The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Madison Opera’s annual FREE Opera in the Park returns this Saturday night, July 20, in Garner Park and celebrates 18 years plus a glimpse of the upcoming season

July 15, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement to post about one of the most highly anticipated musical events of summer, one that offers lots of family-friendly fun and serious musical enjoyment:

Madison Opera’s Opera in the Park (below, in a photo by James Gill) celebrates its 18th year on this coming Saturday night, July 20, at 8 p.m. in Garner Park, on Madison’s far west side at the intersection of Rosa Road and Mineral Point Road.

The annual free concert of opera and Broadway favorites closes the company’s 2018-19 season and provides a preview of the 2019-20 season. (You can hear a sample of past years in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

A Madison summer tradition that often attracts over 14,000 people, Opera in the Park is an enchanting evening of music under the stars, featuring selections from opera and Broadway.

Opera in the Park 2019 features soprano Jeni Houser, soprano Michelle Johnson, tenor David Blalock and baritone Ben Edquist.

Jeni Houser (below) has sung many roles with Madison Opera, most recently in Sondheim’s A Little Night Music, and she returns next season as Eurydice in Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld.

Michelle Johnson (below) scored a major success with Madison Opera as Santuzza in Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana last season.

David Blalock (below) debuted with Madison Opera in 2014 and returns this season as Orpheus in Orpheus in the Underworld.

Ben Edquist (below) is making his debut, and will return to the company as Hawkins Fuller in Gregory Spears’ Fellow Travelers, about the Lavender Scare against LGBTQ peoplein February.

The four soloists are joined by the Madison Opera Chorus and Madison Symphony Orchestra, conducted by John DeMain (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson).

The evening is hosted by Madison Opera’s General Director Kathryn Smith and WKOW TV’s 27 News co-anchor George Smith (below, in a photo by Simon Fowler).

Opera in the Park is the greatest performance in Madison Opera’s season,” says Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill). “It offers a truly magical blend of beautiful voices, music from many centuries, and thousands of members of our community relaxing together under the same night sky. I am grateful to all of our supporters who share our belief in the community-building power of music and help us produce this concert every summer.”

Opera in the Park 2019 features arias and ensembles from Verdi’s La Traviata, which opens the 2019-20 season in November; Spears’ Fellow Travelers, which will be performed in February; and Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld, which will be performed in April.

The program also includes selections from Verdi’s Rigoletto and La Forza del Destino (The Force of Destiny); Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love and Don Pasquale; Korngold’s Die Tote Stadt (The Dead City); Romberg’s The Student Prince; Funny Girl; Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel; and more. As always, this spectacular evening will include one number conducted by the audience with light sticks (below).

Garner Park is located at 333 South Rosa Road. 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 may not leave items in the park prior to this time. Lots of porta potties will be provided. Transportation via golf carts is available for those who have limited mobility.

The rain date for Opera in the Park is Sunday, July 21, at 8 p.m.

For more details about attending Opera in the Park and for more extensive biographies of the singers, go to: https://www.madisonopera.org/2018-2019-season/oitp/

While Opera in the Park is free to attend, it would not be possible without the generous support of many foundations, corporations, and individuals who believe in the importance of music in the community.

Madison Opera is grateful to the sponsors of Opera in the Park 2019.The Presenting Sponsor is the BerbeeWalsh Foundation. Other sponsors are the John and Carolyn Peterson Charitable Foundation; Full Compass Systems; the Raymond B. Preston Family Foundation; University Research Park; Colony Brands; the Evjue Foundation; Johnson Financial Group; MGE Foundation; National Guardian Life; the Wisconsin Arts Board; Dane Arts; and the Madison Arts Commission.

WKOW, Madison Magazine, Wisconsin Public Radio, Magic 98, and La Movida are media sponsors for this community event.

RELATED EVENTS

The Prelude Dinner at Opera in the Park 2019 is at 6 p.m.
This annual fundraiser to benefit Opera in the Park helps support Madison Opera’s free gift to the community.

The event includes dinner catered by Upstairs Downstairs, VIP seating at the concert, and a reception with the artists following the performance. Tickets are $150 per person or $1,150 for a table of eight.

