The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Holiday carols, gospel music and classical music mix at the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Christmas concerts this weekend — which will air later on Wisconsin Public Television for the first time

November 26, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

You have to hand it to the Madison Symphony Orchestra for embracing the community and putting on a memorable show.

When it comes to celebrating the holidays – and yes, the MSO does use the Christmas word – the MSO does so with a big variety of musical styles and a wide diversity of performers. That might explain why the concerts usually sell out year after year.

Beginning with caroling in the lobby before the concert to the sing-along finale, where music director and conductor John DeMain and the Madison Symphony Orchestra don their Santa hats (below, in a photo by Peter Rodgers) and more, “A Madison Symphony Christmas” is a joyous time for all.

Christmas classics are interwoven with enchanting new holiday music featuring members of the Madison Symphony Chorus, the Madison Youth Choirs and the Mount Zion Gospel Choir as well as guests soloists soprano Cecilia Violetta Lopez and bass-baritone Kyle Ketelson.

This tradition marks the embrace and start of the holiday season for many people in Madison.

Performances of “A Madison Symphony Christmas”will be held in Overture Hall, 201 State Street, on Friday night, Nov. 30, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday night, Dec. 1 at 8 p.m.; and Sunday afternoon, Dec. 2, at 2:30 p.m. Ticket details are below.

In addition, 45 minutes before each concert, audiences are invited to share the spirit of the holiday season singing carols along with the Madison Symphony Chorus.

TV PREMIERE

For the first time, “A Madison Symphony Christmas”can be experienced again in December — airing on Wisconsin Public Television (NOT Wisconsin Public Radio as mistakenly listed in an earlier edition) on Monday, Dec. 17, at 8 p.m., and on Christmas Day, Tuesday, Dec. 25, at 9:30 p.m. 

“Our annual Christmas concert has become a very meaningful experience for everyone involved — the choruses, orchestra musicians, singers and the audience,” says DeMain. “With the Mt. Zion Gospel Choir, Madison Youth Choirs, and Madison Symphony Chorus joining our internationally acclaimed opera singers, and climaxing with the entire audience participating in our Christmas carol sing-along — one cannot help but leave the Overture Hall with a feeling that the holiday season has begun. And hopefully, you will have a big glow in your heart.”

For more information and the full program, which includes the excerpt from Handel’s “Messiah” in the YouTube video at the bottom, go to: https://madisonsymphony.org/event/a-madison-symphony-christmas/

ABOUT THE SOLOISTS

Celebrated soprano Cecilia Violetta Lopez (below, in a photo by Devon Cass) has been named one of opera’s “25 Rising Stars” by Opera News.

Lopez has received accolades for her signature role of Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata, which she has performed countless times throughout North America.

Her debut of the role was with Martina Arroyo Foundation’s prestigious summer festival, Prelude to Performance. She has also performed the role with Opera Tampa, Opera Idaho, Ash Lawn Opera, and in her company debut with Virginia Opera. Lopez also recently made her European debut as Norina in Donizetti’s Don Pasquale with Zomeropera in Belgium.

Based in the Madison suburb of Sun Prairie, bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen (below, in a photo by Lawrence Brownlee) is in frequent demand by the world’s leading opera companies and orchestras for his vibrant and handsome stage presence and his distinctive vocalism.

He has won first prize in several international vocal competitions, including those sponsored by the Metropolitan Opera National Council, the Richard Tucker Music Foundation (Career Grant), the George London Foundation, the Licia Albanese Puccini Foundation, the Sullivan Foundation, Opera Index, and the MacAllister Awards.

Highlights of Ketelsen’s recent seasons include performances at the Opernhaus Zurich, Staatsoper Berlin, Minnesota Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Canadian Opera Company and the Metropolitan Opera, as well as performances with the San Francisco Symphony, the National Symphony and performances at Carnegie Hall.

ABOUT THE MADISON SYMPHONY CHORUS 

The Madison Symphony Chorus (below top, in a photo by Greg Anderson) gave its first public performance on February 23, 1928 and has performed regularly with the Madison Symphony Orchestra ever since. The Chorus is comprised of more than 150 volunteer musicians who come from all walks of life and enjoy combining their artistic talent under the direction of Beverly Taylor (below bottom), who directs the choral program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music.

ABOUT THE MADISON YOUTH CHOIRS 

Recognized as an innovator in youth choral music education, Madison Youth Choirs (MYC) inspires enjoyment, learning and social development through the study and performance of high-quality and diverse choral literature. The oldest youth choir organization in Wisconsin, MYC serves more than 1,000 young people, ages 7-18, in a wide variety of choral programs. In addition to a public concert series, MYC conducts an annual spring tour of schools and retirement centers, performing for more than 7,000 students and senior citizens annually.

ABOUT THE MOUNT ZION GOSPEL CHOIR 

Under the leadership of Leotha Stanley and his wife, Tamera Stanley, the Mount Zion Gospel Choir (below) has been a part of the MSO Christmas concerts since 2005. The choir is primarily comprised of members from Mount Zion Baptist Church and includes representatives from other churches as well. The choir has traveled extensively throughout the Midwest and has journeyed to Europe, singing in France and Germany.

The Symphony recommends concert attendees arrive early for each performance to make sure they have time to pass through Overture Center’s security stations.

The lobby opens 90 minutes prior to each concert.

More information about A Madison Symphony Christmasis found here: https://madisonsymphony.org/event/a-madison-symphony-christmas/.

