By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received the following announcement from UW Opera Props, the support organization for University Opera at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.
We invite you to attend a benefit concert showcasing the University of Wisconsin-Madison opera program’s talented students, along with special guest artist, distinguished alumna and mezzo-soprano, Lindsay Metzger (below top) who will be accompanied by pianist Daniel Fung (below bottom).
Please join us for a program of songs and arias, followed by a reception. Enjoy conversation with the singers, faculty and other musical friends, along with light refreshments including artisanal cheeses, fruit, wine, juices and chocolatier Gail Ambrosius’s delicious creations.
The concert is this Sunday, Sept. 18, at 3 p.m. followed by light refreshments and conversation. Sorry, no word about the composers or works to be sung.
The concert will take place in the Landmark Auditorium at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed First Unitarian Society of Madison Meeting House, 900 University Bay Drive, Madison
Admission is a contribution of $25 in advance ($30 at the door), and $10 for students. All proceeds go to UW Opera student scholarships.
For more information, visit:
Lindsay Metzger (below) hails from Mundelein, Illinois. She spent two summers as an apprentice artist with Des Moines Metro Opera and was a studio artist in 2014-15 with Milwaukee’s Florentine Opera (Gannett in Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore).
Among her other recent portrayals have been Daphne/Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s La descente d’Orphée aux enfers (Chicago’s Haymarket Opera Company), Cherubino in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (La Musica Lirica in Novafeltria, Italy), Nella in Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi (DuPage Opera Theatre), the title role in Handel’s Ariodante, Béatrice in Berlioz’ Béatrice et Bénédict, and Beppe in Mascagni’s L’amico Fritz (all at the University of Wisconsin-Madison).
With Lyric Unlimited’s community-engagement program “Opera in the Neighborhoods,” Metzger was heard in the title role in Rossini’s La Cenerentola.
A soloist featured frequently in numerous Chicago-area venues, Metzger debuted with the Grant Park Symphony singing the soprano solo in Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem.
She was awarded the Paul Collins Fellowship from University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Virginia Cooper Meier Award from the Musicians’ Club of Women, and an Encouragement Award from the Metropolitan Opera National Council District Auditions.
Metzger is an alumna of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and DePaul University. Last season at Lyric she was featured in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (debut) and Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier. In the 2016-17 season the mezzo-soprano will perform in Massenet’s Don Quichotte and Bizet’s Carmen.
HERE ARE TWO ALERTS FOR SUNDAY:
The “Summer Voices” concert was recorded live last August 22 at Music Hall on the UW-Madison campus. Included are interviews with MAYCO founder and conductor Mikko Utevsky and guest soprano Caitlin Ruby Miller (below).
The program includes: the Overture to “The Magic Flute” by Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; the cantata “Knoxville Summer of 1915” by American composer Samuel Barber; and the Symphony No. 9 in E-Flat Major by Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich. The hosts of Musica Antiqua yielded the final hour of their early music show so that WORT can provide these young musicians with the station’s largest classical music audience.
Then at 1 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Radio (88.7 FM in the Madison area and online at wpr.org): Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) will broadcast a concert of 16th-century Renaissance music from Italy inspired by “I Trionfi” by Francesco Petrarch (1304-1374). The concert was designed and conducted by Grant Herreid, and was performed at the Madison Early Music Festival’s concluding All-Festival Concert (bel0w) in July 2014 at Luther Memorial Church in Madison. This recording is part of WPR’s new program, “Wisconsin Classical.”
Listen to station 88.7 FM at 1 p.m.or stream it online at http://www.wpr.org/
By Jacob Stockinger
Writing about Strauss is timely, if belatedly so, because 2014 was the 150th anniversary year of his birth.
But better late than never.
Strauss composed in every genre, from orchestra and opera to chamber music, and the last part of his career was controversial because of his involvement with Hitler and Nazi Germany during World War II.
What is your favorite work by Richard Strauss?
Your favorite performances and performers?
Your favorite recordings?
Various critics for The New York Times recently offered their own year-end takes on those questions.
Here is a link:
By Jacob Stockinger
Yet Strauss remains something of an enigma.
How much do you know about Strauss?
And what pieces of his music do you like the most?
Maybe these links will help you decide.
And here is a link to audio samples of what the BBC Music Magazine deems 10 of the best moments on Strauss’ music.
But The Ear asks: Why no waltzes or excerpts from the opera “Der Rosenkavalier,” which is one of his favorites? Listen to them performed brilliantly by conductor Daniele Gatti and the Gustav Mahler youth Orchestra at the 2012 BBC Proms concert series in the YouTube video at the bottom.