More information about Opera in the Park and about the 2019-20 season, including subscriptions, is available at Madison’s Opera’s home website  www.madisonopera.org


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Classical music: Sunday afternoon the Wisconsin Chamber Choir will perform  “Sing To Me a Love Song” featuring the “Liebeslieder” Waltzes by Johannes Brahms

February 7, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

With Valentine’s Day coming up, the Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below) will present an afternoon of love songs including Johannes Brahms’ beloved Liebeslieder Waltzes (Set 1), sung in German. (You can hear the opening waltz in the YouTube vide at the bottom)

The program “Sing Me a Song of Love” is filled with various music styles  and sizes of ensembles. The intimate concert is a chance to hear a wide variety of music composed by Brahms, Samuel Barber, Gaetano Donizetti, Leo Delibes, Stephen Sondheim, Stephen Schwartz and others.

The concert takes place this Sunday afternoon, Feb. 10, 2019, at 3 p.m. in the First Unitarian Society of Madison’s Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Landmark Auditorium (below), 900 University Bay Drive.

Advance tickets for the performance are available for $15 ($10 for students) from www.wisconsinchamberchoir.org, via Brown Paper Tickets, or from a member of the choir.

Brahms’ Liebeslieder (Love Songs) explore various aspects of love, both pleasant and painful, set to an accompaniment of a piano duet played by Mark Brampton Smith (below top) and Sherri Hansen (below bottom).

The remainder of the program features solos, duets and small ensembles sung by talented soloists from the choir including tenor Chris Eggers (below top), contralto Natalie Falconer (below second), soprano Julie Hutchinson (below third), mezzo-soprano Rachel Wood (below bottom), and many other performers.

A mix of classical music and musical theater selections balance out the program, including the sumptuous “Flower Duet” from Lakmé, the opera aria Una furtiva lagrima from The Elixir of Love, and entertaining musical theater selections such as The Miller’s Son (A Little Night Music) and All I Care About Is Love (Chicago).

Immediately following the event, audience members are invited to join the singers for a reception with complimentary hors d’oeuvres, wine and chocolates.


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Classical music: Holiday carols, gospel music and classical music mix at the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Christmas concerts this weekend — which will air later on Wisconsin Public Television for the first time

November 26, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

You have to hand it to the Madison Symphony Orchestra for embracing the community and putting on a memorable show.

When it comes to celebrating the holidays – and yes, the MSO does use the Christmas word – the MSO does so with a big variety of musical styles and a wide diversity of performers. That might explain why the concerts usually sell out year after year.

Beginning with caroling in the lobby before the concert to the sing-along finale, where music director and conductor John DeMain and the Madison Symphony Orchestra don their Santa hats (below, in a photo by Peter Rodgers) and more, “A Madison Symphony Christmas” is a joyous time for all.

Christmas classics are interwoven with enchanting new holiday music featuring members of the Madison Symphony Chorus, the Madison Youth Choirs and the Mount Zion Gospel Choir as well as guests soloists soprano Cecilia Violetta Lopez and bass-baritone Kyle Ketelson.

This tradition marks the embrace and start of the holiday season for many people in Madison.

Performances of “A Madison Symphony Christmas”will be held in Overture Hall, 201 State Street, on Friday night, Nov. 30, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday night, Dec. 1 at 8 p.m.; and Sunday afternoon, Dec. 2, at 2:30 p.m. Ticket details are below.

In addition, 45 minutes before each concert, audiences are invited to share the spirit of the holiday season singing carols along with the Madison Symphony Chorus.

TV PREMIERE

For the first time, “A Madison Symphony Christmas”can be experienced again in December — airing on Wisconsin Public Television (NOT Wisconsin Public Radio as mistakenly listed in an earlier edition) on Monday, Dec. 17, at 8 p.m., and on Christmas Day, Tuesday, Dec. 25, at 9:30 p.m. 

“Our annual Christmas concert has become a very meaningful experience for everyone involved — the choruses, orchestra musicians, singers and the audience,” says DeMain. “With the Mt. Zion Gospel Choir, Madison Youth Choirs, and Madison Symphony Chorus joining our internationally acclaimed opera singers, and climaxing with the entire audience participating in our Christmas carol sing-along — one cannot help but leave the Overture Hall with a feeling that the holiday season has begun. And hopefully, you will have a big glow in your heart.”

