The Well-Tempered Ear

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
1 Comment

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 education: The Ear takes the “Cello Cure” at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and now can’t wait for another “treatment” next summer.

June 19, 2014
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Last Saturday night, for the first time ever, I went to the free public concert put on every June by the National Summer Cello Institute, which takes place each summer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Cello Choir 2014 with Uri Vardi

The NSCI is under the direction of University of Wisocnsin-Madison cello professor Uri Vardi (below top) and his wife Hagit Vardi (below body), who works with the UW-Madison Institute of Integrative Medicine and emphasizes the use of the Feldenkrais Method to help performers in workshops called, fittingly, “You Body is Your Strad.”

Uri Vardi with cello COLOR

hagitvardistretching artm

Here is a link to a previous post about the cello institute, with still other links to even earlier stories:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/06/11/classical-music-a-free-cello-choir-concert-will-take-place-this-saturday-night-at-the-university-of-wisconsin-madison-it-features-new-music-and-works-by-villa-lobos-poulenc-j-s-bach-cesar-frank/

The event proved so thoroughly enjoyable and so deeply pleasurable, and put me in such a great mood and frame of mind, that a close friend referred to the experience as the “Cello Cure.”

I won’t argue because it sure did feel curative.

But then I find that experiencing great beauty often feels that way.

One came away from the concert -– which included a cello choir of 16 undergraduate, graduate and professional cellists, selected by audition, from around the nation and perhaps even the world –- completely understanding why the cello, with its human voice-like singing tone, is the favorite instrument of so many listeners. (For The Ear, the cello ranks right up there, just below the piano and alongside the violin and the oboe.)

Cello and bow

One thing The Ear liked was the lack of purism. Enjoyment was the goal of the evening, and so the program featured some simply gorgeous isolated single movements from sonatas and concertos, and NOT the entire pieces. The Great Hits format worked exceptionally well. And so was featuring soloists, and not just ensembles, for the first time.

And on top of all the cellos, The Ear also had two special and bonus experiences: He heard Anna Whiteway, a fabulously talented undergraduate soprano at the UW-Madison, and he heard what sounds like an eminently listenable contemporary composer, Kyle Price, who will be attending the UW-Madison for a graduate degree.

So here are the highlights with photos and not a lot of commentary except to say I found excellence from everyone and disappointment from no one.

The concert opened up with UW-Madison conductor James Smith (below right) leading the famous “Bachianas Brasileiras” No. 5, with its soaring and lyrical soprano aria or wordless vocalise, by Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos. In it and the other similar suites, the composer attempted to adapt and update the musical style of Johann Sebastian Bach to his native country’s indigenous folk melodies and dance rhythms.

Cello Choir 2014 Jim Smith

Here are members of the cello choir, which wouldn’t fit well in a single photo.

Cello Choir 20144 left

Cello Choir 2014 right

And here is Anna Whiteway, who got enthusiastic applause from the cellists and the woefully small audience of several dozen listeners. No wonder. She is The Real Deal. She possesses beautiful tone, big volume, pleasant and modest vibrato, excellent diction and a thoroughly confident stage presence:

Cello Choir 2014 Anna Whiteway

Here is Brian Klickman and pianist Claire Mallory in the poignantly moving Cavatina movement from the Cello Sonata by Francis Poulenc.

Cello Choir 2014 Brian Klickman, Claire Mallory piano

Here is that wonderfully tuneful last movement from Cesar Franck‘s Violin Sonata transcribed for cello and played by Cordula Aeschbacher with pianist Claire Mallory:

Cello Choir 2014 Cordula Aeschbacher

Then Aleks Tengesdal played the impressively turbulent first movement of the Cello Concerto No. 1 by Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara, with piano accompaniment.

