By Jacob Stockinger
This coming week, the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) will present organist Samuel Hutchison (below) and acclaimed singers Andrew Bidlack and Kyle Ketelsen performing as a trio in vocal and instrumental music from oratorios and operas.
The concert is Tuesday night, Feb. 21, at 7:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, 201 State Street.
Principal Organist and Curator for the Madison Symphony Orchestra Samuel Hutchison joins forces with two outstanding singers in the first half to perform a program of favorite arias and overtures from Handel’s Messiah, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, and Rossini’s Stabat Mater.
Opera will be the focus of the second half, featuring arias and selections from Bizet’s Carmen, Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and Gounod’s Faust.
For the full program, go to: http://www.madisonsymphony.org/organopera
Featured by Opera News as one of their top 25 brilliant young artists, tenor Andrew Bidlack (below) — who is replacing David Portillo — makes his debut in Overture Hall following performances at The Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Welsh National Opera and London’s Covent Garden.
Bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen (below, in a photo by Dario Acosta), who lives in nearby Sun Prairie, has sung with major opera companies throughout the world including The Metropolitan Opera, the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the State Opera of Berlin. He is praised for his vibrant stage presence and his distinctive vocalism.
In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear Kyle Ketelsen sing the role of Don Escamillo in a Barcelona, Spain, production of Bizet’s “Carmen.” He is singing the same role in the Metropolitan Opera’s current production of “Carmen.”
General Admission for each Overture Concert Organ performance is $20. Tickets can be purchased at madisonsymphony.org/organopera, (608) 258-4141 or the Overture Center Box Office.
Student Rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $10 tickets.
This performance is sponsored by the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation. Support for all Overture Concert Organ programs is provided by the Diane Endres Ballweg Fund.
With a gift from Pleasant T. Rowland, the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) commissioned the Overture Concert Organ, which is the stunning backdrop of all MSO concerts.
CORRECTION: In an early version of yesterday’s post, The Ear mistakenly said that performances by the Madison Opera of “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird” are on Saturday night at 8 as well as Sunday afternoon at 2:30. The first performance is FRIDAY NIGHT at 8 p.m. – NOT Saturday night. The Ear apologizes for the error.
Here are two links with more information about the opera and the production:
By Jacob Stockinger
This is a busy week with a wide diversity of music at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.
Here is a run-down by day:
At 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, UW hornist Daniel Grabois (below, in a photo by James Gill) will be joined by fellow UW-Madison professor pianist Christopher Taylor for a concert of brass music that is FREE and OPEN to the public.
The program features works by Franz Strauss (Empfindungen am Meere), Paul Hindemith (Alto Horn Sonata), Maurice Ravel (Horn Sonata, originally Violin Sonata) and Jean-Michel Damase (Sonata).
At 7:30 p.m. (NOT 7, as mistakenly first stated in yesterday’s post) in Morphy Recital Hall, saxophonist Daniel Schnyder will perform music by American jazz titan Charlie Parker with the Blue Note Ensemble and also participate in a Q&A session. The event is FREE and open to the public.
Schnyder is the composer of the opera “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird” that the Madison Opera will perform in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center on Friday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. See the above correction for links to more information about the opera.
From 4:30 to 6 p.m. in Mills Hall, Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero will offer a FREE and PUBLIC master class. The Ear has no details about what will be featured.
Montero (below, in a photo by Shelley Mosman), who specializes in spontaneous improvisations but also performs standard repertoire, will perform at 8 p.m. on this Saturday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear her live improvisations in Cologne, Germany on the aria theme of Johann Sebastian Bach‘s well-known “Goldberg” Variations.)
Here is a link with more information, including ticket prices, concert and recording reviews and audio-video clips, about her recital in Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater:
And here is a link to more information about Montero, who also has won awards for her playing, improvisations and her Piano Concerto No. 1:
At 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall is the annual Symphony Showcase with the winners of the UW concerto competition and the world premiere of a student composition. The concert will be conducted by Professor James Smith and graduate student Kyle Knox.
Admission to the event costs $10 for adults; students and children get in for free. There is also a FREE post-concert reception at the nearby University Club.
For more information about the program (violin works by Ravel and Shostakovich, vocal works by Ravel and Gounod, a trumpet work by Oskar Boehme) and biographies of the five student performers (below) plus student composer (Nathan Froebe), go to:
CORRECTION: In a recent post, The Ear used a wrong date and time for the Chopin and Debussy house concert by pianist Trevor Stephenson. The correct time is SATURDAY, FEB. 25, at 7 p.m. For more information, go to:
By Jacob Stockinger
The all-women chamber group Arbor Ensemble will perform a recital of all-French chamber music this weekend.
