The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Middleton Community Orchestra draws its largest crowd yet as it rings in the New Year with Viennese waltzes, ethnic dances and violin showpieces

December 22, 2017
Leave a Comment

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 hosts an early music show once a month on Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. He also took the performance photos.

By John W. Barker

On Wednesday night, the mostly amateur Middleton Community Orchestra (below)  had the last word of the December holiday season with a distinctly non-Christmas program.

To be sure, it was not a typical concert devoted to a tiny handful of major works. Rather, conductor Kyle Knox (below) devised something a cut above simplistic “pops” programming, with a clutch of nearly a dozen short works, each one of charm and substance—more like what Sir Thomas Beecham used to call “lollipops.”

The opener was a group of three selections from Tchaikovsky’s score for the ballet Swan Lake. There followed three of the Hungarian Dances by Brahms intermingled with two of the Slavonic Dances by Dvorak, in their orchestral versions.

The first half then closed with the first of two pieces featuring the conductor’s wife, violinist Naha Greenholtz (below), who is also the concertmaster of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. This was a kind of mini-concerto tidbit by Tchaikovsky, his Danse Russe.

The high point of the program’s second half was the second violin solo for Greenholz. Ravel’s Tzigane is a contemplation of Gypsy style. It begins with a wild unaccompanied solo for the violin, to which the orchestra then joins in a colorful set of variations. Here the playing by Greenholz was simply dazzling.

(You can hear Ravel’s virtuosic “Tzigane” — played by superstar violinist Itzhak Perlman with the New York Philharmonic conducted by Zubin Mehta —  in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Otherwise, the second half of the program was a bit of old Vienna, via Johann Strauss II, perhaps hinting at that city’s famous New Year’s Concert.

Setting the scene was the overture to Die Fledermaus. Knox’s direction throughout showed a lot of hard work to bring off all the selections with precision, but I often felt that he strove mainly for exuberance at the cost of subtleties. Notably in this overture, it seemed to me that the strings, especially the violins, sounded a bit coarse, certainly below their best ensemble polish.

But doubts were certainly dispelled with one Strauss miniature, the Persian March, followed by that noblest of the composer’s achievements, the Kaiserwalzer or Emperor Waltz.

All in all, this worked as a responsible seasonal treat. It seemed to me that it drew the largest audience that the Middleton Community Orchestra has yet had, and this audience simply loved everything.

So, if you will, Happy New Year!


Classical music: The Middleton Community Orchestra offers a head start on celebrating the New Year this coming Wednesday night

December 15, 2017
Leave a Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following information to post:

“Dear friends,

“The mostly amateur and critically acclaimed Middleton Community Orchestra (below) has a fun and entertaining evening planned for this coming Wednesday night, Dec. 20.

“Think of it as an early New Year’s Eve concert.

“The concert starts at 7:30 p.m. in the Middleton Performing Arts Center that is attached to Middleton High School, 2100 Bristol Street.

“The program features:

Johann Strauss            Overture to Die Fledermaus (The Bat)

Johannes Brahms            Hungarian Dances 5, 6, 7 

Antonin Dvorak         Slavonic Dances Op. 46, Nos. 6, 7

Peter Tchaikovsky (below)   Selections from the Swan Lake               Suite; Opening Scene, Little Swans, Czardas, Dance Russe with Naha Greenholtz, violin

Johann Strauss            Persian March

Maurice Ravel             Tzigane, Naha Greenholtz, violin

Johann Strauss        Emperor Waltz (see the YouTube video below)

“The MCO is having a great time preparing this concert with our regular guest conductor Kyle Knox (below top) and our violin soloist, Naha Greenholtz (below bottom), who many of you know as the concertmaster of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. The two musicians are also married.

“Tickets are $15 and are available at the door or in advance at the Willy Street Coop West. Students are FREE.

“The box office opens at 6:30 p.m. Doors open at 7p.m.

“A meet-and-greet reception (below) follows the concert.

“For information, call (608) 212-8690.

Hope to see you there.”

Mindy Taranto and Larry Bevic, co-founders of the Middleton Community Orchestra


Classical music: Broadway star and UW-Madison alumnus joins students for the University Opera benefit this Sunday afternoon.

