The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Does Mozart’s opera “Don Giovanni” reveal anything about Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump”?

October 29, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

For generations, the conquests of the legendary Don Juan were treated as seductions.

But were they really rape?

The question is important in considering the masterpiece opera “ Don Giovanni” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

don-giovanni-met-2016-simon-keeleyside

One blog writer for slate.com – Bonnie Gordon, who teaches a class on music and gender at the University of Virginia — draws a link between the charismatic historic nobleman and the current charges of “womanizing” and allegations of sexual assault made against Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (below).

Donald Trump thumbs up

She doesn’t bring up whether the same discussion applies to former Democratic President Bill Clinton, but it doesn’t seem a stretch.

She raises questions about what is sexual assault, seduction and rape – and how the definitions of a “rape culture” have changed over time and depending on whether it comes from a man’s or a woman’s point of view.

She pegged her essay to LAST weekend’s broadcast performance of the opera by “Live From the Met in HD” with Simon Keenlyside in the title role. In the YouTube video at the bottom, with English subtitles, Don Juan’s servant Leporello sings an aria about his master’s thousands of “conquests.”

But despite the week that has passed since the broadcast of the production, to The Ear the essay still seems relevant as the national election approaches.

Here is a link to that essay:

http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2016/10/21/what_don_giovanni_an_opera_about_a_charismatic_rapist_can_teach_us_about.html

What do you think about the essay and its main argument or point?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Local opera star Kyle Ketelsen talks about returning to Madison Opera’s FREE Opera in the Park this Saturday night and why he continues to live here while having an international career.

July 21, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Saturday night will bring the 14th annual FREE outdoors Opera in the Park put on by the Madison Opera.

The concert starts at 8 p.m. in Garner Park, on Madison’s far west side where Mineral Point Road and Rosa Road intersect. (The rain date is this Sunday.)

There will be many treats, from the music and light sticks to ice cream cones and picnic dinners, to enjoy at the popular event that now draws up to 15,000 people. (Garner Park opens at 7 a.m. the day of the concert. Blankets, chairs, food and beverages are allowed.)

But one of the big draws this year is the chance to see and hear bass-baritone native son Kyle Ketelsen (below, in a  photo by Dario Acosta). Ketelsen – who sang with the Madison Opera early in his career and who continues to make his home in Sun Prairie — has sung at the Metropolitan Opera and many other major opera companies in Europe and elsewhere.

Kyle Ketelsen face shot 1 Dario Acosta

This will be the first time Ketelsen returns to Opera in the Park since 2008.

Here is a link to general information about the event, which features the vocal soloists, the Madison Opera Chorus and members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, all playing under the baton of John DeMain the music director and conductor of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the artistic director of the Madison Opera:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2014-2015/park/

And here is a link to biographies of the guest soloists:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2014-2015/park/cast/

Ketelesen, who just returned from a month-long stint out-of-town, kindly agreed to a Q&A with The Ear:

kyle ketelsen headshot 2

How have you seen Opera in the Park develop since you appeared in the inaugural one 14 years ago?

It has developed from a relatively small, enterprising venture from Madison Opera, into a destination event that people really count on and look forward to.  Any more growth, and they’ll have to relocate to the Kohl Center!

Opera in the Park 2014 crowd

What music will you be singing this year?

I will sing arias from “Mefistofele” and “Faust,” both as the devil (below).  Then I will do a trio from “The Tales of Hoffmann,” as the devil again.  They are some of my favorite roles.  On the lighter side, a duet from “Kiss Me Kate” and a famous tune from “Guys and Dolls.”  We’re mixing it up quite a bit. I always enjoy singing musical theater, but rarely get a chance.

Kyle Ketelsen as devil

What are the best parts of singing outdoors and what are the most difficult or challenging parts of doing so? What do you most enjoy about it?

You get to “cheat” a bit with the microphone.  Indoors, opera singers are very rarely amplified, so every crescendo and decrescendo is all you. This way, I can play pop singer, and just fade away from the mic for a nice diminuendo.

The roar — hopefully! — of that crowd of 15,000 is an absolute rush as well!

Sometimes we get the urge to push to be heard in an outdoor concert, which is of course entirely wrong.  We’re accustomed to hearing our own reverb from an opera house or concert hall. But outside, it’s an entirely different feel, acoustically.  You need to trust the microphone and the sound guy, and know that you’ll indeed be heard. (Below is a photo — not of Kyle Ketelsen — from a past Opera in the Park by James Gill.)

Opera in Park 2012  Matt Boehler by James Gill

What role did the Madison Opera play in fostering your now international career?

Certainly regional opera is a starting point for nearly all U.S. singers, no matter where their career eventually takes them.  The Madison Opera offered me the opportunity to sing a number of roles at a very early stage in my career.  My first Leporello (below, at the Metropolitan Opera) in “Don Giovanni” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, for example, was in Madison.

I was able to lay the groundwork for what has become a calling card of mine, which I’ve sung at the Met, Covent Garden, Chicago Lyric Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Madrid, Munich and others.  It was a nurturing environment to test-drive such an amazingly intricate, complex role.

Kyle Ketelsen Leporello  The Met

You perform in Europe and around the US. Why do you continue to base your career in Sun Prairie, a suburb of Madison? Does it put you at a professional disadvantage not to live in New York City or Chicago?