Cello Choir 2014 Aleks Tengesdal, Claire Mallory piano

Julian Mueller closed out the first half with the gorgeous Andante Cantabile by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, who, it seems, was never at a loss for a beautiful, bittersweet melody. (You can hear it played by superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma in a YouTube video at the bottom):

Cello Choir 2014 Julian Mueller

The second half opened with seven cellists playing the Recitative and Meditation movements from the young contemporary American composer Kyle Price’s “Requiem in Memory of Connie Barrett.” The Ear found it a very promising and appetizing foretaste of what sounds like a listener-friendly composing style, something too often missing from new music:

Cello Choir 2014 Kyle Price Requiem cellos

Then came back-to-back performances by father and son cellists.

Son Andrew Laven played three movements –- the Bourees 1 and 2 and the Gigue -– from the Suite No. 4 for Solo Cello by Johann Sebastian Bach:

Cello Choir 2014 Andrew Laven

Father Steven Laven, with pianist Christina Lalog, played “The Tears of Jacqueline” by Jacques Offfenbach, a work he said he first heard when it was dedicated to the late great British cellist Jacqueline du Pre. You understand the dedication because the piece is appropriately lyrical in its lament:

Cello Choir 2014 Steven Laven, Christina Lalog piano

And then the concert closed as it opened, with the music of Villa-Lobos. But this was a work The Ear didn’t know, the “Bachianas Brasileiras” No. 1, which has a lovely and soulful slow movement and catchy fugal finale:

Cello Choir 2014 Bachianas Brasileiras No. 1

As an encore, the cello choir demonstrated an improvisational exercise that it used during the two-week workshop. It involves a conductor using unusual and unpredictable hands movements that are unrelated to a particular score or piece of music, and to which the cellists must each respond as they desire or hear is necessary. To The Ear, it sounded a bit like the famous simultaneous, full-orchestra crescendo in the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” song from “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album.

Cello Choir 2014 Improvisation exercise

Uri Vardi graciously thanked the small but very appreciative audience that rose to its feet and added: “See you next year.”

Indeed, he will.

He will almost certainly see The Ear, although I hope the NSCI can find a way to avoid a conflict with a concert on the same night by the popular Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society. Audiences shouldn’t have to choose between two such deserving groups.

And Vardi should also see a full house in Mills Hall.

The Cello Choir concert is that good and that lovely, that beautiful and, yes, that curative.


Classical music: A FREE Cello Choir concert will take place this Saturday night at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It features new music and works by Villa-Lobos, Francis Poulenc, J.S. Bach, Cesar Franck, Tchaikovsky and others. Plus, hear a clip of the Fusions Continuum art music concert with cello and oud to promote understanding and peace between Israelis and Arabs.

June 11, 2014
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Concerts of chamber music by the Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society aren’t the only classical music events happening this weekend.

This week has also seen the annual National Summer Cello Institute (NSCI), which features master classes and performances plus sessions about using Feldenkrais Method and relaxation techniques to best employ one’s physical body to make music through the cello.

cello choir 2

national summer cello Institute 1

For more information about the Institute, here is a link to its home website:

http://www.yourbodyisyourstrad.com/main/2014_National_Summer_Cello_Institute.html

Here is a link to a previous post about the Institute on this blog:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/05/29/classical-music-news-for-the-next-two-weeks-madison-will-again-become-the-summer-capital-of-cello-world-and-this-time-the-public-is-invited-to-participate/

A fine musician and good friend of the blog, Professor Uri Vardi (below) teaches cello at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. Along with his wife Hagit Vardi and some others, Uri Vardi runs the NSCI and sent this message:

Uri Vardi with cello COLOR

Dear Jake,

The 2014 National Summer Cello Institute is ending on this Saturday, June 14, with a public FREE concert in Mills Hall at 8 p.m.

The concert will include “Bachianas Brasileiras” No. 5 (with soprano Anna Whiteway, below top) and No. 1 by Heitor Villa-Lobos. Both pieces will be played by the NSCI Cello Choir, conducted by Professor James Smith (below bottom) of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Béatrice et Bénédict Rehearsal

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

The program will also include new music: two movements of a “Requiem for 6 Cellos and Double Bass” by former NSCI participant (and future UW-Madison Master’s of Music student) Kyle B. Price in memory of his aunt Connie Barrett (a 2010 NSCI participant).

