The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Puccini’s gift for heart-touching melody allows both beginners and veterans to connect with his timeless operas in a way that has been largely lost in contemporary music, says John DeMain. He will conduct the Madison Opera’s production of La Bohème this Friday night and Sunday afternoon.

November 12, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

On this Friday night, Nov. 13, at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon, Nov. 15, at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of 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 (608) 258-4141 or from www.madisonopera.org. Student and group discounts are available.

Puccini’s classic opera tells of the lives, loves and losses of a group of young artists in a bohemian quarter of Paris.

La Bohème has been an audience favorite since its first performance on Feb. 1, 1896 ( below is the original poster from 1896 by Adolfo Hohenstein) at the Teatro Regio in Turin, 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 Boheme 1896 poster by Adolfo Hohenstein

For more information about the Madison Opera’s production and cast, read the Q&A that The Ear did with Kathryn Smith, the general director of the Madison Opera. Here is a link:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/11/09/classical-music-puccini-was-a-master-crafter-of-drama-says-kathryn-smith-the-madison-operas-stages-its-production-of-la-boheme-this-friday-night-and-sunday-afternoon/

By The Ear’s reckoning, John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), has spent close to 50 years in opera. He is the artistic director of the Madison Opera and music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, and will conduct the singers, orchestra and choruses for the two performances of “La Bohème.”

He graciously agreed to share his experience and knowledge in an email Q&A with The Ear:

John DeMain full face by Prasad

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

First of all, it’s a love story involving young adults trying to make it through their young years living from hand to mouth. They are college or post-college age, and are living life on the edge, enjoying great camaraderie, as college roommates enjoy to this day.

We have all lived through the tragedy of disease or plagues affecting various parts of the world in our own time. Mimi has tuberculosis, and we have seen how HIV/AIDS, SARS and Ebola have taken young lives in our own time, robbing people of the chance to live out their lives and loves. So, there is always some part of a story like this for people, both old and young, to connect with.

And what about the same aspect in the music?

Once we enter into the world of Italian “verismo,”or realism, we basically have music that is timeless. The music vividly underscores the action of the drama in great detail from moment to moment.

The interplay of the various leitmotifs manipulates our emotions, leading us to enjoy a good laugh at the interplay of the guys, or Musetta’s outrageous carrying on to make her “ex” jealous and win Marcello back. Then the music engages us in the great sadness of losing Mimi to her disease and robbing Rodolfo of his loved one ( in the final scene below from a production by the Houston Grand Opera, which John DeMain used to head before coming to Madison).

Our great film composers and composers of musical theater all learned from Puccini how to connect the emotions of the drama to the music and vice-versa.

HGO La Boheme

HGO La Boheme

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

Puccini’s output as a composer was limited both in scope and in number. He focused primarily on opera and gave us 12 works in that form. To this day, La Bohème, Madama Butterfly, Turandot and Tosca remain in the top echelon of opera’s most popular works.

Puccini (below) labored over each of his operas for long periods of time, rewriting to get these pieces as close as possible to perfection, creating librettos and music that soars emotionally, melodically and harmonically. His Fanciulla del West (The Girl of the Golden West), Turandot and even parts of Butterfly are great examples of Italian Impressionism.

But while Bohème has a few touches of impressionistic harmony, most of the opera stays within a late Romantic harmonic vocabulary.

I think we appreciate more than ever Puccini’s capacity to write unforgettable melody that goes to the very core of our being. Indeed, we lament that most contemporary scores can’t achieve that, and therefore, they don’t have the same relationship with our audiences today. (You can hear that in the arias sung by Luciano Pavarotti and Fiamma Izzo in a YouTube video at the bottom. Listen for when the audience applauds Pavarotti singing a high C.)

puccini at piano

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?

I would like to encourage people who have never been to an opera to come and see La Bohème. There are still people out there who don’t know that we have English titles over the stage that simultaneously translate the opera into English.

The acts are not long, the drama flows at almost the same rate of time as it would if it were just spoken without music. And the young stunning cast we have assembled will thrill young and old alike.

This, like Carmen or Madama Butterfly, is the perfect opera for a first-timer. For the rest of us, it is a chance to thrill once again to one of the most beautiful scores ever composed for the operatic stage.

 


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: The Festival Choir of Madison performs “The Romance of Music” — featuring beloved favorites — this Saturday night. Plus, a concert of Indian music and Beethoven will take place SUNDAY night.