January 14, 2016
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Students in the University Opera program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music will perform a concert of songs and arias on this Sunday afternoon, Jan. 17, at 3:30 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society of Madison 900 University Bay Drive.

The concert will feature currently enrolled students as well as a 2008 alumnus, Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek(below), who is at the Overture Center this week through Sunday playing the role of Gaston in a national tour of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.”

Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek baritone

A reception will follow this Opera Props benefit concert that is intended to help support University Opera.

Admission is $25 per person with a $10 charge for students.

Several of the UW-Madison student singers have already been featured in October’s production of The Marriage of Figaro (below in photo by Michael R. Anderson ) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and some will appear in March’s University Opera production of Transformations, by Conrad Susa and poet Anne Sexton.

Marriage of Figaro dress rehearsal. Tia Cleveland (Marcellina), Joel Rathmann (Figaro), Anna Whiteway (Susanna), Thomas Weis (Bartolo).

Marriage of Figaro dress rehearsal. Tia Cleveland (Marcellina), Joel Rathmann (Figaro), Anna Whiteway (Susanna), Thomas Weis (Bartolo).

The singers will be accompanied by pianist Chan Mi Jean.

Joining the students will be Broadway star and distinguished University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, baritone Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek, who praises his operatic training for enabling him to sing as many as three performances a day on this demanding tour.

Recently appointed to “barihunk” status by one blog (below), he is something of a crossover singer too, singing romantic ballads while playing his guitar. These multiple talents provide the young singer with a busy career.

Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek as barihunkHere is the program:

Chacun à son gout (Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss Jr.) – Meghan Hilker; Bella siccome un angelo (Don Pasquale by Gaetano Donizetti) – Gavin Waid; Ici-bas (Gabriel Fauré) and Der Blumenstrauss (Felix Mendelssohn) – Talia Engstrom; Tu che di gel (Turandot by Giacomo Puccini) – Anna Polum; Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix (Samson et Dalila by Camille Saint-Saens) – Rebecca Buechel; Largo al factotum (Il Barbiere di Siviglia by Gioachino Rossini) – Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek; Sous le dôme épais (Lakme by Leo Delibes) – Tyana O’Connor (below) and Meghan Hilker; Emily’s Aria (Our Town – Ned Rorem) – Nicole Heinen; On the Street Where You Live (My Fair Lady – Lerner and Lowe) – William Ottow; Ah, non credea mirarti (La Sonnambula by Vincenzo Bellini) – Tyana O’Connor; Love’s Philosophy (Roger Quilter) – Anna Polum; The Lady is a Tramp (Rodgers and Hart) – Rebecca Buechel; Au fond du temple saint (Les Pêcheurs de Perles by Georges Bizet, sung by tenor Roberto Alagna and bass-baritone Bryn Terfel at the bottom in a YouTube video) – William Ottow (below) and Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek.

Tyana O'Connor soprano


Classical music: The Oakwood Chamber Players will perform “Remix! Christmas Lights Memories” twice this coming weekend at Oakwood Village West in Madison. Plus, UW-Madison voice students perform a FREE workshop of opera highlights TONIGHT at 7:30.

November 25, 2014
2 Comments

ALERT: TONIGHT at 7:30 p.m. in Old Music Hall (below) at the foot of Bascom Hill, student singers in the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music opera department, under the direction of UW-Madison professors Mimmi Fulmer and David Ronis, will perform a FREE Opera Workshop. Sorry, The Ear has no word on the specific program — and it is not on the UW-Madison School of Music website at http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/uw-opera-workshop/  But it usually features popular arias and familiar scenes from popular operas, all done with piano accompaniment. (JUST IN: The program includes excerpts from: Ludwig van Beethoven‘s “Fidelio,” Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Le nozze di Figaro” and “Cosi fan tutte”; Claudio Monteverdi’s “L’incoronazione di Poppea”;  Gioachino Rossini’s “Il barbiere di Siviglia“; Gaetano Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale”; Jules Massenet’s “Cendrillon”; Johann Strauss’ “Die Fledermaus”; Vincenzo Bellini’s “I Capuleti ed i Montecchi“; and Stephen Sondheim‘s “A Little Night Music.”)

