By Jacob Stockinger
This coming week, the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) will present organist Samuel Hutchison (below) and acclaimed singers Andrew Bidlack and Kyle Ketelsen performing as a trio in vocal and instrumental music from oratorios and operas.
The concert is Tuesday night, Feb. 21, at 7:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, 201 State Street.
Principal Organist and Curator for the Madison Symphony Orchestra Samuel Hutchison joins forces with two outstanding singers in the first half to perform a program of favorite arias and overtures from Handel’s Messiah, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, and Rossini’s Stabat Mater.
Opera will be the focus of the second half, featuring arias and selections from Bizet’s Carmen, Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and Gounod’s Faust.
For the full program, go to: http://www.madisonsymphony.org/organopera
Featured by Opera News as one of their top 25 brilliant young artists, tenor Andrew Bidlack (below) — who is replacing David Portillo — makes his debut in Overture Hall following performances at The Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Welsh National Opera and London’s Covent Garden.
Bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen (below, in a photo by Dario Acosta), who lives in nearby Sun Prairie, has sung with major opera companies throughout the world including The Metropolitan Opera, the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the State Opera of Berlin. He is praised for his vibrant stage presence and his distinctive vocalism.
In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear Kyle Ketelsen sing the role of Don Escamillo in a Barcelona, Spain, production of Bizet’s “Carmen.” He is singing the same role in the Metropolitan Opera’s current production of “Carmen.”
General Admission for each Overture Concert Organ performance is $20. Tickets can be purchased at madisonsymphony.org/organopera, (608) 258-4141 or the Overture Center Box Office.
Student Rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $10 tickets.
This performance is sponsored by the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation. Support for all Overture Concert Organ programs is provided by the Diane Endres Ballweg Fund.
With a gift from Pleasant T. Rowland, the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) commissioned the Overture Concert Organ, which is the stunning backdrop of all MSO concerts.
By Jacob Stockinger
By Larry Wells
In the past few years I’ve seen Verdi’s “La Forza del Destino” set in the Spanish Civil War, Wagner’s Ring cycle re-imagined as the history of cinema, and Puccini’s “Turandot” presented as a performance by a traveling circus.
Thus, Verdi’s ‘Falstaff’ set in 1930’s Hollywood seemed a reasonable reinterpretation, and so it proved at its final performance Tuesday evening by University Opera.
“Falstaff,” drawn from three plays by Shakespeare, is Verdi’s final opera and a rare comedy. More importantly, gone are his familiar forms of a recitative followed by an aria with lots of oom-pa-pa orchestral accompaniment, now replaced with a conversational style that to me shows Wagner’s influence. It just doesn’t sound like Verdi, but it certainly sounds good.
I felt that the whole evening was a triumph.
The sets were beautifully dressed, the costumes were excellent and the lighting was effective.
The UW Symphony Orchestra, conducted by James Smith, played wonderfully, although from where I sat the sound was occasionally muffled.
Thank goodness a new music building is being built, and I trust that there will be a theater within it that will accommodate operatic performances. The current Music Hall has its limitations, one being that much of the orchestra was playing underneath the stage and another being that for some reason the theater’s temperature cannot be controlled. It was stiflingly hot during the performance.
As for the singing and acting, the cast I saw was uniformly strong. Falstaff, performed by UW-Madison faculty member Paul Rowe (below), was very robust and was particularly affecting during his act III soliloquy. The Ear mentioned to me his Oliver Hardy mannerisms, and once I noticed that I was constantly amused.
Yanzelmalee Rivera as Alice was hilarious in her seduction scene and really came alive in Act III. Courtney Kayser as Meg was a compelling comic actress. Rebecca Buechel’s Mistress Quickly was an equally adept comic actress and had an excellent voice. Emily Weaver as Nannetta was a beautiful singer who shone in her third act moments as Queen of the Fairies. These four women had some outstanding ensemble moments, and I was constantly diverted by their antics as they outwitted the men.
Among the hapless male characters, Brian Schneider was a standout as Ford and the deep voice of Benjamin Schultz (below left, with Paul Rowe and Jiabao Zhang) made the minor character Pistola noticeable whenever he was on stage.
But the voice of the evening belonged to tenor José Daniel Muñiz (below right) as Fenton. He excelled not only in his solo moments but blended extremely well with his paramour Nannetta (Claire Powling, below left).