For more information and the full program, which includes the excerpt from Handel’s “Messiah” in the YouTube video at the bottom, go to: https://madisonsymphony.org/event/a-madison-symphony-christmas/

ABOUT THE SOLOISTS

Celebrated soprano Cecilia Violetta Lopez (below, in a photo by Devon Cass) has been named one of opera’s “25 Rising Stars” by Opera News.

Lopez has received accolades for her signature role of Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata, which she has performed countless times throughout North America.

Her debut of the role was with Martina Arroyo Foundation’s prestigious summer festival, Prelude to Performance. She has also performed the role with Opera Tampa, Opera Idaho, Ash Lawn Opera, and in her company debut with Virginia Opera. Lopez also recently made her European debut as Norina in Donizetti’s Don Pasquale with Zomeropera in Belgium.

Based in the Madison suburb of Sun Prairie, bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen (below, in a photo by Lawrence Brownlee) is in frequent demand by the world’s leading opera companies and orchestras for his vibrant and handsome stage presence and his distinctive vocalism.

He has won first prize in several international vocal competitions, including those sponsored by the Metropolitan Opera National Council, the Richard Tucker Music Foundation (Career Grant), the George London Foundation, the Licia Albanese Puccini Foundation, the Sullivan Foundation, Opera Index, and the MacAllister Awards.

Highlights of Ketelsen’s recent seasons include performances at the Opernhaus Zurich, Staatsoper Berlin, Minnesota Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Canadian Opera Company and the Metropolitan Opera, as well as performances with the San Francisco Symphony, the National Symphony and performances at Carnegie Hall.

ABOUT THE MADISON SYMPHONY CHORUS 

The Madison Symphony Chorus (below top, in a photo by Greg Anderson) gave its first public performance on February 23, 1928 and has performed regularly with the Madison Symphony Orchestra ever since. The Chorus is comprised of more than 150 volunteer musicians who come from all walks of life and enjoy combining their artistic talent under the direction of Beverly Taylor (below bottom), who directs the choral program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music.

ABOUT THE MADISON YOUTH CHOIRS 

Recognized as an innovator in youth choral music education, Madison Youth Choirs (MYC) inspires enjoyment, learning and social development through the study and performance of high-quality and diverse choral literature. The oldest youth choir organization in Wisconsin, MYC serves more than 1,000 young people, ages 7-18, in a wide variety of choral programs. In addition to a public concert series, MYC conducts an annual spring tour of schools and retirement centers, performing for more than 7,000 students and senior citizens annually.

ABOUT THE MOUNT ZION GOSPEL CHOIR 

Under the leadership of Leotha Stanley and his wife, Tamera Stanley, the Mount Zion Gospel Choir (below) has been a part of the MSO Christmas concerts since 2005. The choir is primarily comprised of members from Mount Zion Baptist Church and includes representatives from other churches as well. The choir has traveled extensively throughout the Midwest and has journeyed to Europe, singing in France and Germany.

The Symphony recommends concert attendees arrive early for each performance to make sure they have time to pass through Overture Center’s security stations.

The lobby opens 90 minutes prior to each concert.

More information about A Madison Symphony Christmasis found here: https://madisonsymphony.org/event/a-madison-symphony-christmas/.

Tickets for A Madison Symphony Christmascan be purchased in the following ways:

 Discounted seats are subject to availability, and discounts may not be combined.

Major funding for the holiday concert is provided by: American Printing, Fiore Companies, Inc., Nedrebo’s Formalwear, Maurice and Arlene Reese Family Foundation, BMO Harris Bank, Hooper Foundation/General Heating & Air Conditioning, Judith and Nick Topitzes, and An Anonymous Friend. Additional funding provided by Colony Brands, Inc., J.H. Findorff & Son Inc., Flad Architects, Forte Research Systems & Nimblify, Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren s.c., and Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts. The Community Carol Sing is presented in partnership with Overture Center for the Arts.


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Classical music: Live radio broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera start their 87th season with the Verdi Requiem at NOON this Saturday on Wisconsin Public Radio.

December 1, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

What is the longest-running classical music broadcast on American radio?