It will take place this SATURDAY (NOT Friday, as mistakenly reprinted form a faulty press release), Feb. 4, at 7:30 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, in Madison.
Admission is $10 general, and $5 for students and seniors.
The group will perform rarely heard chamber works by French composers, featuring Madison soprano Rachel Edie Warrick (below).
The program includes the Trio Sonata by Claude Debussy; Prelude, Recitative and Variations by Maurice Duruflé; “Où voulez-vous aller?” (Where do you want to go?) by Charles Gounod; “Une Flûte Invisible” (An Invisible Flute) by Camille Saint-Saëns; and Trio No. 2 in A minor by Cécile Chaminade (below).
You can hear the Chaminade Trio No. 2 in the YouTube video at the bottom.
Founding members of the Arbor Ensemble are flutist Berlinda Lopez (below top), violist Marie Pauls (below middle) and pianist Stacy Fehr-Regehr (below bottom).
The ensemble often performs programs by female composers.
For more information, go to Arbor Ensemble’s website at www.arborensemble.com.
By Jacob Stockinger
By Larry Wells
In the past few years I’ve seen Verdi’s “La Forza del Destino” set in the Spanish Civil War, Wagner’s Ring cycle re-imagined as the history of cinema, and Puccini’s “Turandot” presented as a performance by a traveling circus.
Thus, Verdi’s ‘Falstaff’ set in 1930’s Hollywood seemed a reasonable reinterpretation, and so it proved at its final performance Tuesday evening by University Opera.
“Falstaff,” drawn from three plays by Shakespeare, is Verdi’s final opera and a rare comedy. More importantly, gone are his familiar forms of a recitative followed by an aria with lots of oom-pa-pa orchestral accompaniment, now replaced with a conversational style that to me shows Wagner’s influence. It just doesn’t sound like Verdi, but it certainly sounds good.
I felt that the whole evening was a triumph.
The sets were beautifully dressed, the costumes were excellent and the lighting was effective.
The UW Symphony Orchestra, conducted by James Smith, played wonderfully, although from where I sat the sound was occasionally muffled.
Thank goodness a new music building is being built, and I trust that there will be a theater within it that will accommodate operatic performances. The current Music Hall has its limitations, one being that much of the orchestra was playing underneath the stage and another being that for some reason the theater’s temperature cannot be controlled. It was stiflingly hot during the performance.
As for the singing and acting, the cast I saw was uniformly strong. Falstaff, performed by UW-Madison faculty member Paul Rowe (below), was very robust and was particularly affecting during his act III soliloquy. The Ear mentioned to me his Oliver Hardy mannerisms, and once I noticed that I was constantly amused.
Yanzelmalee Rivera as Alice was hilarious in her seduction scene and really came alive in Act III. Courtney Kayser as Meg was a compelling comic actress. Rebecca Buechel’s Mistress Quickly was an equally adept comic actress and had an excellent voice. Emily Weaver as Nannetta was a beautiful singer who shone in her third act moments as Queen of the Fairies. These four women had some outstanding ensemble moments, and I was constantly diverted by their antics as they outwitted the men.
Among the hapless male characters, Brian Schneider was a standout as Ford and the deep voice of Benjamin Schultz (below left, with Paul Rowe and Jiabao Zhang) made the minor character Pistola noticeable whenever he was on stage.
But the voice of the evening belonged to tenor José Daniel Muñiz (below right) as Fenton. He excelled not only in his solo moments but blended extremely well with his paramour Nannetta (Claire Powling, below left).
The outstanding ensemble work exhibited throughout the opera culminated in the grand fugue at the end of the opera, and the nearly full-house audience was blown away by those final moments. (You can hear the fugal finale, conducted by Sir George Solti, in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
The 1930’s Hollywood concept worked well. It seemed completely fitting and was undoubtedly more amusing than it would have been had the opera been set in the time of Henry IV.
“Well done” to the University Opera’s new full-time director David Ronis (below center) for his imagination and direction. I look forward to his production of Benjamin Britten’s “Turn of the Screw” in early March.
