The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: University Opera’s production of Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte” is a musical treat despite its outdated story. Performances remain this afternoon and Tuesday night

March 1, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Larry Wells – the very experienced Opera Guy for this blog – took in the University Opera’s production of Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte” Friday night at Music Hall on Bascom Hill and filed this review. (Performance photos are by Michael R. Anderson.)

By Larry Wells

I attended the opening night of University Opera’s production of Mozart’s “Cosi Fan Tutte” (So Do They All or Such Are Women).

Considered a musical masterpiece, the opera features a cast of six singers who participate in a comedy about love and fidelity. (Below, from left, are Cayla Rosché as Fiordiligi, Benjamin Hopkins as Ferrando, James Harrington as Don Alfonso, Kelsey Wang as Despina, Kevin Green as Guglielmo and Chloe Agostino as Dorabella.)

In director David Ronis’ attempt to make the story more timely, the action took place in a vaguely early 20th-century setting – the Roaring Twenties, to be precise — suggested by the women’s costumes and the art deco set.

Two of the men, who are called off to war, brandished swords, which I believe were not widely used in World War I. (Below, from left, are Benjamin Hopkins as Ferrando, James Harrington as Don Alfonso and Kevin Green as Guglielmo in the opening scene from Act I.)

In any event, an attempt to make an historic artifact with its incumbent unenlightened views of women relevant to the 21st century may be fruitless, and I believe that audiences today recognize the archaic attitudes expressed therein as comic and dated.

That sexist manipulation needs to be discussed today, as suggested in the director’s notes, and that women’s “agency” — to quote an overused academic term — remains an issue today is the tragedy. This comedy goes only a small distance in helping us realize that some things have not changed, even though many have.

But on to the performance.

The three female characters (below) included the vocally stunning Cayla Rosché as Fiordiligi. Her “Come scoglio” was a showstopper. (Below, from left, are Chloe Agostino as Dorabella and Cayla Rosché as Fiordiligi in their Act I duet.)

Chloe Agostino’s sweet soprano perfectly reflected her Dorabella, and Anja Pustaver’s comic turn as Despina revealed an interesting voice that reminded me of Reri Grist’s Oscar in the Erich Leinsdorf recording of Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera” – which is a compliment, albeit possibly obscure.

Kevin Green as Guglielmo grew on me as the evening progressed and as he became more confident. But the standout was James Harrington as Don Alfonso. I feel that he is a major talent in our midst. (Below in the foreground are Cayla Rosché as Fiordiligi and Benjamin Hopkins as Ferrando; in the background are James Harrington as Don Alfonso and Kevin Green as Guglielmo.)

Green and his partner, Benjamin Hopkins’ Ferrando, had to don disguises in order to tempt each other’s intended. In the libretto they disguise themselves as Albanians.

In what I can only hope was a nod to political correctness in order to spare the feelings of our Albanian brothers, they disguised themselves in this production as lumberjacks clad in flannel shirts and denim jeans — which was incongruously absurd but amusing at the same time. (Below,Kelsey Wang, left, as Despina examines Benjamin Hopkins as the Albanian Ferrando in a fake medical examination during the finale of Act I.)

The vocalists shone most in their many ensembles – duets, trios, quartets and sextets. The blendings of the various voices were always harmonious. The trio “Soave sia il vento” (Gentle Be the Breeze) — featuring Rosché, Agostino and Harrington (below) — was sublime and worth the price of admission on its own. (Below, from left, are Chloe Agostino as Dorabella, James Harrington as Don Alfonso and Cayla Rosché  as Fiordiligi in the famous Act I trio “Soave sia il vento,” which you can hear in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The UW Symphony Orchestra was ably and nobly led by new conductor Oriol Sans (below) whose hiring proved to be a major coup for the university. Everything I’ve heard him conduct so far has been excellent, and this performance was no exception.

The harpsichord continuo by Thomas Kasdorf (below) was captivating in its nuance and effortlessness – very impressive.

I enjoyed the abstract unit set designed by Joseph Varga and complemented by the effective lighting designed by Zak Stowe.

In all, it was an evening primarily in which to close one’s eyes and listen.

Repeat performances, with alternating cast members, take place this afternoon – Sunday, March 1 – at 2 p.m. and again on Tuesday night, March 3, at 7:30 p.m. Running time is about 3 hours with one intermission. The opera is sung in Italian with English surtitles.

