The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Madison Opera performs Verdi’s popular “La Traviata” this Friday night and Sunday afternoon in Overture Hall

October 28, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend, the Madison Opera opens its 59th season with a traditional production of Verdi’s “La Traviata” (The Lost One), one of the most popular operas in history.

According to the website www.operasense.com — specifically at https://www.operasense.com/most-popular-operas/ — it has been the most performed opera in the world, beating out such perennial favorites as Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” Puccini’s “La Boheme” and “Madama Butterfly,” and Bizet’s “Carmen.” (Below are photos by Matthew Staver from the production by Opera Colorado in Denver, which features the same sets and costumes that will be used in the production by Madison Opera.)

Performances in Overture Hall are this Friday night, Nov. 1, at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon, Nov. 3 at 2:30 p.m. The opera will be sung in Italian with projected supertitles in English. The running time, with two intermissions, is 2 hours and 45 minutes.

PRE-OPERA TALKS are on Friday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 1:30 p.m. in the Wisconsin Studio of the Overture Center. One hour prior to performances, general director Kathryn Smith will give an entertaining and informative talk about “La Traviata.” The talks are free to ticket holders.

POST-OPERA Q&A’s are on Friday and Sunday and will also take place in the Wisconsin Studio of the Overture Center. Audience members can join general director Kathryn Smith immediately after the performance to ask questions about what they have just seen. The sessions are free to ticket holders.

Tickets are $18-$135 with student and group discounts available. For information about tickets, the production and the cast, go to: https://www.madisonopera.org

Set in mid-19th century Paris, “La Traviata” tells of Violetta, a courtesan who tries to follow her heart. But societal pressures force her to leave the man she loves, and an incurable illness takes care of the rest.

Glittering parties contrast with quiet desperation, and ravishing music underscores all-consuming emotions.

“Only a few operas ever achieve a truly beloved status — and “La Traviata” is one of them,” says Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill). For being over 150 years old, its story is quite modern: a young woman trying to overcome the limitations that society has placed on her because of her class and gender, searching for happiness yet willing to make sacrifices.

“Plus it is full of very famous music, from the ‘Brindisi’ to ‘Sempre Libera’ and more,” Smith adds. “It’s always a pleasure to have a new generation discover this work, and to share it with opera omnivores who know it well.” (You can hear Renée Fleming sing Violetta’s signature aria “Sempre libera” (Always Free) at the Royal Opera House in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

“La Traviata” is based on the play and novel “La Dame aux Camélias” (The Lady of the Camellias) by Alexandre Dumas the son (below top), which were in turn based on his real-life relationship with the courtesan Marie Duplessis (below bottom), who died in 1847 of consumption.

The play was an instant hit when it premiered in Paris in 1852, and Verdi (below) turned it into an opera the following year.

While the first production of the opera was not a success, due to the poor singing of two cast members and the physical unsuitability of one singer, its second production was acclaimed, and the opera swiftly became one of the most performed operas in the world, a status it has not lost.

Both the opera and the play have inspired countless films, including “Camille” (with Greta Garbo), “Pretty Woman” (with Julia Roberts) and “Moulin Rouge” (with Nicole Kidman).

Madison Opera’s artistic director John DeMain (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) says: “”La Traviata” has been a part of my artistic life since the very beginning of my career – it’s one of the reasons I so wanted to conduct opera. The heartfelt and tragic story of a love that was cut short by both health and cultural circumstances is still deeply moving today.

“The role of Violetta is a tour-de-force that ranges from high-flying coloratura to dramatic vocalism, with a strongly-etched character. I love this opera so deeply and look forward to conducting it for our audience.”

Returning to Madison Opera as Violetta is Cecilia Violetta Lopez (she played Carmen in Madison), whom The Washington Post reviewer called “as compelling a Violetta as I’ve seen.”

Mackenzie Whitney  (below, who appeared in “Florencia en el Amazonas” for the Madison Opera) returns as Alfredo, the young man for whom she sacrifices everything.

Weston Hurt (below) debuts with Madison Opera as Alfredo’s father Germont, whose disapproval of his son’s relationship with Violetta has tragic consequences.

Madison Opera’s Studio Artists are featured: Kirsten Larson as Flora, Emily Secor as Annina, Benjamin Hopkins as Gastone, and Stephen Hobe as the Marquis d’Obigny.

Rounding out the cast are Benjamin Sieverding (Romeo and Juliet) as Dr. Grenvil and Benjamin Major in his Madison Opera debut as Baron Douphol.

Fenton Lamb (below) directs this traditional production in her Madison Opera debut.

