The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Guest music director Grant Harville talks about the Madison Savoyards productions of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Princess Ida.” The show opens this Friday night and runs for six more performances through Aug. 3.

July 24, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

To loyal and even devout fans, they are known simply as “G&S.”

And since 1963, a devoted group of Madison singers, musicians and stage crafters have produced the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan.

This summer’s production is “Princess Ida,” one of the later G&S shows by the dynamic duo of satirists who were so entertainingly portrayed in the 1999 film “Topsy-Turvy.” “Princess Ida” opens this Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall. (It was previously performed by the Savoyards in 1967, 1980 and 1999.)

Savoyards Ida poster

The seven performances, including two SUNDAY (not Saturday, as erroneously first stated) matinees at 3 p.m., take place at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. The hall is located on the UW-Madison campus at the foot of Bascom Hill.

MusicHall2

Here is a link to the home web page of The Madison Savoyards. You can find more information including: directions and connections to purchase tickets; the dates and times of performances; background about the Savoyards and about Gilbert and Sullivan; reviews of past productions; videos and recordings; pre-performance dinners; information about how to support and participate in the group; and even a newsletter.

http://www.madisonsavoyards.org

Tickets for “Princess Ida” can be purchased at the Wisconsin Union Theater Box Office, by phone at (608) 265-ARTS, or online at www.uniontheater.wisc.edu

The story, adapted from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s epic poem, “The Princess,” is set in Medieval Europe. Princess Ida, betrothed in infancy to Prince Hilarion, has forsworn men and is now head of a women’s school that teaches philosophy, science and the fickleness of men. Intent on winning her heart, Hilarion and his friends set out on a quest that involves sneaking into Ida’s school disguised as women, and culminates in an epic sword-wielding battle.

“It’s just good old Gilbert and Sullivan fun,” says stage director Audrey Lauren Wax (below), who works with StageQ in Madison. “Who doesn’t love the fact that there are three siblings who look nothing alike and the only real connection they have is that it takes three of them to equal one full brain!”

Audrey Lauren Wax

Music director Grant Harville assures audiences that “fans of Sullivan’s contributions to these collaborations will hear exactly the sorts of features that attract them to these works.” Musical numbers run the gamut, from silly patter songs including, “Whene’er I Spoke” and “If You Give Me Your Attention,” to more poignant, lyrical numbers such as, “I Built Upon a Rock.”

Action, plot twists and the generous doses of humor sprinkled throughout Princess Ida will certainly keep audience members on their toes.

The cast includes some veterans of the stage, with Milwaukee native Naiza Delica (below left in a photo by Jane Wegenke) as Princess Ida, Donald Dexter (middle) as King Gama and UW-Madison senior William Ottow (below right) as her romantic counterpart, Prince Hilarion.

Ida preview 2

William Rosholt and Donald Dexter appear as the dueling kings Hildebrand and Gama, and Patrick Chounet and Steven Groth play Hilarion’s two loyal friends, Cyril and Florian.

Gama’s three sons are played by Jim Chiolino, Alec Moeser and Matt White, and Rachel Bishop, Ann Baltes and Tiffany Orr appear as Lady Blanche, Lady Psyche and Melissa.

The cast includes over 30 members from the Madison area, including four families.

Music director Grant Harville (below) agreed to a Q&A with The Ear:

Grant Harville conducting 2

Can you briefly introduce yourself to readers?

I received my doctorate at the UW-Madison School of Music. This is my fourth Madison Savoyards production, and my fifth Gilbert and Sullivan show overall. I’m currently the Music Director and conductor for the Idaho State-Civic Symphony, and I teach at Idaho State University. But my ties to Madison go back a good 20 years now, and The Savoyards have been a rewarding way to stay active during the summer.

How does “Princess Ida” fit into the overall work of Gilbert and Sullivan, especially compared to such famous works as “The Pirates of Penzance,” “The Mikado” and “HMS Pinafore”? What does it share with the others and what separates it from them?

It’s a testament to the astonishing success of Gilbert and Sullivan’s collaboration that “Ida” was considered a failure, running for a “mere” 246 performances.

A lot of the characteristics found in their other projects are present here: punny, silly, clever, occasionally slapstick humor; ridiculous, buffoonish characters; and a lifetime’s worth of good tunes. Some of my favorites from “Ida” are “Gently, Gently,” “I Am a Maiden” and “The World Is But a Broken Toy.” (You can hear the opening of “Princess Ida” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Sullivan is — and was in his own day — criticized for writing music that was “beneath him,” but I’ve never found that criticism fair. The melodies are perfectly constructed and brilliantly apt text settings; and there are plenty of traps for the company that underestimates the complexities of these scores.

G&S had a formula, to be sure, but there’s enough generic music out there for us to recognize that this is better than that.  There’s a reason the duo has found a permanent place in the repertory while countless other works have gone by the wayside.

What do you find so appealing about the stream of William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan (below)? Do you find any relevance in “Princess Ida” to society and politics today? Can you elaborate?