What is your favorite musical moment or passage or work by Richard Strauss?
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
Perhaps you already know the simple facts of the controversy:
A number of critics lambasted a relatively unknown Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught (below top) when she recently sang the role of the young, handsome and androgynous Octavian (below bottom on the left) in Richard Strauss’ extraordinarily popular and moving opera “Der Rosenkavalier.”
All agreed that she sang gorgeously. But being overweight, she was also criticized for short-changing the believability of the theatrical side of the opera. One critic who lauded her singing also described her as a “chubby bundle of puppy fat.”
True, The Ear can recall when superstar tenor Luciano Pavarotti (below) was criticized for being way too heavy — indeed, obese and not just overweight — and lumberingly awkward to play certain romantic leads with any creditability. But, oh, that voice!
But these new critical remarks seem to cross those boundaries and veer off into gratuitous meanness and rudeness that had more than a smack of sexism and bias about them. Unless you are a top female diva, maybe women do indeed remain second-rate citizens of the opera world.
Anyway, here are links to three stories that provide good summaries of the conflict and the kerfuffle.
Be sure to read the many reader and listener comments that greeted them. They give you a feeling for the state of the art when it comes to the public’s changing standards of physical fitness for playing the dramatic or theatrical sides of opera roles.
Then other voices in other media weighed in.
And here is another piece done by NPR that provides a kind of post-mortem following the two weeks of scandal and reactions:
Plus in all fairness, you should also listen to the intelligence, charm and vivacious energy — to say nothing of her lovely voice in singing Rossini — that Tara Erraught projects in a Lincoln Center “spotlight” profile you will at the bottom in a YouTube video.
What do you think of the criticism of her size and weight?
Have TV and films made us more literal in what we expect in the way of realistic portrayals of characters in the theatrical side of opera versus the musical side?
If you find the critical remarks about physical weight inappropriate, how and why do you think so? Do you find them sexist or genuinely biased?
And am I the only person who thinks Tara Erraught — who I am sure felt hurt by the deeply personal nature of the criticism — might well have the last laugh from all the publicity that has brought her to the world’s attention?
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
To my ears and eyes, the reviews were justifiably unanimous: The Madison Opera scored an unqualified artistic success with the two performances of its production last weekend of composer Jake Heggie’s and librettist Terrence McNally’s opera “Dead Man Walking.” (Below, in a photo by James Gill, is the penultimate scene, as the shackled convicted killer prepares for his execution at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola with the prison warden, prison guards and prison chaplain.)
In case you missed those reviews or have forgotten what they said, here is a link to Mikko Utevsky’s review for this blog, along with links to other reviews by John W. Barker fo Isthmus and Greg Hettmansberger for Madison Magazine.
I agree with what all that those discerning reviewers said. But my purpose for writing today is different.
After taking in the powerful musical drama, which stands out and above the Madison Opera’s many previous successes, I found “Dead Man Walking” powerful but also thought-provoking.
It deserves a second later and more considered look, and that is what this posting is. After the tears – and many, if not most, in the audience left with wet faces – came the thoughts. These are mine:
I now understand even better why a prosecutor and a judge in Madison both told me that if Wisconsin had capital punishment, they would no longer practice criminal law. I find I am in complete agreement with them.
The death penalty is just too iffy and wrong — when the Illinois governor suspended it, Death Row had a wrongful conviction rate higher than 50 percent — too discriminatory and too inhumane. It is simply not worthy of us. Crime does not justify crime.
One particularly touching moment in the opera when was one victim’s father (seated far left in the photo by James Gill of victims’ families witnessing the execution of Joseph De Rocher, who killed the young man and raped and killed the young woman) says that the death of the murderer will not bring him peace about the loss of his daughter.
That said, I have to add that the opera is not really about capital punishment and the death penalty. It is about love. To be sure, it is not about the romantic or erotic kind of love. It is about “agape,” that more spiritual kind of love that is embodied by Sister Helen Prejean in her relationship with the convicted murderer, and in his with her. It is about the truest, most Christian kind of love -– and I say that as a person who is not at all religious.
If you had to pick one line about what the opera is all about, it would be when spiritual advisor Sister Helen Prejean asks convicted murder Joseph De Rocher to look at her face while he is being executed. “We all deserve to have the last face we see in this world be the face of love.”
In our final moments, isn’t that what we all want and hope for?
In that sense, I thought later, we are all of us “dead men walking.” We may not know the date, time and reason for our “execution.” And we may not know whether the “death chamber” will be our bedroom, our car, our home, a hospital room, a hospice room or someplace else.