Other solo pieces are by the following composers:  Francis Poulenc, Cesar Franck, Einojuhani Rautavaara, Peter Tchaikovsky, Johann Sebastian Bach and Jacques Offenbach.

I hope you will be willing to let your blog audience know about this.”

Vardi also took part this past season in a Fusions Continuum Concert that mixed the Western cello and the lute-derived Arabic oud (below) with the purpose of using different kinds of art music to promote peace and understanding between Israelis and Palestinians.

oud

Adds Vardi: “Also, I thought you might be interested in a 17-minute YouTube clip of Fusions Continuum:”


Classical music: Sunday is packed at the UW-Madison with lots of vocal music, wind music and contemporary chamber music.

April 20, 2013
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

The frenetic pace of offering concerts before the spring semester is over in three weeks continues this weekend at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Earlier this week, on Friday, I posted about the Perlman Piano Trio concert that takes place today at 3:30 p.m. in Morphy Hall; and the recital by the three winners of the 28th annual Beethoven Sonata Competition, which takes places on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. in Morphy Hall.

Here are some other appealing events that I just couldn’t fit into the regular postings this past week.

On this Sunday, April 21, at 1 p.m. in Music Hall at the foot of Bascom Hill is the FREE Paul Collins Fellowship Recital. It features guest artists and professional singers soprano Emily Birsan (below top), mezzo-soprano Jamie Van Eyck (below bottom), bass-baritone John Arnold and pianist Kirstin Ihde.

Emily Birsan less tarty 2 NoCredit

Jamie Van Eyck

The program will include Ravel’s “’Don Quichotte à Dulcinée”; two Spanish songs from Enrique Granados‘ “Tonadillas”; ‘Songs of Travel‘ by Ralph Vaughan Williams, including “Youth and Love,” “Whither Must I Wander?” and “Bright is the Ring of Words”; Three Russian Songs by Sergei Rachmaninoff (“Midsummer Nights,” “How Fair This Spot” and “Spring Waters”).

Also included are the following opera arias: “Madamina …” and “La ci darem la mano” from Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”; “Non so piu” from Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro”; “Soave sia il vento” from Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte”; “Ah! forse lui. .. Sempre libera” from Verdi’s “La Traviata”; “Sein wir wieder gut” from Richard Strauss’ “Ariadne auf Naxos”; “Belle Nuit” from Offenbach’s “Tales of Hoffman” and Richard Rodgers’ “People Will Say We’re in Love” from “Oklahoma.”

Here, from the UW School of Music, is a Note about Collins Fellowships: “The Collins fellowships have been established through the generosity of Paul J. Collins (below) in honor of his mother, Adele Stoppenbach Collins, a 1929 School of Music graduate. Student are nominated by faculty members. The fellowships are awarded to outstanding graduate performance majors and are determined by a committee of performance faculty.

“Collins Awards guarantee two years of support at the masters level and three years at the doctoral level, contingent upon full-time study and satisfactory progress in the degree program. These awards are sufficient to provide the financial support needed for a single international student to obtain a visa.”

Paul J. Collins

On Sunday, April 21, at 2 p.m. in Mills Hall is a FREE concert by the UW Wind Ensemble (below) under conductors Scott Teeple, Alex Gonzales and Scott Pierson.

The program will include “Cheers!” by Jack Stamp; “Hemispheres” by Joseph Turrin”; “Duels and Dances” by James Stephenson with UW oboist Marc Fink; and “Symphonic Metamorphosis” by Paul Hindemith, arr. Wilson.

UW Wind Ensemble performance

On Sunday, April 21, 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall in a FREE concert by the Contemporary Chamber Ensemble (below)  its director, UW composer Laura Schwendinger.

Contemporary Chamber Ensemble

The program includes “Pas de Quatre” by Eleanor Corey; “The Violinist in My Life” by UW composer Laura Schwendinger (below and at bottom in a YouTube video about a light installation that she did in New york City with her artist sister); a flute quartet by Peter Bacchus; Anton Webern’s Six Bagatelles; and “Sereneta d’ Estate” by George Rochberg.

Schwendinger,_Composer


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