The outstanding ensemble work exhibited throughout the opera culminated in the grand fugue at the end of the opera, and the nearly full-house audience was blown away by those final moments. (You can hear the fugal finale, conducted by Sir George Solti, in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
The 1930’s Hollywood concept worked well. It seemed completely fitting and was undoubtedly more amusing than it would have been had the opera been set in the time of Henry IV.
“Well done” to the University Opera’s new full-time director David Ronis (below center) for his imagination and direction. I look forward to his production of Benjamin Britten’s “Turn of the Screw” in early March.
And since this University Opera production and other events are being presented to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and the exhibition of a First Folio at the Chazen Museum of Art, I want to put in a plug for Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Sir John in Love” which has almost exactly the same plot as “Falstaff” and is woefully underperformed.
I also want to draw your attention the FREE Opera Scenes concert by University Opera that will be presented this Tuesday night, Nov. 22, at 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall. Featured are singers, with piano accompaniment, in scenes from: Charles Gounod’s “Faust”; Claudio Monteverdi’s “The Coronation of Poppea“; Giacomo Puccini‘s “La Rondine”; Leonard Bernstein‘s “Trouble in Tahiti”; Gioacchino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville”; Dominick Argento’s “Postcard From Morocco”; and Marc Blitzstein’s”Regina.”
By Jacob Stockinger
It will be sung in French with English subtitles and will last about three hours with one intermission.
Tickets are $18-$130.
With soaring arias, impassioned scenes and plenty of sword fights, Gounod’s gorgeous opera brings the famous tragic tale of young love to vivid life.
Set in 14th century Verona, Italy, the opera follows the story of Shakespeare’s legendary star-crossed lovers. The Montague and Capulet families are caught in a centuries-old feud.
One evening, Romeo Montague and his friends attend a Capulet ball in disguise. The moment Romeo spots Juliet Capulet, he falls in love, and she returns his feelings. Believing they are meant for one another, they proclaim their love, setting in motion a chain of events that will change both their families.
“Romeo and Juliet is one of the most famous love stories in Western literature,” says Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill), the general director of Madison Opera. “Gounod’s operatic version of it is equally beloved, and it’s exciting to present an amazing cast that brings such vocal and dramatic depth to their story.
“I’m also delighted that we are performing the opera the same weekend that Shakespeare’s First Folio goes on display at the University of Wisconsin-Madison‘s Chazen Museum of Art, enabling our community to enjoy a very Shakespearean weekend.”
Gounod’s operatic adaption of the tragedy of “Romeo & Juliet” premiered in 1867 at the Théâtre Lyrique in Paris. While Gounod is now better known for “Faust,” “Romeo and Juliet” was a bigger success at its premiere, and has stayed in the repertoire for 150 years due to its beautiful music, genuine passion mingled with wit, and exciting fight scenes.
“Having conducted Gounod’s Faust so often, I’m thrilled to finally have the opportunity to conduct his romantic masterpiece,” says John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), the artistic director of Madison Opera who will conduct the two performances.
“The vocal and orchestral writing is lyrical and downright gorgeous,” DeMain adds. “We have a glorious cast, the Madison Opera Chorus and the Madison Symphony. What more could a conductor ask for!” (You can hear Anna Netrebko sing Juliet’s famous aria “Je veux vivre” — “I want to live” – in the popular YouTube video at the bottom.)
Madison Opera’s cast features both returning artists and debuts.
John Irvin (below top) and Emily Birsan (below bottom) return to sing the title roles of Romeo and Juliet. Irvin sang Count Almaviva in the 2015 production of The Barber of Seville, while Birsan returns from singing at Opera in the Park 2016 and Musetta in last season’s La Bohème.
Sidney Outlaw, who sang at this past summer’s Opera in the Park, makes his mainstage debut as Romeo’s friend, Mercutio. Liam Moran, who sang Colline in last season’s La Bohème, sings Frère Laurent, who unites the two lovers in the hope of uniting their families. Madisonian Allisanne Apple (below) returns as Gertrude, Juliet’s nurse.
Making their debuts are Stephanie Lauricella as Romeo’s page, Stephano; Chris Carr as Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin; Philip Skinner as Lord Capulet; and Benjamin Sieverding as the Duke of Verona. Former Madison Opera Studio Artist Nathaniel Hill returns as Gregorio, while current Studio Artist James Held sings the role of Paris.