If you said the live Saturday matinee broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera (below) in New York City, you got it right.

So, does that qualify the Met, and opera in general, as pop culture?

Does it do anything to reassure those who worry about the future of opera and classical music?

Anyway, the 87th broadcast season starts again on Wisconsin Public Radio this Saturday morning and runs through May 5.

Of course, not there are also the popular and more cinematic broadcasts of “Live From the Met in HD.” But many listeners still prefer the radio — which is FREE — to help them focus on the music, not the visual and theatrical aspects, and to use their imagination more.

On Saturday at the usual time of NOON — not 11:05 a.m. as was mistakenly first published here — the Met features a performance of the dramatic Requiem by opera great Giuseppe Verdi (below). (You can hear the operatic Dies Irae, or Day of Wrath, section in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The Requiem will be conducted by James Levine (below), the now retired longtime artistic director of the Met.

The 90-minute performance will dedicated to the famed Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky (below bottom), who died two weeks ago from a brain tumor at age 55. For more information about the late singer, go to:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/11/24/classical-music-charismatic-russian-baritone-dmitri-horostovsky-is-dead-at-55/

For as complete schedule of the works to be performed, which include well-known standards by Mozart, Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini, Verdi, Puccini, Wagner and Richard Strauss as well as a contemporary work by Thomas Adès, go to the WPR website:

https://www.wpr.org/metropolitan-opera-begins-its-87th-broadcast-season


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

January 14, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

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

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

Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek baritone

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

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

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

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

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

The singers will be accompanied by pianist Chan Mi Jean.

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

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

Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek as barihunkHere is the program:

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

Tyana O'Connor soprano


Classical music: Puccini was a master crafter of drama, says Kathryn Smith. The Madison Opera stages its production of “La Bohème” this Friday night and Sunday afternoon.

November 9, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Anyone want to bet that it qualifies as almost everyone’s first and still favorite opera?

On Friday night, Nov. 13, at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon, Nov. 15, at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall at the Overture Center for the Arts, the Madison Opera will perform its production of Giacomo Puccini’s evergreen “La Bohème.”

The opera will be sung in Italian with English surtitles.

Tickets are $18 to $129 and are available from the Overture Center Box Office at (608) 258-4141 or from www.madisonopera.org. Student and group discounts are available.

The classic opera by Puccini (below) tells of the lives, loves and losses of a group of young artists in a bohemian quarter of Paris.

puccini at piano

On Christmas Eve, the poet Rodolfo and the artist Marcello burn pages from Rodolfo’s latest drama, trying to stay warm in their garret. They are joined by their roommates, Colline and Schaunard, and head out to celebrate at Café Momus.

Staying behind, Rodolfo answers a knock on the door and meets his new neighbor, a seamstress named Mimi. The two fall instantly in love, and the opera charts the course of their relationship, as friendship, poverty, and illness intersect in what has often been called “the greatest love story ever sung.”

La Bohème is simply perfect,” says Kathryn Smith, Madison Opera’s General Director. “The passionate music is perfectly matched to the very emotionally true story of young people dealing with life in all of its happiness and sorrow. Bohème never ages and is perfect for both opera newcomers and opera omnivores.”

La Bohème has been an audience favorite since its first performance on Feb. 1, 1896 at the Teatro Regio in Turn, Italy, and is performed by opera companies around the world. Its popularity over the past century is undiminished and its ravishing score has inspired generations of artists, including the composer Jonathan Larson, who used it as the basis for his award-winning 1996 musical Rent, and Baz Lurhmann, director of the 2001 movie Moulin Rouge. It also played a pivotal role in the movie “Moonstruck” with Cher and Nicholas Cage.

“La Bohème is one of the reasons I fell in love with opera and wanted to become an opera conductor,” says John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), Madison Opera’s Artistic Director and conductor. “It has glorious lyricism, engaging and ultimately gripping theater, and is sumptuously written for the orchestra. It is a perfect specimen.”

John DeMain full face by Prasad

The cast features a mixture of returning Madison Opera artists and debuts.

Following her performance at Opera in the Park 2015, Eleni Calenos (below) makes her main stage debut as the seamstress Mimi, a role she has previously performed at Palm Beach Opera.