Tickets are $25, $20 for seniors and $10 for students. For more information about the opera, the cast and the production, go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/2020/02/10/cosi-fan-tutte/

 


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Classical music: University Opera updates and stages Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte” on this Friday night, Sunday afternoon and Tuesday night. Plus, here are the winners of the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Final Forte

February 27, 2020
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NEWS UPDATE: If you missed it, here are the results of Wednesday’s night Final Forte teenage concerto competition with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, which was broadcast live from Overture Hall on Wisconsin Public Radio and PBS Wisconsin (formerly Wisconsin Public Television).

First and second place prizes of a $2,000 scholarship went to pianist Michael Wu and pianist Jessica Jiang, respectively. The two runners-up — violinists Emily Hauer and Jonah Kartman — each received a scholarship of $1,000.

Here is a link to more information, photos and background – including teachers — for each of the four contestants as well as the dates for rebroadcasting the finalists’ concert on radio and TV.

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2020/02/23/classical-music-this-wednesday-night-four-teenage-soloists-compete-in-this-years-final-forte-competition-with-the-madison-symphony-orchestra-attend-it-live-for-free-or-watch-and-hear-it-l/

By Jacob Stockinger

The prize-winning University Opera and UW Symphony Orchestra will stage three performances of “Cosi fan tutte” (So Do They All, or Women Are Like That), the late comic and seriously satirical opera by Mozart about love, gender roles and cheating on partners.

The performances are in Old Music Hall on Bascom Hill on this Friday night, Feb. 28, at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday afternoon, March 1, at 2:30 p.m.; and Tuesday night, March 3, at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are $25 for general admission with reserved seats, $20 for seniors (62 and up) and $10 for UW students.

As usual, UW students will alternate certain roles during the three performances. (Below is returning singer Anja Pustaver, one of the three Despina’s in the production.)

The stage director is David Ronis, the head of the opera program at the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music. He has won numerous national awards during his tenure at the UW-Madison for his inventive re-imaginings of well-known operas and musicals.

The student orchestra will be conducted by Oriol Sans, the acclaimed new professor of conducting and director of Orchestral Activities at the UW-Madison. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear the Overture to  “Cosi” played by the Metropolitan Opera conducted by James Levine.)

Below is a studio photo by radio host Norman Gilliland of members of the production when they appeared on Wisconsin Public Radio. From left are: conductor Oriol Sans, director David Ronis, soprano Julia Urbank and soprano Cayla Rosche.

The opera has been updated to the Roaring Twenties, at a time when the women’s suffrage movement and other women’s rights issues were gaining traction. The re-staging also seems especially timely and contemporary, given the #MeToo and Time’sUp movements.

Here is a link to the full press release with the complete cast and production staff as well as a sketch of the abstract stage set (below) designed by Joseph Varga and other information, including a detailed synopsis and an explanation of the reason for setting the opera by in the Roaring 20s: https://www.music.wisc.edu/2020/02/10/cosi-fan-tutte/

Here is a link to a shortened version – with information about tickets and parking — on the Mead Witter School of Music’s home website under Concerts and Events: https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/university-opera-mozarts-cosi-fan-tutte/2020-02-28/

 


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Classical music: Bellini’s opera “Norma” opens the new season of “Live From the Met in HD” at movie theaters this Saturday and Wednesday

October 6, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

At a time when so many classical music programs are striving desperately for commercial success and popularity with the public, one program stands out as phenomenally successful: The Metropolitan Opera’s “Live From the Met in HD” broadcasts.

Those broadcasts reach hundreds of cinemas around the world in North America, South America, Europe, Africa and Asia. Here is a list of the international showings:

http://www.metopera.org/season/in-cinemas/international-locations/

The new season of the live broadcasts by the Metropolitan Opera (below) opens this Saturday.

The broadcasts in Madison will take place at two Marcus Corporation cinemas: at the Point Cinemas on the far west side and the Palace Cinemas in Sun Prairie on the far east side.

The first of 10 operas in the season is a new production of Vincenzo Bellini’s Druid-based bel canto opera “Norma.”

The outstanding cast of singers and actors includes Sondra Radvanovsky, Joseph Callejo and Joyce DiDonato. Carlo Rizzi is the conductor. (You can hear a preview of this production in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The running time is 3 hours 30 minutes.

Tickets are $18.