My wife and I are from small towns in Wisconsin and Iowa, so it’s felt like home from the beginning.  We absolutely prefer the slower, easy-going approach to life.  Not to mention quiet!  Trees, grass, open spaces and elbow room we hold at a premium.

I work enough in big cities. There is no desire, or necessity, to make my home there.  Thankfully, I’ve never needed to be in the middle of things, professionally, in order to start my career.

I feel living in the Midwest gives me an advantage, actually.  When I’m home, I’m refreshed.  It renews me, and gives me the strength to then go back out when it’s time. (Below is Ketelsen in Bizet’s “Carmen” at the Chicago Lyric Opera. At bottom is a YouTube video of Keletsen singing the role of Escamillo and the famous Toreador Song from “Carmen” in Los Angeles under the direction of Gustavo Dudamel.)

Kyle Ketelsen in Carmen at Chicago Lyric

What else would you like to say about yourself, about Opera in the Park or about major highlights of your career since you last sang in Opera in the Park and in upcoming seasons?

It’s especially fulfilling singing in the Madison area.  It draws a truly unique, incredibly appreciative, gracious audience.  See my website KyleKetelsen.InstantEncore.com for more information.

 


Classical music review: Madison Opera’s “Dead Man Walking” packs an emotional punch that will leave you changed. It is that good. The last performance is this afternoon at 2:30 p.m. Don’t miss it. Plus, here are links to other rave reviews.

April 27, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Loyal readers of this blog know very well the name of Mikko Utevsky. The young violist and conductor is a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, where he studies with Pro Arte Quartet violist Sally Chisholm and plays in the University of Wisconsin-Madison Chamber  Orchestra.

Utevsky, who has won awards and impressive reviews for his work in music education since his days at Madison’s East High School, is the founder and conductor of the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra, which will perform its fourth season next summer. For more information, visit: http://www.madisonareayouthchamberorchestra.org  He has also been named the new Music Director of a local community orchestra, The Studio Orchestra. The ensemble has a website here: www.disso.org.

You can check out his many honors and projects by typing his name into the search engine on this blog site.

Utevsky offered The Ear a guest review of this weekend’s production of Jake Heggie’s “Dead Man Walking” by the Madison Opera at the Overture Center. The last performance is today at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall. Tickets are $18-$108.

I immediately took him up on the offer. After all, he is a fine and perceptive writer who, you may recall, blogged for this post when he was on tour two summers ago with the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) tour to Vienna, Prague and Budapest.

Here is the review by Mikko Utevsky (below):

Mikko Utevsky with baton

By Mikko Utevsky

“The Truth will set you free.”

Here, then, is The Truth:

There are no words for art like this. None suffices. The English language is inadequate when tasked with depicting an experience of the kind to which “Dead Man Walking” belongs.

Dead Man Walking Eugene Opera

I was speechless for a long time after the final curtain, even when I finally stopped crying openly — those who know me can appreciate how rarely I am at a loss for words. The nearly full house reacted similarly, with a prolonged stunned silence before the clapping started and then built into a standing ovation. Then the whole house rose to its feet in unison when Michael Mayes took the stage for a bow.

However, I promised a review, and so a review there shall be, insofar as words can express what must be said.

The opera — musical drama would be a more appropriate term – by composer Jake Heggie (below top) and librettist Terrence Nally (below bottom) is a masterwork on the scale of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” Giacomo Puccini’s “La Boheme” or Richard Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde,” and in every respect deserves to stand by their side in the repertory.

If anything, the opera is more deeply human than anything in the canon I have yet seen or heard. The libretto is skillfully crafted, capturing every character in life-like depth. Its score is masterful, propulsive, colorful, and powerfully moving, with influences from Mozart, Wagner and George Gershwin apparent. Remarkably, for a composer’s first opera, it balances to the stage apparently without effort. 

Here are links to previous posts with interviews featuring composer Jake Heggie and librettist Terrence McNally:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/04/22/classical-music-qa-composer-jake-heggie-talks-about-how-writing-dead-man-walking-changed-his-professional-and-personal-life-and-left-a-mark-on-his-heart-with-the-issue-of-capi/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/04/24/classical-music-qa-dead-man-walking-is-dramatic-not-didactic-morally-complex-neither-issue-art-nor-a-lecture-opera-says-librettist-a/

Jake Heggie

Terrence McNally

Not a note is lost from either orchestra or cast, for which joint credit should also be given to Artistic Director and conductor John DeMain (below in a photo by Prasad) and the musicians of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, who fill the pit.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

The singing is world-class. Baritone Michael Mayes lives and breathes the role of death-row convicted murderer Joseph DeRocher, portraying his inner demons with true clarity and conviction. Mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack, singing the role of Sister Helen Prejean for the first time (not that anyone would know) balances faith, doubt, and forgiveness with poignancy and eloquence.

Dead Man Walking  2 Michael Mayes and Daniela Mack

Susanne Mentzer is heartbreaking as DeRocher’s loving mother, and Alan Dunbar is equally so, standing out from the excellent quartet of the victims’ parents (with Jamie Van Eyck, J. Adam Shelton, and Saira Frank). Baritone Erik Larson, appearing as the motorcycle cop who stops Sister Helen for speeding, is also memorable, providing one of the only moments of levity in an otherwise powerfully dark show, and Karen Slack (below top) as Sister Rose exhibits powerful vocal skills and a capacity for comfort and mercy. (The photo, below bottom, shows, from left, Daniela Mack, Susanne Mentzer, Michael Mayes, Saira Frank, Alan Dunbar, Adam Shelton and Jamie Van Eyck.)