Directing this traditional staging is Doug Scholz-Carlson (below), who directed Gioaccchino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville,” Aaron Copland’s “The Tender Land” and Benjamin Britten‘s “The Turn of the Screw” for Madison Opera. Scholz-Carlson is the artistic director of the Great River Shakespeare Festival and has directed the original “Romeo and Juliet,” among many Shakespeare plays.
He will discuss the differences between staging “Romeo and Juliet” as a play and as an opera in another posting tomorrow.
For more information about the production, the cast and tickets, go to:
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received the following news release:
The Festival Choir of Madison is delighted to announce the appointment of Sergei Pavlov (below) as its new artistic director beginning with the 2015-16 season.
Pavlov will also join the faculty of Edgewood College this fall as their new Director of Choral Activities after serving as adjunct choral director during the 2014-15 school year. He succeeds Albert Pinsonneault, who has taken a position with Northwestern University in Illinois.
Pavlov’s past professional experience includes conducting positions, among others, with the opera program at the University of Illinois in Urbana; Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, South Carolina; the Théatre du Châtelet in Paris; the Classic FM Radio Symphony and Choir in Sofia, Bulgaria; National Repertory Orchestra in Breckenridge, Colorado.; and the Teatro Nacional Sucre and Coro Mixto Ciudad de Quito in Quito, Ecuador. (In a YouTube video at the bottom you can hear Sergei Pavlov discussing in fluent Spanish Charles Gounod’s opera “Faust” when it was produced in Quito, Ecuador.)
A native of Sofia, Bulgaria, Sergei Pavlov moved to the United States in 2004 and completed a Master of Music in 2007 and a Doctor of Musical Arts in Conducting in 2011 at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign.
About his new position with the Festival Choir of Madison (below), Pavlov says: “I am excited to become part of a community with wonderful musical and choral traditions. Madison is a vibrant, modern city with great culture, and the Festival Choir has a unique place in the cultural scene of Wisconsin’s capital.”
The Festival Choir of Madison is a mixed-voice choir of singers from all walks of life. Established in 1973, the choir has commissioned works from outstanding living composers while also performing many favorites of the choral repertoire.
Rehearsals are held Monday evenings from 7 to 9:30 p.m. at First United Methodist Church, 203 Wisconsin Ave. For information about the Festival Choir and about joining the choir for the 2015-16 season, please see the choir’s website at http://festivalchoirmadison.org/
By Jacob Stockinger
The annual FREE concert of opera and Broadway favorites closes the company’s extraordinary 2014-15 season and provides an appetizing preview of the 2015-16 season that celebrates writers and their inspirations.
Typically, Opera in the Park attracts over 14,000 people every year.
This year, Opera in the Park stars soprano Eleni Calenos, contralto Meredith Arwady, tenor Harold Meers and local bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen, and features former Madison Opera Studio Artist Anna Laurenzo.
Here is a link to Kyle Ketelsen’s Q&A with The Ear:
Artistic Director John DeMain conducts the Madison Opera Chorus and Madison Symphony Orchestra. The evening will be hosted by Madison Opera’s General Director Kathryn Smith and by WKOW TV’s 27 News “Wake-Up Wisconsin” anchor Brandon Taylor.
“I love Opera in the Park,” says Smith, in a prepared statement. “It is by far the most important performance Madison Opera gives. The magic combination of thousands of people sitting under the summer night sky and our singers and orchestra performing beautiful music on stage creates something truly inspiring. It is a testament to Madison’s love of music – and love of being outdoors – that we have the highest per capita attendance of any such concert in the country.”
The program for Opera in the Park 2015 includes arias and ensembles from Giacomo Puccini’s “La Bohème,” which opens the 2015-16 season in November; Mark Adamo’s “Little Women,” which will be performed in February; and Jacques Offenbach’s “The Tales of Hoffmann,” which will be performed in April.
The concert will also offer arias and ensembles from such classic operas as Antonin Dvorak‘s “Rusalka,” Charles Gounod’s “Faust,” Arrigo Boito‘s “Mefistofele” and Georg Frideric Handel‘s “Semele.” Broadway hits from “The Music Man,” “Guys and Dolls,” “Kiss Me, Kate” and “Wonderful Town” will round out the evening of music, which always includes one number conducted by the audience with light sticks.
