The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Broadway star and UW-Madison alumnus joins students for the University Opera benefit this Sunday afternoon.

January 14, 2016

By Jacob Stockinger

Students in the University Opera program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music will perform a concert of songs and arias on this Sunday afternoon, Jan. 17, at 3:30 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society of Madison 900 University Bay Drive.

The concert will feature currently enrolled students as well as a 2008 alumnus, Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek(below), who is at the Overture Center this week through Sunday playing the role of Gaston in a national tour of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.”

Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek baritone

A reception will follow this Opera Props benefit concert that is intended to help support University Opera.

Admission is $25 per person with a $10 charge for students.

Several of the UW-Madison student singers have already been featured in October’s production of The Marriage of Figaro (below in photo by Michael R. Anderson ) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and some will appear in March’s University Opera production of Transformations, by Conrad Susa and poet Anne Sexton.

Marriage of Figaro dress rehearsal. Tia Cleveland (Marcellina), Joel Rathmann (Figaro), Anna Whiteway (Susanna), Thomas Weis (Bartolo).

Marriage of Figaro dress rehearsal. Tia Cleveland (Marcellina), Joel Rathmann (Figaro), Anna Whiteway (Susanna), Thomas Weis (Bartolo).

The singers will be accompanied by pianist Chan Mi Jean.

Joining the students will be Broadway star and distinguished University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, baritone Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek, who praises his operatic training for enabling him to sing as many as three performances a day on this demanding tour.

Recently appointed to “barihunk” status by one blog (below), he is something of a crossover singer too, singing romantic ballads while playing his guitar. These multiple talents provide the young singer with a busy career.

Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek as barihunkHere is the program:

Chacun à son gout (Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss Jr.) – Meghan Hilker; Bella siccome un angelo (Don Pasquale by Gaetano Donizetti) – Gavin Waid; Ici-bas (Gabriel Fauré) and Der Blumenstrauss (Felix Mendelssohn) – Talia Engstrom; Tu che di gel (Turandot by Giacomo Puccini) – Anna Polum; Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix (Samson et Dalila by Camille Saint-Saens) – Rebecca Buechel; Largo al factotum (Il Barbiere di Siviglia by Gioachino Rossini) – Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek; Sous le dôme épais (Lakme by Leo Delibes) – Tyana O’Connor (below) and Meghan Hilker; Emily’s Aria (Our Town – Ned Rorem) – Nicole Heinen; On the Street Where You Live (My Fair Lady – Lerner and Lowe) – William Ottow; Ah, non credea mirarti (La Sonnambula by Vincenzo Bellini) – Tyana O’Connor; Love’s Philosophy (Roger Quilter) – Anna Polum; The Lady is a Tramp (Rodgers and Hart) – Rebecca Buechel; Au fond du temple saint (Les Pêcheurs de Perles by Georges Bizet, sung by tenor Roberto Alagna and bass-baritone Bryn Terfel at the bottom in a YouTube video) – William Ottow (below) and Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek.

Tyana O'Connor soprano

Classical music: Meet a new singing and opera star — Jamie Barton, the young American mezzo-soprano who was last week crowned “Singer of the World” at this year’s BBC contest in Cardiff, Wales.

June 29, 2013
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ALERT: It has been a good year for the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO), both artistically and financially. But with the fiscal year deadline of June 30 looming, WYSO is nonetheless falling short of its $97,000 funding goal by $6,655, according to WYSO executive director Bridget Fraser.  This exceptionally worthy organization that builds both musicians (below) and audiences through lifelong learning needs your help. If you can help, in whatever amount, WYSO to meet its goal, please visit the following link and make an on-line donation by the end of Sunday:

wyso violas

By Jacob Stockinger

Think of great voices, of wonderfully musical and resonant voices, and Wales almost always comes to mind.

Remember the poet Dylan Thomas (below), especially when he recited his own poems, or the actor Richard Burton in just about anything but especially in Shakespeare and Anthony Hopkins?

And Wales is also well-known for its group choral singing.

So no surprise, then, that every two years there is a BBC competition in Cardiff, Wales that crowns the Singer of the World.

And the honor can indeed make for international careers. Just ask just past winners and competitors, who are no stars with international reputations and bookings, as Bryn Terfel (below top), Nicole Cabell, Dmitri Hvorotovsky (below bottom), Karita Mattila and Elina Garancia.

bryn terfel

dmitri hvorostovsky

Last week, the overall Singer of the World prize as well as the individual Song Prize went to the 31-year-old American soprano Jamie Barton (below and also in a YouTube interview and performance of Donizetti at the bottom).