Palm Beach Opera "La Boheme" dress rehearsal Thursday, January 15, 2015.

Palm Beach Opera “La Boheme” dress rehearsal Thursday, January 15, 2015.

Making their Madison Opera debuts are Mackenzie Whitney (below) in the role of the enamored poet Rodolfo and Dan Kempson, singing the role of his friend and artist Marcello. Whitney recently sang in Rappacini’s Daughter with Des Moines Metro Opera; Kempson has recently sung with Santa Fe Opera and Fort Worth Opera.

Mackenzie Whitney La Boheme

The other bohemian friends are played by faces familiar to the Madison Opera audience. UW-Madison alumna Emily Birsan (below) sings Musetta, Marcello’s on-and-off again lover, a role she just performed at Boston Lyric Opera.

Emily Birsan MSO 2014

Liam Moran returns as the philosopher Colline, following his performance as Don Fernando in last season’s Fidelio. Alan Dunbar (below, in a photo by Roy Heilman), last seen here in The Barber of Seville, sings Schaunard. They are joined by Evan Ross, debuting with Madison Opera as Benoit and Alcindoro.

Alan Dunbar CR Roy Heilman

This traditional staging is directed by David Lefkowich, who directed The Daughter of the Regiment for Madison Opera.

David Lefkowich 2013

Madison Opera’s general manager Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill) generously answered an email Q&A for The Ear:

Kathryn Smith Fly Rail Vertical Madison Opera

What about the story makes “La Bohème” such an enduring classic for both first-timers and veterans?

The story is such a universal one that it is instantly relatable for opera newcomers, but still carries an emotional immediacy for those who have seen it before. A group of 20-something friends struggle financially, have fun together, fall in love, break up and deal with illness and death – this is a story that plays out in real life every day. As audience members, I think we grow with La Bohème: what moves you the most when you are 23 years old might be Act III; later in life, Act IV might strike a stronger chord.

And what about the same aspect in the music?

Puccini’s music is so emotional and melodic that it appeals to every ear, and it is so perfectly tied to the story that it is impossible to separate the two. “O Soave Fanciulla” could only be a love duet, and the heartbreak of Mimi’s phrase, “Addio, senza rancor” sums up every painful romantic breakup in just a few notes. (You can hear soprano Anna Netrebko and tenor Rolando Villazon sing “O Soave Fanciulla” in a concert version at the bottom in a YouTube video.) 

Is Puccini’s reputation as a serious and innovative opera composer, not just a popular one, being reexamined and revised upward in recent years?

I think that may be a question for critics and academics! In our world – the performance world – Puccini has always been highly regarded, as his shows have been wildly successful with audiences, regardless of what critics or other composers might write. “La Bohème” was definitely harshly criticized when it was new, with phrases like “musical degradation” tossed about, but it has been one of the most performed operas around the world ever since.

What do you think is the most overlooked or underrated aspect of “La Bohème” and of Puccini in general?

I think people overlook how tight the dramaturgy is. There is not one page of Bohème that could be removed without having the entire structure collapse. Most 19th-century operas can — and do —  benefit from cuts, but Puccini doesn’t waste time, either musically or dramatically. In addition, the music really illustrates the story. There are specific moments where the music tells us what happens on stage, and as long as you obey the music, the story will work.

Are there special things you would like the public to know about this particular production? Do you have comments about the concept and cast, sets and costumes?

This is a traditional production, but that doesn’t mean it looks exactly like every other La Bohème, as every cast and director brings their own ideas and chemistry to the mix.

We have a spectacular young cast who are perfectly matched with each other and will bring this classic story to vivid life.

We have two exciting debuts, with Mackenzie Whitney as Rodolfo and Dan Kempson as Marcello.

Returning to us are Eleni Calenos (Mimì), who sang at Opera in the Park last summer; Emily Birsan (Musetta), who graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and who last sang with us in 2010; Alan Dunbar (Schaunard), who was last in Rossini’s Barber of Seville; and Liam Moran (Colline), who debuted in Beethoven’s Fidelio last fall.

Add in our wonderful Madison Opera Chorus, the Madison Youth Choirs and the Madison Symphony Orchestra, and it will be a musical and dramatic feast.

