By Jacob Stockinger
Here is a guest review by The Opera Guy, who is himself a senior and who has followed opera for many decades and across several continents, including North America, Europe and Asia. Performance photos are by James Gill for the Madison Opera.
By Larry Wells
On Sunday afternoon I attended the second, and final, of two sold-out performances of Daniel Schnyder’s “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird,” presented by Madison Opera, which gave the Midwest premiere of the new work.
Although it is a chamber opera featuring only 16 instrumentalists and running a little over 90 minutes, it was an engaging, satisfying and often hypnotic operatic experience.
The orchestral and vocal music were readily accessible. As a compliment to the composer, I was reminded of the later work of the great British composer Michael Tippett.
The plot features Charlie Parker’s mother, three of his wives, his friend Dizzy Gillespie and his current patroness, the fascinating Baroness Nica de Koenigswarter, as they confront Parker’s spirit after his death but before his removal from the morgue and burial.
(Below, standing in front of the photo-portrait set of the Birdland jazz club, are the major cast members, many of whom were in the original world premiere productions at Opera Philadelphia and the Apollo Theater of Harlem in New York City. From the left, they are: Angela Brown as Addie Parker; Will Liverman as Dizzy Gillespie; Rachel Sterrenberg as Chan Parker; Angela Montellaro as Doris Parker; Joshua Stewart as Charlie Parker; and Krysty Swann as Rebecca Parker.)
A pioneer and innovator of bebop in the world of jazz, saxophonist Parker died young and dissolute, destroyed by drugs and alcohol. Portrayed by Joshua Stewart (below), Parker is unsympathetic and weak, desperate to create but distracted. Stewart is a fine, convincing actor. His singing was often compelling, but his voice was too thin in the higher reaches demanded by the score.
The other characters were ably portrayed and consistently strong vocally. Will Liverman’s Dizzy Gillespie was a standout – lyrical and touching.
Likewise, Krysty Swann (below center with a baby) was solid vocally and emotionally convincing as Parker’s abandoned first wife Rebecca Parker.
Rachel Sterrenberg was moving and gripping vocally as Parker’s final wife Chan.
Julie Miller as Baronness Nica commanded the stage whenever she appeared, perhaps because of her bright red dress in a sea of black garments but also because of her powerful portrayal and expressive singing.
Whenever Angela Brown (below right, with Joshua Stewart as Charlie Parker) was onstage as Parker’s mother, Addie, she was the focus. She owned the role, she sang beautifully, and she had some of the best material to sing.
One of the finest moments in the opera was an orchestral interlude followed by a vocalise by another of Parker’s wives, Doris, sung by Angela Mortellaro (below). I was totally captivated, as I was by the quintet toward the end with Dizzy, the three wives and Parker’s mother.
Such are the moments for which an opera aficionado waits – several minutes of total aural delight.
Maestro John DeMain was, as always, in full command of the score as he led members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. I was in a position to watch him conduct, and he was always totally involved in the moment. I repeat what I have said before: Maestro DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) is a treasure for which Madison should be constantly grateful.
I personally like newer music and always welcome the chance to hear something other than the tired Brahms overtures, Tchaikovsky symphonies and Mozart piano concertos.
The argument in Madison seems to be that to fill seats, you have to give the audience what it wants; and the belief is that it wants music that is tried, true and safe.
The fact that this new work sold out both performances in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center and that the audience was not entirely made up of seniors seems to suggest that the halls can be filled if the programming is more adventurous.
I say let’s hear more music of the 20th and 21st centuries, draw in a new audience and give the seniors a little thrill.
What do you think?
By Jacob Stockinger
Got a Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa gift card to spend?
Want to take advantage of post-holiday and year-end and New Year sales?
It emphasizes unknown performers – like soprano Barbara Hannigan (below in a photo by Elmer Haas) and contemporary or new music. But it features piano music, orchestra music, chamber music and opera. And it has generous sound samples from the chosen recordings:
Here is a link:
Over the past month, The Ear has featured several other Best of 2016 lists. So here they are for purposes of comparison and crosschecking.