Garner Park is located at 333 South Rosa Road, at the intersection of Mineral Point Road, west of Whitney Way. Parking is available in the CUNA Mutual Group and University Research Park lots. Attendees are encouraged to bring picnics, blankets and chairs. Alcohol is permitted, but not sold in the park.
On the day of the concert, Garner Park will open at 7 a.m. Audience members are not allowed to leave items in the park prior to this time. The rain date for Opera in the Park is Sunday, July 26, at 8 p.m.
Here are two links to help you find information about Opera in the Park.
For general information, go to:
And for more information about the cast, go to:
For information about the next season, go to:
On the eve of the outdoor event, Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill) – who is the general director of the Madison Opera – agreed to revisit the past season and talk about the upcoming season with The Ear.
What kind of artistic and financial shape did the Madison Opera emerge from for the past season?
Our fiscal year doesn’t end until the end of August, but overall it has been a great year on all fronts. From the triumphant music of our first staged Fidelio (below, the prisoners’ chorus in a photo by James Gill) to the sold-out Sweeney Todd and the joyous The Barber of Seville, it was an immensely satisfying season.
Audience and critical response to each opera was strong, and often included some surprise that the individual enjoyed that particular show more than he or she had expected. It feels like we have proved in the past few seasons that we can produce consistently great opera across the spectrum. I am also encouraged by the new audiences we attract and the diversity of age range I see in our lobbies.
Can you rank each show in terms of popularity? Did you learn anything special from the season?
It’s difficult to rank this season’s shows, because we know they drew very different audiences. For example, the audience at Sweeney Todd was definitely younger than the audience at Fidelio — the non-subscription performance in particular seemed to have an average age of 30 — and a number of people brought their young children to The Barber of Seville for their first opera.
In absolute numbers, the order would be Barber (below, in a photo by James Gill), Sweeney Todd and Fidelio, but there was not a wide gap between them.
The main thing I’ve learned with each successive season is that we are doing the right thing by having such a mix of operas. Some of our patrons love Beethoven, some only like comedy, and some were only interested (or very much un-interested) in Sweeney Todd.
By doing such a range, we serve a much wider audience than if we focused on only one segment of our audience. Hopefully this adds to the growing understanding that opera is not a monolithic art form.
How and why did you choose the operas for next season? Why Puccini’s “La Boheme”? Why Offenbach’s “Tales of Hoffmann”? Does “Little Women” represent something of a departure for Madison Opera? Is there an umbrella concept or unifying theme to the season?
Choosing a season’s operas is a question of balancing the classic, the rare and the new; picking a range of composers and languages; and in general coming up with the “mix” that defines us.
We have not performed La Bohème in eight years, so it was time to bring back the greatest love story in opera. While some long-time opera-goers may have seen it many times, we also have many in our audience who have only come to opera recently, so this will be their first Bohème.
Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann is a brilliant piece that is both scarily large and immensely exciting to produce, packed with beautiful music and special effects. It happens to be a personal favorite opera not only for me, but also for John DeMain and Kristine McIntyre, our stage director. We look forward to sharing this literally fantastic work on the Overture Hall stage, as we have not performed it in 20 years.
Little Women came out of Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, to some extent. After the success of Dead Man Walking, many people — particularly those who were surprised by how much they enjoyed a 21st-century opera — asked me what we were doing next. I did not want another nine years to go by before we did another major American opera, but I also wanted a completely different story, so that it would not be a literal comparison.
Mark Adamo’s Little Women has been one of the most-performed American operas since its 1998 premiere; its basis in a story that has been beloved for generations makes it the perfect way to keep growing our American repertoire.
As is often the case, the season theme emerges after I’ve picked the operas. Next season turned out to be a season of writers: Rodolfo is a poet; so is Hoffmann. Jo March writes stories for magazines and is in fact the only writer we see succeeding in her craft during the opera.
That said, the unifying theme is the same one I strive for every season: Great operas that tell wonderful stories with enthralling music.
What role did the new Madison Opera Center play in the past season’s productions? Has it lived up to expectations?