November 5, 2015
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ALERT: A noteworthy new event — and perhaps a new tradition — will take place at 7 p.m. this SUNDAY night (NOT Saturday night as mistakenly first listed here) in Mills Hall. That’s when the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra welcomes sitarist Chitravina N. Ravikiran (below) in the third edition of the cross-cultural  and world music Melharmony Festival. The music is by Indian composer Dikshitar and Ludwig van Beethoven, who were contemporaries at the end of the 18th century and beginning of the 19th century. Andrew Sewell will conduct.

For more information about the event, the players and tickets ($10-$35), visit:

http://www.wcoconcerts.org/performances/melharmony-festival/

Chitravina N Ravikiran

By Jacob Stockinger

Friends at The Festival Choir of Madison have sent the following word:

The Festival Choir of Madison (below top) will perform “The Romance of Music,” conducted by Sergei Pavlov (below bottom), who also teaches at Edgewood College.

festivalchoir

Sergei Pavlov

The concert is this Saturday night, Nov. 7, at 7:30 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive.

Tickets are $15 for general admission; $12 for seniors; and $9 for students.

Do you remember when you fell in love with music? Was it a time and place? A person and feeling? Rediscover your love of music with trios of sacred songs, gypsy tunes and lullabies, straight from our heart to yours.

The program features such favorites as: “Jesu Meine Freude” (Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring) by Johann Sebastian Bach (at bottom in a YouTube video); “Hear My Prayer” by Felix Mendelssohn; “Bless the Lord, Oh My Soul” by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky; the “Humming Chorus” from “Madama Butterfly” by Giacomo Puccini; the “Gypsy Chorus“or “Anvil Chorus” from the opera “Il Trovatore” by Giuseppe Verdi; “Cantique de Jean Racine” by Gabriel Faure; and more.

The Festival Choir is a mixed voice choir of 40 to 50 singers.

Special guest musicians — who often perform with the Kat Trio, the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra — for this concert include: Victoria Gorbich (below top) on violin; Vladislav Gorbich (below second) on clarinet; Mary Ann Harr Grinde on harp (below third); and James McKenzie (below bottom) on percussion.

victoria gorbich

vladislav gorbich

mary ann harr

james mckenzie

For more information and tickets, visit:

http://festivalchoirmadison.org


Classical music: Music critic Alex Ross praises Tom Cruise’s use of Puccini’s opera “Turandot” in the new “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation” movie.

August 15, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger.

Looks like it’s going to be a hot and humid weekend.

Just the kind of weather to go see a movie in an air-conditioned cinema.

If you are an opera fan, you might want to consider seeing Tom Cruise and the latest offering in the “Mission Impossible” franchise -– “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation” (below) — which features a central opera scene (below).

Puccini opera and Mission Impossible

That is the opinion of the prize-winning music critic Alex Ross (below), who writes for The New Yorker magazine. And many consider Ross the best music critic in the U.S.

Alex Ross 2

In his essay or review in the Aug. 11 issue, Ross traces the use of opera in various movies — including in the romantic comedy “Moonstruck” and in the thrillers by Alfred Hitchcock. Ross argues that Tom Cruise really stands out in the way he does justice to Puccini’s “Turandot,” including the great and popular tenor aria “Nessun dorma.” (Heard at bottom in a YouTube video, with 33 million hits, as sung by Luciano Pavarotti, who made the aria his signature.)

Here is a link to the review by Alex Ross that is well worth reading:

http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/finally-a-non-embarrassing-classical-music-scene-in-a-blockbuster-movie

Enjoy!

And leave a comment telling The Ear if you agree with Alex Ross.


Classical music: On the eve of Opera in the Park, Madison Opera’s general director Kathryn Smith recaps the last season and previews the next.

July 23, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Madison Opera’s Opera in the Park marks its 14th anniversary this Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Garner Park on Madison’s far west side.

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.

Opera in Park 2012 crowd 1 James Gill

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:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/07/21/classical-music-local-opera-star-kyle-ketelsen-talks-about-returning-to-madison-operas-free-opera-in-the-park-this-saturday-night-and-why-he-continues-to-live-here/

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.

Opera in Park 2012 stage

“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:

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

And for more information about the cast, go to:

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

For information about the next season, go to:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2015-2016/

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.