Karen Slack 2

Dead Man Walking with  (from left) Daniela Mack, Susanne Mentzer, Michael Mayes, Saira Frank, Alan Dunbar, Adam Shelton and Jamie Van Eyck

The brilliant stage direction by Kristine McIntyre (below) brings the whole production to life against the starkly effective scenery from the Eugene Opera in Oregon. The costumes, lighting and sound design are simple and successful.

Kristine McIntyre color

It would take too long to list every singer in the cast deserving of recognition, or every technical and visual aspect worthy of acknowledgement. But there is not a single weak link, and the whole company shows a total commitment to their art, from the last member of the chorus up through the principals, the orchestra, the director, Maestro DeMain, and General Director Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill), to whom eternal gratitude is due for having the courage and vision to bring this work to the Madison stage.

Kathryn Smith Fly Rail Vertical Madison Opera

This is opera. This is art. This is human expression at its most direct, at its most powerful, at its most deeply touching.

Go see “Dead Man Walking.”

You will come away changed.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Madison Opera production of “Dead Man Walking” production has received other rave reviews. For purposes of comparison, here are links to others:

Here is the review by John W. Barker (below) for Isthmus:

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=42616&sid=f94c056bdd9b4be709a6a60deca6c020

John-Barker

Here is the review be Greg Hettmansberger (below) for Madison Magazine:

http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/April-2014/Dead-Man-Walking-Conquers-Another-City/

greg hettmansberger mug

 

 

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Classical music: Guest reviewer Mikko Utevsky finds the Madison Opera’s production of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” irresistibly seductive and brilliantly sung, a MUST-SEE show. Performances are tonight and Sunday afternoon.

April 26, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today’s post is a review by guest blogger Mikko Utevsky (below). A freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the School of Music, Utevsky may be familiar to you as a loyal reader and commenter on this blog; as the former East High School student who founded and conducts the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO); and as a former member of Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) who, talented and articulate, also blogged last summer about WYSO’s tour to Prague, Budapest and Vienna. The MAYCO concerts will be at 7:30 p.m. this year (NOT 7), both in Music Hall, on June 21 and August 9. He filed his review after attending the final dress rehearsal as part of the Madison Opera’s “Blog it! Tweet it! Night” Wednesday night. All color photos of “Don Giovanni” are by James Gill for the Madison Opera.

MAYCO Mikko Utevsky by Steve Rankin

By Mikko Utevsky

“What a barbarous appetite!”

What indeed! Don Giovanni, the famous seducer of Spain, has made conquests of more than 1,800 women, according to his servant’s catalogue. But in one of Mozart‘s latest and finest operas, three of them finally get the best of him, and he receives his comeuppance at the hands of a hellish visitor from his past.

In this wonderful production by the Madison Opera, one of the master’s most powerful works is realized to excellent effect.

The opera blurs the line between comic (“buffo”) and serious (“seria”) opera — two very distinct genres in the 18th century, each with its own rules.

Certain characters belong to each world: the servant, Leporello, is a basso buffo role straight out of comic opera, and the nobles – Donna Anna, Donna Elvira, and Don Ottavio – are entirely serious. Others, like the Don himself, have a foot in each world — he’s a nobleman, but not a terribly noble one, undermining the aristocratic sensibilities of opera seria.

madison opera don giovanni james gill No. 8

Whatever else you may think of him, this Don knows how to party. The centerpiece to his extravagant ballroom set is a large bed, on which he enters, and to which he later finds himself tied .

He’s also, as other advance reviews warned us, dangerously good-looking. He practically oozes seductive sexuality, and the women swarm around him like flies to honey – small wonder, looking like that! No opportunity is spared to have him shirtless, either: he works out something fierce.

But his sex appeal isn’t just visual. Kelly Markgraf has a voice to die for (or at least to lose your clothes for), and he shines both in solo numbers (especially the famous “Champagne Aria,” which in a YouTube video at the bottom) and ensembles, where his powerful baritone is always immediately present. And yes, that’s a hookah you see there.

madison opera don giovanni james gill No. 10

Don Juan’s seduction of Zerlina (Angela Mennin) in “La ci darem la mano” was alluring without going as far over the top as some productions, and his counterpart gave as good as she got.

Mannino’s portrayal of Zerlina was at once charmingly innocent and wickedly self-aware. (Fans of the long-running sci-fi program “Doctor Who” may find the characterization reminiscent of the Doctor’s current companion, Clara Oswald — or maybe that’s just me.) “Vedrai, carino” and “Batti, batti o bel Masetto” were both exquisitely turned and well-acted to boot.

madison opera don giovanni james gill No. 5

Her husband, Masetto (John Arnold, who played a compelling and hilarious Leporello last spring with the University Opera) was also well-characterized — in the final scene, they and Leporello migrate towards the Don’s abandoned dinner table rather than wax philosophical on his downfall. His “Ho capito, signor sì” was a tad mild for me (he’s stealing your wife, for goodness’ sake) but picked up nicely. His reactions during “Vedrai, carino” and the beating he receives before it were excellent, and the choreography for the latter was terrifyingly realistic even to an actor’s eye.

madison opera don giovanni james gill No. 4

Don Juan’s servant Leporello (Matt Boehler) was also top-notch, and looked appropriately worn ragged from chasing after the Don day and night. He and the Don are frequently heard together also, and they alternately blended and contrasted excellently. The “Catalog Aria” was well done: I heard a few impressed murmurs after “E la grande maestosa.”

madison opera don giovanni james gill No. 3

The two Donnas — Anna and Elvira — were both well-represented as well; neither role is easy, and both singers met their challenges with robust tone and clear singing.