But make no mistake: Mortality is the human condition, and we never or rarely accept it as deserved. Except for severe pain or disability, we all want more and we all die protesting our death and the death of our loved ones. (Below are Michael Mayes as Joseph De Rocher and Daniela Mack as Sister Helen Prejean.)
And talk about being art imitating reality – or, as Oscar Wilde said, reality imitating art! And that is another key to the universality of “Dead Man Walking.”
Even as I am writing this, on the radio and in other media are two stories about capital punishment. One is a botched execution of Clayton Lockett that was done with a “new” and unexplained cocktail of lethal drugs cocktail, in Oklahoma. The other is story about a Wisconsin woman who is asking the parole board to pardon the killer of her daughter because she has experienced forgiveness. And, she adds, “forgiveness is not for the criminal, for the other person, but for ourselves.”
That could be right out of “Dead Man Walking,” which may indeed be “issue art” but is hardly a “lecture play” or a didactic treatment of capital punishment. It is a human story, in which all characters are victims of one kind or another.
Which is also why it is hard to accept the fact that “Dead Man Walking” is now 14 years old. It seems as current, as relevant, as today’s news headlines do — or even as tomorrow’s headlines will, and headlines for a long time to come.
And that takes me to another thought.
So much traditional opera, from George Frideric Handel and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to Giuseppe Verdi and Giacomo Puccini, is historically based on successful drama and plays, sometimes novels or short stories, often by celebrated and successful or popular writers like William Shakespeare, Pierre de Beaumarchais, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Graham Greene, Tennessee Williams, or from folk-lore and myth, like Richard Wagner’s “Ring” cycle.
But maybe, just maybe, the secret to successful and powerful, emotionally moving contemporary opera, is to rely on controversial non-fiction, to ground the story in reality.
I am generally not an opera fan. Too much of the drama and too many of the plots seem silly or contrived to me. But if you are lucky, the music is strong enough to overcome that handicap. Yet too much contemporary opera lacks that kind of powerful music.
Now I was knocked out by “Dead Man Walking,” but I can’t claim to have walked out of Overture Hall in the Overture Center humming any tune that lingered.
Still, I found Jake Heggie’s very textural and atmospheric music convincing, involving and compelling. True, I kept thinking that Heggie (below), like much of Giuseppe Verdi and especially Wagner, often has a better way with instruments than with voices – at least to my taste.
So in all modesty, I want to suggest that Heggie should extract a half-hour long symphonic suite from this opera score for orchestras to perform. It could be much the way composer Daron Hagen distilled an instrumental suite from “Shining Brow,” his operas about Frank Lloyd Wright that was premiered by the Madison Opera. Or Richard Strauss’ sublime suite from “Der Rosenkavalier.”
Certainly, the music has a range of tone from the eerie, fluttering harmonies at the opening up to the powerful rhythms and loud sounds of the death scene climax and finale. Just listen to the excerpts from a production by the Sydney Opera in a YouTube video at the bottom.
Such a suite would also help “Dead Man Walking” reach as large a public as possible – and I would sure like to see that happen.
I also would like to know if others who heard the score agree about that. So leave your opinion about that — or other matters — in the COMMENT section.
There are other things to say.
Terrence McNally (below) is a master librettist, with a refined and practical sense of pacing that includes comic relief. The scene where Sister Helen is caught speeding in a car is not unlike the porter scene in “Macbeth” or the gravedigger’s scene in “Hamlet.” It adds to the humanness of the story and the characters. With such relentless intensity at hand, we need an occasional break.
Here are links to the insightful interviews with both composer Jake Heggie and librettist Terrence McNally that freelance writer Michael Muckian did for this blog:
I would also add that rarely has a cast struck me as so superbly matched in terms of quality of singing and acting. The production was the very model of ensemble work –- and I include in my plaudits the Madison Opera’s general director Kathryn Smith (below top, in a photo by James Gill) and its artistic director and conductor John DeMain (below middle, in a photo by Prasad) as well as the Madison Symphony Orchestra musicians, the many solo singers, the Madison Opera Chorus, the Madison Youth Choirs and the stage director Kristine McIntyre (below bottom).
I also found the spare sets, on loan from the Eugene Opera in Oregon, appropriate and ingenious in the way they used chain link fencing and metal bars.
What else can I say? Only that at the end of my life, when I am adding up the greatest musical experiences I have ever had, this production of “Dead Man Walking” will rank right near the top.
This blog’s reviewer Mikko Utevsky called the opera life-changing. I would only add that is also life-affirming.
So The Ear says: Thank You to all who made it possible.
You gave us art that we need, not just art that we want.