Over the past two years, the Margaret C. Winston Madison Opera Center (below) has played a major role in defining who we are. On a basic level, it is where we rehearse, fit costumes and have our offices. It is also where the singers hang out, give press interviews, do their laundry, cook the occasional meal, work on music for their next gig and bump into our trustees in the common areas.
Having our own space has enabled us to add programs like the free Opera Novice series and hold more workshops with our high school apprentices.
On a financial level, revenue from the parking ramp in particular is an increasingly important part of our budget, as it is not dependent on donors or ticket sales. On a community level, having our rehearsal hall regularly used by groups such as CTM, Theatre Lila, and Capital City Theatre shows that we truly are part of the larger artistic fabric of Madison. The Center was designed to be a home on many levels, and we are well on the way to achieving that dream.
What else would you like to say or add about the past season, the next season and perhaps also the Opera in the Park?
I am always grateful for the enormous number of people who make Madison Opera possible. Opera has never been cost-effective, and our patrons, volunteers, artists, production teams, and staff are all committed to sharing this glorious art form with everyone from the 2,000 teenagers at our student matinees to the 15,000 people at Opera in the Park.
Our season ends with this summer’s Opera in the Park this Saturday, which is always the perfect way to finish the year. This summer is the concert’s 14th year – which means that 2016 will be the 15th year, a milestone that was perhaps unthinkable when we started in Garner Park in 2002.
We have the highest per capita attendance for such an event in the U.S., which is a strong testament to the greater Madison community’s love for what we do. I won’t reveal the repertoire for this summer’s concert yet, but we have four amazing soloists and plenty of light sticks (below), so I hope everyone has the date on their calendars.
By Jacob Stockinger
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.
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:
And here is a link to biographies of the guest soloists:
Ketelesen, who just returned from a month-long stint out-of-town, kindly agreed to a Q&A with The Ear:
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!
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.
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.)
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.
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.)
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.
By Jacob Stockinger
It is a massive and complex event to stage, from choosing the right food vendors to supplying enough porta-potties and glow sticks.
The music starts at 8 p.m. and runs about two hours in Garner Park, on Madison‘s far west side off at the intersection of Mineral Point and Rosa Roads. It features four guest vocal soloists or singers, plus John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), the artistic director of the Madison Opera and the music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, conducting members of the Madison Symphony and the Madison Opera Chorus.
The event is a chance for the opera company to preview the new season as well as to offer tried-and-true tidbits and hits, and even to offer some popular and classic Broadway show tunes.
It generally attracts more than 10,000 listeners — the record is about 14,000 — who can dine informally outdoors and then listen to the music.
For more details about Opera in the Park, here are some links:
This overview includes park hours and rules plus a schedule and address and affiliated events:
The repertoire or program that includes music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Giuseppe Verdi, Ludwig van Beethoven, Giacchino Rossini, Giacomo Puccini, Gaetano Donizetti, Ruggero Leoncavallo, Franz Lehar, Charles Gounod, Georges Bizet (including the famous “Toreador Song” from “Carmen,” which you can hear in a YouTube video at the bottom), Cole Porter, Stephen Sondheim and Richard Rogers:
This link features the biographies of the guest singers:
In the run-up to the event, Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill), the Madison Opera’s general director, agreed to a Q&A for The Ear. She covered the past season, the upcoming season and Opera in the Park as well as the role of the new Opera Center that is located only a block away from the Overture Center for the Arts in downtown Madison.
What kind of artistic and financial shape did the Madison Opera emerge from for the past season? How does it compare to past seasons and your expectations?
This was artistically one of our strongest seasons ever. Although it is only my third season –- and only the second that I planned –- I have heard from a number of long-time patrons that Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking (below, in a photo by James Gill) was one of the greatest operas in the company’s history, and we all agree it was an artistic turning point.
That was my hope in programming the opera -– in my grant application to the NEA, I referred to it as “a stake in our artistic ground” -– so it is gratifying that it exceeded even my own goals in its impact.
I was also very proud of Puccini’s Tosca, as doing the classic operas well is the best way to make sure they thrive, and that The Daughter of the Regiment, by Gaetano Donizetti, was so well received. The latter was our first midwinter show in the Capitol Theater in five years, and its success lets people know that our February show is an important part of our offerings.
