The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Excellent singing, acting, orchestral playing, sets and costumes combined to make Verdi’s “La Traviata” one of Madison Opera’s best ever productions

November 6, 2019
7 Comments

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By Jacob Stockinger

The experienced Opera Guy for this blog – Larry Wells – took in last weekend’s production by the Madison Opera of Verdi’s “La Traviata” and filed the following review. Performance photos are by James Gill.

By Larry Wells

During the first few moments of the Overture to Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata” — on Sunday afternoon in Overture Hall — I had a feeling that this would be a special performance. Members of the Madison  Symphony Orchestra sounded full and alive and attentive to artistic director and conductor John DeMain.

(You can hear the haunting overture or prelude, performed at the BBC Proms by the Milan Symphony Orchestra under Chinese conductor Xian Zhang, in the YouTube video at the bottom,)

Presented by Madison Opera, this performance will remain in my memory as one of the best I have attended here.

The traditional production was well staged by director Fenlon Lamb with beautiful sets (below) designed for Hawaii Opera Theater and provided by Utah Opera. The sets provided a sense of spaciousness and perspective as befits grand houses in 19th-century Paris.

Likewise, the costumes were spectacular, particularly in the masquerade scene (below) in the second act where almost everyone was in opulent black.

The three principal characters were all well portrayed, although tenor Mackenzie Whitney’s Alfredo (below left) seemed rather youthful to be proclaiming he was being reborn by his love for Violetta (below right).

Both Whitney and baritone Weston Hurt (below right), who portrayed Alfredo’s father Germont, sang perfectly well.

But all of my notes seem to have focused on soprano Cecilia Violetta Lopez’s portrayal of Violetta (below left, with Mackenzie Whitney as Alfredo). One aria, duet and ensemble after another was remarkably sung with her pure and crystalline voice.

Lopez is also a talented actress who convincingly conveyed the emotions of the heroine in their wide gamut from care-free courtesan to love-struck woman to abandoned consumptive.

I was close enough to the stage to see the changing emotions flicker across Lopez’s face, and I was very impressed, and ultimately moved, by her performance.

All three of the main characters could sing, but Lopez could really sing and act as well. It was an outstanding performance that left me quite affected.

The chorus sounded wonderful, and the choristers did not overact, for which I was grateful. Their contribution to the finale of the second act made that ensemble heartbreaking. Likewise, the final ensemble at the end of the opera left me bereft.

Altogether conductor, orchestra, singers, chorus, set, costumes and lighting combined to create an unforgettable afternoon. I pay tribute to Verdi for creating an enduring work of art and to John DeMain (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) for an amazing performance.

For more background about the real-life story and inspiration of the opera and more details about the production and the cast, go to: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2019/10/28/classical-music-the-madison-opera-performs-verdis-la-traviata-this-friday-night-and-sunday-afternoon-in-overture-hall/

Unfortunately, I was seated behind an older couple. The woman was obviously very ill and apparently was unable to lift her head high enough to see the stage, let alone read the supertitles. Her partner — I assume it was her husband — patiently whispered a summary of the supertitles throughout the performance.

I believe that people feel that they are inaudible to others when they whisper to their neighbor, but we all know that this is not the case.

I mentioned this to friends during the intermission, and they said that I should say something. However, my Midwestern niceness kicked in and I just endured it. I thought that perhaps this would be the last opera she would ever attend.

Yet I could not help feeling that I would not have enjoyed someone whispering in my ear while music was being performed; and I would have perhaps prepared in advance so that I knew what I would be hearing.

Additionally, I darkly mused that perhaps “La Traviata” is not an appropriate opera to bring someone who is critically ill to.

Readers’ thoughts on this matter would be appreciated.


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Classical music: Sunday is a good time to remember and praise three men whose musical legacies live on decades later at the UW-Madison and Edgewood College. Plus, the UW’s Perlman Trio plays this afternoon

April 14, 2018
1 Comment

CORRECTION: Today, Saturday, April 14, at 3:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall — NOT yesterday as was mistakenly listed in the early edition of yesterday’s post — is the annual FREE concert by the UW’s Perlman Trio (named after benefactor Kato Perlman).