 


Classical music Q&A: In the run-up to Madison Opera’s 13th annual FREE Opera in the Park this Saturday night, general director Kathryn Smith talks about the past season, the upcoming season, the new opera center and the outdoor concert.

July 23, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Saturday night will bring the Madison Opera’s 13th annual FREE outdoor Opera in the Park. (Sunday is the rain date.)

opera in the _park_010

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.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

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:

http://madisonopera.org/performances-2013-2014/park/

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:

http://madisonopera.org/uploads/PDFs/Opera%20in%20the%20Park%202014%20repertoire.pdf

This link features the biographies of the guest singers:

http://madisonopera.org/performances-2013-2014/park/index.aspx?ID=332

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.

Kathryn Smith Fly Rail Vertical Madison Opera

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.

Dead Man Walking near end James GIll

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.

tosca on ramparts mad op

madison opera daughter 6 chorus, abreu, cislin, apple, Douglss Swenson as Hortensius James Gill

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.

Madison Opera Center

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.

Dead Man Walking  2 Michael Mayes and Daniela Mack

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.

Michael Mayes and Alan Dunbar singing

Michael Mayes and Pete

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).

Rossini photo

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.

Beethoven big

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.

stephen-sondheim-aa58e636211efdc134e6540533fff5cc52c73909-s6-c30

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!

Jamie-Rose Guarrine Peter Konerko

Wallis Giunta

Sean Panikkar CR Kristina Sherk

Kelly Markgraf

 


Classical music: The Madison Opera’s premiere production of Donizetti’s “La Fille du Regiment” (The Daughter of the Regiment) hits all the high notes, figuratively and literally. And other local critics also give it raves.

February 9, 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 the viola with Pro Arte Quartet violist Sally Chisholm and plays in the UW Symphony 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. He has was recently named the new Music Director of a local community orchestra, The Studio Orchestra. The ensemble has an out-of-date 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 two performances on Friday night and Sunday afternoon of Gaetano Donizetti’s light “bel canto” opera “La Fille du Regiment” (The Daughter of the Regiment) by the Madison Opera in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center. The production, a first for the Madison Opera, sounded very promising from the preview I posted earlier this week, which was an interview with tenor Javier Abreu. Here is a link:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/02/03/classical-music-how-hard-is-it-to-sing-nine-high-cs-tenor-javier-abreu-talks-about-the-feat-he-will-perform-in-the-madison-operas-premiere-production-of-donizettis/

I immediately took Mikko 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

Drumroll, please!

Gaetano Donizetti’s popular “Daughter of the Regiment” is classic “bel canto” opera — a simple, almost corny plot, improbable love, show-stopping arias and high notes, lots of high notes.

And in the hands of the Madison Opera, it is a rousing success. (Production photos are by James Gill for the Madison Opera.)

madison opera 5 witness party set Virginia Opera CR James GIll

The romantic plot is simple enough.

Marie, an orphaned girl raised by the 21st Regiment of the French army, meets and falls in love with a civilian, Tonio, who joins the regiment to marry her.

Their romance seems thwarted by her long-lost “aunt,” the Marquise of Berkenfeld, who sweeps her away to be married to a noble Duke, but her regiment swoops in (below, played by the Madison Symphony Chorus) at the last second to intervene, and she and Tonio are reunited at last.

Everyone ends up happy in this tale.

madison opera daughter 6 chorus, abreu, cislin, apple, Douglss Swenson as Hortensius James Gill

The production marches merrily along, buoyed by brilliant singing from Appleton-native and UW-Madison-educated Caitlin Cisler (below left) in the title role as Marie. Cisler’s sparkling sound and agile coloratura make her ideal for the part, a tremendously difficult one replete with high Cs and beyond (several Ds and more than one F!).

Caitlin Cisler 2

Her girlish demeanor in the first act is both charming and entirely suited to the character. There is no profound depth to the role, but a great deal of fun, and Cisler certainly seems to enjoy it — as do we!

Singing opposite her is one of the best tenors the Madison Opera has hosted in recent years, Puerto Rican-born Javier Abreu (below).