And since this University Opera production and other events are being presented to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and the exhibition of a First Folio at the Chazen Museum of Art, I want to put in a plug for Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Sir John in Love” which has almost exactly the same plot as “Falstaff” and is woefully underperformed.
I also want to draw your attention the FREE Opera Scenes concert by University Opera that will be presented this Tuesday night, Nov. 22, at 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall. Featured are singers, with piano accompaniment, in scenes from: Charles Gounod’s “Faust”; Claudio Monteverdi’s “The Coronation of Poppea“; Giacomo Puccini‘s “La Rondine”; Leonard Bernstein‘s “Trouble in Tahiti”; Gioacchino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville”; Dominick Argento’s “Postcard From Morocco”; and Marc Blitzstein’s”Regina.”
ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale in the Atrium Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features acoustic guitarists Helen Avakian and Dave Irwin in music by Ralph Towner, Giberto Gil and Helen Avakian. The concert takes place from 12:15 to 1 p.m.
By Jacob Stockinger
Here is a link with many more details about the performances, the play, the cast and tickets:
Stage director Doug Scholz-Carlson (below), the artistic director of the Great River Shakespeare Festival who has directed “Romeo and Juliet” as both an opera and a play, agreed to an email interview with The Ear about the differences:
You have directed “Romeo and Juliet” as both a play and an opera. How do the two experiences differ, and what are your most favorite and least favorite parts of doing each?
The opera is based closely on the play, so much of what is essential remains true for both versions.
The biggest difference for me is that the opera focuses on the emotional heart of the love story. Thanks to the music by Gounod (below), the audience experiences what it feels like to be young, impulsive and in love.
The music can reach our emotions directly, so that the opera becomes a truly personal experience for the audience. I don’t think you can see the opera and not find yourself transported to that time in your life when you first fell in love. Romeo and Juliet sing a moving duet in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
Because of the important role of the chorus, the opera also gives the audience the sense of the entire community that surrounds the young people. We see the tragedy through the eyes of the adults in the families who are unable, or unwilling, to help their children grow up.
The play by Shakespeare offers more subtlety in the journey of Romeo and Juliet’s relationship and more context for the adults in their lives. While the opera offers a huge emotional experience through the two main characters, the play creates more nuances in the relationships between many individuals in the story.
In our production, I hope audiences will discover that we have added back many of these relationships through visual storytelling.
What should audiences know about how Gounod’s opera differs from Shakespeare’s play? Do you have a personal preference between the two and why?
I don’t have a preference. I truly love them both for different reasons.
I love the wordplay in the tragedy by Shakespeare (below). Each character is sketched clearly and specifically through the way they use language. We see in the language why Romeo and Juliet find the perfect match in each other. Even smaller characters like the servant Peter have a full life in the play.
The play has a relentless energy. There are so many times in the story that things could turn out well — and so many ways in which the two lovers might never have met. You come away from the play with a profound sense that the combination of events that make up our lives is, in a way, a miracle.
Through Gounod’s music, the opera delivers an emotional experience that can’t be duplicated in any other way in the theater.
I’d be tempted to draw the distinction that the play appeals to the head while the opera appeals to the heart — but that would be unfair to both. Both the play and the opera are a complete experience. They are both profound ways to experience a timeless story.
What else would you like to say about this production in specific or about “Romeo and Juliet” in general?
We keep telling and retelling the story of Romeo and Juliet because it plays out our worst fears. What happens when what we hate becomes more important than what we love? I imagine we’ve all been asking ourselves that question given the current political environment.
Neither the opera nor the play ever explains why the Capulets hate the Montagues.
It doesn’t matter. Both families allow their hatred of each other to become more important than their love for their children. The Capulets and Montagues pay a terrible price to learn that lesson, but it is a lesson we all need to learn over and over again.
By Jacob Stockinger
It will be sung in French with English subtitles and will last about three hours with one intermission.
Tickets are $18-$130.
With soaring arias, impassioned scenes and plenty of sword fights, Gounod’s gorgeous opera brings the famous tragic tale of young love to vivid life.
Set in 14th century Verona, Italy, the opera follows the story of Shakespeare’s legendary star-crossed lovers. The Montague and Capulet families are caught in a centuries-old feud.
One evening, Romeo Montague and his friends attend a Capulet ball in disguise. The moment Romeo spots Juliet Capulet, he falls in love, and she returns his feelings. Believing they are meant for one another, they proclaim their love, setting in motion a chain of events that will change both their families.