Our fiscal year doesn’t end until August 31, so it is too early to say definitively where we will end financially. We had some challenges this year, as we learned the costs of running the new Madison Opera Center (below) and saw ticket buyers lean toward less expensive tickets. But it has in general been a strong year, and we hope that our supporters will help us finish the fiscal year in the black.
Can you rank the shows in terms of popularity? Did you learn anything special from the season?
The Daughter of the Regiment was in a smaller theater, so it sold the best in terms of percentage of house, but Dead Man Walking was the best-seller in terms of number of tickets, slightly outselling Tosca. In fact, it outsold everything we have done but Don Giovanni in recent years, and even outsold operas like Faust and The Flying Dutchman — something I do not think anyone would have predicted for a 21st century American opera in Madison.
The main thing I learned from the season is to take chances.
Dead Man Walking was far from a sure thing: We lost many subscribers because of it, but single ticket-buyers, including a number of first-time opera-goers, made up the difference. I know that many people attended Dead Man Walking thinking they would not care for it, so it is a tremendous achievement that so many people were blown away, ranking it as one of the greatest artistic experiences of their lifetimes. There is no way to plan for that success, but if a company only offers Carmen and Madama Butterfly, it will never find the world beyond it.
The season also solidified a trend that every arts group in the U.S. is seeing: Last-minute ticket buying is now the norm. We sell around 20 percent of our tickets in the week before a show opens, regardless of the show’s title or what time of year it plays.
That is simply how arts ticket buying works these days, and I am guilty of it, too. So while it is nerve-wracking for me as a producer, it is something we need to learn to accept, rather than panic about.
What role did the new Madison Opera Center play in the past season’s productions?
The Opera Center, which officially opened only nine months ago, was designed to be both our administrative and artistic home, and it was certainly that. Apart from being a beautiful facility in which to work, it enabled us to do more outreach activities and hold multiple rehearsals simultaneously.
For example, during Dead Man Walking, John DeMain could work with cast members on music in the downstairs studio while Kristine McIntyre was staging the opening fight scene upstairs.
It also became a home away from the hotel for the artists, particularly on Dead Man Walking, which had a large cast, emotionally intense scenes, and long rehearsal days. They cooked in the kitchen, used the music library, and set up their laptops in our offices.
We were even able to let Michael Mayes’ dog, Pete, hang out in the Opera Center, so cast members could play with him on their breaks. That is very much what I wanted the Opera Center to be and why it is designed the way it is, so it was gratifying to see it used that way.
For example, below are photos of Dead Man Walking stars (below top, Michael Mayes, who sang Joseph De Rocher, and Alan Dunbar, who sang Owen Hart) on a break from rehearsals, playing their guitars in the Michael Klos Music Library of there Opera Center; and of Michael Mayes and his dog Pete (below bottom), who also seems to be singing as part of a photo shoot in our costume shop downstairs.
Will next season bring any major changes to the Madison Opera?
Next season is about building on the major changes of the past year -– the creation of the Madison Opera Center, which allows us to do more education programs such as Opera Novice, which proved very popular in its first iterations this year; the continued expansion of the repertoire; and a strategic look at how to build upon our recent success for the future.
How and why did you choose the operas for next season?
I aim for balance with every season: a mix of pieces with different plots by a variety of composers, with at least one classic piece and at least one Madison Opera premiere.
It has been 12 years since we last performed The Barber of Seville, so it was time to share this classic comedy with our audiences. For a new generation of opera-goers, our production might as well be a world premiere; I certainly remember the first time I heard Barber and discovered the glories of Giacchino Rossini (below).
To balance Barber, we wanted something more serious and not-as-classic. Madison Opera did a single performance of Fidelio by Ludwig van Beethoven (below) in concert 28 years ago, but has never staged the opera. Although it is Beethoven’s only opera, he was far from a rookie composer, and the score is just brilliant, with a powerful storyline and a truly moving choral ode to freedom.
Our middle piece, Sweeney Todd, is both a Madison Opera premiere and an American classic. Although it premiered on Broadway, it has lived in the opera house since 1984, when the Houston Grand Opera performed it, conducted by John DeMain. Both witty and tragic -– it has a higher body count than any opera we have performed recently –- the stunning score by Stephen Sondheim (below) requires powerhouse voices to sing, and we certainly have them in this production. Plus it is a delight to produce it with the full orchestra, rather than the reduced version many Broadway productions use. I look forward to offering Madison yet another side of what opera can be.