Here is a link to a wonderful posting by NPR’s “Deceptive Cadence” blog that features background and also audio –video clips.

If you want to know more, here is a link to the singer’s home page:

And here is a link to a story on the BBC:

And here is a story, with a lot of personal details, about Barton winning a Metropolitan Opera debut in auditions in April, while she was pursuing her master’s degree at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, the eighth IU student to be so honored.

Classical music: Wagner’s “Ring” cycle comes to your home starting Monday night as PBS and Wisconsin Public Television host the Metropolitan Opera’s legendary and controversial new production every night this week.

September 9, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

In case you missed it the first time and want to see and hear it — or in case you want to do so again, PBS and Wisconsin Public Television will air Richard Wagner’s entire mammoth “Ring” cycle every night this week. (Check local times.)

Superstar soprano Deborah Voigt, who sang the role of Brunnhilde (below), will be the host of the series, done by “Great Performances.”

Every night the production starts airing at 8 p.m.

It starts Monday night with “Wagner’s Dream,” a documentary about the ambitious and controversial production — with the complex and npot always reliable set known as The Machine (below) — as staged by the Metropolitan Opera in New York City and director Robert Lepage. Some of the outstanding singers include Bryn Terfel, Stephanie Blythe, Eric Owens, Deborah Voigt, Jonas Kaufmann and Jay Hunter Morris.

Here is the full schedule:

Monday: “Wagner’s Dream”

Tuesday: “Das Rheingold

Wednesday: “Die Walkure”

Thursday: “Siegfried”

Friday: “Gotterdammerung”

You can check this blog information search site for more stories about it.

I also suggest Googling the various productions by title, especially for critical reviews and previews. Check out especially The New York Times’ various critics, The New Yorker’s Alex Ross and The Washington Post’s Anne Midgette.

It was a historic two-year project at the Met and for the “Met Live in HD”  broadcasts.

And now you can experience it in your home. So, Wagner addicts: Here is your chance for a week-long fill of music and drama.

Here is a link to PBS previews:

Also, be sure to check out the longer short excerpts from the individual operas at the bottom of the web page.

Classical music: Deutsche Grammophon will release the Met’s new and controversial production of Richard Wagner’s “Ring” cycle on 8 DVDs plus a 2-DVD collection of highlights and a 1-DVD documentary in mid-September to mark the composer’s bicentennial in 2013.

August 26, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Attention Wagner fans: Get ready for Valhalla in your home!

The Ear has received word that Deutsche Grammophon will release an 8-DVD recording of the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Richard Wagner’s “Ring” cycle next month. It will include a 1-DVD documentary plus a 2-DVD set of highlights – a very smart marketing move, says The Ear — as well as the complete set of four operas.

Say what you will about the Metropolitan Opera’s latest production of Wagner’s mammoth four-opera “Ring” cycle – that’s the production by Robert Lepage that was featured in the “Met Live in HD” broadcasts  — it generated a great deal of interest and controversy and divided partisans sharply.

And that kind of publicity is priceless.

So the acclaimed and venerable label Decca has announced it will release DVDs of all the operas plus a documentary and a highlights compilation next month – just in time for the Oct. 13 start of the latest season of “The Met Live in HD,” which can be seen at:

Here is the official press release from Universal and Deutsche Grammophon:

“For Immediate Release

New York, NY — Wagner’s “Ring” presents the ultimate challenge for any opera company, and the New York Metropolitan Opera’s new production of “Der Ring des Nibelungen,” unveiled between 2010 and 2012 and starring some of the greatest Wagnerian singers of today, is among the most ambitious “Ring” stagings ever mounted.

“The Met’s production, directed by legendary theatre visionary Robert Lepage, uses a 90,000 lb. “tectonic” set (below) -– an infinitely mobile, writhing, rotating raft of 24 individually pivoting aluminium planks that came to be nicknamed “The Machine” – in a dazzlingly cinematic staging that harnesses the latest interactive and 3D video technology to realize many previously “unstageable” aspects of Wagner’s epic drama.

“It is at once a state-of-the-art production for the 21st century and a deeply traditional Ring. In Lepage’s words, “it’s the movie that Wagner wanted to make before movies existed.” For the Boston Globe, it’s “a high-tech Ring with a traditional heart”. In the London Telegraph’s view, it’s “a triumph, at once subtle and spectacular, intimate and epic.”