Here is a season trailer:

http://www.metopera.org/Season/In-Cinemas/?gclid=Cj0KCQjwjdLOBRCkARIsAFj5-GBXxKzE43SMmgIUAPUrx1p2YrxzvDPG4cMZZk_7JwaoFQOMy22lf_0aAl8xEALw_wcB

The live performance is this Saturday, Oct. 7, at 11:55 a.m.:

http://www.marcustheatres.com/movies/met-norma-live

Encore presentations and rebroadcast are on Wednesday, Oct. 11, at 1 pm. and 6:30 p.m.:

http://www.marcustheatres.com/movies/met-norma-encore

For this production of “Norma,” here are:

A link to a synopsis and cast list:

http://www.metopera.org/Season/In-Cinemas/SynopsisCast/norma/?performanceNumber=14827

Links to production notes and program notes:

http://www.metopera.org/Season/2017-18-Season/norma-bellini-tickets/

http://www.metopera.org/metoperafiles/season/2017-18/operas/norma/programs/100717%20Norma.pdf

Much of the upcoming season features standard tried-and-true operas by Mozart (“The Magic Flute” and “Cosi fan tutti“); Puccini (“Tosca” and “La Bohème”); Verdi (“Luisa Miller”)’ Rossini (“Semiramide”) and Donizetti (“The Elixir of Love”). But there is also a contemporary work, “The Exterminating Angel,” by Thomas Adès and a holiday production of Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel.”

What do you think of the “Live From the Met” screenings?

What do you think most makes them so successful? The quality of the productions? The affordable price? The accessibility?

And what do you think of the choice of operas in the new season?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The annual showcase benefit for University Opera, with student performers and famed bass-baritone alumnus Sam Handley, is this Sunday afternoon

September 23, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Students in the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s opera program will present the annual “Showcase Concert” of songs and arias this Sunday, Sept. 24, at 3 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison’s Meeting House, 900 University Bay Drive.

They will be joined by bass-baritone Sam Handley (below top), a well-known alumnus now living in Chicago, and accompanist Daniel Fung (below bottom).

The program includes:

Samuel Handley in the “Calumny” aria from Rossini’s “Barber of Seville” and the song “Her Face” from Merrill’s show “Carnival”

John McHugh in “Donne mie” (Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte”)

Shaddai Solidum in “The Jewel Song” (Gounod’s “Faust”)

Grace Subat in “Far From the Home I Love” (Bock’s “Fiddler on the Roof“)

Sarah Kendall in “Mi chiamano Mimì” (Puccini’s “La Bohème“)

Benjamin Liupaogo (below) in the “Flower Song” (Bizet’s “Carmen”)

Liza Shapin in “I Walked in the Path Where Jesus Walked”

Matthew Chastain in “Questo amor” (Puccini’s “Edgar”)

Yanzelmalee Rivera in “Dondi lieta” (Puccini’s “La Bohème”)

Also the trio “Soave sia il vento” (from Mozart’s “Così fan tutti”) will be sung by Solidum, Subat and Handley; and the duet “Libiamo” (from Verdi’s “La Traviata“) will be sung by Rivera and Liupaogo.

Sam Handley has been praised for “his rich, burnished” voice and the “genuine emotional depth of his characterizations.” The Houston Chronicle has described his “vivid and polished singing” as “leaving the audience panting.”) You can hear him in the YouTube video at the bottom, where he sings the “Calumny” aria that he will also perform at this event.

A contribution of $30 at the door ($10 for students) is requested for this benefit concert.

A reception of chocolate, cheese, wine and punch will follow the concert and is included in the donation. (Below are the participants from last year with David Ronis, third from left in the back row, who is the director of the University Opera.)


Classical music: Here are the winners of last night’s Final Forte competition of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. Plus, the new student opera group at UW-Madison gets off to a promising start with an all-Mozart program. And the UW Choral Union changes its performance date of Haydn’s “The Creation.”

January 30, 2016
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ALERT 1: Here are the results from last night of the Madison Symphony Orchestra‘s Final Forte competition of teenage concerto performers: The two Honorable Mentions go to pianists Liam Mayo and Audrianna Wu; the second prize goes to violinist Tabby Rhee; and the winner’s prize goes to marimbist Robert Rockman.