“Romeo and Juliet is one of the most famous love stories in Western literature,” says Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill), the general director of Madison Opera. “Gounod’s operatic version of it is equally beloved, and it’s exciting to present an amazing cast that brings such vocal and dramatic depth to their story.
“I’m also delighted that we are performing the opera the same weekend that Shakespeare’s First Folio goes on display at the University of Wisconsin-Madison‘s Chazen Museum of Art, enabling our community to enjoy a very Shakespearean weekend.”
Gounod’s operatic adaption of the tragedy of “Romeo & Juliet” premiered in 1867 at the Théâtre Lyrique in Paris. While Gounod is now better known for “Faust,” “Romeo and Juliet” was a bigger success at its premiere, and has stayed in the repertoire for 150 years due to its beautiful music, genuine passion mingled with wit, and exciting fight scenes.
“Having conducted Gounod’s Faust so often, I’m thrilled to finally have the opportunity to conduct his romantic masterpiece,” says John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), the artistic director of Madison Opera who will conduct the two performances.
“The vocal and orchestral writing is lyrical and downright gorgeous,” DeMain adds. “We have a glorious cast, the Madison Opera Chorus and the Madison Symphony. What more could a conductor ask for!” (You can hear Anna Netrebko sing Juliet’s famous aria “Je veux vivre” — “I want to live” – in the popular YouTube video at the bottom.)
Madison Opera’s cast features both returning artists and debuts.
John Irvin (below top) and Emily Birsan (below bottom) return to sing the title roles of Romeo and Juliet. Irvin sang Count Almaviva in the 2015 production of The Barber of Seville, while Birsan returns from singing at Opera in the Park 2016 and Musetta in last season’s La Bohème.
Sidney Outlaw, who sang at this past summer’s Opera in the Park, makes his mainstage debut as Romeo’s friend, Mercutio. Liam Moran, who sang Colline in last season’s La Bohème, sings Frère Laurent, who unites the two lovers in the hope of uniting their families. Madisonian Allisanne Apple (below) returns as Gertrude, Juliet’s nurse.
Making their debuts are Stephanie Lauricella as Romeo’s page, Stephano; Chris Carr as Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin; Philip Skinner as Lord Capulet; and Benjamin Sieverding as the Duke of Verona. Former Madison Opera Studio Artist Nathaniel Hill returns as Gregorio, while current Studio Artist James Held sings the role of Paris.
Directing this traditional staging is Doug Scholz-Carlson (below), who directed Gioaccchino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville,” Aaron Copland’s “The Tender Land” and Benjamin Britten‘s “The Turn of the Screw” for Madison Opera. Scholz-Carlson is the artistic director of the Great River Shakespeare Festival and has directed the original “Romeo and Juliet,” among many Shakespeare plays.
He will discuss the differences between staging “Romeo and Juliet” as a play and as an opera in another posting tomorrow.
For more information about the production, the cast and tickets, go to:
By Jacob Stockinger
Even as it prepares for the annual Opera in the Park gala on July 23, the Madison Opera has announced its 2016-17 season, which is a combination of both the classic and the adventurous, even the intriguingly experimental.
Here is a list of productions with links to more details about the productions, cast, tickets and related events:
The operas by Gounod and Mozart are well-known staples of the repertoire.
But “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird” is new and will be a local, perhaps even regional, premiere and one of the earliest repeat performances of the new work.
The Ear thinks early Bravos are in order for such contemporary crossover programming that also focuses on race, diversity and African American culture. It also seems like a natural choice for John DeMain, who won a Grammy for the first all-black production of George Gershwin’s opera “Porgy and Bess.”
The new opera opened recently to fine reviews at the Apollo Theater in Harlem in New York City. (Below, in a photo by Dominic Mercier for Opera Philadelphia, is tenor Lawrence Brownlee in the title role of alto saxophonist and jazz great Charlie Parker.)
Here is a link to a background story about the work that appeared on the Deceptive Cadence blog of National Public Radio, or NPR, which first broadcast it on All Things Considered:
Here are members of the world premiere production talking about the work:
And here is a trailer with samples of the music and singing:
By Jacob Stockinger
He is generally acknowledged as the greatest writer of all time and of any culture.
The English poet and playwright William Shakespeare (below) died 400 years ago today – on April 23, 1616 — in his hometown of Stratford-on-Avon where he returned to after his stage career in London. He was 52 years old.