“Already seen by over a million people in the theater and at cinemas around the globe, the Met Ring was filmed live in high-definition and is now being released on both DVD and Blu-ray to launch Deutsche Grammophon’s celebration of the composer’s bicentenary year in 2013.

With Bryn Terfel, widely acknowledged as one of the finest bass-baritones of our age, performing his first complete cycles as the embattled god Wotan and American soprano Deborah Voigt (below) making her role debut as his disobedient warrior-daughter Brünnhilde.

Other international stars include Jonas Kaufmann (below top) and Eva-Maria Westbroek as the incestuous Siegmund and Sieglinde, and last-minute stand-in Jay Hunter Morris (below bottom) – a thrilling new tenor from Paris, Texas – saving the day as the fearless but ill-fated hero Siegfried. The New York Times declared the cast “as strong a lineup of vocal artists for a Wagner opera as I have heard in years.”

Acclaim was equally enthusiastic for the cycle’s two conductors: James Levine, the Met’s longstanding Music Director, who has conducted 21 complete Ring cycles at the Met; and Fabio Luisi (below), the Met’s Italian-born Principal Conductor, who took over conducting the second half of the cycle after illness caused Levine to withdraw.

“Levine drew exciting, wondrously natural playing from the great Met orchestra”, wrote the New York Times, while “Luisi brings out the score’s three-dimensional detail and animal heat,” wrote New York Magazine.

Peter Gelb, General Manager of the Met since 2006, says: “Nothing defines an opera house more than its new productions, and there’s no new production that is more significant than a new “Ring” cycle. That is why I invited Robert Lepage, one of theatre’s great visionaries, to create our new cycle.”

Mark Wilkinson, President of Deutsche Grammophon, says: “We are thrilled to be partnering with the Met to help take Wagner’s spectacular, breathtaking music, boldly realized here by Robert Lepage, to as wide an audience as possible. Both collectors and newcomers to Wagner’s extraordinary world will find it at once spectacular, visually spell-binding and deeply thought-provoking.”

To complement the complete Ring cycle on both DVD and Blu-ray, Deutsche Grammophon is releasing two related titles: “Twilight of the Gods,” a 2-CD compilation of audio highlights from the Met’s “Ring” – featuring all the major stars of the production and such famous extracts as “The Ride of the Valkyries,” “Wotan’s Farewell,” the “Magic Fire Music,” “Siegfried’s Rhine Journey” and the concluding “Immolation Scene”; and “Wagner’s Dream,” a frank and revealing documentary about the five-year making of the Met’s new Ring that has already been acclaimed as “simply the best documentary about the Met ever made” (Film Journal), “a must-see for any creative soul” (Cinespect) and “destined to be one of the classic documentaries about opera” (Philadelphia Inquirer).

Here are details:

“Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen”

Das Rheingold · Die Walküre · Siegfried · Götterdämmerung
& Wagner’s Dream  The making of the Ring

Starring in alphabetical order: Patricia Bardon, Stephanie Blythe, Richard Croft, Mojca Erdmann, Wendy Bryn Harmer, Jonas Kaufmann, Hans-Peter König, Waltraud Meier, Jay Hunter Morris, Eric Owens, Iain Peterson, Franz-Josef Selig,· Gerhard Siegel, Bryn Terfel, Deborah Voigt, Eva-Maria Westbroek plus The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus, all under conductors
James Levine and Fabio Luisi and directed by Robert Lepage

8 DVDs 00440 073 4770
5 BD 00440 073 4771

U.S.  Release September 11, 2012

“Twilight of the Gods”

Wagner: Highlights from “Der Ring des Nibelungen”

Stephanie Blythe, Jonas Kaufmann, Jay Hunter Morris, Eric Owens, Bryn Terfel, Deborah Voigt, Eva-Maria Westbroek and The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus
under James Levine and Fabio Luisi.

2 CD 00289 479 0638

U.S. September 11, 2012

“Wagner’s Dream”

The making of the “Ring”


Featuring Robert Lepage, Deborah Voigt, Jay Hunter Morris, Peter Gelb, James Levine, Fabio Luisi and the Metropolitan Opera

Directed by Susan Froemke

DVD 00440 073 4840

U.S.  Release September 12, 2012

Classical music: The Metropolitan Opera’s two-season production of Wagner’s “Ring” cycle wraps up with “Gotterdammerung” this Saturday on “The Met Live in HD.” Here are some reviews to whet your appetite.

February 10, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Tomorrow – Saturday, Feb. 11 – will bring the historic last live broadcast of the completion of Richard Wagner’s epic “Ring” cycle in the latest production by the Metropolitan Opera.