For example, on several lists you will find conductor Daniel Barenboim‘s recording of the Symphony No. 1 by Edward Elgar and pianist Daniil Trifonov‘s two-CD recording of the complete piano etudes by Franz Liszt — and justifiably so. (You can hear the trailer for Trifonov’s Liszt etudes in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
Here is the post-Thanksgiving guide from The New York Times:
Here is a list of nominations for the 2017 Grammy Awards:
And here is a link to a list by the critics of The New York Times:
By Jacob Stockinger
The holiday shopping has started with a Black Friday that set records for on-line sales — more than $3 billion or an increase of 11 percent over last year, according to news reports.
And this coming Cyber Monday is supposed to be even bigger, setting more records.
Over the next several weeks, The Ear will feature several holiday gifts guides, including the upcoming Grammy Award nominations and lists of the year’s top recordings from Gramophone magazine, National Public Radio (NPR) and other media outlets.
The Ear will also offer some of his own ideas, although he thinks it is pointless to single out the “best,” given so many choices, and will feature instead things that gave him – and might give you or the recipient – special pleasure.
Anyway, here is the 2016 holiday gift guide for classical music from critics for The New York Times.
Once again, the emphasis is on boxed sets, which have become more widespread and even more of a bargain as streaming becomes increasingly popular. One expensive set features Mozart’s complete works and runs almost $500 – or about only $2 a disc.
The list features tried-and-true classics and also more contemporary music and new music. It seems big on opera and orchestral works especially, but offers precious little chamber music or early music.
Read it and decide for yourself how useful it is.
Here is a link:
If you have gift ideas of your own, or reactions to these suggestions, leave your thoughts in the COMMENT section.
The Ear wants to hear.
ALERT: The Ear reminds you that TODAY is the monthly “Sunday Live From the Chazen” chamber music concert. The program today features UW-Madison soprano Mimmi Fulmer, violinist Tyrone Greive (retired concertmaster of the Madison Symphony Orchestra) and pianist Michael Keller in music by Edvard Grieg and other Norwegian composers, including songs and sonatas. The live concert starts at 12:30 p.m. in Brittingham Gallery 3. Admission is FREE. You can also stream it live by using this link:
By Jacob Stockinger
Probably the premiere musical event of 2015 was the summer debut of the new group the Willy Street Chamber Players (below).
The critics and audiences agreed: The programs and performances were simply outstanding. Many of the players perform with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, there Middleton Community Orchestra, the Madison Bach Musicians and other acclaimed local groups.
Now the second season of five concerts – including one noontime lunch concert — will begin on this coming Friday night, July 8, at 6 p.m. at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1021 Spaight Street, on Madison’s near east side.
The first program features regular members and guest violinist Suzanne Beia (below).
Beia plays second violin in the Pro Arte Quartet at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, and also serves at concertmaster of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and assistant concertmaster of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. In addition, she performs in the Rhapsodie Quartet of the Madison Symphony Orchestra.
The program includes the lovely “Souvenir of Florence” (1892) by Peter Tchaikovsky and the haunting Entr’acte for String Quartet (2011) by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw (below, in a photo by Dashon Burton). You can hear the Entr’acte in the YouTube video at the bottom. (The Ear hopes one day the group will do Shaw’s “By and By” with strings and a vocalist.)
It’s too bad that the fourth annual Handel Aria Competition is on the same night. You would hope that such conflicts could be avoided in the summer.
Theoretically you can make it to both concerts since the aria competition starts at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall. But it will probably be a hectic scurry from one to the other.
Here is a link to more information about the Handel Aria Competition:
In any case, here is the schedule of the entire second season of the Willy Street Chamber Players.
It is varied and impressive, especially in how it combines old masterpieces with modern and contemporary works. It features pieces by Philip Glass, Arnold Schoenberg, UW-Madison composer Laura Schwendinger, George Crumb, Dmitri Shostakovich, Franz Schubert, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Arcangelo Corelli and Georges Enescu :
A season subscription is $50. Individual concerts are $15 except for the Black Angels video art concert, which is $20.