Maestro John DeMain conducts the singers, the Madison Opera Chorus and the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

The Madison Opera’s production of “La Traviata” is sponsored by the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation, Bert and Diane Adams, Carla and Fernando Alvarado, Chun Lin, Patricia and Stephen Lucas, Millie and Marshall Osborn, Kato and David Perlman, the Wallach Family, Helen Wineke, Capitol Lakes, and the Wisconsin Arts Board.


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Classical music: The UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet opens its new season in top form

September 24, 2018
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IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, PLEASE FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR SHARE IT (not just “Like It”) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event.

By Jacob Stockinger

On Friday night in Mills Hall, in an all-masterpiece program that featured Classical, Romantic and Modernist works, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) opened its new season .

And it did so in top form. The Ear came away with one thought: You just can’t find better chamber music in Madison — and it’s free!

In the “Sunrise” Quartet in B-flat Major, Op. 76, No. 4, by Franz Joseph Haydn, the Pro Arte exhibited the ideal Classical style with its balance, voicing and clarity.

The sunrise motif proved utterly convincing and evocative. Particularly noteworthy was how the group highlighted the dissonances in the Classical era’s slow movement. (Hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The interpretation offered more proof that when the work is consonant, you play for the dissonance; and when the work is dissonant, you play for the consonance.

In the short, non-stop Quartet No. 7 in F-sharp minor, Op. 108, by Dmitri Shostakovich, The Ear was impressed by how the Pro Arte teased out the remnants of late Russian Romanticism that creep into the mostly modernist works of Shostakovich and Prokofiev.

Also remarkable was how the Pro Arte highlighted the structure and counterpoint that Shostakovich, a devotee of Bach, brought to his modernism. This seemed a softer and more lyrical Shostakovich, less strident or percussive, than you often hear. And the approach worked beautifully to engage the listener.

And then came the grand finale done grandly: the late Beethoven Quartet No. 15 in A minor, Op. 132. The quartet unraveled the often perplexing and thick texture; the epic length; and the forward-looking compositional methods.

The Pro Arte used a low-key and restrained approach that only highlighted the heart-rending lyricism of the “Heiliger Dangesang,” or Sacred Hymn of Thanksgiving, that the aging Beethoven composed when he had recovered from what he thought might be a fatal illness.

How fitting! The perfectly planned program started with one dawn by the teacher and ended with another dawn by the student.

Madison keeps getting more new chamber music groups, all very accomplished and all very good. But the Pro Arte Quartet — now in its 106th season of existence and its 78th season in residence at the UW-Madison — is still tops. As one fan said in near disbelief, “That concert was out of this world.” He wasn’t alone as the performance drew a prolonged standing ovation and loud bravos from the two-thirds house.

When it comes to chamber music, you just can’t do better than the Pro Arte Quartet. It’s that simple. With such quality and affordability, the Pro Arte should always be playing to a full house.

The Pro Arte Quartet will repeat the same program on Sunday afternoon, Oct. 7, at 12:30 p.m. for “Sunday Afternoon Live at the Chazen.” Admission to the Brittingham Gallery 3 performance space is free, and the concert will be streamed live. Go here for details and a link:

https://www.chazen.wisc.edu/index.php?/events-calendar-demo/event/sunday-afternoon-live-at-the-chazen-10-7-18/

And the dates and times — without programs — of future Pro Arte Quartet concerts can be found here: https://www.music.wisc.edu/pro-arte-quartet/


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Classical music: What music do you listen to when you are sick – if any?

February 10, 2018
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

About a week ago, The Ear asked how the terrible flu that is going around has affected the classical music scene for both players and audiences.

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2018/02/03/classical-music-how-is-the-bad-flu-epidemic-affecting-classical-music-in-madison/

Since then, the flu has only gotten worse and it still shows no sign of peaking. More deaths of children and the elderly have been reported.

And now hospitals and emergency rooms are reaching capacity or exceeding it. They are getting understaffed as doctors, nurses and others also come down with the flu and can’t work.

But it got The Ear to thinking:

When you get sick, do you listen to music?

Does it make you feel any better?

Or distract you?

What kind of music — if any – do you prefer to listen when you are sick: Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Modern or Contemporary?

And why do you like it?

Are there specific composers or pieces you turn to when you are sick?

The Ear often listens to Baroque music for the reason he listens to it in the morning: It is upbeat and generally seems to impart energy without taxing your attention span too much.

In fact, he particularly partial to violin concertos by Antonio Vivaldi and the keyboard concertos (below) of Johann Sebastian Bach.

Mahler and Bruckner symphonies or Shostakovich string quartets are just too overwhelming and dark to be salutary. But that is just one person’s opinion.

So given how many people are suffering with the flu or other sickness these days, what advice and illness and listening to music would you give?