Elvira’s promises in “Ah, chi mi dice mai” to carve out the Don’s heart seemed a bit tame, but her characterization came to life quickly. Elvira (Caitlyn Lynch, below) is in some ways the hardest to sympathize with, since her good nature constantly overrides her better judgment where her erstwhile lover is concerned.

The grief of Donna Anna (Elizabeth Caballero) was convincingly rendered, though Don Ottavio’s responses always seem a bit wooden (a fault of the writing, not of Wesley Rogers’ lovely singing). His aria “Il mio tesoro” was lovely, and for once I didn’t wonder when we’d get back to the plot. Having heard him sing this, I almost wished “Dalla sua pace” hadn’t been cut. Almost.

madison opera don giovanni james gill No. 11

The orchestra’s playing was to its usual high standard: guest conductor Joseph Mechavich (below) elicited clean articulation and cogent phrasing from the group, accompanying deftly (if once or twice a bit too energetically for the singers, it can be forgiven). He conducted from the harpsichord, providing his own sophisticated and expressive continuo — not something one sees often, but done very well here.

Joseph Mechavich bw

Highlights of the whole opera, apart from those mentioned already, are the peasants’ wedding, noticeably more energetic and fun than anything with the Donnas who are somewhat dour – again no fault of the singers); the Don’s ball; his gluttonous dinner, complete with food fight; and the striking entrance of the Commendatore (Nathan Stark) risen from the dead, which I’ll not spoil for you.

madison opera don giovanni james gill No. 13

My only complaint about the staging is that occasionally it seems too dark — the singers’ faces fall into shadow for long periods, and I found myself wishing for footlights once or twice. The lighting apart from that is evocative and expressive.

I also wished for more complete supertitles. The set of translations used seemed a bit perfunctory: many lines were left out that would have made it easier to follow (and funnier!).

But the singing was uniformly excellent, as was the acting and the staging by Elise Sandell (below).

Elise Sandell

This Don Giovanni is one to see — sexy, dark, gorgeous, musically compelling, and brilliantly sung. What more could you ask?

The production (sung in Italian with English surtitles and running 3 hours with one 20-minute intermission) has two performances in Overture Hall of the Overture Center; on Friday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m., respectively, in Overture Hall. For more information and tickets, call the Overture box office at (608) 258-4141 or visit:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2012-2013/don_giovanni/


Classical music: A vocal concert this Saturday night and Sunday afternoon by the early music group Eliza’s Toyes will explore the world of 17th century Venice. Plus, the Wisconsin Gazette compares the Madison Opera’s production of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” this weekend with “The Marriage of Figaro” in Milwaukee in May.

April 25, 2013
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ALERT: In the latest issue of Wisconsin Gazette, Madison arts writer Mike Muckian, with some help from The Ear, has written a contrast-and-compare story about two of Mozart’s finest operas:  “Don Giovanni” and “The Marriage of Figaro.” The first is being staged this weekend in Madison by the Madison Opera, and the second in May in Milwaukee by the Florentine Opera. Kathryn Smith, the general director of the Madison Opera, discusses her production of “Don Giovanni” — which she calls her favorite opera. (Below is a rehearsal photo by James Gill from a rehearsal of Madison Opera’s “Don Giovanni.”) Performances are this weekend in Overture Hall on Friday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. Here are links, first to the story and then to the Madison Opera’s website with information about the opera, the production and tickets:

http://www.wisconsingazette.com/music/dueling-mozartsbreaktwo-operas-show-contrasting-sides-of-the-master.html

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2012-2013/don_giovanni/

madison opera don giovanni 1 James Gill

By Jacob Stockinger 

Today’s posting is by guest blogger Jerry Hui (below).

Jerry Hui

Few young musicians in Madison, or anywhere for that matter, are as talented or as diverse in their interests as Jerry Hui. He directs and sings in an early music vocal group Eliza’s Toyes and also sings with the Madison Bach Musicians. He is a founding member and director of New MUSE (New Music Everywhere), a University of Wisconsin-Madison student group that performs and promotes new music and stages flash mobs. And he is a composer who wrote and produced an Internet opera, “Wired For Love,” as his doctoral thesis at the UW School of Music. He also incorporates the more modern aesthetic of using art to promote social progress.

For more information about Jerry Hui, visit: http://jerryhui.com

Jerry recently offered to write a preview of the concert by Eliza’s Toyes this weekend – an offer too good to refuse. Here is it, complete with links to YouTube videos so you can sample much of the repertoire:

By Jerry Hui

This weekend, the Madison-based early music group Eliza’s Toyes (below) will be presenting a new and ambitious early music concert that will showcase secular music by various composers from Venice of the early 17th century, all tied together in dance and semi-improvisatory comedy theater, in a program titled “Casino Royale: A Venetian Music-Comedy.”

Eliza's Toyes 2012 1

Two performances will take place on the same weekend: On this Saturday, April 27, at 7:30 p.m. at the historic Gates of Heaven Synagogue (below) in downtown Madison at James Madison Park, 302 East Gorham Street; tickets at the door are $15 for the public, $10 for students); and the on Sunday, April 28, at 4 p.m. at the Chocolaterian Café, 2004 Atwood Ave.; free admission, with donations accepted accepted).