MusicHall2

By Jacob Stockinger

The holiday season, in music as well as in shopping malls, has arrived.

Our friends at the Oakwood Chamber Players, known for the quality of its performance and its unusual repertoire, send us the following information:

The Oakwood Chamber Players (below) continues to celebrate its 30th anniversary season when the ensemble presents “Remix! Christmas Lights Memories” this coming Friday afternoon  and Sunday afternoon.

Oakwood Chamber Players 2011 photo Bill Arthur

The two concerts this coming weekend continue the group’s tradition of kicking off the holiday season over Thanksgiving weekend with Christmas-themed music. The concerts will revisit favorite holiday music from the past 30 years.

Guest musicians include Heather Thorpe, soprano, Mary Ann Harr, harp (below top), Jennifer Morgan, oboe (below bottom), and Mike Sczyzs, horn.

Mary Ann Harr

real Jennifer Morgan Oakwood USE photo

The concerts are on Friday, November 28, at 1 p.m. and Sunday, November 30, at 1:30 p.m. Both concerts will be held at the Oakwood Center for Arts and Education, 6209 Mineral Point Road, on the far west side of Madison.

Oakwood Village Auditorium and Stage

This is the second concert in their celebratory 30th anniversary season series titled “Reprise! Looking Back Over 30 Years

Upcoming concerts include:

  • Recapitulate! – January 17 and January 18
  • Replay! – March 14 and March 15
  • Reissue! – May 23 and May 24

The Oakwood Chamber Players is a group of Madison-area professional musicians who have been affiliated with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. They have rehearsed and performed at Oakwood Village for 30 years.

Tickets are available at the door. Admission is $20 for the general public, $15 for seniors and $5 for students.

Visit www.oakwoodchamberplayers.com for more information.

The Oakwood Chamber Players are a professional music ensemble proudly supported by Oakwood Lutheran Senior Ministries and the Oakwood Foundation.

 


Classical music: Fresco Opera Theatre lands a body slam and puts a submission hold on opera and wrestling this Friday and Saturday in its production of “Opera Smackdown” at the Overture Center. And the audience will get to choose the winner!

March 13, 2014
Leave a Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Opera is rarely just opera when the creative talents behind Fresco Opera Theatre decide to do it. Invariably, the Fresco folks come up with some creative and new or unexpected take that combines self-deprecating humor with serious singing and acting talent.

Take the latest project.

Is professional wrestling real competition? Or is it a staged, even faked, competition? And what does real opera’s theatrical qualities have in common with professional wrestling?

But then what does it really matter as long as the participants and fans have fun?

To launch its fourth season, Fresco Opera Theatre’s latest production — called “Opera SmackDown” –- is this coming weekend. It will be held on Friday, March 14, at 8 p.m. and on Saturday, March 15, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. in the Promenade Hall in the Overture Center. 

Fresco Opera Theatre logo

Here is one description from the preview video that sounds exactly like a Ring Announcer’s hype if you read it out loud:

From all over the country, from all “fachs” (that’s opera lingo for voice categories such as Coloratura, Lyric, Dramatic Soprano), bringing a fresh take on opera for a good portion of the 21st century, Fresco Opera, the worldwide leader in live entertainment brings you Opera SmackDown.

“The SmackDown Champion is the most coveted title in the opera world. There is no parallel, no bigger accolade in the genre. It is the dream of every competitor who ever stepped out on stage. From young artists to seasoned vets, eight singers will endure vocal battles they have trained years to prepare for.

“Who will outperform to seize the spotlight in this collision course with destiny? ONLY the studio audience can, and will, decide. Their vote determines the winner in this live internet broadcast, spanning the globe for all to see!

“These singers will battle each other, sacrifice their bodies, betray colleagues, and embrace the soulless ally that is desperation. To the victor goes the spoils. To the winner, a once in a lifetime chance to become the next heir apparent to the Fresco Opera SmackDown throne!”

Does the winner get to wear one of those really outrageously big and blingy belt buckles too?

wrestling belt

Here is how Jeff Turk, the president of the group’s board of directors who can be heard in a YouTube video at the bottom, describes the production and its novel concept:

“SmackDown is a take on the traditional vocal competition, with elements of pro-wrestling thrown in. We came upon this concept given the cut-throat nature and over-the-top presentations of both competitions and wrestling.