Kathryn Smith Fly Rail Vertical Madison Opera

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.

Fidelio prisoners' chorus James Gill

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.

Madison Opera barber of seville cast action

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.

la boeme banner

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.

tales of hoffmann banner

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.

little women banner

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.

Madison Opera Center interior

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.

Opera in the Park 2014 light sticks


Classical music: Is American tenor Bryan Hymel the new King of the High C’s after the late Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti and the very active Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez?

March 1, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

For tenors, High C’s are the brass ring on the carousel of opera.

The late great Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti and the very busy Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez both earned fame and fortune with their singing of the astonishing nine high C’s in Gaetano Donizetti’s bel canto opera “La Fille du Regiment.”

In fact, Florez repeated the same nine high C’s as an encore and it brought down the house.

But it seems there may be another King of the High C’s in the making.

He is a native of New Orleans (isn’t that fitting?) and he is America tenor Bryan Hymel (below, in a photo by Dario Acosta for Warner Classics), who was recently featured on the terrific blog “Deceptive Cadence” for NPR (National Public Radio).

You will surely be hearing more about him. The 35-year-old Hymel has already made his debut at the famed Metropolitan Opera, where he has sung in “Les Troyens” by Hector Berlioz — a role he also sang at the Royal Opera House in London. And he will open the Met’s 2018 season in “Samson and Delilah” by Camille Saint-Saens.

Bryan Hymel CR Dario Acosta Warner Classics

Here is a link to that story by Tom Huizenga. It is complete with sound samples from Hymel’s debut album “Héroïque” — in particular the difficult aria “Asile héréditaire” from the opera “William Tell” by Giachino Rossini — and the CD features a total of 19 high C’s. That led Huizenga to proclaim: “This is why we listen to opera!”

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2015/02/25/388783314/bryan-hymels-hefty-high-cs

The Amazon.com reader reviews of the new all-French album (below, with an audiovisual clip of the behind-the-scenes recording process) not only praise Hymel for his high C’s – and C-sharps and even D’s — but single out the quality of his singing.

You can hear that strong, pitch-accurate and seemingly effortless quality in one of The Ear’s favorite tenor arias: “Nessun dorma” from “Turandot” by Giacomo Puccini, which Hymel signs with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra in a YouTube video at the bottom.


Classical music: Gramophone magazine names its Best of 2014 Classical Recordings. Here it is, along with several other major compilations.

December 28, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

This post wraps up the holiday gift-giving season for this year.

Over the past month or so, I have offered several major roundups of the Best of 2014 classical music recordings.

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/12/20/classical-music-here-are-the-best-classical-recordings-of-2014-from-the-new-york-times-and-the-boston-globe-as-well-as-npr/

NY Times top 20 classical CDs 2013 Tony Cenicola for NYT

The posts have included a Top 10 list from NPR or National Public Radio:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/12/11/370067981/best-classical-albums-of-2014

A list from the critics at The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/19/arts/music/classical-critics-pick-the-top-music-recordings-of-2014.html?_r=1

A list — really, two lists — from the prize-winning critic Alex Ross (below), who writes for The New Yorker Magazine:

http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/ten-notable-performances-recordings-2014

Alex Ross 2

A link from critic Jeremy Eichler at the Boston Globe:

http://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/music/2014/12/13/the-best-albums/6q7Tin4lPvj5RmqfCCSTFP/story.html

And a list of the classical nominations for the 57th annual Grammy Awards:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/12/09/classical-music-the-57th-annual-grammy-award-nominations-provide-a-useful-guide-to-holiday-gift-giving/

grammy award BIG

Now, as the year ends, here comes the annual compilation by the venerable Gramophone magazine out of Great Britain. Top honors go to Riccardo Chailly and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra for their cycle of orchestral works, symphonies and overtures and more, by Johannes Brahms on the Decca label.

Brahms Chailly cover

But there is a lot more to look at and listen to, and, predictably, a lot of choices with ties to United Kingdom.

Anyway, if you still need to give a gift or maybe to redeem a gift card or spend cash you received, here is the story along with the direct link to the FREE digital magazine issue (below):

http://www.gramophone.co.uk/classical-music-news/recordings-of-the-year-2014-free-digital-magazine-out-now

http://www.exacteditions.com/read/gramophone/recordings-of-the-year-2014-41178

Gramophone recordings of 2014 cover


Classical music education: Classical music can help students study for final exams. Plus, the WYSO Harp Ensemble and Youth Orchestra perform Saturday afternoon.