Leave a recommendation in the COMMENT section – with a link to a YouTube performance, if possible.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: You’re invited to a FREE 12-hour marathon birthday party for Johann Sebastian Bach this Saturday. Plus, tonight’s concert of African-American music has been CANCELLED

March 14, 2017
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ALERT: Tonight’s concert of African-American spirituals and songs has been CANCELLED because guest scholar and singer Emery Stephens is ill. The UW-Madison School of Music hopes to reschedule the event later this spring. 

By Jacob Stockinger

Guess who turns 332 on March 21?

This coming Saturday will bring a 12-hour, noon to midnight, marathon party for the Birthday Boy – Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750, seen below in a humorous poster for a similar event held several years ago).

The local event – now part of the nationwide “Early Music Month” — is being revived, thanks to Madison violist Marika Fischer Hoyt (below), who performs with the Madison Bach Musicians, the Ancora String Quartet  and the Madison Symphony Orchestra,  and to many sponsors.

The party will take place at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (below) on Regent Street. (Several years ago, the event, when it was sponsored by Wisconsin Public Radio, was held at the Pres House.) There will be live audio-visual streaming and free wi-fi, and the event will be recorded.

Here is a link to the updated schedule of performances:

https://bacharoundtheclock.wordpress.com/concert-schedule/

Here is a link to an earlier post about the upcoming event:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/?s=bach+around+the+clock

If you love the music of Bach (below) – and The Ear doesn’t know anyone who is into classical music who doesn’t revere Bach — there will be a lot to love and to listen to at this FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC  celebration.

The event is modeled after a longtime similar event in New Orleans and those who attend it can come and go and come back again.

Local performers include groups and individuals who are professionals (Madison Bach Musicians and Wisconsin Chamber Choir), amateurs and students (Suzuki Strings of Madison).

The impressive program includes lots of variety.

There will be preludes and fugues.

Cantatas and concertos.

Sonatas and suites.

Obscure works will be performed.

But there will also be popular works such as two Brandenburg Concertos (Nos. 3 and 5), The Well-Tempered Clavier (Books I and II), the Magnificat, a Violin Concerto, “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” and some of The Art of Fugue. (You can hear Fugue No. 1  from “The Art of Fugue,” which will be performed at BATC, in the YouTube video at the bottom.) 

There will be music played on period instruments and on modern instruments, including the harpsichord and the piano; the baroque violin and the modern violin; older recorders and newer flutes, the viola da gamba and the cello. And of course there will be lots and lots of singing and organ music.

Given such a marathon undertaking, you should know that there will be refreshments (coffee, tea, bottled water and snacks), comfortable seating and special birthday cakes — served at midnight — provided by Clausen’s Eurpean Bakery in Middleton.

NOTE: You can find out more when several organizers and performers from Bach Around the Clock are Norman Gilliland’s guests on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “The Midday” this coming Thursday from noon to 12:30 p.m.

For more information –including how to support the event with a donation and how to participate in it as a performer – go to the event’s homepage:

https://bacharoundtheclock.wordpress.com

Here are some links to previous posts on this blog about attending earlier versions of Bach Around the Clock. Read them and look at the pictures, and you will see how enjoyable they are and how informative they are.

From 2010:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2010/03/20/classical-music-events-here-is-the-line-up-for-saturdays-bach-around-the-clock/

From 2011:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2011/03/21/classical-music-review-the-marathon-“bach-around-the-clock”-concert-is-now-officially-a-tradition-in-madison-wisconsin/

From 2012:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/03/23/classical-music-here-are-8-lessons-i-learned-from-my-day-of-berlitz-bach-at-wisconsin-public-radios-bach-around-the-clock-3-last-saturday/

See you there!


Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra receives a national grant for its HeartStrings outreach program of music therapy for the special-needs community. Plus, you can hear the MSO’s Rhapsodie Quartet perform music by Schubert and Dvorak on Monday, May 23

May 15, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following note, which he finds worth sharing because of the local distinction and because it confirms that the importance of hearing music goes far beyond the concert hall and recording studio.

The notice outlines an example of musical outreach that is both empathetic and compassionate, traits that mean the entire public should know about and support the MSO’s outreach programs: 

National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Chairman Jane Chu announced on May 10 that the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) has been awarded an NEA Art Works grant of $20,000 to support HeartStringsSM, an internationally recognized, music therapy-informed community engagement program for individuals with special needs.

The NEA has approved more than $82 million total to fund local arts projects and partnerships in this second major funding announcement for fiscal year 2016.

HeartStringsSM  uses live music to address the physical, emotional, cognitive and social needs of individuals with disabilities, long-term illnesses, dementia and assisted-living needs.