Tickets for A Madison Symphony Christmascan be purchased in the following ways:

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

Major funding for the holiday concert is provided by: American Printing, Fiore Companies, Inc., Nedrebo’s Formalwear, Maurice and Arlene Reese Family Foundation, BMO Harris Bank, Hooper Foundation/General Heating & Air Conditioning, Judith and Nick Topitzes, and An Anonymous Friend. Additional funding provided by Colony Brands, Inc., J.H. Findorff & Son Inc., Flad Architects, Forte Research Systems & Nimblify, Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren s.c., and Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts. The Community Carol Sing is presented in partnership with Overture Center for the Arts.


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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 and Opera Q&A: Conductor Gary Thor Wedow talks about the artists and music in Madison’s Opera’s FREE “Opera in the Park” concert this Saturday night.

July 17, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Saturday night, July 21, at 8 p.m. in Garner Park on Madison’s far west side – the rain date is Sunday – the Madison Opera will again offer its FREE summer outdoor preview of its next season by presenting “Opera in the Park.”

In recent years, the community event has drawn up to 15,000 people. Garner Park opens at 7 a.m. the day of the concert. Blankets, chairs, food and beverages are allowed. 

For more information about the 11th annual “Opera in  the Park,” including photos of past events and a list of the music to be performed, including both opera and Broadway musicals, t visit:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances/park/

This time the conductor of the guest singers, the Madison Opera Chorus and the Madison Symphony Orchestra players is Gary Thor Wedow, who has a lot of experience in conducting opera and who has taught at the famed Juilliard School of Music in New York City since 1994.

Wedow (below) recently gave The Ear an email Q&A about this year’s Opera in the Park:

Can you briefly introduce yourself to the readers and audience?

I’m a mid-Westerner from Indiana, a Hoosier. I studied at Indiana University as a pianist with virtuoso Jorge Bolet, who loved opera and singers – and I’ve been hooked ever since.

Years ago I turned from the piano to conducting and love the grandeur of opera — the most extraordinary and complete art form. Though I’ve been lucky to conduct a lot of the Baroque repertoire, the opera I’ve conducted most is still “Carmen” and I’ve been through the gamut of the repertoire at New York City Opera, Seattle Opera (where the photo by Chris Bennion below shows him working the orchestra pit), Canadian Opera Company and other great opera companies around the country.

What are the special challenges and special rewards of performing outdoors? How do you feel about the experience?

At the beginning of my career, I was chorus master at Santa Fe Opera and I think I’ve experienced about every challenge: rain, wind, cold, rattlesnakes and amorous skunks (don’t ask). Of course, now that I’ve said I’ve experienced every challenge, maybe in Madison I’ll find another surprise.

But the rewards are terrific: the ambience, the sky, the whole experience of a picnic with friends and family and truly great music — it’s a memory for a lifetime. My grandfather played in town bands and as a teenager one of my happiest memories was being in the high school band for football games and summer parks concerts; I’m afraid it’s in my DNA.

Can you walk us through the performers and make some brief comments?

The soloists are all internationally recognized American artists.

Caitlin Lynch (below) is a radiant soprano whom I just saw in the disturbing but mesmerizing world premiere of “Dark Sisters. She performs Donna Elvira in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” this coming season, she’ll be doing an aria from that role in the park.

Matt Boehler (below), our dynamite bass, will join Lynch in the production of “Don Giovanni” next year. He is performing throughout Europe and is based in Switzerland now, but is a pal of mine from his days at Juilliard, where I’m on the faculty.

Russell Thomas (below) is a tenor without peer and has a truly magnificent voice. He will sing two big excerpts from Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera” (A Masked Ball) (Madison’s Opera’s fall production). It is one of Verdi’s greatest works.

Emily Fons (below) is a Wisconsin native who just had a triumph in Great Britain at the Garsington Festival and is going to sing some gorgeous Offenbach with us.

Another Wisconsin artist is the soprano Caitlin Cisler (below) will perform the role of Oscar in the “Ballo” and sings Oscar’s sparkling first act aria.

Can you walk us through the program and repertoire, and make some comments?

Well, could you tell that I’m excited about the “Ballo” and the “Don Giovanni” excerpts — this is opera at its greatest. But I’m over the moon that we will begin the program with the seldom performed “Hymn to the Sun” from Mascagni’s “Iris.”  It has breathtakingly beautiful orchestral colors and features your terrific chorus.

Other favorites will include selections from Verdi’s “Rigoletto”; but also some wonderful operetta. Matt will patter his way through the Modern Major General form Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Pirates of Penzance.” We will have some great American musical comedy classics: “Be My Love” — immortalized by Mario Lanza, but gloriously realized in Madison by Russell and Emily and Caitlin will charm us with “Show Boat” (borrowing from Maestro DeMain’s repertoire) and “Ice Cream” from “She Loves Me” — one of my personal favorites.

Are you familiar with the Madison Opera and Madison Symphony Orchestra or with maestro John DeMain? Do you have any comments or reactions about coming to Madison?

I’ve known John (below, in a photo by James Gill) much of my professional life. He is a superb musician and a first-class human being — he is an incredibly generous colleague, rarer than you might imagine. He has invited me to Madison several times before but it never quite fit, so I’m overjoyed that this summer it has worked out.

I am also a huge fan of the Madison Early Music Festival. What a rich cultural life you have there, so I am honored and overjoyed at working with the opera and symphony.

What else would you like to say about anything — the Opera in the Park concert or yourself as a performer and teacher or Madison?

I’m so excited to be coming to Madison. I’ve got dear friends there and know I will leave with more friends — performing this great music with a world-class orchestra and chorus and terrific colleagues in a park!

So, pack the picnic basket, wrap up the blanket and get a light stick (below) to join in the conducting. I’m looking forward to having a great evening — the more, the merrier.


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