Gates of Heaven

Venice (below, in a map from the 17th century) was a thriving city-state. Its unique geographical location in the Mediterranean guaranteed its success from maritime trade, and the wealth that was bestowed upon countless merchants.

Map of 17th century Venice

As the capital city of the Republic of Venice — a state so prosperous that it was known as La Serenissima (“the most serene”) — Venice was well-known for its treasures and splendors. Naturally, this city of riches would attract people from all walks of life: merchants, bankers, aristocrats, artists, craftsmen, thieves and gamblers.

Gambling is an ancient activity as old as human history. Some civilizations, like the Romans, permitted social gambling during holidays and festivities, and otherwise forbade it. But who was to forbid what many desired? More than a friendly diversion, it could be a shortcut to luxury, a chance to change, an opportunity to enter the highest of society. (Below is a painting by Caravaggio portraying a dishonest card game.)

Caravaggio Cardsharps

Venice, being the city of all things sumptuous, was among the first in Europe to be swept by the popularity of playing cards and lottery. Dice games were played on the squares, in street corners, in stores, and in private homes. Noblemen, even when gambling was explicitly banned, ran games in their private spaces, known as the “ridotti” (from ridurre, meaning to reduce, close or make private).

In 1638, after decades of inability to rein in the betting, the Venetian Great Council finally chose a creative solution. Not only would they legalize gambling, they would also open the Ridotto: the first legal, state-sanctioned public gambling house ever in Europe.

Our program draws its inspiration from the opening of Ridotto. All musical pieces were written by composers working in Venice in the first few decades of the 17th century, including: Ippolito Baccusi, Giovanni Gabrieli, Claudio Monteverdi, Giovanni Antonio Rigatti, Salamone Rossi and Marco Uccellini.

We are performing two pieces from Monteverdi’s Eighth Book of Madrigals, subtitled the “Madrigals of War and Love,” published in 1638:  “Non partir ritrosetta” (http://youtu.be/C31WBUOax3M) is a passionate trio, imploring a lover to stay. “Dolcissimo uscignolo” (http://youtu.be/njOBmL1DBCM), on the other hand, is an introspective lament of unrequited love.

Monteverdi 2

Giovanni Gabrieli (below), the composer and famous organist of San Marco, needs no introduction. However, our selection comes not from his more frequently performed sacred music. Instead, we chose his lesser-known secular madrigals. “Quand’io ego giovinetta” is a funny story about an old man’s misadventure in love. “O che felice giorno” (http://youtu.be/khXVHY7k3No?t=7m20s) depicts a celebratory wedding party, written with splendid double-choir counterpoint that is more common in his sacred music.

Giovanni Gabrieli

Many pieces in our program are by Salamone Rossi, a Jewish-Italian composer and violinist. (Below is a score by Rossi from Venice, the same city where Shakespeare set “The Merchant of Venice” with it theme of how Jews were treated in Renaissance Italy.) Whereas music history classes often bring up his unusual polyphonic setting of Song of Solomon in Hebrew, we will showcase many of his short madrigals written for 2-3 voices (such as “Volò ne tuoi begli’occhi” http://youtu.be/0MkUOVuWWvw). His instrumental pieces are playful and fiery; we’ll be playing many of his dances and sonatas, such as this “Gagliarda detta la Turca” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CrkWHxpvibw&feature=share&list=PL9CECBC6113A4F7F9), or “Sonata settima sopra ‘Aria di un Baletto” (http://youtu.be/3jpNlwJTb7M).

salomone rossi score

In addition, we are venturing into the uncharted area of comic theater: all the music is tied together in a skit, semi-improvised in the Italian street-performance tradition of commedia dell’arte (below).

commedia dell'arte cast

In this style, drama is driven by stock characters in masks: Pantalone the miser; Il Dottore the know-it-all; Harlequin the deviant servant; the young lovers and so on. Our scene takes place in one of the ridotti of Venice. Come to our concerts, and join them in their wild and funny adventures through music, comedy, and dance!

Eliza’s Toyes (below) is a small ensemble of singers and instrumentalists focusing on sharing the joy of early music in unusual and creative programs.

Eliza's Toyes 2012 2

Started as an ad-hoc group during Madison Early Music Festival (http://madisonearlymusic.org), Toyes has recently performed at Wisconsin Public Radio’s  “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen” series, and is now in its fifth season as a regular performance ensemble.

The musicians include: Deb Heilert (soprano); Chelsie Propst (soprano; as “Isabella” in this production); Sandy Erickson (alto, recorder); Peter Gruett (alto/tenor; as “Il Dottore”); Jerry Hui (director, tenor/bass, recorder; as “Ottavio”); Mark Werner (bass; as “Pantalone”); Melanie Kathan (recorder; as “Harlequin”); Doug Towne (lute/theorbo); and Eric Miller (viol).

For more information, visit: http://toyes.info


Classical music: Madison Opera’s “Opera in the Park” again hits all the right notes – outdoors.

July 24, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Madison Opera started “Opera in the Park” 11 years ago to advertise, and build audiences for, its regular winter season.

(The next season, by the way, includes Verdi’s “A Masked Ball,” Mozart’s “Don Giovanni and Handel‘s “Acis and Galatea,” the company’s first Handel opera and first baroque opera, perhaps opening the door to Gluck, Vivaldi and of course more Handel. For more about next season and for the Madison Opera blog, go to www.madisonopera.org.)