It will perform piano trios by Franz Joseph Haydn and Robert Schumann, and a piano quartet by Johannes Brahms. A reception will follow. For more information about the student performers and the full program, go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/the-perlman-trio/

By Jacob Stockinger

This Sunday afternoon is a good time to remember three men whose musical legacies continue to survive after their deaths and decades after they made their contribution.

At 3:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall on the UW-Madison campus, the three winners of the 33rd annual Beethoven Sonata Competition will perform a FREE recital.

The competition was started by chemistry professor and former UW-Madison Chancellor Irving Shain, who once contemplated a career as a flutist and who died at 92 in March.

The 2018 winners (with photos below the names) are:

ANNA SIAMPANI

MICHAEL MESSER

ERIC TRAN

One interesting and unusual aspect of the concert is that the same piano sonata — the beautiful and soulful, theme-and-variations Sonata No. 30 in E Major, Op. 109 — will be performed twice by two different winners. The Ear thinks that is a first in the history of the competition. (You can hear Richard Goode play the sonata in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

A reception will follow the concert.

Here is the program:

Sonata No. 30 in E major, Op. 109 — Anna Siampani

Sonata No. 7 in D major, op.10, no.3 — Michael Messer

— INTERMISSION—

Sonata No. 30 in E major, Op. 109 — Eric Tran

Adds the Mead Witter School of Music’s website: “We bid farewell to former Chancellor Irving Shain (below), who died on March 6 at the age of 92. Chancellor Shain was a champion of the piano, founding both the Shain Piano/Woodwind Duo Competition (that concert was on March 4) and the Beethoven Piano Competition.

“His contributions to the School of Music were significant. We have missed his presence at these concerts and we remember him with fondness.”

Read more about Chancellor Shain here:

https://news.wisc.edu/former-uw-madison-chancellor-irving-shain-dies-at-92/

EDGEWOOD COLLEGE

At 2:30 p.m. on Sunday in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive, Edgewood College will also mark a special event: a FREE celebratory concert to mark the 25th anniversary of the Edgewood Chamber Orchestra.

The program, under the baton of Blake Walter (below), features audience favorites, such as the Claude Debussy’s Petite Suite and the Overture to the opera The Marriage of Figaro by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

There is no admission charge, but donations to the Edward Walters Music Scholarship are accepted. The scholarship fund directly benefits Edgewood College students participating in ensembles.

A reception will follow the concert in the Washburn Heritage Room.

Adds Edgewood College (below) in a press release: “Founded in 1993 through a generous endowment established by Edgewood College benefactors William O. Hart and Vernon Sell, the Edgewood Chamber Orchestra fulfills a unique role at Edgewood College and in the Madison community. (Sorry, The Ear could not find photos of either William O. Hart or Vernon Sell.)

“Hart and Sell envisioned hosting a permanent in-house chamber orchestra that would provide Edgewood College students and community members access to high-quality performances and unique educational opportunities.

“Their dream remains vital today, as the ensemble contributes directly to the advancement of music students by giving them the rare opportunity arrange for the ensemble, perform with the group as selected soloists, and to conduct the ensemble. It also provides students and the community exposure to world-class soloists and distinctive programming.”


Classical music: Does anyone else feel put off by the amount of requests for money from music organizations?

October 22, 2017
12 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

It happened again this weekend.

The Ear got two more mailings from local music groups.

And both solicited money – again.

It seems like all communications these days include a plea for money, more money.

Up to a point, The Ear understands why charities and non-profits seek donations and he doesn’t mind it.

But it is beginning to happen so often and to feel so off-putting that it is taking the focus away from the music.

It reminds The Ear of when he used to contribute to such worthwhile groups as Amnesty InternationalDoctors Without Borders and the ACLU.

A generous yearly donation never seemed enough.

Every month some new “emergency” arose and they came back for more. After a while, you started to feel like a sucker, or at least a bottomless well in their eyes.

The only solution was to end the annual donation and get off the mailing list.

Now, much of the music business is starting to feel just that – too much business and too little music.

The commercialism is starting to feel overwhelming and alienating, especially when one already pays hefty prices for some tickets.

Is The Ear alone?

Should he feel differently?

Or do others feel the same way?

Leave your thoughts in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


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