“Another twist is that the AUDIENCE will choose the winner. And the winner will receive a cash prize!

“Our goal here is to introduce the masses to opera. We have demonstrated over the years that performing classical music using familiar pop culture references makes it less intimidating for people who may not have any experience in the concert hall.

“I am proud of the fact our organization has inspired countless numbers of people who have had no experience with classical music to embrace it — which is good for all classical performers and organizations in the Madison area.

Tickets are $20.

Here are some links.

To the Fresco Website and preview video:

http://www.frescooperatheatre.com

http://www.frescooperatheatre.com/upcoming-productions.html

To the Overture Center for tickets:

http://overturecenter.com/production/opera-smackdown

And here are mini-bios of the contestants, with their nom-de-wrestling, vying for the championship:

Fresco Opera Theatre cast for Opera SmackDown

Mezzo Soprano Allison Waggener (Primal) recently won praise from reviewers for her “fine legato” and “strength and vocal beauty” as Annio in dell’Arte Opera Ensemble’s New York production of Mozart’s “La Clemenza di Tito.”   Other highlights from her 2012-2013 season include the roles of Miss Pooder in the Texas premiere of “The Hotel Casablanca” with Abilene Opera and Hansel in Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel” with Opera Oggi.

Diana Kelly Eiler (The Valkyrie) majored in vocal performance at Heidelberg College, where she received the Ohl Prize and Hoernemann academic awards, as well as making her professional debuts with the Toledo Opera in “Babes in Toyland” and Findlay Light Opera in “The Gondoliers” and “Die Fledermaus” while still a student. She was a N.A.T.S. Great Lakes Regional winner, Jessye Norman Award recipient, and semi-finalist in the Friedrich Schorr Opera Star Search.

George Abbott (Canto Libre) has 20 years of singing performance experience starting with the Children’s Chorus of San Antonio at age nine. His credits include singing with: Madison Bach Musicians, Fresco Opera Theater, University Theater, Music Theater of Madison, Middleton Players Theater, Madison Opera Chorus, and Madison Choral Project.

J. Adam Shelton (The Gladiator), lyric tenor, recently performed as the Leading Man Ghost in Fresco Opera’s Paranormal Playhouse. During this season, he will finish his doctorate at the University of Wisconsin where his dissertation, “The Singing Dream: A 21st Century Critical Edition of Tauberlieder”, explores the compositions of the great Austrian tenor, Richard Tauber.

Madison native Rachel Edie Warrick (Vox) is thrilled to be singing her second show with Fresco Opera. Rachel is a versatile performer who has sung with Madison Opera, Opera for the Young, Madison Choral Project and the Madison Bach Musicians. Rachel has also been a soloist throughout the Midwest in Handel’s “Messiah” and “Alexander’s Feast,” J. S. Bach’s B Minor Mass, Magnificat, and “St. Matthew Passion,” the Mozart Vespers, and Haydn’s “The Creation.”

Soprano Erin Sura (Toxin) has recently been seen performing the role of Donna Elvira in “Don Giovanni” with East Side Chamber Players, and in the Skylight Opera Theatre’s production of Beethoven’s “Fidelio,” in addition to appearing as a soprano soloist in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the Concord Chamber Orchestra, and Vivaldi’s Gloria with the South Shore Chorale.

Soprano CatieLeigh Laszewski(Asylum) is currently completing a Master of Music degree at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. With UW Opera, she has performed the role of Caterina in Mascagni’s “L’amico Fritz” and scenes from “Die Fledermaus” (Rosalinda), Bizet’s “Carmen” (Frasquita), “Hansel and Gretel” (Gretal), and Debussy’s “Pelleas et Melisande” (Melisande) in Opera Workshop.

Caroline Wright (The Boss), Soprano, received her vocal training at Illinois Wesleyan University and the University of Wisconsin – Madison. While studying, Caroline performed roles such as Lauretta from Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi,” the title role from Carlisle Floyd’s “Susannah,” and Donna Anna from Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J37IEOXiRGI

Enhanced by Zemanta

Classical music: Candid Concert Opera brings a pared down performance of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” to Edgerton with enchanting results.

