The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: What happens when Shakespeare and Benjamin Britten meet Andy Warhol and The Factory? The University Opera explores a new spin on an old tale

November 12, 2019
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ALERT: At 7:30 p.m. this Thursday night, Nov. 14 — the night before it opens the opera production below — the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra, under conductor Oriol Sans, will perform a FREE concert in the Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall of the new Hamel Music Center, 740 University Avenue, next to the Chazen Museum of Art. The program offers Darius Milhaud’s “The Creation of the World,” Maurice Ravel’s “Mother Goose Suite” and Franz Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 101 “The Clock.”  

By Jacob Stockinger

The Big Event in classical music this week in Madison is the production by the University Opera of Benjamin Britten’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

It is a chance to see what happens when Shakespeare (below top) meets Britten (below bottom) through the lens of the Pop art icon Andy Warhol.

The three-hour production – with student singers and the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra under conductor Oriol Sans — will have three performances in Music Hall, at the foot of Bascom Hill: this Friday night, Nov. 15, at 7:30; Sunday afternoon, Nov. 17, at 2 p.m.; and Tuesday night, Nov. 19, at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are $25 for the general public; $20 for seniors; and $10 for students.

For more information about the production and how to obtain tickets, go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/university-opera-a-midsummer-nights-dream/2019-11-15/

For more information about the performers, the alternating student cast and a pre-performance panel discussion on Sunday, go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/A-Midsummer-Nights-Dream-Media-release.pdf

And here are notes by director David Ronis (below, in a photo by Luke Delalio) about the concept behind this novel production:

“When the artistic team for A Midsummer Night’s Dream met last spring, none of us expected that we would set Britten’s opera at The Factory, Andy Warhol’s workspace-cum-playspace.

“For my part, I wanted to find a way to tell this wonderful story that would be novel, engaging, entertaining, and thought-provoking.

“I only had one wish: that we did a production that did not feature fairies sporting wings – a representation that, to me, just seemed old-fashioned and, frankly, tired.

“As we worked on the concept, we found that The Factory setting allowed us to see the show in a new, compelling light and truly evoked its spirit and themes. The elements of this “translation” easily and happily fell into place and now, six months later, here we are!

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream tells the intersecting stories of three groups of characters – Fairies, Lovers and Rustics – and its traditional locale is that of a forest, the domain of Oberon, the Fairy King. (You can hear the Act 1 “Welcome, Wanderer” duet with Puck and Oberon, played by countertenor David Daniels, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

“In our production, the proverbial forest becomes The Factory, where our Oberon, inspired by Andy Warhol (below, in a photo from the Andy Warhol Museum), rules the roost. He oversees his world – his art, his business, and “his people.” He is part participant in his own story, as he plots to get even with Tytania, his queen and with whom he is at odds; and part voyeur-meddler, as he attempts to engineer the realignment of affections among the Lovers.

“Tytania, in our production, is loosely modeled on Warhol’s muse, Edie Sedgwick (below top), and Puck resembles Ondine (below bottom), one of the Warhol Superstars.

The Fairies become young women in the fashion or entertainment industries, regulars at The Factory; the Lovers, people who are employed there; and the Rustics, or “Rude Mechanicals,” blue-collar workers by day, who come together after hours to form an avant-garde theater troupe seeking their 15 minutes of fame.

“For all these people, The Factory (below, in a photo by Nat Finkelstein) is the center of the universe.  They all gravitate there and finally assemble for the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta – in this setting, a rich art collector and his trophy girlfriend.

“Magic is an important element in Midsummer. In the realm of the fairies, Oberon makes frequent use of magical herbs and potions to achieve his objectives. In the celebrity art world of mid-1960s New York City, those translate into recreational drugs.

“The people who work in and gather at The Factory are also are involved in what could be called a type of magic – making art and surrounding themselves in it. They take photographs, create silk screen images, hang and arrange Pop art, and party at The Factory.

“Not only does this world of creative magic provide us with a beautiful way to tell the story of Midsummer, but it also becomes a metaphor for the “theatrical magic” created by Shakespeare and Britten, and integral to every production.

“We hope you enjoy taking this journey with us, seeing A Midsummer Night’s Dream in perhaps a new way that will entertain and delight your senses and, perhaps, challenge your brain a bit.”

 


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Classical music: Two FREE “garage” performances of Fresco Opera Theatre’s “The Ugly Duckling” remain in Fitchburg and Madison on Saturday and Sunday afternoons

June 23, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following information from Fresco Opera Theatre:

Take “The Ugly Duckling” — the fairy tale by Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen — mashed up with opera and all set in the context of a typical John Hughes movie.

Fresco revisits the joys that were the ’80s.

The hair.

The fashion.

The mean girls.

The cute boys.