For more information about the competition, the contestants and the rebroadcasts on Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Television, visit:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/01/25/classical-music-the-madison-symphony-orchestras-10th-anniversary-free-final-forte-concert-of-young-concerto-winners-is-this-friday-at-7-p-m-in-overture-hall-it-will-also/ 

ALERT 2: The UW-Madison Choral Union has moved its one-time only performance of the oratorio “The Creation” by Franz Joseph Haydn from Sunday, April 24, to 8 p.m. on the previous night, Saturday, April 23. At the same time, the separate concert by the UW Chamber Orchestra that was scheduled for Saturday, April 23, has been CANCELLED because it will instead accompany the Choral Union that same night.

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who for 12 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

The infinitely versatile and irrepressibly enterprising Mikko Rankin Utevsky (below) has come up with another project to pursue: the Impresario Student Opera.

Mikko Utevsky with baton

Impresario Student Opera made its debut in Mills Hall last Sunday night.

The program was all-Mozart.

It began with an orchestral work, the Symphony No. 35, the “Haffner.” There was a 24-player orchestra, which did commendable work, though the strings were really rather thin. But Utevsky again proved himself a savvy conductor.

Impresario Student Opera JWB

The rest was Mozart opera.

A recitative and duet from Act II of Così fan tutte, “Il coro vi dono,” has Guglielmo (Gavin Waid) scoring success in wooing his comrade’s sweetheart, Dorabella (Meghan Hilker). For these, co-director Dennis Gotkowski conducted. (You can hear the scene in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Impresario Studen Opera The Impresario JWB

After the intermission came the main event — appropriately, the eponymous comedy Der Schauspieldirektor (The Impresario). This was very freely adapted by turning the title character into a woman — by no means what Mozart expected.

Five singers (below top) were mustered: Waid and Hilker, with Anna Polum and Nicole Heinen as the dueling sopranos (below bottom), and Jiabao Zhang as the sugar daddy of one of them.

Impresario Student Opera 5 singers JWB

Impresario Student Opera two sopranos

The dialogue was rewritten and given in English, the musical numbers sung in what purported to be German — but diction lessons are badly in order.

In their star roles, Polum was powerful, if a little unsteady at moments, while Heinen was a quite sprightly soubrette. Utevsky conducted, but had some parts in the comedy too. Stage director Alannah Spencer showed imagination in her staging.

There were a lot of in-group jokes, aimed at a rather rowdy claque of voice students.

All in all, though, despite a bumpy start, this project bodes well as expanded opportunity for the splendid vocal talent that the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music attracts.


Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra’s third annual Organ Three-For-All takes place at Overture Hall this Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. Plus, the Impresario Student Opera makes its debut with a FREE all-Mozart concert on Sunday night at 7:30 p.m.

January 22, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Recently retired Bethel Lutheran Church Director of Music and Worship Gary Lewis (below left), Luther Memorial Music Director Bruce Bengtson (below center), and Madison Symphony Orchestra Principal Organist and Curator Samuel Hutchison (below right) will perform the third installment of an organ Three-For-All.

2016 Organ Three-For-All Gary Lewis, Bruce Bengston and Samuel Hutchison

The concert is this Saturday night at 7:30 p.m., in Overture Hall, where the three men will perform on the Klais Concert organ.

Overture Concert Organ overview

Tickets are $20.

For more information including the complete program –which includes music by Johann Sebastian Bach (the famous and dramatic Toccata and Fugue in D minor, which you can hear at bottom with an unusual and arresting bar graph in a YouTube video that has almost 26 million hits), Dietrich Buxtehude and Camille Saint-Saens — visit this link:

http://www.madisonsymphony.org/threeforall

A NEW STUDENT OPERA COMPANY

Mikko Rankin Utevsky (below), the versatile musician who founded the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO) while he was in high school and who, now while studying at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, conducts, plays the viola, sings and writes reviews for this blog, has sent the following word:

Mikko Utevsky with baton

Dear friends,

I am conducting an all-Mozart concert this Sunday night, Jan. 24 at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall on the UW-Madison campus.

mozart big

The program, which opens with the famous “Haffner” Symphony (No. 35 in D major, K. 385), is also the debut of Impresario Student Opera, a new company of which I am the music director. (NOTE: You can hear the robust first movement of the “Haffner” Symphony by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, conducted by the late Claudio Abbado, in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

We are, fittingly, presenting Mozart’s one-act German-language SingspielDer Schauspieldirektor” (“The Impresario”), plus the scene “Il core vi dono” from “Così fan tutte,” conducted by Dennis Gotkowski, with a cast of five excellent graduate singers and a small student chamber orchestra.