Unfortunately, this performance will be conducted by Fabio Luisi rather than the legendary James Levine, who started the mammoth Wagner project. But so far, Luisi (below) has shown himself to be very capable.

At 11 a.m. at the Point and Eastgate cinemas in Madison, the Metropolitan Opera’s “The Met Live in HD” series will present “Gotterdammerung” (The Twilight of the Gods), the last in Richard Wagner’s ambitious “Ring” cycle.

Tickets are $24, $22 for seniors. The production, which stars Deborah Voigt (below with Morris), Bryn Terfel and Jay Hunter Morris as well as “The Machine” set used by Cirque du Soleil Robert Lepage, lasts six hours.

Even many of those who can’t attend the broadcast will be interested in the production. So I am offering some background, including reviews.

Here is a link to a video preview and other links to downloadable program notes and other information.

One of the most interesting aspects of the new production is the gap that exists between praise for the singers and performers versus criticism of Carl Fillion’s intricate, weighty (45 tons) and hi-tech set dubbed “The Machine” (below) that even required remodeling of the Met’s enormous stage.

I actually find the set quite intriguing and atmospheric. But you can make up your own mind.

And if you miss this live broadcast, I expect that within a year, the complete Ring will be available as DVDs for home viewing of big TV screens.

That’s not the same, to be sue, as the original, but it is not a bad compromise and certainly better than nothing.

Here is the New York Times’ review by its senior critic Anthony Tommasini (below), who will be in Madison March 22-24 to give free lectures as part of the UW’s Pro Arte Quartet centennial:

And here is a review from – what else? — The Classical Review website, where you can check out other music and opera reviews:

Here is a review from New York City’s famed classical radio station WQXR:

And here is a musical excerpt to attract you:

Classical music datebook: This very busy week features a four-day national choral conference, plus orchestral and chamber music as well as The Metropolitan Opera’s “LIve in HD” production of Wagner’s “Gotterdammerung.”

February 8, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

This is a big week for vocal music in Madison, with both a four-day national choral conference and on Saturday the long-awaited “The MET Live in HD” broadcast of “Gotterdammerung,” the final installment of Richard Wagner’s mammoth “Ring” cycle in a new production by the Metropolitan Opera that began last season.

But there is also a lot of orchestral and chamber music to be heard, especially by University of Wisconsin performers and guest artists.

Here is a round-up;


The American Choral Directors Association will host its national conference in Madison from today through Saturday. It will feature some 2,000 singers with 700 directors and quite a few local groups, including the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble (below, in a photo by Jim Pippitt) plus the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra and the Madison Youth Choirs (see Friday’s listing.)

Many venues will be used, among them the Overture Center.

Tickets have been kept affordable and run $5-$15.

For a background story, visit:

For a list of events and performers, visit the American Choral Directors Association site:


The FREE Friday Noon Musicale, from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium at the First Unitarian Society’s Meeting House, 900 University Bay Drive, will feature “From the Sublime to the Ridiculous” with Eva Wright, organ; Donna Corcoran, soprano; Tyrone Greive, violin; Janet Greive, cello; and Betty Bielefeld, flute.


At 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Symphony Orchestra, under conductors Jim Smith (below) and David Grandis, and the winners of the annual concerto and composition competition will perform a FREE concert.

The concerto winners are violinist Alice Bartsch, pianist Jeongmin Lee, baritone Michael Roemer and marimbist Brett Walter.  The composition winner is Youn-Jae Ok.  The conductors are James Smith and David Grandis. (A special posting about this concert and these young performers will be featured tomorrow.)

The program includes “Scottish Fantasy” by Max Bruch, “Le nozze de Figaro by Mozart, Keiko Abe’s Prism Rhapsody for Marimba and Orchestra, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4, Op. 58, and the world premiere of DMA Youn-Jae Ok’s Mi-Ryen.

A reception for musicians and audience will follow in Mills Hall lobby, sponsored by the School of Music Alumni Association.

 At 8 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, St. Paul composer Stephen Paulus’ oratorio “To Be Certain of the Dawn” will receive its Wisconsin and Madison premiere.

Tickets are $15 for adults, $7 for students (available from Overture Center box office at 608 258-4141.)

The work was commissioned in 2005 by the Basilica of Saint Mary in Minneapolis as a gift to Temple Israel Synagogue in commemoration of both the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camps and the 40th anniversary of the Vatican II document “Nostra Aetate,” which officially decried anti-Semitism and opened the doors to significant interfaith dialogue.

