The Well-Tempered Ear

University Opera’s original online video project celebrates the life and music of American composer Marc Blitzstein. It will be posted for FREE on YouTube this Friday night, Oct. 23, at 8 p.m.

October 21, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

This fall, University Opera presents its first project of 2020-21 in video format as it turns to the music of the American composer Marc Blitzstein (1905-1964).

“I Wish It So: Marc Blitzstein – the Man in His Music” will be released free of charge on the University of Wisconsin-Madison Mead Witter School of Music’s YouTube channel this Friday night, Oct. 23, at 8 p.m. CDT at the general site www.youtube.com/meadwitterschoolofmusic or the official specific link: https://youtu.be/77FXFZucrWc.

Director of University Opera David Ronis (below top) is the director of the original production and will give introductory remarks. UW-Madison graduate Thomas Kasdorf (below bottom) is the musical director. The production lasts 1 hour and 40 minutes, and features four singer-actors, a narrator and a piano.

Marc Blitzstein’s life story parallels some of the most important cultural currents in American history of the mid-20th-century.

Known for his musicals — most notably The Cradle Will Rock in 1937 (you can hear Dawn Upshaw sing the lovely song “I Wish It So” from “Juno” in the YouTube video at the bottom) — his opera Regina and his translation of Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera, Blitzstein was an outspoken proponent of socially engaged art. Like many artists of his time, he joined the American Communist Party. But he also enthusiastically served in the U.S. Army during World War II (below, in 1943).

Nevertheless, in 1958, long after he had given up his Communist Party membership, Blitzstein (below) was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) where he “named no names.”

An extremely gifted yet underappreciated composer, he was a close friend of and mentor to Leonard Bernstein (below right, with Blitzstein on the left) and traveled in a close circle of American composers including David Diamond and Aaron Copland.

Although openly gay, he married Eva Goldbeck in 1933. Sadly, she died three years later from complications due to anorexia.

Blitzstein’s own death was likewise tragic. In 1964, while in Martinique working on an opera about the anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti, a commission from the Metropolitan Opera, he was robbed and badly beaten by three Portuguese sailors whom he had picked up at a bar. He died the next day of internal injuries. 

Although throughout his life and afterwards, Blitzstein’s work was championed by Bernstein and others, many claim that neither the composer nor his stunning music and beautiful lyrics ever received the attention they deserved. So University Opera is proud to present this show celebrating his life and his works.

“I Wish It So: Marc Blitzstein – the Man in His Music” is a unique production put together by David Ronis. A biographical pastiche, it tells the story of Blitzstein’s life by recontextualizing 23 songs and ensembles from his shows, juxtaposing them with spoken excerpts from his working notes and letters, and tying it all together with a narration.

The result is a dramatic, evocative and enjoyable portrait of Blitzstein’s life and his art, according to Ronis.

“We’ve discovered a lot of “silver linings” while working on this production,” says Ronis. “We were disappointed at not being able to do a normal staged show. But working with video has had tremendous artistic and educational value.

“Our students are learning on-camera technique, not to mention how to work with a green screen (below, with soprano Sarah Brailey), which allows for post-production editing and digital manipulation of backgrounds. They’re also working with spoken text as well as sung pieces. Mostly, we’re just very grateful to have a creative project to sink our teeth into during the pandemic. 

“And the music of Blitzstein is so fantastic, we’re very happy to be able to share it with our audience. This project is like none other I’ve ever done and we’re thinking that it’s going to be pretty cool.”

Research on the project was completed at the Wisconsin Historical Society, where Blitzstein’s archives are housed. University Opera gratefully acknowledges the help of both Mary Huelsbeck of the Wisconsin Center for Film and Television Research, and the Kurt Weill Foundation for their assistance with this project.

The cast features five UW-Madison graduate students: Sarah Brailey, Kenneth Hoversten, Justin Kroll, Lindsey Meekhof (below) and Steffen Silvis.

The video design was done by Dave Alcorn with costumes by Hyewon Park.

Others on the production staff include Will Preston, rehearsal pianist; Elisheva Pront, research assistant and assistant director; Dylan Thoren, production stage manager; Alec Hansen, assistant stage manager; Teresa Sarkela, storyboard creator; and Greg Silver, technical director.

The video will be accessible for 23 hours starting at 8 p.m. this Friday, Oct. 23. Although there will be no admission price for access, donations will be gratefully accepted. A link for donations will be posted with the video. 

University Opera, a cultural service of the Mead Witter School of Music at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, provides comprehensive operatic training and performance opportunities for students and operatic programming to the community. For more information, email opera@music.wisc.edu or visit music.wisc.edu.

 


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Classical music: Wind music is in the spotlight this coming week at the UW-Madison

October 2, 2018
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IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, PLEASE FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR SHARE IT (not just “Like It”) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event.

By Jacob Stockinger

Last weekend brought the fifth annual Brass Fest to the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music.

This week, wind music takes center stage at the UW-Madison.

Here is a listing of the FREE events — except for the concert in Baraboo on Friday — that are open to the public:

WEDNESDAY

On this Wednesday, Oct. 3, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the veteran Wingra Wind Quintet (below), made up of UW faculty members, will perform a FREE program called “I Hate Music,” taken from the title of a song cycle by Leonard Bernstein. (You can hear a song, sung by Barbara Bonney, from “I Hate Music” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The composers are all American and include Bernstein as well as Aaron Copland, Lukas Foss, David Diamond and Walter Piston.

The guest artist is soprano Sarah Brailey, a UW-Madison alumna, who just excelled last week in Baroque music by Johann Sebastian Bach and who has established a national reputation while winning high praise from The New York Times.

For details about the specific pieces on the program as well as more background about the Wingra Wind Quintet (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot), which was founded in 1965, go to:

https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/wingra-wind-quintet-4/

FRIDAY

On Friday, Oct. 5, at 7:30 in the Al Ringling Theatre in Baraboo, the Wingra Wind Quintet will team up with the celebrated Pro Arte Quartet  (below in a photo by Rick Langer) and guest double bassist Kris Saebo, to perform Franz Schubert’s Octet for winds and strings, D. 803. For more information, including purchasing tickets, go to: http://www.alringling.org/events

This coming Friday, Oct. 5, at 8 p.m. In Mills Hall, the UW Wind Ensemble (below), under conductor Scott Teeple and two graduate student conductors –- Ross Wolf and Cole Hairston — will perform a FREE concert of varied music from Giovanni Gabrieli and Johann Sebastian Bach to Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Ralph Vaughan Williams.

For more the complete program, go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/uw-wind-ensemble-3/

SUNDAY

On Sunday afternoon, Oct. 7, at 2 p.m. in Mills Hall, UW professor of composition and jazz saxophone Les Thimmig (below) will present a FREE 10-year retrospective of his compositions for different kinds of clarinets.

Also performing are his faculty colleagues clarinetist Alicia Lee (below) and pianist Jessica Johnson.

For information about Thimmig and the concert’s program, go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/faculty-recital-compositions-of-les-thimmig-solo-and-duo/

At 4 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 7, in Morphy Recital Hall, guest flutist John Bailey (below), who teaches at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, gives a FREE lecture and recital of music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Philippe Gaubert and Theodor Blumer. Sorry, no specific works are mentioned.

Bailey will be joined by UW pianist Daniel Fung.

For extensive background about Bailey, who is a member of the Moran Woodwind Quintet, go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/guest-artist-recital-and-lecture-john-bailey-flute/


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