I think what keeps bringing me back as a music director is how much I fall in love with the music each summer.  No matter how good the drama is, or how funny the dialogue is, it’s the music that attracts me.

Because of its parody of feminism, “Ida” is perhaps more controversial than others of the operas. The parody that today’s audiences will recognize most readily is probably Lady Blanche, a university professor whose thinking has become so abstract that it no longer makes any sense.

Gilbert and Sullivan

What would you like the public to know about this particular production -– the cast, the musicians, the sets and costumes, whatever?

The Madison Savoyards expects, though certainly doesn’t require, a very high level of familiarity from some of its audience — to the degree that if a few words are transposed in the dialogue, there are people who will notice.  (Not that such familiarity is required; G&S is extremely accessible.)

Because the company is dedicated to this repertoire, they devote all their resources to making the productions as polished as possible. That means beautiful sets and costumes, full orchestra accompaniment, outstanding staff support.

I’m proud of our cast and crew; they make a remarkable commitment to be in the show, and I think audiences will see it manifested on stage.

 

 

 

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Classical music Q&A: The Ear checks in on the Madison Savoyards about the success of this summer’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Iolanthe” and of the company itself.

July 24, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

Starting this Thursday, July 24, the Madison Savoyards will wrap up the final four performances of this summer’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’sIolanthe.”

Iolanthe poster.web

Performances take place in the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Music Hall (below) on Bascom Hill — a venue that is more or less historically contemporary with G&S operas — on this Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30 p.m.; and on Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m.

MusicHall2

For more information, including tickets, here is a link to the Savoyards’ homepage:

http://www.madisonsavoyards.org

I have so far been unable to attend the opera this summer, but here is a link to a very positive review by John W. Barker (below), who often writes for this blog, that appeared in Isthmus:

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=40454

John-Barker

Here is a link to my earlier post for the first week of the production:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/07/16/classical-music-the-madison-savoyards-celebrates-50-years-of-staging-gilbert-and-sullivan-with-an-encore-production-of-iolanthe-that-opens-this-friday-and-saturday-nights-at-uw-madi/

And here is a Q&A that Evan Richards (below), the secretary of the Madison Savoyards’ board of directors as well as the videographer and webmaster, did via email for The Ear.  (Richards also took the photos of the production of “Iolanthe” on today’s post.) And at bottom is a YouTube video of Evan Richards talking in 2011 about the Madison Savoyards.

You might have also heard him last week on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “The Midday” during his very informative and entertaining interview with hosts Norman Gilliland, so here is a link to that interview:

http://wpr.org/webcasting/asx/listen17.asx

Evan Richards

Why did the Madison Savoyards want to do “Iolanthe” this summer 

2013 marks the beginning of the second 50 years of the Madison Savoyards. The first performance of the Madison Savoyards in 1963 was “Iolanthe,” so we felt it fitting that we begin our second 50 years with the same opera. It was also due to be performed; the last performance was in 2001.

The Savoyards have a plan to produce all the G&S operas at least once between 2007 and 2020.

The more familiar and popular ones tend to be performed more often than the less known ones because it helps keep our bank balance black. But we feel our mission is to perform them all. Sometimes the obscure ones surprise us by drawing a larger audience than we expect, as was the case with

“Utopia Limited” (below)  in 2011, in its second Madison Savoyards production.

Utopia Limited 2

How would you compare “Iolanthe” to other well-known Gilbert and Sullivan operettas such as “The Pirates of Penzance,” H.M.S. Pinafore” and “The Mikado”?

“The Mikado,” “The Pirates of Penzance” and “HMS Pinafore” are the most familiar G&S operas in the USA and receive more performances than the others.

“The Mikado” is the most popular of all, in the US, in the UK, and around the world. The US has had a particular fondness for “The Pirates” since it was first performed here, and that has only increased in recent times with the Joseph Papp production in New York which brought it to the attention of many who were not familiar with G&S. “Iolanthe” came after “Pinafore” and “Pirates” (and “Patience”) and represents a more developed period in the G&S output.

By the time “Iolanthe” came along, both Gilbert and Sullivan (below, with Sullivan on the left)) were rich, having an income over time to rival the Prime Minister’s. Gilbert was building a new mansion with four bathrooms, central heating and a telephone.

The music is more sophisticated, as is the writing. The political satire is particularly sharp and, given the current partisan gridlock in Washington, D.C., particularly timely. One can make a case that it represents a peak of their achievement, but I would admit I would make a similar case for several other of their operas.

Gilbert and Sullivan (left)

What can you tell briefly about the plot and roles of “Iolanthe”?

Very briefly, we are dealing with fairyland, lawyers and the House of Lords (below), all of which are not connected with the real world. The plot is really rather dark and could have easily ended very badly, if it were not for the sudden turn at the end.

The roles are recognizable G&S characters, for example, the Lord Chancellor has the patter song, the famous “Nightmare” song, one of the best of all G&S patter songs.

DSC05637

What would you like to say about the cast, sets, costumes and other aspects of the production?

The sets and costumes are wonderful. The cast has some Savoyard veterans and some who are making their debut with us. It has all come together very well.