It will be conducted by Lee Nelson (Wartburg College) and performed by Wisconsin Youth Orchestra’s Youth Orchestra; the Madison Youth Choirs (the Britten and Capriccio choirs, below) and a combined choir of singers from Nebraska Wesleyan, Minnesota State and Wartburg College.


At 11 a.m. at the Point and Eastgate cinemas in Madison, the Metropolitan Opera’s “The MET Live in HD” series will present “Gotterdammerung” (The Twilight of the Gods), the last in Richard Wagner’s ambitious “Ring” cycle.

Tickets are $24, $22 for seniors. The production, which stars Deborah Voight (below with Morris), Bryn Terfel and Jay Hunter Morris as well as The Machine set of Cirque du Soleil director Robert Lepage, lasts six hours.

Here is a link to a video preview and other links to downloadable program notes and other information.

Four members of the eight-musician Oakwood Chamber Players (below, in a photo by Bill Arthur) will perform at 7 p.m. on Saturday in the Oakwood University Woods Auditorium, 6209 Mineral Point Rd., and at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday at the UW-Madison Arboretum Welcome Center, 1207 Seminole Hwy.

Tickets at the door are $20; $15 for seniors; and $5 for students.

Performers are Leyla Sanyer, violin; Christopher Dozoryst, viola; Maggie Darby Townsend, cello; and Vincent Fuh, piano.

The program is the Trio in C minor, Op. 66, by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809-1847), which replaces the advertised Schumann Piano Quartet, and the Piano Quartet in C minor, Op. 15, by Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924).

For information visit:


This week’s “Sunday Afternoon Live from the Chazen” features the Ancia Saxophone Quartet (below) on Sunday from 12:30 to 2 p.m. in Brittingham Gallery Number III at the Chazen Museum of Art.

As usual, the concert will be broadcast live by Wisconsin Public Radio.

The acclaimed quartet performs regularly at regional, national and international composition and saxophone conferences, including the World Saxophone Congresses in Montreal (2000) and Minneapolis (2003).

The quartet will be performing a program including the works of modernist composers of the 20th Century Charles Ives, William Albright, and Jean Absil; a quartet by Romantic-era composer Alexander Glazunov; and “Hammering Away (at the Great Unknown)” by the highly acclaimed Caroline Mallonée, a composer of today’s era.

Members of the Chazen Museum of Art or Wisconsin Public Radio can call ahead and reserve seats for Sunday Afternoon Live performances. Seating is limited. All reservations must be made Monday through Friday before the concert and claimed by 12:20 p.m. on the day of the performance. For more information or to learn how to become a museum member, contact the Chazen Museum at (608) 263-2246.

A reception follows the performance, with refreshments generously donated by Fresh Madison Market, Coffee Bytes and Steep & Brew. A free docent-led tour in the Chazen galleries begins every Sunday at 2 p.m.

At 1:30 p.m., members of The Oakwood Chamber Players will perform Mendelssohn and Faure at the UW Arboretum Visitors Center (below). See Saturday above. 

At 2 pm. in Mills Hall, the UW Chamber Orchestra (below), conducted by James Smith and graduate assistant conductor David Grandis, performs a FREE concert.

The program features “Homage to Mozart” by Frank Martin; “Pulcinella Suite” by Igor Stravinsky; and “Symphony No. 3 in A minor,” Op. 56 (“Scottish”) by Felix Mendelssohn.

At 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Guest Artist Series will offer a FREE recital by pianist Robert Shannon (below), a member of the faculty at the Oberlin Conservatory.  “Sonata in D major,” D. 850 by Schubert; “Le moqueur polyglotte” (“The Mockingbird”) from “Des canyons aux etoiles” (“From the Canyons to the Stars”) by Messiaen; and two movements from “Years of Pilgrimage” (Second Year: Italy) by Liszt.


At 7 p.m. in Morphy Hall, piano Robert Shannon will give a FREE and public master class. He is a specialist in the Taubman Method, which stresses injury-avoidance. See his concert on Sunday.


At 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall: The UW Faculty Concert Series will offer a FREE concert by Mark Hetzler, trombone (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) and Vincent Fuh, piano; with Yorel Lashley, conga; and percussionists Anthony Di Sanza, Sean Kleve, Joseph Murfin and Brett Walter.

The program features “Mystic with a Credit Card” by Michael Colgrass; “Sonata for trombone and piano” by Daniel Schnyder; “Sonata” by Jack Cooper; and “Javier’s Dialog” by Dennis Llinas.

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