After I set the season, I noticed two things that no one will believe are coincidences: We are following up one opera set in a prison (Dead Man Walking) with another (Fidelio). And The Barber of Seville follows “The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” which is Sweeney Todd’s subtitle. None of this was deliberate, but it will perhaps make good marketing.
What else would you like to say or add about the past season, the next season and perhaps also the Opera in the Park this summer?
I am tremendously grateful to everyone who has been involved with Madison Opera in the past year. We have done so much, from building the Madison Opera Center to the vast amounts of outreach that led up to Dead Man Walking. There were literally hundreds of people who supported us, performed with us, and joined us for education events, and none of this would have been possible without them.
I am also, of course, very much looking forward to Opera in the Park on this coming Saturday, July 26. It is truly a highlight of what we do, and we have four exciting soloists this year: Jamie-Rose Guarrine (below top), Wallis Giunta (below second), Sean Panikkar, (below third) and Kelly Markgraf (below fourth), as well as our wonderful Madison Opera Chorus and the Madison Symphony Orchestra. It will be a great night. You won’t want to miss it!
A REMINDER: The last performance of the season-opening concert by Madison Symphony Orchestra (below in a photo by Greg Anderson) takes place at 2:30 p.m. today in Overture Hall. The program of Aaron Copland’s dance suite “Appalachian Spring,” Richard Wagner‘s “Love Death” (Liebestod) from the opera “Tristan und Isolde” and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov‘s symphonic tone poem “Scheherazade” celebrates the 20th anniversary of conductor John DeMain‘s tenure. And the performances have received rave reviews. Here are links to reviews by John W. Barker of Isthmus and Greg Hettmansberger of Madison Magazine:
By Jacob Stockinger
You may recall that last weekend I asked whether we should boycott the performances and recordings of superstar soprano Anna Netrebko (below top) and globe-trotting conductor Valery Gergiev (below bottom) because they supported the election of Vladimir Putin, the thuggish former KGB agent who is the scheming and vicious President of Russia.
There is a lot to complain about Vladimir Putin (below, pictured on a poster in a pro-=gay rights protest) and his record of injustice, human rights and political intrigues. In particular, putting aside questions of Syria and internal Russian dissent, I chastised Netrebko and Gergiev for not standing up to and not speaking out about Putin’s support of extremely harsh and oppressive anti-gay laws in Russia, especially both musicians no doubt work with and depend on gay and lesbian colleagues in performing artists.
The comments led to some pretty heated responses from various readers.
Here is a link so you can see for yourself:
Then a god friend and loyal, knowledgeable reader of the blog, who is on a bicycling tour of Hungary, checked in and sent on a link to a piece about how opera houses – including the famed Metropolitan Opera in New York City — have been asked to sign petitions and at least dedicate their opening night performances against Putin and his supporters.
The Met’s general director Peter Gelb (below) refused, pleading that the arts are separate from politics, and some other opera leaders agreed with him. Well, what do you expect from management?
Here is a link to that fascinating story in the Wall Street Journal:
The whole idea of Vladimir Putin (below) as an opera villain got me thinking: Which villain in the opera repertoire best parallels or embodies Vladimir Putin, seen as a parody of himself as a real-life bare-chested macho man in the photo below top? (The beef-cakey baritone Nathan Gunn, below bottom) would be an ideal choice to cast int the role no?)
Could he be the notorious Duke of Mantua who betrays his friend in Giuseppe Verdi’s “Rigoletto”?
Or maybe Mephistopheles in Charles Gounod’s “Faust”?
Perhaps Modeste Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov as leader who runs astray of the law and the people?
And there many other villain who kill, torture and betray.
In fact, to help you decide here is a list – by no means complete – of the Top 10 opera villains as provided by the famed radio station WQXR FM in New York City.
Maybe you can think of others?
And just maybe we will see a contemporary opera composed that is based on Putin. Why not, The Ear asks, since recently world premiere of a commissioned opera ‘”Anna Nicole” based on the glittery and totally superficial life of the trashy Anna Nicole Smith recently took place at the Royal Opera in London?
Anyway, which opera villain do you think best embodies Vladimir Putin?
And could the real Vladimir Putin himself serve as a villainous role in a new and contemporary opera?
The Ear wants to hear.