But along the way, something happened.

The event has morphed into a more or less independent concert that has taken on a life of its own. And what a life it is, now a highpoint of the increasingly busy summer classical music season in Madison. (The photo below is by James Gill.)

Consider that, despite the threat of rain and heat, a record-setting almost 14,500 people turned out Saturday to the hilly, amphitheater-like Garner Park, on Madison’s far west side, to hear this year’s edition of the annual event. (The photo below is by James Gill.)

They weren’t disappointed. Far from it. Over two hours, they consistently cheered and at the end gave a standing ovation – and even seemed disappointed when an encore wasn’t forthcoming.

The public isn’t always right. But this time it was.

I started to put check marks next to items on my program when I felt the selections were outstanding. Before long I realized that there were just too many checks to single each one out for comment.

So let me hit some highlights.

Who isn’t grateful to hear the Madison Opera Chorus and Madison Symphony Orchestra players in the rarely performed and Puccini-like Prelude and “Hymn to the Sun” from Mascagni’s “Iris” — think “Turandot” or “Madame Butterfly” — or Verdi’s boisterous and infectious “Anvil Chorus” from “Il Trovatore”?

Who could fail to be charmed by mezzo Emily Pons and bass Matt Boehler and the perfect physicality of their suitably seductive duet of “La Ci darem La Mano” between Zerlina and Don Juan from Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”?

Who could resist soprano Caitlyn Lynch (below, in a photo by James Gill) in those fabulously ethereal high notes that float high above the mundane world in her dream aria “Chi Il Bel Sogno di Dretta” from Puccini’s “Rondine”?

Who would not be impressed by tenor Russell Thomas (below, in a photo by James Gill) in “La Donna e mobile” from Verdi’s “Rigoletto”? He is the Ethel Merman of tenors, possessing a big – make that huge – and beautiful voice. True, he lacks some subtlety and his stage manner is a bit stiff, as was Luciano Pavarotti ‘s. But the crowd loved him and sensed they were hearing The Real Deal when it comes to grand talent for grand opera. This man is going places far beyond the loud echoes he created in the vastness of the park.

There were tender moments too. Madison Opera’s congenial general director Kathryn Smith paid tribute to the company’s co-founder Roland Johnson, who died recently and then the crowd waved light sticks to the lovely and calming Barcarolle from Offenbach’s “Tales of Hoffman.”

Here is a link to a video of that tribute:

http://www.peterpatau.com/

Matt Boehler also turned in two other great moments where he matched voice and stage manner: As Leporello (below in a photo by James Gill), the servant who recites the list of 2,067 conquests by Don Juan – showing that even more than the seductions the immorality is in the cataloguing, the writing down and depersonalizing of the love-making and the love-object. And then he easily switched gears and got into character in the Gilbert and Sullivan tongue-twisting patter song “”Modern Major General.”

The Hollywood sampling of four selections was based on love – the word and the concept – and to The Ear it did not intrude too much on the more serious opera works. It fact, the songs — especially “Be My Love” and “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man” helped set the mood in the cool and clear night. Who doesn’t like a little romance with their beauty?

And then everyone seemed spellbound and moved by the concert’s finale, the large cast (below, in a photo by James Gill) singing “Let Our Garden Grow” from Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide.” Lenny knew about rough days and difficult lives. It’s hard to argue with either the music or the lyrics in his take on Voltaire’s famously metaphorical line “We must cultivate our garden.”

If operatic music is the garden, the Madison Opera certainly cultivated it with great results on Saturday night.

Of course, much of this should come as no surprise.

Some audiences love the “Best Of” format. True, real opera fans crave the drama and plots, the costumes and sets. But many of us go for the music — and that is what we got.

This year’s crop of top-notch artists — there wasn’t a weak or unpleasant voice among them — showed no lack of pedigree. When introductions were made for the various singers, names like The Met, Covent Garden, the Santa Fe Opera, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the San Francisco Opera and the New York Philharmonic got tossed about.

How lucky Madison is to get to hear so many of these voices before the world at large does. Choose right and choose early, it seems, and you can afford the best talent before it becomes famous and unaffordable. So the standing ovation (below) was well deserved.

Guest conductor especially deserves to be singled out for high praise. Gary Thor Wedow (below, in a photo by James Gill), who substituted for the Madison Opera’s artistic director and usual conductor John DeMain, has long experience at various opera companies and now teaches conducting at the prestigious Juilliard School of Music in New York City. And you could tell he loves what he does: As he conducted without a baton and with complete mastery, you could see him mouthing the words to just about everyone’s part. This is an expert.

Were there flaws or imperfections, dissatisfactions or mistakes? Sure.

It would have been welcome to hear at least a sample from next season’s Handel opera instead of a different one.

Probably the biggest problem was the sound system, especially depending on where you were sitting. Overall, it still seems to need some refining for clarity and balance.

But sound problems seem endemic to stadium-like concerts. Those same problems also plagued the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s Concerts on the Square for a decade or more. You begin to think that amplification in big outdoors spaces simply can’t ever be perfect because every ear wants something different out of it.

Nonetheless, the talent came through and the beauty survived, especially on what turned out to be such a perfect evening, who could ask for anything more?

Well, opera is an art and so there are many points of view about it. So here are so other critics’ takes on this year’s Opera in the Park.