December 12, 2014
2 Comments

ALERT: Just a reminder that tomorrow, Saturday, Dec. 13, at 1:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, on the UW-Madison campus in the George Mosse Humanities Building at 455 North Park Street.

The Youth Orchestra (below) and the Harp Ensemble of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) will perform.

The orchestra’s program includes The Roman Carnival Overture by the French composer Hector Berlioz; three excerpts from Act 3 of “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” by the German Opera composer Richard Wagner; and the first, third and fourth movements from the Symphony No. 1 in D Minor by Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff.

The Harp Ensemble will perform the traditional tune “Be Thou My Vision” as well as “Grandjany, Eleanor and Marcia”; and a medley of music by the Italian opera composer Giacomo Puccini.

Call the WYSO office at (608) 263-3320 for up-to-date concert and ticket information. Or visit http://wyso.music.wisc.edu

Tickets are $10 for adult, $5 for young people 18 and under; and they are available at the door 45 minutes prior to each concert.

WYSO Youth  Orchestra

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is officially the last day of classes for the first semester at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The next two weeks are devoted to a study period and to final papers and exams.

That means classes are also ending at a lot of other public and private universities and colleges around the nation, The Ear suspects. And elementary schools, middle schools and high schools will not be far behind.

Final exams 2

So it is a timely time to post the results of research that shows that classical music -– not just any music, but specifically classical music, which lowers rather raises blood pressure –- can help students study and prepare for final exams.

It was published in advance of two radio stations’ scheduling of useful classical music in Los Angeles at the University of Southern California and in San Francisco.

Apparently, the secret is that it has to do with the embedded structure of the music itself.

The researchers, which range from the cancer center at Duke University and the University of San Diego to the University of Toronto, even mention some specific composers and musical genres or forms that exhibit that sense of structure in outstanding ways.

The composers cited include such Old Masters as Johann Sebastian Bach (below top), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (below middle) and Johannes Brahms (below bottom). Richard Strauss and George Frideric Handel also were mentioned. Surprisingly, no mention was made of music by Antonio Vivaldi, Franz Joseph Haydn or Franz Schubert.

But students should avoid loud and more scattered music, the research suggests. No “1812 Overture,” complete with cannons, by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky! Such music is actually disrupting and counterproductive.

Bach1

mozart big

brahms3

Hmmmm.

Maybe that same sense of structure and regularity — especially noticeable in Baroque music as well as the Classical period and early Romantic music — also explains why those composers have appealed to so many people for so long.

It may also explain why student who study music  and go through formal music education often go on to high achievement in other fields.

And the preferred forms include solo music, including the piano and the lute, and string quartets. That makes sense to me since they are more intimate and less overwhelming forms. Solo French piano by Claude Debussy, Gabriel Fauré  and Francis Poulenc come in for special mention. (I would also add the 550 sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti.)

The Ear suspects that what works for final exams also works for other studying and homework in general and other intensive intellectual tasks.

studying to music CR Holly Wilder.jpeg

And maybe what is good for college students is also good for high school or even middle school or elementary school students.

final exams 1

I do have some questions: Did the researchers take the conflicting evidence about multi-taking into account? But I assume they probably gave that some thought. Still, you have to wonder.

Here is a link to the story:

http://news.usc.edu/71969/studying-for-finals-let-classical-music-help/

Do you have favorite music to study by? (One of my favorites is the Waltz in C-Sharo minor by Frederic Chopin as played with great discernible structure, repetition and variation — listen to inner voices — as well as incredible color and nuance by Yuja Wang in a popular YouTube video at the bottom.)

Favorite composers, favorite kinds and favorite pieces?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The Opera Student Showcase concert this Sunday afternoon will introduce David Ronis as the new director of University Opera and spotlight University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate soprano Shannon Prickett.

September 12, 2014
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a the press release for the University Opera’s Student Showcase that will take place this coming Sunday afternoon and will preview the talent and productions of the upcoming season:

“A concert of favorite melodies by Vincenzo Bellini, Giuseppe Verdi and others -– mostly operatic but one clearly comic -– will be presented by students from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music’s opera program.