Below in rehearsal are (left to right are sopranos Anna Polum and Nicole Heinen, tenor Jiabao Zhang, mezzo-soprano Meghan Hilker, seated, pianist Dennis Gotkowski, and conductor Mikko Rankin Utevsky. Not pictured is baritone Gavin Waid.)

Impresario Opera rehearsing

The program is FREE, with donations accepted to support the new company.

I hope to see you there!

Mikko


Classical music: Here are some other concerts – featuring vocal, orchestral, band, wind and reed music – that are on tap this weekend.

February 18, 2015
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The big classical music events this week are the week-long residency at the UW-Madison of British composer Cecilia McDowall; the organ recital by Thomas Trotter in Overture Hall; and Friday night’s concert of Franz Joseph Haydn, Franz Schubert and Vittorio Giannini by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra with pianist Shai Wosner under conductor Andrew Sewell.

But there are other important events on tap too, events that should attract audiences.

FRIDAY

This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, which runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed First Unitarian Society of Madison at 900 University Bay Drive, features the Mad Reeds Trio. Members include Laura Medisky, oboe (below); Cynthia Cameron-Fix, bassoon; and Vincent Fuh, piano.

The trio will perform music by Madeline Dring, Dan Welcher and Jean Francaix.

Laura Medisky 1

SATURDAY

At 8 p.m. in Shannon Hall of the Wisconsin Union Theater, the critically acclaimed and popular a cappella singing group Chanticleer will perform. The San Francisco-based group performs “Shenandoah” in a YouTube video at the bottom that has drawn more than 730,000 hits.)

Tickets are: General Public: $45, 25; Wisconsin Union Members and Non UW-Madison Students: $40; UW-Madison Faculty & Staff: $42; UW-Madison Student (with ID): $10. Prices do not include fees.

Here is a link with detail of the eclectic program that runs from early music and the Renaissance to jazz and Bossa Nova:

http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu/press/Press%20Releases/14-15%20Season/Chanticleer%20Footlights%20Program.pdf

And here is a link to the concert announcement with video and audio clips:

http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu/season14-15/chanticleer.html

Chanticleer

SUNDAY

At 1:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall on the UW-Madison campus GUEST ARTIST Laura Loge, soprano (below), with pianist Kathryn Ananda-Owens, a graduate of Memorial High School in Madison who teaches piano at St. Olaf College, will perform a recital featuring Norwegian songs by Edvard Grieg, Grondahl, Frederick Delius, Kjerulf, Christian Sinding and Alnaes.

Admission is FREE.

The concert is supported by funding from the Ygdrasil Literary Society of Madison, Vennelag Lodge, Idun Lodge #74 Sons of Norway, the Madison Torske Klubben, and by the Anonymous Fund.

Laura Loge

At 2 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW-Madison Concert Band, under director Mike Leckrone (below), will give a FREE concert. Sorry, no word about the program.

leckrone

At 2:30 p.m. in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive, the Edgewood Chamber Orchestra, under director Blake Walter (below in a photo by John Maniaci), will give its Winter Concert.

Admission is $5 to benefit music scholarships; FREE with Edgewood College ID.

blake walter john maniaci

Included on the program is the aria “Come Scolio” from the opera “Cosi fan Tutte” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, featuring soprano Angela Sheppard (below), winner of the Edgewood College Music Department’s Student Concerto Competition, as well as a three-time recipient of the Ken and Diane Ballweg Music Scholarship. Also on the program are the Overture to “L’isola Disabitata” by Franz Joseph Haydn and the Symphony No. 2 in B-flat Major, D. 125, by Franz Schubert.

Angela Sheppard

At 3:30 p.m. in Mills Recital Hall, a FREE recital will present this year’s winners of the annual Irving Shain Woodwind-Piano Duo Competition at the UW-Madison School of Music.

A reception will follow the performance.

The competition and concert are made possible by retired UW-Madison Chancellor and chemistry professor Irving Shain (below).

Irving Shain

The 2014-15 WINNERS are

Kai-Ju Ho, clarinet and SeungWha Baek, piano.

Iva Ugrcic, flute  (below top, playing recently in the UW Concerto Competition winners’ concert) and Thomas Kasdorf, piano (below bottom).

Iva Ugrcic

Thomas Kasdorf

HONORABLE MENTION

Pedro Garcia, clarinet and Chan Mi Jean, piano.


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