Here is freelancer Rena Archwamety’s review for 77 Square, the Capital Times and The Wisconsin State Journal:

http://host.madison.com/entertainment/arts_and_theatre/reviews/opera-in-the-park-serenades-and-seduces-with-songs-of/article_60dbced8-5d8b-5b74-95fb-26815f34b69b.html

And here is John W. Barker’s review for Isthmus:

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=37316&sid=41aee9bd30f1129a320857dbc5cf9790

What did you think of Opera in the Park 2012? What did you enjoy and what did you find to be the highlights? Be a critic. Leave a comment. And I will leave you with an oh-so-difficult but oh-so-beautiful song we heard live at Opera in the Park 2012.


Classical music datebook: Let’s celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and Bach Around the Clock. Then you can add in some great orchestral and chamber music as well as Mozart’s opera “Don Giovanni.”

March 14, 2012
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

This week we celebrate two annual events: St. Patrick’s Day on Saturday, March 17; and next Wednesday, March 21, the birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach.

Each event will be marked with music.

The first event is on Friday night, performed by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and University of Wisconsin pianist Christopher Taylor; the second is on Saturday from noon to midnight, performed by the community and Wisconsin Public Radio in the third annual 12-hour Bach birthday marathon of music-making.

Details for both events are below, along with several other noteworthy concerts, including three performances of the University of Wisconsin-Madison‘s production of Mozart’s pre-Romantic operatic masterpiece “Don Giovanni.”

Of course that is not all that is on tap in a very busy week. There is also a good amount of chamber music to be heard, including various unusual combinations.

Just take a look:

FRIDAY

Friday’s FREE Noon Musicale, from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society Meeting House, 900 University Bay Drive features flutist Marilyn Chohaney and harpist Linda Warren in music of Mozart, Krumpholtz, Shaposhnikov and Prokofiev. For information, call 608.233-9774 or visit www.fusmadison.org

On Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday at 3 p.m. and Tuesday, March 20, at 7:30 p.m., in Music Hall, the University Opera presents “Don Giovanni” by W. A. Mozart, sung in Italian with English surtitles. William Farlow directs and James Smith conducts the UW Chamber Orchestra

The production features Michael Roemer as Don Giovanni (below, left, with John Arnold as Leporello); Benjamin Schultz as Commendatore; and alternating casts on Friday/Tuesday and Sunday: Lindsay Sessing and Cassie Glaeser as Donna Anna; Shannon Prickett and Chelsie Propost as Donna Elvira; John Arnold and Yohan Kim as Leporello; Daniel O’Dea and Alex Gmeinder as Don Ottavio; Ariana Douglas and Lydia Eiche as Zerlina; and Benjamin Li and Erik Larson as Masetto.

Tickets are available in advance ($22 adults/$18 seniors/$10 UW students) through the Campus Arts Ticketing office at (608) 265-ARTS and online at music.wisc.edu. Tickets may also be purchased in person at the Wisconsin Union Theater Box Office or Vilas Hall Box Office during normal business hours.  As performances often sell out, it is recommended that tickets be purchased in advance.

In an effort to help patrons find parking on campus, the Campus Arts Ticketing office is offering prepaid parking permits for a guaranteed parking spot on the evenings of ticketed UW arts events for $5.  Pre-order your permit online at http://arts.wisc.edu/map (5 days or more in advance; $1 handling fee) or call (608)-265-ARTS (3 days or more in advance; $1 handling fee).

At 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) under conductor Andrew Sewell will mark St. Patrick’s Day with “A Celtic Celebration.”

The program features Piano Concerto No. 4 in E-flat Major by Irish composer John Field with UW pianist Christopher Taylor as soloist.

Also on the program are: Mendelssohn’  “The Hebrides Overture,” Op. 26; 
the rarely heard “Celtic” Symphony for string orchestra and six harps by British composer Granville Bantock (below); and Mozart’s Symphony No. 35 in D Major, K. 385 “Haffner,” which was composed the same year as the birth of John Field.

Tickets are $15-$62. For more information, call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141 or visit:

http://www.wcoconcerts.org/performances/masterworks/28/event-info/

At 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, a FREE UW-Madison faculty recital features percussionist Neil Sisauyhoat (below) in music by Eugene Novotney, Keiko Abe, Joseph Koykkar and others. Collaborating musicians are pianist Douglas Jurs and Grupo Balanca, a five-person percussion ensemble.

Sisauyhoat is a percussion instructor at the School of Music, where he teaches undergraduate and graduate percussion majors and directs the Afro-Cuban segment of the World Percussion Ensemble. He was a co-founding member of Grupo Ara Oko, an Afro-Cuban folkloric ensemble in New York, and he currently performs with WADOMA, an African drum and dance group in Madison.

SATURDAY

From noon until midnight, Wisconsin Public Radio will hold its third annual Bach Around the clock at Pres House, 731 State St., off State Street  and across from the Library Mall and  the Chazen Museum of Art, on the UW-Madison campus.

This year, Johann Sebastian Bach (below) – by general consensus the greatest composer who ever lived and who affected all the composers who followed after him – turns 327. (He was born on March 21, 1685, he died on July 26, 1750, at age 65.)

So why not celebrate?

Why not indeed!

Professional musicians and amateurs as well as students, both children and adults, will perform the works of Johann Sebastian Bach for 12 straight hours.

The event will NOT be broadcast on the radio, there will be a real-time webcast that can linked to via the homepage at WPR.org.