The concert will take place this Sunday afternoon, September 14, at 3 p.m. in the First Unitarian Society of Madison’s Landmark Auditorium (below) at 900 University Bay Drive.

FUS1jake

Directing the concert and this year’s University Opera program will be David Ronis (below, in a photo by Luke DeLalio), currently on leave from the Aaron Copland School of Music at City University of New York, and Hofstra University. He is serving as the interim successor to longtime director William Farlow, who retired from the University of Wisconsin-Madison last spring. (At bottom is a YouTube video of the work that the versatile Ronis recently did at Queens College with an early music version of Luigi Rossi’s opera “Orfeo.”)

Here is a link to a press release, issued by the UW-Madison School of Music when David Ronis was chosen from a nationwide search last spring, with Ronis’ impressive background:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/2014/07/11/school-of-music-announces-david-ronis-as-visiting-director-of-opera/

David Ronis color CR  Luke DeLalio

Most of the singers will appear in this year’s productions of Benjamin Britten’s Albert Herring this fall and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Magic Flute in the spring.

Here is a link to information about the upcoming season of the University Opera:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/opera/

But one singer -– soprano Shannon Prickett (below top) – is an alumna returning from her current work as Resident Artist at the Minnesota Opera.

While in Madison from 2011 to 2013 and working on her Master’s of Music degree, Prickett performed lead parts in Puccini’s La Bohème, Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Luigi Cherubini’s Medea, Pietro Mascagni’s L’amico Fritz, and Verdi’s Requiem.

In the Showcase concert, she will sing arias from Verdi’s I Lombardi, Giacomo Puccini’s Manon Lescaut, and a dramatic duet from Verdi’s Aïda with new mezzo-soprano doctoral student Jessica Kasinski, below bottom. (The Ear has no word on specific works to be performed.)

Shannon Prickett head shot

Jessica Kasinski

Other singers will take on arias by Mozart, Donizetti, Bellini, Richard Strauss and even Flanders and Swann: That number requires good humor as well as pianistic skill from the accompanist, and will provide a treat for fans of the multi-talented and critically acclaimed Thomas Kasdorf (below), another graduate of the UW-Madison.

Thomas Kasdorf

The concert is a benefit for the University Opera that sponsored by Opera Props, which supports the University Opera. Admission is a contribution of $25 per person, $10 for students. A reception follows.


Classical music: The Ear goes to the 13th annual Opera in the Park and finds it might well have been the best one yet. Tell The Ear and the Madison Opera what you think. Plus, find out what happened on Day 5 of WYSO’s tour to Argentina.

July 29, 2014
1 Comment

ALERT: Catch up on the 10-day tour to Argentina by the Youth Orchestra (below) of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras. Here is a link to Day 5:

www.wysotour2014.blogspot.com

WYSO Youth  Orchestra

By Jacob Stockinger

The final number and encore repetition of the program’s finale pretty much summed it up: It was a grand night for singing.

And indeed it was.

For listening too.

To The Ear, it seemed like after 13 of them, this one was the best Opera in the Park yet.

I know, I know: That is the very same cliche that the head honchos use to close the Olympic Games.

But I mean it. And I haven’t said it before.

Many things might have made it so good, so memorable.

The crowd was very big, maybe setting a record of between 14,000 and 15,000. And it was well behaved and attentive.

Opera in the Park 2014 crowd

Maybe it was the program, which was typical, and given out in a free brochure.

Opera in the Park 2014 programs

There were excerpts from the three operas that the Madison Opera will stage this coming season at the Overture Center: “Fidelio” by Ludwig van Beethoven; “Sweeney Todd” by Stephen Sondheim; and “The Barber of Seville: by Giachino Rossini. Plus, there were the popular tunes from Broadway shows like “A Little Night Music” by Sondheim, “Kiss Me, Kate” by Cole Porter and “State Fair” by Rodgers and Hammerstein. And let’s not forget the National Anthem to start things off.

It could have been the well-rehearsed Madison Opera Chorus and the confident players of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, all under the baton of John DeMain, but they are usual participants, givens if you will.

Opera in the Park 2014 MSO and John DeMain

It might have been the ever-improved sound system, despite a few glitches.

It could have been the high and even quality of the solo singers. But DeMain and Madison Opera’s gracious general director Kathryn Smith have an outstanding record for picking promising young talent to put on the stage, talent that has ties to the Metropolitan Opera and some other prestigious opera companies.