You may have heard that a touring copy of the rare 1623 First Folio edition of his plays, on loan from the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., will be on display this fall at the Chazen Museum of Art at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Dates of the exhibit are Nov. 3-Dec. 11, 2016.
Here is a link with more information:
And this summer’s Madison Early Music Festival will focus on Shakespeare and music of the Elizabethan Age when it is held from July 9 to July 16.
Here is more information about that event:
Today, what The Ear wants to know is what is your favorite piece of music inspired by Shakespeare?
The Overture to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Felix Mendelssohn? (The Ear loves that richly atmospheric work. You can hear it, complete with the braying of the “rude mechanical” human who is transformed into a donkey — in a YouTube video at the bottom)
The operas ”Otello” or “Falstaff” by Giuseppe Verdi?
The opera versions of “Romeo and Juliet” by Hector Berlioz and Charles Gounod?
The incidental music to “Henry V,” “Hamlet” and “Richard III” by William Walton?
Franz Schubert’s song “Where is Sylvia”?
The “Romeo and Juliet” Fantasy Overture by Tchaikovsky?
Various setting of songs and ditties in Shakespeare’s plays?
If you need something to jog your memory about possible choices, here is a link:
Leave your choice, with a YouTube link if possible, in the COMMENTS section.
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
The annual FREE concert of opera and Broadway favorites closes the company’s extraordinary 2014-15 season and provides an appetizing preview of the 2015-16 season that celebrates writers and their inspirations.
Typically, Opera in the Park attracts over 14,000 people every year.
This year, Opera in the Park stars soprano Eleni Calenos, contralto Meredith Arwady, tenor Harold Meers and local bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen, and features former Madison Opera Studio Artist Anna Laurenzo.
Here is a link to Kyle Ketelsen’s Q&A with The Ear:
Artistic Director John DeMain conducts the Madison Opera Chorus and Madison Symphony Orchestra. The evening will be hosted by Madison Opera’s General Director Kathryn Smith and by WKOW TV’s 27 News “Wake-Up Wisconsin” anchor Brandon Taylor.
“I love Opera in the Park,” says Smith, in a prepared statement. “It is by far the most important performance Madison Opera gives. The magic combination of thousands of people sitting under the summer night sky and our singers and orchestra performing beautiful music on stage creates something truly inspiring. It is a testament to Madison’s love of music – and love of being outdoors – that we have the highest per capita attendance of any such concert in the country.”
The program for Opera in the Park 2015 includes arias and ensembles from Giacomo Puccini’s “La Bohème,” which opens the 2015-16 season in November; Mark Adamo’s “Little Women,” which will be performed in February; and Jacques Offenbach’s “The Tales of Hoffmann,” which will be performed in April.
The concert will also offer arias and ensembles from such classic operas as Antonin Dvorak‘s “Rusalka,” Charles Gounod’s “Faust,” Arrigo Boito‘s “Mefistofele” and Georg Frideric Handel‘s “Semele.” Broadway hits from “The Music Man,” “Guys and Dolls,” “Kiss Me, Kate” and “Wonderful Town” will round out the evening of music, which always includes one number conducted by the audience with light sticks.
Garner Park is located at 333 South Rosa Road, at the intersection of Mineral Point Road, west of Whitney Way. Parking is available in the CUNA Mutual Group and University Research Park lots. Attendees are encouraged to bring picnics, blankets and chairs. Alcohol is permitted, but not sold in the park.
On the day of the concert, Garner Park will open at 7 a.m. Audience members are not allowed to leave items in the park prior to this time. The rain date for Opera in the Park is Sunday, July 26, at 8 p.m.
Here are two links to help you find information about Opera in the Park.
For general information, go to:
And for more information about the cast, go to:
For information about the next season, go to:
On the eve of the outdoor event, Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill) – who is the general director of the Madison Opera – agreed to revisit the past season and talk about the upcoming season with The Ear.
What kind of artistic and financial shape did the Madison Opera emerge from for the past season?
Our fiscal year doesn’t end until the end of August, but overall it has been a great year on all fronts. From the triumphant music of our first staged Fidelio (below, the prisoners’ chorus in a photo by James Gill) to the sold-out Sweeney Todd and the joyous The Barber of Seville, it was an immensely satisfying season.
Audience and critical response to each opera was strong, and often included some surprise that the individual enjoyed that particular show more than he or she had expected. It feels like we have proved in the past few seasons that we can produce consistently great opera across the spectrum. I am also encouraged by the new audiences we attract and the diversity of age range I see in our lobbies.