ALERT: Blog friend Rich Samuels writes: “At 7:22 a.m. on this Thursday morning, my classical music show “Anything Goes” that is broadcast weekly from 5 to 8 a.m. on WORT-FM 89.9 will be airing an interview with Norwegian trumpet soloist Tine Thing Helseth, who will be in Madison for concerts this weekend with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and a master class at the UW-Madison School of Music (see more below). Listeners can hear a sampling of her solo work as well as a performance by tenThing, her all-female Norwegian brass ensemble. Tune in to 89.9 FM.
By Jacob Stockinger
As he tells the story, Madison Symphony Orchestra’s longtime music director and conductor John DeMain was riding in his car and listening to Sirius XM radio. He heard a new recording by a terrific trumpet player and he was so impressed that he determined then and there that he would try to book her for a Madison concert — especially since most soloists he books are pianists, string players or singers.
Her name in Tine Thing Helseth (below), and DeMain succeeded. He booked her for a debut that will take place in Madison this weekend.
Helseth is young, energetic and articulate. She is also generous with her time and talent. In fact she will give master class for trumpet and brass players with the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras and a FREE public master class at the UW-Madison School of Music at 1:30 p.m. in Mills Hall on this Thursday, Feb. 13.
Then come her MSO concerts, which she will perform under the baton of DeMain in Overture Hall on Friday night at 7:30 pm.; Saturday night at 8 p.m.; and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m.
Rounding out the program is Jean Sibelius’ powerful and popular tone poem “Finlandia”; the symphonic suite from John Adams’ opera about physicist Edward Teller and the A-Bomb called “Dr. Atomic”; and the luscious late Romantic suite from Richard Strauss’ opera “Der Rosenkavalier,” a perfect offering for Valentine’s Day weekend.
A prelude discussion by musicologist Susan Cook, the new director of the University of Wisconsin School of Music, will take place in Overture Hall one hour before each curtain time.
Tickets are $8.25-$82.50 with rush tickets and discounts available. They can be purchased at the Overture Center box office, 211 State St., or by calling (608) 258-4141 or by visiting:
Here is a link to the MSO’s program notes, written superbly as always by trombonist J. Michael Allsen who also teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater:
Helseth recently granted an email interview to The Ear:
Can you briefly introduce yourself, and tell us when and how you started studying music? How did you get into brass and what attracted you to brass and specifically the trumpet?
I started to play the trumpet when I was seven years old, basically because my mother plays the trumpet. I had played piano a couple of years already, but from the first moment the trumpet felt like my best friend — and we’ve stayed that way ever since! My mum had a good friend who played in the Norwegian Opera Orchestra, and she became my first teacher. I also played in my school band.
Do you find that being a woman plays any role, positive or negative, in your career or reception as a world-class trumpet player?
The most important thing as a performer will always be if you have something to say. Nothing else really matters.
But, that being said, I do feel comfortable with the fact that for some it might be a bit rare to see a woman having my profession. I feel a responsibility to show all the young kids out there that you can pick up whatever instrument you feel like, and make it your voice. Stereotypes can be boring. Just listen to your inner voice and follow your heart.
(Here is a link to a more extensive answer she gave about the issue of gender and sex roles in another interview:
What would you like to tell the audience about the Trumpet Concerto by Haydn (below)?
Franz Joseph Haydn’s trumpet concerto is basically the most famous concerto for my instrument. This year marks my very own 10-year anniversary for the first time I played it with a professional orchestra. I was 16 and it was with the Bergen Philharmonic in Norway.
This piece will forever have a truly special place in my heart. I play it several times a year, but I never get tired of it. There are always new things to discover, new colors and voices in the orchestra. It’s a true chamber music work, and I absolutely love performing it. (And she performs it very well. You can hear the final movement at the bottom in a YouTube video that has drawn more than 3.3 million hits.)
What would you like the audience to know about the Trumpet Concerto by Alexander Arutiunian (below)?
It’s very romantic in style, with clear folk music elements and the harmonics reveals that it’s written in the middle of the 20th century. It reminds me a bit of Khachaturian. It has beautifully melodic material and a really catchy fast theme.
These concerts mark your debut in Madison, perhaps even Wisconsin and the Midwest? Is there anything special you want to say about the city, the Madison Symphony Orchestra, conductor John DeMain or the rest of the program (Jean Sibelius, John Adams and Richard Strauss)?
I am just very much looking forward to coming to Madison and working with the orchestra and Maestro DeMain, and to meeting the audience. As a performer I live for the communication with the musicians I work with and with the audience. It’s always exciting to come to new places and communicate with music.