The Ear hasn’t seen a schedule of performers yet, but founder and organizer Cheryl Dring, the music director of WPR, has said that this year even more members of the community are involved. That is a good trend to The Ear, who himself participated in the first BATC but just attended it last year.

It is a fun event to attend. The performances are good, and there is a good communal feeling to the event. There are snacks and conversations with performers and other audience members. And the event will culminate with a cake at midnight for The Birthday Boy.

The the event will NOT be broadcast on the radio, there will be a real-time webcast that can linked to via the homepage of WPR.org.

It is a fun event to attend. The performances are good, and there is a good communal feeling to the event with a lot of children and  young people present, plus anattentive  and appreciative audience. There are snacks and conversations with performers and other audience members. And the event will culminate with a cake at midnight for The Birthday Boy.

Of course that is not all that is on tap. There is also a good amount of chamber music to be heard, include music by cello, bassoon, voice and various other combinations.

 At 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Symphony Orchestra (below, with the UW Choral Union), with James Smith and David Grandis, conductors, will perform “Ricercare No. 2” from “The Musical Offering” by J. S. Bach, arranged by Anton Webern; “Medea’s Meditation and Dance of Vengeance,” Op. 23a by Samuel Barber; and Symphony No. 1 in D major “Titan” by Gustav Mahler.  Admission is free.

SUNDAY

This week’s “Sunday Afternoon Live from the Chazen” offers members of the Oakwood Chamber Players (below, in a photo by Bill Arthur)  from 12:30 to 2 p.m. in Brittingham Gallery Number III at the Chazen Museum of Art. It will be broadcast live by Wisconsin Public Radio.

The program features Faure’s Piano Quartet No. 1; Glinka’s Trio for Clarinet, Bassoon and Piano; Malcolm Arnold’s Trio for Flute, Viola and Piano; and Jena Francaix’s Trio for Viola, Clarinet and Piano.

Members of the Chazen Museum of Art or Wisconsin Public Radio can call ahead and reserve seats for Sunday Afternoon Live performances. Seating is limited. All reservations must be made Monday through Friday before the concert and claimed by 12:20 p.m. on the day of the performance. For more information or to learn how to become a museum member, contact the Chazen Museum at (608) 263-2246.

NOTE: Due to the 2012 UW Art Department Faculty Exhibition, the post-concert reception will not be held again until the April 15th concert. We would like to thank our generous donors, Fresh Madison Market, Steep & Brew, and Coffee Bytes. A free docent-led tour in the Chazen galleries begins every Sunday at 2 p.m.

MONDAY

At 4 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW’s  Guest Artist Series features violinist Diana Seitz (below) in a FREE concert.

Seitz will perform Sonata No. 1 in G major for violin and piano, Op. 78, by Brahms, with UW pianist Christopher Taylor; the famous “Chaconne” from Partita No. 2 in D minor for solo violin, BWV 1004, by J.S. Bach; “The Last Rose of Summer” for solo violin by Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst; and “Waltz Scherzo” in C major by Tchaikovsky, with pianist Claire Mallory. 

Diana Seitz, a member of the music faculty at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas, is a native of Azerbaijan and graduate of Tchaikovsky Moscow Conservatory. She received her master’s and doctoral degrees at the University of Oklahoma, where she studied with Felicia Moye, now professor of violin at the School of Music, UW-Madison. While in Oklahoma, Seitz served as associate concertmaster of the Oklahoma City Philharmonic Orchestra and first violinist of the Crouse String Quartet.

WEDNESDAY

From 3:30 to 5 p.m. in Room 1351 of the Mosse Humanities Building, American composer William Bolcom (below) — whose Piano Quintet No. 2 will be premiered by the Pro Arte Quartet and pianist Christopher Taylor in a FREE concert at The Wisconsin Union Theater at 8 p.m. on Saturday, March 24 —  will talk about his recent music with composition students. Bolcom has won the Pulitzer Prize and received the National Medal of the Arts. The public is invited to attend the free and unticketed event.

At 7 p.m. in a LIVE broadcast on Wisconsin Public Television and Wisconsin Public Radio, four of Wisconsin’s most talented young musicians, grades 9-12, will vie for honors in the 2012 Bolz Young Artist Competition with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

The program will be live simulcast on the Web at wpt.org. WPT will offer an encore broadcast at 8 p.m. Friday, March 23. WPT’s Adam Schrager and Lori Skelton of WPR will cohost.

Members of the public may attend the live performance at Overture Hall in Madison. Tickets are free; call 608-257-3734 for reservations. The audience must be seated by 6:45 p.m.

The finalists (below, from left in a composite photo by James Gill) are pianists Michael Doerr, trombonist Charles Dieterle violinist Anthony Cudzinovic and Garrick Olsen.

Each finalist will perform with the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) under the direction of Music Director John DeMain before a live audience.

Here is a link to the event and the biographies of the four contestants:

http://madisonsymphony.org/bolz

Doerr will play excerpts from Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.” Olsen will perform Ravel’s “Piano Concerto for the Left Hand in D Major.” Cudzinovic will play the first movement from Khachaturian’s “Violin Concerto in D minor,” and Dieterle will play Grondahl’s “Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra.”

The winner and runner-up will be featured as soloists with the MSO at the Spring Young People’s Concert. In addition, each student will receive a $2,000 scholarship, either the Marian Bolz Prize or the Steenbock Youth Music Award. Up to two Honorable Mention scholarships of $1,000 may be awarded.


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