Can you rank each show in terms of popularity? Did you learn anything special from the season?
It’s difficult to rank this season’s shows, because we know they drew very different audiences. For example, the audience at Sweeney Todd was definitely younger than the audience at Fidelio — the non-subscription performance in particular seemed to have an average age of 30 — and a number of people brought their young children to The Barber of Seville for their first opera.
In absolute numbers, the order would be Barber (below, in a photo by James Gill), Sweeney Todd and Fidelio, but there was not a wide gap between them.
The main thing I’ve learned with each successive season is that we are doing the right thing by having such a mix of operas. Some of our patrons love Beethoven, some only like comedy, and some were only interested (or very much un-interested) in Sweeney Todd.
By doing such a range, we serve a much wider audience than if we focused on only one segment of our audience. Hopefully this adds to the growing understanding that opera is not a monolithic art form.
How and why did you choose the operas for next season? Why Puccini’s “La Boheme”? Why Offenbach’s “Tales of Hoffmann”? Does “Little Women” represent something of a departure for Madison Opera? Is there an umbrella concept or unifying theme to the season?
Choosing a season’s operas is a question of balancing the classic, the rare and the new; picking a range of composers and languages; and in general coming up with the “mix” that defines us.
We have not performed La Bohème in eight years, so it was time to bring back the greatest love story in opera. While some long-time opera-goers may have seen it many times, we also have many in our audience who have only come to opera recently, so this will be their first Bohème.
Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann is a brilliant piece that is both scarily large and immensely exciting to produce, packed with beautiful music and special effects. It happens to be a personal favorite opera not only for me, but also for John DeMain and Kristine McIntyre, our stage director. We look forward to sharing this literally fantastic work on the Overture Hall stage, as we have not performed it in 20 years.
Little Women came out of Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, to some extent. After the success of Dead Man Walking, many people — particularly those who were surprised by how much they enjoyed a 21st-century opera — asked me what we were doing next. I did not want another nine years to go by before we did another major American opera, but I also wanted a completely different story, so that it would not be a literal comparison.
Mark Adamo’s Little Women has been one of the most-performed American operas since its 1998 premiere; its basis in a story that has been beloved for generations makes it the perfect way to keep growing our American repertoire.
As is often the case, the season theme emerges after I’ve picked the operas. Next season turned out to be a season of writers: Rodolfo is a poet; so is Hoffmann. Jo March writes stories for magazines and is in fact the only writer we see succeeding in her craft during the opera.
That said, the unifying theme is the same one I strive for every season: Great operas that tell wonderful stories with enthralling music.
What role did the new Madison Opera Center play in the past season’s productions? Has it lived up to expectations?
Over the past two years, the Margaret C. Winston Madison Opera Center (below) has played a major role in defining who we are. On a basic level, it is where we rehearse, fit costumes and have our offices. It is also where the singers hang out, give press interviews, do their laundry, cook the occasional meal, work on music for their next gig and bump into our trustees in the common areas.
Having our own space has enabled us to add programs like the free Opera Novice series and hold more workshops with our high school apprentices.
On a financial level, revenue from the parking ramp in particular is an increasingly important part of our budget, as it is not dependent on donors or ticket sales. On a community level, having our rehearsal hall regularly used by groups such as CTM, Theatre Lila, and Capital City Theatre shows that we truly are part of the larger artistic fabric of Madison. The Center was designed to be a home on many levels, and we are well on the way to achieving that dream.
What else would you like to say or add about the past season, the next season and perhaps also the Opera in the Park?
I am always grateful for the enormous number of people who make Madison Opera possible. Opera has never been cost-effective, and our patrons, volunteers, artists, production teams, and staff are all committed to sharing this glorious art form with everyone from the 2,000 teenagers at our student matinees to the 15,000 people at Opera in the Park.
Our season ends with this summer’s Opera in the Park this Saturday, which is always the perfect way to finish the year. This summer is the concert’s 14th year – which means that 2016 will be the 15th year, a milestone that was perhaps unthinkable when we started in Garner Park in 2002.
We have the highest per capita attendance for such an event in the U.S., which is a strong testament to the greater Madison community’s love for what we do. I won’t reveal the repertoire for this summer’s concert yet, but we have four amazing soloists and plenty of light sticks (below), so I hope everyone has the date on their calendars.