Participants receive the HeartStringsSM program free-of-charge, and the MSO’s Rhapsodie Quartet (below), a professional string quartet comprised of principal MSO musicians, performs the music live at various sites.

NOTE: You can hear the Rhapsodie Quartet plus UW-Madson and Pro Arte Quartet cellist Parry Karp perform on Monday, May, 23, at 7 p.m. in the Promenade Hall of the Overture Center. The program features the “AmericanString Quartet by Antonin Dvorak and the late and sublime String Quintet in C Major, D. 956, by Franz Schubert. The suggested donation is $5 at the door.

MSO HeartStrings outreach with Rhapsodie Quartet playing

The Quartet will facilitate a series of nine group music therapy-informed sessions at 10 retirement communities, healthcare facilities, and state institutions across Dane County, reaching nearly 3,200 individuals –many of whom would not otherwise have access to the restorative effects of live music.

“The arts are all around us, enhancing our lives in ways both subtle and obvious, expected and unexpected,” said Chu. “Supporting projects like the one from the Madison Symphony Orchestra offers more opportunities to engage in the arts every day.”

MSO Director of Education and Community Engagement Kathryn Schwarzmann said:

“HeartStrings is a signature program of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, which brings meaningful musical experiences directly into the lives of individuals with special needs throughout Dane County, Wisconsin. This nationally recognized community engagement program combines the beneficial effects of live music with participatory, music therapy-informed activities designed to promote the well-being of traditionally underserved populations.

The NEA’s Art Works grants support the creation of work, and presentation of both new and existing work, lifelong learning in the arts, and public engagement with the arts through 13 arts disciplines or fields.

To join the Twitter conversation about this announcement, please use #NEASpring16.

For more information on projects included in the NEA grant announcement, go to arts.gov

Here is a video of a television interview that features Kathryn Schwarzmann, who explains more about the background of the HeartStrings program and about how it works:


Classical music: Early music group Eliza’s Toyes offers a fascinating exploration of the role of music in medicine from Medieval though Baroque times.

May 24, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker, who also took the performance photos. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who for 12 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

Eliza’s Toyes (below top), the consort of voices and instruments devoted to early music, is led by the formidably talented Jerry Hui. The group gave another of its imaginative programs, this time on Friday night at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery (below bottom).

eliza's toyes 2015

WID_extr11_1570

The theme and title of this program was “Music: The Miracle Medicine.” Offered were 15 selections, conveying various ideas or beliefs about health (both physical and spiritual), illness, medicine, miracle cures and good living.

Toyes medicine motet JWB

Each selection was preceded by the reading of passages from moral and medical texts of various periods. (I wonder if today’s medical and health-advice writings will sound as comical generations from now as do those of the past to us!)

Toyes medicine physician JWB

Fifteen composers were represented in the course of the program, from Medieval through Baroque: Hildegard von Bingen (below top, 1098-1179), Alfonso El Sabio (1221-1284), Thomas Tallis (1505-1585), Cipriano da Rore (1516-1565),Hubert Waelrant (1515-1595), Orlando di Lassus (1532-1594), William Byrd (1540-1623), Lelio Bertani (1553-1612), John Wilbye (1574-1638), Gabriel Bataille (1575-1630), Melchior Franck (1579-1639), John Maynard (15??-16??), Anonymous 17th-Century (2 items), Marin Marais (1656-1728) and John Eccles (1668-1735).

ST. HILDEGARD OF BINGEN DEPICTED IN ALTARPIECE AT ROCHUSKAPELLE IN GERMANY

The selections were mostly vocal, either solo or ensemble. One instrumental selection stood out as probably the one most likely to be familiar: Marin Marais’ excruciatingly detailed “Representation of the Operation for Gallstone” (below top is Marais, below bottom is the introduction to his work) — complete with narrative headings for each section. (You can hear the narration and the music to the unusual piece in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Marin Marais 2

Toyes medicine Marais operation JWB

The performances were earnest and often accomplished. But it must be said in honesty that, in motets and madrigals, the vocal ensemble was not balanced or smooth — the singers clearly need to live with this kind of musical writing somewhat longer. Still, the overall effect was certainly entertaining and thematically fascinating.

Toyes medicine motet 2 JWB

There were no printed programs, but the titles and text translations were projected on a background screen. These projections were fully visible and readable, so they worked well.

Toyes medicine projection JWB

This is a program that will be offered again, I understand, at the Chazen Museum of Art on July 15, so that it can be caught and savored once more.

Above all, it is one more tribute to the thoughtful, deeply researched and intriguing program skills of Jerry Hui (below).

Jerry Hui

 


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