

The Madison Opera presents it for the first time this weekend in all its sonic splendor, with a larger orchestra than the typical Broadway band, placed on stage, plus a cast of powerful voices and gifted actors.

The new production, also the directorial debut of UW-Madison theater professor Norma Saldivar (below, in a photo from Madison Magazine), is a triumph of atmosphere. From haunting and evocative lighting (Hideaki Tsutsi) with flashes of red to accompany the many otherwise bloodless murders, to a versatile and visually striking Victorian-industrial set (Joseph Varga), the visual side was appropriately dramatic.

Norma Saldivar color

The stark soundscape that makes the piece so successful was the product of crisp, energetic playing from members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra under the baton of John DeMain, who is both the Music Director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Artistic Director of the Madison Opera.

The music featured a prominent organ part that was performed with dramatic flair by UW alumnus composer Scott Gendel and arresting singing from the Madison Opera Chorus that is directed by Anthony Cao. If the choral blocking was somewhat static, it lent additional emphasis to the jerky, mechanistic motions that were used sparingly, but to great effect.

Meredith Arwardy as Mrs. Lovett and Corey Crider as Sweeney Todd with crowd chorus James Gill

What sets this apart from the 2007 Hollywood film version directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp in the title role, or even from a typical Broadway production, is the singing — even if it was uncharacteristically amplified electronically in tis production.

Sondheim’s score treads the line between opera and musical theater, making unusually great demands on the vocalists. Madison Opera’s cast came through magnificently.

In the leads, Corey Crider (below, as Sweeney Todd) and Meredith Arwady (Mrs. Lovett) both excelled in their Madison Opera debuts.

Arwady’s comic instincts are superb — her duets with Crider (“A Little Priest” and “By the Sea”) were hysterical. (With regard to the former, I confess I have a soft spot for good puns.)

Crider’s powerful baritone modulated through tenderness, rage, bitterness, and insane glee with subtle precision, and he brought no small measure of dramatic flair to the role.

Corey Crider as Sweeney Todd   CR James Gill

The show has a cast full of tenors, all of whom excelled. Robert Goderich (Adolfo Pirelli) was hilariously over the top in both his character acting and the Italianate tenor writing, which he pulled off with aplomb, and Daniel Shirley’s smooth lyricism as Anthony Hope (bottom right, with Jeni Houser on far left and Michael Etzwiler in the middle) was especially lovely. Thomas Leighton’s solos stood out from the chorus for their particular beauty.

Seeney Todd  Jeni Houser as Johanna, Michael Etzwiler as Birdseller, Daniel Shirley as Anthony Hope GR James Gill

The young Joshua Sanders (below center), a company veteran despite his age, was outstanding in his first major role as Tobias Ragg. From his enthusiastic sales patter in “Pirelli’s Miracle Elixir” to gentle tenderness in the show-stealing “Not While I’m Around” — heard sung by Neil Patrick Harris in a YouTube video at the bottom — to the deranged mania of the final scene, both his acting skill and immense vocal talent shone throughout the evening.

Sweeney Todd   Joshua Sanders as Tobias Ragg and Meredith Arwady as Mrs. Lovett CR James Gill

My attention Friday night was drawn to the social commentary in the show.

Sweeney Todd’s murderous frenzy is overlaid with a critique of the social order in Victorian London — not so distant from that of today: “The history of the world, my sweet/Is who gets eaten, and who gets to eat” It is also not far from Bertolt Brecht‘s moralizing in “The Threepenny Opera,” which says “Even saintly folk will act like sinners/Until they’ve had their customary dinners.”

Through the same lens, we see Mrs. Lovett (played played by Meredith Arwady, below) in particular swayed by the social mobility brought on by newfound prosperity: her change of costume in the second act, coupled with fresh wallpaper and a brand-new harmonium in the parlor, suggest that once she becomes one of the ones “who gets to eat,” her priorities align more and more with the upper class she seemed to despise before.

Meredith Arwady

Whether you come for the social critique, the powerful music, the skillful acting, or if you just want a good Gothic thrill, this weekend’s “Sweeney Todd” will deliver.

It joins the long list of Madison Opera’s successes in recent seasons, and you might just consider catching the last show this Sunday at 2:30 p.m. in the Overture Center’s Capitol Theater.

 

 


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