Teenage angst at its best, and what better way to convey it than through opera?

Best of all – WE BRING THE SHOW TO YOU!

This is fun for the whole family, whether you are an opera fan, unfamiliar with opera, or frankly even think you hate opera. This is a totally awesome production!

The final two FREE “garage” performances (below top, by Max Wendt, and below bottom) are this Saturday at 2 p.m. at 4412 Sentinel Pass in Fitchburg and Sunday at 2 p.m. at 21 Shea Court, on Madison’s west side)

This is part of Fresco’s 2017 season of outreach. All that we do this year will be FREE OF CHARGE to get people interested in the fine arts.

We will have our Opera Unplugged series starting up at the end of July, which will take place on the Capitol Square during the Saturday morning Dane County Farmers’ Markets.

This is a great opportunity for families of young children to introduce them to opera.

For more information about Fresco Opera Theatre, including portraits of the cast for “The Ugly Duckling”; past productions; dates and places of Opera Unplugged productions; opera at Olbrich Gardens; and how to support the company, look at the YouTube video at the bottom and go to: http://www.frescooperatheatre.com


Classical music: Meet the Chinese phenom pianist Yuja Wang in a New Yorker profile that has more details than you have ever seen before

September 17, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Whether you focus on her virtuosic playing or her sensational and controversial use of sexy fashion in performances, the young Chinese-born and American-trained pianist Yuja Wang is a phenomenon that has both audiences and critics talking in superlatives.

yuja wang dress times 3

True, she is no newcomer to the concert stage and has been in the mass media for years.

Yet the best profile that The Ear has yet seen was written by acclaimed journalist Janet Malcolm and appeared this month in The New Yorker magazine.

It is pegged to Yuja Wang’s recent performance at Carnegie Hall of the famously difficult “Hammerklavier” Sonata in B-flat major, Op. 106, by Ludwig van Beethoven. (You can see and hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Yuja Wang Ian Douglas NYT May 2013

Here is a link to the profile, which is chock full of personal and professional details:

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/09/05/yuja-wang-and-the-art-of-performance


Classical music: Award-winning pianist Stephen Hough is an accomplished polymath or Renaissance man who also blogs and paints. His personal history is fascinating. So are the sharp stylistic differences he demonstrates in different art forms.

August 4, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

Longtime readers of this blog know my admiration for the British pianist Stephen Hough (below).

Hough_Stephen_color16

Hough, who won the prestigious Naumberg Competition while at the Juilliard School, plays the piano superbly well and has a large shelf full of international awards for his recordings on the Hyperion label. He especially likes to explore less well-known repertoire.

He is a terrific teacher and coach, as I have witnessed firsthand in a masterful master class (below) in Madison.

But in addition to his career as a concert pianist, the supremely talented Hough — who is an astonishingly accomplished polymath or Renaissance man — also writes a regular and highly informative and entertaining blog for the Telegraph newspaper in the United Kingdom. He touches on everything from, of course, the piano (especially historic pianists and performances) to theology (an openly gay man he converted to Roman Catholicism at 19) and fashion (especially his fondness for hats). One of his best entries for me was about the role of hitting wrong notes:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/06/23/classical-music-how-do-you-cope-with-wrong-notes-you-hit-or-hear-pianist-stephen-hough-has-a-healthy-and-helpful-point-of-view/

Here is a link to his website:

http://stephenhough.com/index.php

Here is a link to his marvelous blog:

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/culture/author/stephenhough/

What most people – and I include myself – – most admire about Hough’s playing is its clarity, its sense of measure and proportion.

As he himself says, he is not much given to “hairy-chested” interpretations of big, intense Russian music like Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov. His recent award-winning recording of the complete Chopin waltzes shows his ability to find new and convincing things to say about familiar works and he says them clearly as well as gracefully and elegantly. (Just listen to the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Stephen Hough Chopin waltzes CD cover

He discusses his approach in a fine interview and profile that appeared in The New York Times just before a Carnegie Hall recital this past spring in which is also played his latest big work, his own Sonata “Notturno luminoso.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/03/arts/music/stephen-hough-brings-his-eclectic-style-to-carnegie-hall.html?pagewanted=all

And here is a review in the Times of that recital:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/06/arts/music/stephen-hough-at-carnegie-hall.html?_r=0

hough

But the real surprise for me came when I about and saw his style of painting. He paints in oils, and he exhibits and sells his art.

But unlike his music-making, his painting of this MacArthur “genius award” winner seems almost violently Abstract Expressionist.

Here are a couple of examples:

Stephen Hough painting Impromptu

Stephen Hough painting Bunte Blatter IIBut of course ultimately it is piano playing that keeps Hough – who resides in the UK, New York and Australia – in the public eye. Listen to this Chopin waltz and you can understand why.


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