By Jacob Stockinger
The concert starts at 8 p.m. in Garner Park, on Madison’s far west side where Mineral Point Road and Rosa Road intersect. (The rain date is this Sunday.)
There will be many treats, from the music and light sticks to ice cream cones and picnic dinners, to enjoy at the popular event that now draws up to 15,000 people. (Garner Park opens at 7 a.m. the day of the concert. Blankets, chairs, food and beverages are allowed.)
But one of the big draws this year is the chance to see and hear bass-baritone native son Kyle Ketelsen (below, in a photo by Dario Acosta). Ketelsen – who sang with the Madison Opera early in his career and who continues to make his home in Sun Prairie — has sung at the Metropolitan Opera and many other major opera companies in Europe and elsewhere.
This will be the first time Ketelsen returns to Opera in the Park since 2008.
Here is a link to general information about the event, which features the vocal soloists, the Madison Opera Chorus and members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, all playing under the baton of John DeMain the music director and conductor of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the artistic director of the Madison Opera:
And here is a link to biographies of the guest soloists:
Ketelesen, who just returned from a month-long stint out-of-town, kindly agreed to a Q&A with The Ear:
How have you seen Opera in the Park develop since you appeared in the inaugural one 14 years ago?
It has developed from a relatively small, enterprising venture from Madison Opera, into a destination event that people really count on and look forward to. Any more growth, and they’ll have to relocate to the Kohl Center!
What music will you be singing this year?
I will sing arias from “Mefistofele” and “Faust,” both as the devil (below). Then I will do a trio from “The Tales of Hoffmann,” as the devil again. They are some of my favorite roles. On the lighter side, a duet from “Kiss Me Kate” and a famous tune from “Guys and Dolls.” We’re mixing it up quite a bit. I always enjoy singing musical theater, but rarely get a chance.
What are the best parts of singing outdoors and what are the most difficult or challenging parts of doing so? What do you most enjoy about it?
You get to “cheat” a bit with the microphone. Indoors, opera singers are very rarely amplified, so every crescendo and decrescendo is all you. This way, I can play pop singer, and just fade away from the mic for a nice diminuendo.
The roar — hopefully! — of that crowd of 15,000 is an absolute rush as well!
Sometimes we get the urge to push to be heard in an outdoor concert, which is of course entirely wrong. We’re accustomed to hearing our own reverb from an opera house or concert hall. But outside, it’s an entirely different feel, acoustically. You need to trust the microphone and the sound guy, and know that you’ll indeed be heard. (Below is a photo — not of Kyle Ketelsen — from a past Opera in the Park by James Gill.)
What role did the Madison Opera play in fostering your now international career?
Certainly regional opera is a starting point for nearly all U.S. singers, no matter where their career eventually takes them. The Madison Opera offered me the opportunity to sing a number of roles at a very early stage in my career. My first Leporello (below, at the Metropolitan Opera) in “Don Giovanni” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, for example, was in Madison.
I was able to lay the groundwork for what has become a calling card of mine, which I’ve sung at the Met, Covent Garden, Chicago Lyric Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Madrid, Munich and others. It was a nurturing environment to test-drive such an amazingly intricate, complex role.
You perform in Europe and around the US. Why do you continue to base your career in Sun Prairie, a suburb of Madison? Does it put you at a professional disadvantage not to live in New York City or Chicago?
My wife and I are from small towns in Wisconsin and Iowa, so it’s felt like home from the beginning. We absolutely prefer the slower, easy-going approach to life. Not to mention quiet! Trees, grass, open spaces and elbow room we hold at a premium.
I work enough in big cities. There is no desire, or necessity, to make my home there. Thankfully, I’ve never needed to be in the middle of things, professionally, in order to start my career.
I feel living in the Midwest gives me an advantage, actually. When I’m home, I’m refreshed. It renews me, and gives me the strength to then go back out when it’s time. (Below is Ketelsen in Bizet’s “Carmen” at the Chicago Lyric Opera. At bottom is a YouTube video of Keletsen singing the role of Escamillo and the famous Toreador Song from “Carmen” in Los Angeles under the direction of Gustavo Dudamel.)
What else would you like to say about yourself, about Opera in the Park or about major highlights of your career since you last sang in Opera in the Park and in upcoming seasons?
It’s especially fulfilling singing in the Madison area. It draws a truly unique, incredibly appreciative, gracious audience. See my website KyleKetelsen.InstantEncore.com for more information.