Javier Abreu color mug 1

As Tonio, he boasts a light, lyric voice capable of the necessary acrobatics for such a famously challenging role – in particular, his Act 1 aria “Ah, mes amis!” (which demands no less than NINE high Cs in the space of about a minute and a half, as demonstrated by Juan Diego Florez in a YouTube video at the bottom). Below, Tonio steals kiss from Marie.

madison opera Daughter 1 Javier Abreu (Tonio) and Caitlin Cislin (Marie) CR James Gill

As the commander of Marie’s regiment of adoptive fathers, Nathan Stark (below, recently heard as the Commendatore in 2013’s Don Giovanni) is excellent as well. His acting is at least as solid as his powerful bass voice, both of which are again wonderfully suited to the role.

He is compelling as the most fatherly of the soldiers, moved to support his daughter’s romantic aspirations by his own. The comic chemistry he and Cisler have enlivens the whole show, making their early scenes possibly my favorite part of the whole evening.

madison opera daughter 2 Nathan Stark (Sulpice) CR James Gill

Also appearing is Madison contralto Alisanne Apple (below), alternately and appropriately outraged by Marie’s antics and embarrassed at her own as the Marquise (and whose true contralto guts are displayed early in the opera, to great amusement).

Alisanne Apple BW mug

madison opera daughter 4 allisanne apple marquise CR James Gill

As her butler Hortensius, bass Douglas Swenson (below) projects a hilariously palpable air of self-importance at every moment.

Douglas Swenson

Director David Lefkowich’s blocking is frequently hilarious (though the silly shuffling “quick march” of the soldiers was distracting and absurd), and helps bring the characters to life admirably.

David Lefkowich 2013

The sets by the Virginia Opera and the costumes from the Opera Theatre of St. Louis Opera livened up the stage, particularly in the first act where the soldiers’ bright red uniforms stood out sharply against distant hills and misty mountains.

As always, John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) leads musicians of the Madison Symphony Orchestra in a capable and flexible pit ensemble, with good attention to balance.  The Madison Opera Chorus, solidly prepared by Chorus Master Anthony Cao, also featured two small, well-sung solo spots for Robert Goderich and Christopher Apfelbach.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

The production is sung in French with projected English supertitles, with a small amount of (sensibly) English dialogue. The running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes including one 20-minutes intermission.

The last performance is today, Sunday, Feb. 9 at 2:30 p.m. the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center. Tickets are $25-$107. Call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141.

And maybe you would like to see what other reviewers had to say:

Here is a link to the rave review by John W. Barker (below) rave review for Isthmus:

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=42027&sid=ee9c4f61ce09fdf1d9cc5e1c40f29f2c

John-Barker

Here is a link to the very favorable review by Greg Hettmansberger (bel0w) for Madison Magazine’s blog “Classically Speaking”:

http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/February-2014/A-Daughter-We-Can-All-Adopt/

greg hettmansberger mug

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Classical music: Can music provide a kick as big or as good as drugs? The Ear says it depends on the drug and the music. But NPR blogger Tom Huizenga and some others think so. What do you think? Check out The Metropolitan Opera’s “Live in HD” production of “Maria Stuarda” today.

January 19, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is another Metropolitan Opera “Live in Hi Def” broadcast to movie theaters (at 11:55 a.m. CST at the Eastgate and Point cinemas in Madison).

The opera is Donizetti’s “Maria Stuarda” with mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato in the title role (below and at the bottom in a YouTube video of a previous production).

Here is a link with program notes and other information about the 3 hour and 15 minute production:

http://www.metoperafamily.org/metopera/liveinhd/liveinhd.aspx

didonato

It has gotten good reviews. But none was better than the comments by Tom Huizenga (below), the director of and writer for NPR’s outstanding Deceptive Cadence” blog and some its readers. (Be sure to read the comments.)

huizenga_tom_2011

Huizenga compared the jolt he got during the production to the ecstasy of some drugs.

Well, music and opera are sure a lot healthier ways to get high, if a bit less intense.

But you can decide for yourself.

Read his remarks.

Then please offer an opinion plus any examples of classical music when you too were taken by music, carried away as if by drugs. Was it the piece? The performer? Special or personal circumstances you found yourself in?

Did you get a “sonic high,” if you will.

Here is a link to Huizenga’s posting:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/01/16/169551061/who-needs-drugs-when-you-ve-got-musical-ecstasy


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