So when I weigh all the components, what I am left with is an intangible.

That is: What really made this year’s Opera in the Park so terrific was the chemistry between all the elements.

It was pretty much summed up in the famed “Toreador Song,” a sure-fire hit from the popular opera “Carmen” by George Bizet.

Hunky and flirty bad-boy baritone “toreador” Kelly Markgraf (below right) came out on stage and strutted as he saucily stripped off his summer white dinner jacket and tossed it aside to his competing female admirers.

Opera in the Park 2014 Toreador

Then soprano Jamie-Rose Guarrine, a very successful graduate of the University of Madison-Wisconsin School of Music, and Canadian mezzo-soprano Wallis “Legs” Giunta, who was making her Madison debut, fought over the dinner jacket while he sang and the audience roared and applauded as it brandished those fabulous — and I mean fabulous – luminescent day-glo light sticks.

Opera in the Park 2014 glo light sticks

Opera in the Park 2014 light sticks

Even John DeMain, who conducted the audience in the sing-along finale and encore (below), and the various players and other singers seemed as amused as the audience.

Opera in the Park 2014 conducting audience singalong

It was big fun.

The weather cooperated, no drops of rain coming until it was over and I was safely in my car.

But The Ear is left with some other things he liked:

I liked the seeing the opera “stars” arrive in a stretch limo (below top) in the park. It was way cool. But so were the carts (below bottom) provided to help those whose mobility was impaired.

Opera in the Park 2014 limo

Opera in the Park 2014 cart

I liked the table where you could buy vintage T-shirts going back a decade. And these collectibles were good deals. But they also made me think of Ann Stanke, the founder and longtime general director of the Madison Opera who started Opera in the Park and died in May of 2011. She would have been so happy with such a successful fulfillment of her dream.

Opera in the Park 2014 new T-shirt

Opera in the Park 2014 vintage T-shorts

ann stanke

I liked the ice cream stand by The Chocolate Shoppe –- the butter pecan was nutty and terrific — and kind of wish they would also had one pizza stand from, say, Glass Nickel. But maybe that gets too complex.

I liked that Madison Mayor Paul Soglin addressed the personal and social benefits to students who participate in the arts, and, citing a new report by the Overture Foundation, pledged to restored a city subsidy of $1.75 million dollars to the Overture Center — the home of the Madison Opera and the Madison Symphony Orchestra — in his next budget.

Opera in the Park 2014 Paul Soglin

I liked the tenor Sean Pannikar, who possessed that effortless and smooth Italian tenor tone and great high notes — all put to wonderful use in the aria “Che gelida manina” from Giacomo Puccini’s “La Boheme” and Franz Lehar’s schmaltzy and swoon-inducing “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz.” He was making his debut, and I want to see him return to Madison. Soon.

Opera in the Park 2014 Sean Panikkar

I really liked the big-voiced mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta, who has high notes and volume to spare. She also made her debut and proved to be another must-return talent, the sooner the better. (You can hear her voice and a profile of her life and career in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Opera in the Park 2014 Wallis Giunta

And I am not alone. The audience also seemed to like them both.

Baritone Kelly Markgraf lived up to the standards he set as Mozart’s Don Juan when he sang with the Madison Opera. His bad is s-o-o-o-o good. And Jamie-Rose Guarrine (below) proved a delight to hear, familiar as she is to local audiences. She had pitch, tone and expressive range — and showed it  all in a difficult and brief but beautiful aria by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Kelly Markgraf

Opera in the Park 2014 Jamie-Rose Guarrine

All four soloists sounded even and great, whether they sang solo, in duets, trios or quartets.

It all offered more proof for The Ear that great opera comes down not to acting or sets or costumes, but to the music and the singing.

And it was a grand night for singing.

Others agreed.

Here is a review by Lindsay Christians for The Wisconsin State Journal and 77 Square:

http://host.madison.com/entertainment/arts_and_theatre/on-a-grand-night-for-singing-mezzo-wallis-giunta-steals/article_b3f3538b-f6a1-55c6-8f18-fefddf793a21.html

You really should have been there.

But if you weren’t, well, maybe next year you will be.

Still, a lot of you did go this year.

So tell The Ear -– and the Madison Opera – what you thought of Opera in the Park 2014.

 

 


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