DSC05666

What kinds of shape in the Savoyards in after The Great Recession now that recovery is underway? What do future plans include?

Our bank balance is in the black, where we like to keep it. We plan multi-year cycles, so the popular show income can compensate for the obscure show losses. We have a wonderful and loyal band of followers who buy tickets and contribute. We have a board of directors that watches the expenses carefully to get the most out of every penny. So we weathered the storm rather well.

Future plans include performing all of the G&S operas between 2007 and 2020, and we are working on a collaboration with the Madison Ballet to mount “Pineapple Poll” in 2015.

Is there more you would like to say or add?

Don’t miss “Iolanthe” because it is a great show and it has not been seen in Madison for a dozen years. The music is Sullivan at his best, the words are Gilbert at his best, and the combination is better than the sum of each. So don’t miss it.


Classical music: Madison Savoyards marks 50 years of Gilbert and Sullivan with a production of “Pirates of Penzance” that opens this Friday.

July 19, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Well, if you think, as I used to think – and sometimes still do — that the works of Gilbert and Sullivan (below) don’t really count as classical music, but are really closer to Broadway musicals or to light operettas, you should know that you are mistaken. Just as I was and am.

Many informed musicians and music outlets, including acclaimed classical music magazine and web sites, list G&S as opera. It’s that simple — no matter what you think of the pair’s signature patter songs and absurd plots.

So little wonder that I want to alert everyone to the fact that the Madison Savoyards will mark its 50th years of presenting annual summer productions of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas with the ever-poplar “Pirates of Penzance.” (The Savoyards started in 1963 at West High School, which in my math adds up to 49 years, I think. But let’s be generous and call it 50 since they do.)

(The photo below, by Jason Chandler, shows, from left to right, soprano Catherine Schweitzer as Mabel, the surprisingly assertive daughter of Major General Stanley and a Ward in Chancery; Anthony Ashley as the Sergeant of Police, all a rather cowardly bunch of bobbies; and J. Adam Shelton as Frederic, lovelorn but duty-bound to continue as a pirate until his leap-year birthday relieves him of his apprenticeship.)

There will be seven performances in Music Hall on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, beginning this Friday, July 20, and running through July 29, with both five evening shows and two matinee shows.

You can also join in the official 50th Celebration and Reception, University Club at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, July 22.

William Farlow of the University Opera is the stage director; Blake Walter, of Edgewood College in the music director of the full orchestra.

The community group now has more than 100 people involved in the productions.

For more information about dates, times, tickets and performers as well as video and audio excerpts from past Savoyard productions, here is a link:

http://www.madisonsavoyards.org/

It is also worth nothing that the Savoyards will open the next 50 seasons the same way they opened the first 50 seasons: with a production of “Iolanthe” in 2013. And in future seasons, the Savoyards is likely to present all 13 Gilbert and Sullivan operettas as they have done their beginning.

But for this year, it is the popular “The Pirates of Penzance.” (Below, the photo by Jason Chandler shows soprano Catherine Schweitzer as Mabel and tenor J. Ada, Shelter as Frederic.)

Seven performances of “The Pirates of Penzance” will be held in UW Music Hall at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, July 20, and Saturday, July 21, as well as Thursday, July 26, Friday, July 27 and, Saturday, July 28; and at 3 p.m. on Sundays July 22 and July 29.

Tickets can be bought at the Wisconsin Union Theater Box Office, (608) 262-2201, or through www.madisonsavoyards.org

Prices are: Adult, $30; seniors, $28; students, $15; children under 13, $5; premium seats, (center first 3 rows, $40; economy seats on the balcony side), $20.


Classical music: There is more to conducting than just waving your arms and pointing your fingers. The New York Times, the Juilliard School of Music and New York University’s Movement Lab offer a revealing deconstruction of a maestro’s movements and motions.

April 15, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

One of the most exciting and informative classical music stories to appear in a long time is the recent story about what the movements of an orchestra conductor mean.

The conductor is question was the New York Philharmonic Orchestra’s music director Alan Gilbert.

Thanks to the Juilliard School of Music, where Gilbert heads up the conducting program, and to New York University’s Movement Lab and its motion-capture computerized graphics, Gilbert was recorded conducting and then explaining what the movements mean.

It is like taking a mini-seminar is an art that takes many years to master, and even then some conductrors obviously do it much better than others. Some conductors — like Leonard Bernstein — flamboyantly sand dangerously danced around a lot on the podium while other conductor — like Fritz Reiner and Herbert van Karajan — were known for an almost total economy of movement.

Here is a link to the terrifically inventive, well researched and well written story by Daniel J. Wakin of The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/08/arts/music/breaking-conductors-down-by-gesture-and-body-part.html?pagewanted=all

It is fun to take in because it is printed and also an interactive video with highlighted comments by conductor Gilbert (below). Take a look:

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/04/06/arts/music/the-connection-between-gesture-and-music.html

And here is a link to a background story and video about how it was made in the lab. It is a fascinating and illuminating explanation that suggests we can expect a lot more in the future of seeing technology illuminate art:

http://50.16.231.236/index.html


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