May 13, 2013
3 Comments

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 hosts an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT 88.9 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

Founder and music director Codrut Birsan has been moving on steadily with his Chicago-based Candid Concert Opera project. I was lucky to catch his latest presentation at the Edgerton Performing Arts Center (below top is the exterior, below bottom is the interior and concert hall) on this past Saturday evening, May 11. (At bottom is a YouTube video of Birsan speaking with excerpts from a production of “Die Fledermaus.”)

edgerton performing arts center exterior

Edgerton PAC stage

Edgerton is blessed to have so fine a performance venue as that incorporated into its high school.  The house is ample, the acoustics excellent, the sightlines uniformly open, and the seating comfortable. Its annual seasons are full of fine visiting ensembles, and it is to the particular credit of Edgerton’s stellar benefactor, William Wartmann (below), that an effort is made to attract operatic offerings.  For those, Madisonians can find it worthwhile to make the trip down to this quiet and welcoming little city.

wiiliam wartmann

The CCO production this time was a version of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” sung in the original German, with English surtitles projected.  One of the defining patterns of evolution that Birsan has made is gradually to develop a mini-orchestral accompaniment for his presentations.  This time, he had the largest showing yet: 13 players, made up of four winds (one each of flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon), eight strings, and piano. 

Candid Concert Opera 8

This group, conducted by Birsan (below), made a credible Mozartean sound, even when shorn of brass and timpani.

Codrut Birsan

Such restrictions meant some sacrifices, such as the symbolic three chords of Freemasonry. Indeed, much of Mozart’s Masonic imagery was bypassed for a simplified story of the main characters. In the inevitable cutting, we lost the Three Boys, and the two Armed Men, along with a few musical numbers.

The spoken dialogue was gone also, with a narrator (Tom Kastle, below on the far right) filling in the context for the numbers.  With all that, we were still left with a big bundle of Mozart’s wonderful music.  And, marshaling his solo singers, Birsan was able to deliver some of the important choral work.  Indeed, his clever trimming and adjusting resulted in a very enjoyable show.

Tom Kastle far right

As usual, he could draw upon a lot of young vocal talent from the Chicago area.  Their names will be unfamiliar, but–who knows–some of them might develop into famous singers.

The men were a mixed group.  Their standout was Dan Richardson (below top), who has a very appealing baritone voice, and who displayed real acting talent as the comic birdman Papageno. Tenor Javier Bernard has a pleasant voice, but needed a bit more strength and projection as Prince Tamino. Bass Neil Edwards had the vocal dignity of Sarastro, but lacked full power in the crucial lower notes of his solos.  With a limited tenor voice but a lively acting flair, Eric Mason (below bottom) was delightful as the wicked slave Monostatos.

Dan Richardson

Eric Mason USE BW headshot

More uniform were the women. Soprano Amanda Compton (below) was pert and winning as the birdgirl Papagena. Remarkable strength, ensemble, and stage presence were displayed by the Three Ladies (Leila Bowie, Marci Wagnon Jackson, and Robin Bradley).

amanda compton

As the Queen of the Night, soprano Amanda Kingston (below) had ringing tone and strong personality.  Her command of the fearsome high-range pyrotechnics was somewhat challenged in her first big aria, but was much more secure in the second. 

Amanda Kingston

The star of the show in general, however, was Chelsea Morris (below) as Pamina: her firm, truly beautiful voice, with absolute technical confidence, offered consistently lovely singing.

Chelsea Morris soprano

The staging (below) was, even more than usual, minimal, with the sequence of numbers indeed like a standup concert progression.  Still, some interaction of the singers, lots of body language, and some simple movements, all sustained the sense of theater.

Candid Concert Opera 9

Birsan’s CCO deserves support and delivers satisfaction in bringing opera in direct ways to wider audiences.  Next season it will offer Rossini’s “La Cenerentola and Mozart’s “Così fan tutte.”  Watch for them, wherever they turn up.


    Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,197 other followers

    Blog Stats

    • 2,067,967 hits
%d bloggers like this: