By Jacob Stockinger
It is Easter Sunday — a day when Christians and many others around the world think about the spiritual meaning of death, redemption and forgiveness. That also makes it an appropriate time to think about certain pieces of music — say, the Passions and Cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach — and certain operas.
Take, for example, the Madison Opera’s upcoming production of the contemporary opera “Dead Man Walking.”
Later this week, The Well-Tempered Ear will feature interviews that arts critic Mike Muckian did with “Dead Man Walking” composer Jake Heggie and librettist Terrence McNally. (Below in a photo by James Gill are Daniela Mack as Sister Helen Prejean and Michael Mayes as the convicted killer facing execution Joseph DeRocher.)
PLEASE NOTE: The real Sister Helen Prejean and composer Jake Heggie will be in Madison and offer a FREE public discussion this Thursday night at 7 p.m. at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Avenue. No reservations are needed.
But on this special day, to whet your appetite and set the stage, so to speak, with basic facts, here is an official press release:
Sets and costumes come from the Eugene Opera’s acclaimed production in Oregon.
The opera will be sung in English with project text in surtitles. Tickets are $18 to $121. Call (608) 258-4141 or visit www.madisonopera.org.
The opera does carry a Parental Advisory because it contains nudity, graphic violence, and explicit language; it is not recommended for anyone under age 18.
The production is a Madison Opera and Upper Midwestern premiere, and “Dead Man Walking” is cathartic and humanizing, set to a stunning American score that ranges from hymns to zydeco.
With a libretto by Terrence McNally, “Dead Man Walking” is based on the book of the same name by Sister Helen Prejean, which also served as the inspiration for the critically acclaimed 1995 film starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn.
The opera tells of a nun’s journey as the spiritual advisor of a convicted murderer on Louisiana’s death row. From its shocking beginning to its emotionally searing final scene, this opera changes everyone who encounters it. Its stunning score and intense story combine into a work that the San Francisco Chronicle says, “must be reckoned something of a masterpiece – a gripping, enormously skillful marriage of words and music to tell a story of love, suffering and spiritual redemption.”
At bottom is a YouTube video of the production by the Houston Grand Opera, where Madison Symphony Orchestra music director and Madison Opera artistic director John DeMain worked before coming to Madison 20 years ago) with Joyce Di Donato, Frederica von Stade and Philip Cutlip in the title roles.
“Dead Man Walking is, for me, unquestionably one of the greatest operas ever written,” says Madison Opera’s General Director Kathryn Smith (below in a photo by James Gill). “When I saw it in 2002 at New York City Opera, I was completely blown away by its music, its dramatic power, and the sheer theatrical intensity that seared particular scenes in my mind for a decade. I am thrilled to produce it in Madison with this stunning cast, and particularly honored that Jake Heggie and Sister Helen Prejean are coming to Madison for opening night and to speak with our community the evening before.”
“Dead Man Walking” also has special significance to conductor and Madison Opera Artistic Director John DeMain (below, in a photo by Harper Fritsch), who has a long history with the opera.
“From my very first encounter with “Dead Man Walking” at its 2000 premiere in San Francisco, I knew it was an opera for the ages, and one that I wanted to conduct and present to an ever-widening audience,” recalls DeMain. “I was fortunate to be able to create the second new production of the work, and conduct it in Orange County, Detroit, New York City, and its first international production in Australia.
“In every instance, this new opera connected viscerally with its audience for all the right reasons. It was a powerful, immensely moving drama with lyrical, memorable music, and a fine libretto. The playwright, Terrence McNally, knew exactly how to handle a sad and tragic situation with pathos, great humanity, and a wonderful sense of humor. “
Maestro DeMain encourages local audiences, whether long-time devotees of opera or completely new to the art form, to experience “Dead Man Walking.”
“It is deeply spiritual, deeply moving, and deeply human with a score steeped in the American vernacular including the blues, which is so appropriate to New Orleans and the protagonist’s world,” he says. “This is a real opera that works the way all operas that we cherish work. Powerful arias, duets, and ensembles, sung by a variety of characters, all of whom we can identify with. I assure our Madison audiences that this is a riveting evening, a great moment in our history, and an occasion not to be missed.”
By Jacob Stockinger
Dean Schroeder is known primarily as a knowledgeable, helpful and amiable local businessman who, with his wife Carol “Orange” Schroeder, owns and runs Orange Tree Imports on Monroe Street.
But the Schroeders are also serious fans of classical music. They attend, participate in and sponsor many events, including the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society and the Madison Bach Musicians.
Their latest venture, though, is especially interesting: they founded the first annual Handel Aria Competition, which they hope will become an annual event at the Madison Early Music Festival that starts tomorrow, on Saturday, and runs through Friday, July 12. Given the global Handel revival in the past decade, the timing couldn’t be more perfect to build audiences for Handel and audiences for the festival.
The final round of the competition will be held on Monday night, July 8, at 7 p.m. in Mills Hall as part of the 14th annual Madison Early Music Festival. Admission is FREE and open to the public.
Here are links to a previous blog post about the festival overall, and to the festival’s own website and to a special website about the Handel aria competition:
Dean Schroeder (seen below with his wife Orange) recently talked with The Ear in an e-mail about the Handel aria contest:
How and when did you come up with the idea for the Handel aria competition?
Over the past few years, I have realized my strong affinity to Handel’s vocal music, especially the arias and duets from his many operas and oratorios.
I previously had no appreciation for opera, but one day I was driving down Monroe Street and heard, on Wisconisn Public Radio’s WERN (88.7 FM), an aria that was so delightfully melodic and lively that I had to pull over and listen. It was “Tornami a vagheggiar,” sung by Natalie Dessay (below in a different live performance in a YouTube video) on William Christie’s recording of “Alcina,” also featuring Renee Fleming and Susan Graham.
In that life-changing moment I knew I had to seek it out, and eventually found great pleasure in discovering dozens of other arias from Handel’s works. We are lucky to be in a period of revival of Handel’s music, and I’d recommend YouTube for its countless selection of arias to explore.
How will the contest be run and judged?
The judges will be tenor William Hudson (below top), soprano Ellen Hargis (below middle) and the local music critic, retired UW-Madison medieval history professor and choral singer John W. Barker (below bottom).
The first two are regulars on the Madison Early Music Festival’s faculty, and will be performing in the week’s concerts as well.
The three will have to coordinate on the criteria, applying their expertise to determine the standards they will use to judge. They will determine the top three prizes, which are cash.
The audience will get to vote via ballot for their favorite. This winner will get a free ticket for tuition to the Early Music Festival next year.
Why did you want to create such a contest? Do you think it will expand the audience for the Madison Early music Festival?
About a year ago, I learned of the annual Handel aria competition in London, which is part of a month-long celebration of Handel (below). Thanks to Paul and Cheryl Rowe, we have been able to create our own competition to encourage young singers as part of the annual Madison Early Music Festival.
They have generously welcomed the idea and worked to make it happen, and I believe it will result in additional interest and enthusiasm for the Festival in the coming years. We were delighted to have almost 50 singers audition this year, and anticipate an increase in future years.
Do you yourselves have a favorite Handel aria or favorite Handel arias? Do you have favorite performers of those arias you could recommend recordings of?
A few years back I was lucky to attend the Lyric Opera’s production of Handel’s “Hercules,” conducted by Harry Bicket. He brought with him a soprano, for a supporting role, who stunned the audience with her gorgeous voice: Lucy Crowe (below).
Her latest recording project, Handel’s “Il pastor fido,” is one that I am highly recommending for the talent of the young singers and musicians, as well as the sonic beauty of the performance space: the Temple Church in London. (There is also an interesting YouTube video of the making of the recording:
In addition to those singers mentioned, I really enjoy hearing Joyce DiDonato, David Daniels (below), Ian Bostridge, Andreas Scholl, Mark Padmore, Lorraine Hunt-Lieberson, Sandrine Piau, Maite Beaumont … the list is long and growing larger! A good starting CD might be Harmonia Mundi’s CD box “Handel: Famous Arias.”
Is there anything else you would like to say or add?
I’ve been taking singing lessons from Ben Luedcke (below) for about four years, and have been in all three of his choirs: Madison Choral Arts Society, UW Men’s Choir and Madison Summer Choir (the latter two he founded).
I’m a tenor, and the Handel I’ve attempted includes: “As Steals the Morn” (a gorgeous duet, sung by Ian Bostridge and Lynne Dawson in a YouTube video at the bottom); “Waft Her, Angels” (a plaintive aria from the oratorio “Jeptha,” which we just saw in Boston by the Handel and Haydn Society and which will be sung by our tenor on Monday); AND I’ve sung the soprano part an octave down in these duets: “Io t’abbraccio” and “Son nata a lagrimar” (the lament from “Giulio Cesare”) … I love the duets, and it works surprisingly well to “flip” parts!
Handel was a master of every voice range and expresses a wide range of emotions. His arias are very approachable and engaging, and many are extremely moving. It is so good to see the increase in appreciation for Handel’s genius, beyond just “Messiah,” (which everyone knows and loves). I loved the Madison Opera’s and John DeMain’s production of “Acis and Galatea,” and look forward to more local productions of Handel, including the University Opera’s upcoming presentation of “Ariodante” on October 25–29.
Along with hearing more Handel, I hope more people will try singing his gorgeous arias and duets. I’ve only been singing a few years, but have attempted a few of them with credible results. They are not beyond the average singer, and they are greatly satisfying to sing.
By Jacob Stockinger
Here is a link with program notes and other information about the 3 hour and 15 minute production:
It has gotten good reviews. But none was better than the comments by Tom Huizenga (below), the director of and writer for NPR’s outstanding Deceptive Cadence” blog and some its readers. (Be sure to read the comments.)
Huizenga compared the jolt he got during the production to the ecstasy of some drugs.
Well, music and opera are sure a lot healthier ways to get high, if a bit less intense.
But you can decide for yourself.
Read his remarks.
Then please offer an opinion plus any examples of classical music when you too were taken by music, carried away as if by drugs. Was it the piece? The performer? Special or personal circumstances you found yourself in?
Did you get a “sonic high,” if you will.
Here is a link to Huizenga’s posting:
By Jacob Stockinger
We all remember the superstar conductors, conductors like Arturo Toscanini, Herbert von Karajan and Leonard Bernstein. Even the popular media recognize them as celebrities. More recently, one could conceivably put Georg Solti, Daniel Barenboim and Valery Gergiev in the same category.
The most recent one to capture and hold the public’s imagination in such a charismatic way was Gustavo Dudamel (below), the passionate and almost hyperactive young man who emerged from poverty in Venezuela through the “El sistema” that offered free classical music education. He now is music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra.
Probably the latest candidate for that elite club is Yannick Nezet-Seguin (below, in a photo by Torsten Kjelstrand/NPR with the Philadelphia Orchestra in a Carnegie Hall concert of Shostakovich, Ravel and Szymanowski that was webcast last night by NPR.) And I can think of no better introduction to him than a long profile by The New York Times critic and writer Daniel J. Wakin that appeared last weekend.
Where do you start to convey his personality? The fact that the 35-year-old French-Canadian native of Montreal is openly gay? The Tahitian Turtle Tattoo? The great reviews? The pumped-up chest that earned the short 5-5 conductor the nickname of Mighty Mouse from renowned soprano Joyce DiDonato? His quick rise to the podium of the Philadelphia Orchestra and to the ranks of top, world-class orchestra conductors?
I doubt he will be known as Yanni, since Yanni is already reserved for the New Age composer, who also is often dubbed “Yawni.”
But the boyish conductor just might become a one-name celebrity – something like “Yannick” in the way that Bernstein was “Lenny.” He certainly projects that kind of intensity and he sure gets results.
You can make up your own mind about the man who hopes to rebuild the special “Philadelphia Sound” of Eugene Ormandy that relied on strings the way the Chicago Symphony Sound relied on brass.
Here is a link to the profile:
And here is a link to the archived webcast of last night’s concert in Carnegie Hall. Be sure to read the “Read More” button:
If you heard him, what did you think?
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
Here is a link to his enjoyable and informative blog:
In the New Yorker, as he usually does, Ross recently listed his top 10 recordings – along with a top book and a top video – of 2012 along with his Top 10 Live Performances. Although he is a strong advocate for new music, Ross also lists a generous share of new recordings of Josqjin, Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Wagner and other “standard” classical composers. And perhaps even more surprisingly, his choice of Bach is a “Saint Matthew Passion” performed NOT by an early music group but by the venerable Berlin Philharmonic under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle and bad-boy avant-garde director Peter Sellars (a clip is at the at bottom).
Ross’ list also includes some audio sampling or excerpts of his various selections, including royal queenly arias sung by Joyce DiDonato.
As we come into another post-holiday weekend, when you might want to use the gift cards or cash you received for the holidays, it seemed like a good list to add Ross’ list to my other holiday gift guides.
So here is a link to Ross choices:
Here are links to those postings:
(Below is a collage by photographer Tony Cenicola of the New York Times of favorite recordings of 2012 as picked by critics for The New York Times.)
Please leave your own suggestions n the COMMENTS section, especially by genre (chamber music, opera, symphony, solo piano) and by artist plus composer and work. It would also be good to know to know why you like it and why you recommend it.
The Ear wants to hear.
ALERT: Tomorrow, Wednesday, Aug. 23, on Wisconsin Public Radio‘s “The Midday,” hosted by Norman Gilliland, will feature live performances by another of the 2012 Neale-Silva Young Artist Competition winners: soprano Rachel Holmes (below). Listen to 88.7 FM from noon to 1 p.m. Here is a link to her website with news, photos and audio clips: http://racheleveholmessoprano.com/live/
By Jacob Stockinger
The eighth annual awards by the editors of Opera News have been announced.
Here is the official press release:
2012 Opera News Awards Honorees Announced
New York, NY, – The editors of Opera News are pleased to announce the honorees for the 2012 Opera News Awards, paying tribute to five superb artists who have made an invaluable contribution to the art form: sopranos Mirella Freni and Dawn Upshaw; countertenor David Daniels; baritone Simon Keenlyside, and bass-baritone Eric Owens.
The eighth annual Opera News Awards ceremony will take place on Sunday, April 21, 2013 at The Plaza in New York City. All the winners – and a host of the city’s cultural, civic, and social luminaries – will be present at the gala awards dinner, which will feature celebrity presenters speaking about the awardees and introducing video performance clips.
The official announcement of this year’s honorees appears in the September 2012 issue of Opera News, which is available this week and has Piotr Beczala on the cover. The Polish tenor performs this season at the Metropolitan Opera in Gounod’s “Faust” – his company role debut as the opera’s title character – and in a new production of Verdi’s Rigoletto. The September issue also offers the magazine’s annual preview of the year in opera.
The April 2012 issue of Opera News will contain tributes to the five awardees, all distinguished members of the international opera community.
Created in 2005, the Opera News Awards recognize five individuals each year for distinguished achievement in the field of opera. Proceeds from the gala evening on April 21 will benefit the education programs of the Metropolitan Opera Guild.
For the third consecutive season, the Opera News Awards includes a special sweepstakes that will give a lucky winner round-trip air transportation for two to New York, provided by American Airlines, as well as a two-night stay at Trump International Hotel and Tower and VIP tickets to the Opera News Awards. No purchase is necessary to enter the sweepstakes; details are available at www.operanews.com/onawards and in the September issue.
The editors of the Metropolitan Opera Guild’s Opera News have offered brief pre-publication accolades to this year’s award recipients. Online Editor Adam Wasserman salutes Mr. Daniels:
“David Daniels (below) has established himself as more than a superbly elegant singer and an incisive actor; he is a trailblazer, who has redefined the emotional and musical range achievable by the male voice for both opera audiences and his fellow singers.”
Editor in Chief F. Paul Driscoll pays tribute to Ms. Freni (below):
“Mirella Freni’s beauty, charm and poise – and the unfailing loveliness of her voice – made her one of opera’s most beloved sopranos during an active singing career of more than fifty years. She remains prima donna assoluta in the hearts of opera lovers everywhere.”
Features Editor Brian Kellow applauds Mr. Keenlyside:
“Simon Keenlyside (below, as Mozart’s Don Giovanni) seems incapable of making a false move onstage. Not only does he have one of the most expressive baritone voices I’ve ever heard, he always seems to be completely in the moment dramatically. His work is never flashy, but it has an inner fire that few performers can match.”
Managing Editor Oussama Zahr extols the gifts of Mr. Owens:
“Bass-baritone Eric Owens (below, as Alberich in the Metropolitan Opera’s “Ring” cycle) has a soulful, capacious voice that he uses to imbue some of opera’s most mysterious and villainous characters with startling humanity. Everything he sings glows with his integrity as an artist.”
Senior Editor Louise Guinther praises Ms. Upshaw:
“Dawn Upshaw (below) represents the highest ideals of pristine musicianship, intellectual curiosity, and artistic integrity. She brings a blend of all-American earnestness and instinctive passion to everything she does: Dawn Upshaw opens not only the ears of her audiences but their hearts and minds as well.”
Commenting further about the winners of the seventh annual Opera News Awards, Driscoll notes: “All five of this year’s honorees are blessed with the artistic integrity and expressive generosity that inspire everyone who cares about the art form. The editors of Opera News could not be more pleased to celebrate their extraordinary achievements, and look forward with the greatest enthusiasm to welcoming them to the Opera News Awards gala on April 21.”
Beyond offering the opportunity to pay tribute to the distinguished achievement of some of the leading artists of our time, the Opera News Awards gala dinner has become an important and much-anticipated date on the opera community’s calendar: a time for singers, artistic administrators, and managers – as well as social and political leaders who support opera – to come together in a spirit of camaraderie and celebration.
Opera News has been published by the Metropolitan Opera Guild since 1936; it has the largest circulation of any classical music magazine in the United States. The magazine, published monthly, is a winner of three ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards for excellence in music journalism.
Previous Opera News Awards honorees:
2005: James Conlon, Régine Crespin, Plácido Domingo, Susan Graham, Dolora Zajick
2006: Ben Heppner, James Levine, René Pape, Renata Scotto, Deborah Voigt
2007: Olga Borodina, Stephanie Blythe, Thomas Hampson, Leontyne Price, Julius Rudel
2008: John Adams, Natalie Dessay, Renée Fleming, Marilyn Horne, Sherrill Milnes
2009: Martina Arroyo, Joyce DiDonato, Gerald Finley, Philip Glass, Shirley Verrett
2010: Jonas Kaufmann, Riccardo Muti, Patricia Racette, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Bryn Terfel
2011:Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Peter Mattei, Karita Mattila, Anja Silja, Peter Sellars
By Jacob Stockinger
Well, you won’t find a lot to linger over in this year’s classical music Grammys. After all, the “Academy,” as they call the Industry’s Enforcer, chopped the categories from 109 to 78 for the 54th annual competition. (Classical Music wasn’t the only category to lose a lot; so did quite a few ethnic music categories including Latin Jazz and Hawaiian Music.)
So the really big names in classical music are missing in this year’s bunch of classical Grammys – no Beethoven or Bach, no Mahler or Mozart, although superstar maestro Gustavo Dudamel (below) did win one with an outstanding performance of the Brahms Fourth Symphony in digital download-only release.
NOTE: Today’s “LA Live in HD” broadcast at 4 p.m. at the Eastgate and Point cinemas features Dudamel conducting a performance from Caracas, Venezuela of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 “Symphony of a Thousand.”)
But you will find more contemporary composers than in past years. In fact, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and the Florentine Opera Chorus took home two Grammys for their live performance of Robert Aldridge’s opera “Elmer Gantry,” based on the novel by Sinclair Lewis.
Nor will you find a lot of big name prestige labels, which have been largely replaced by smaller labels with more niche-like focuses.
But you will nonetheless find some great performances and some great music, including arias sung by the great American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato.
You will also find something of great local interest: Record producer Judith Sherman received her third Grammy, the second in a row and the third of seven nominations. And if you look at her long and impressive list of releases, she certainly seems worthy of winning.
Sherman’s Grammy is good news for Madison and for the University of Wisconsin’s Pro Arte String Quartet, which performs a FREE concert at 8 p.m. on Saturday, March 24, in the Wisconsin Union Theater. That’s because the Pro Arte has hired Sherman (below, in Mills Hall setting up microphones with the Pro Arte Quartet and pianist Brian Hsu for the December sessions to record composer Paul Schoenfield‘s Three Rhapsodies for String Quartet) to produce the 2-CD set of the world premiere commissions by Walter Mays, Paul Schoenfield, William Bolcom and John Harbison that the Pro Arte is performing during its centennial season.
That could mean that Sherman (seen below backstage at Mills Hall closely following and taking notes on the Schoenfield score during mike checks), who is a freelance producer working for Albany Records, might well end up next year appealing to the Grammy trends toward rewarding smaller labels and new music. And that, in turn, means that the Pro Arte Quartet’s 2-CD set might get nominated for a Grammy. Now, that would be grand and well deserved for the grueling 11 – and 12-hour recording sessions that she and the musicians turned in here over two days.
By the way, the program for the FREE March 24 concert by the Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) at the Wisconsin Union Theater, by the way, include the world premiere of William Bolcom’s Piano Quintet No. 2 with UW pianist Christopher Taylor; Anton Webern’s “Langsamer Satz”; Darius Milhaud’s String Quartet No. 7, which was written for and premiered by the Pro Arte (below, today) in 1925.
Also on the program is Mozart’s great and sublimely beautiful String Quintet in G minor (at bottom), K. 516, with guest violist Samuel Rhodes (below, in a photo by Peter Shaarf) of the Juilliard String Quartet.
You would pay a lot of money to hear those same performers in that same program in, say, New York City’s Carnegie Hall. But here in Madison it is FREE and easy to get to. So plan to attend that concert and take along family and friends. And spread the word.
For more information visit www.proartequartet.org
Anyway, here is the classical music list for the 54th annual Grammys:
Want to see who the accomplished and worthwhile “losers” were? Here is a link to all the nominees:
And here is a link to the blog post I did around the holidays with all the nominees and the music they performed (plus all the recordings the Producer nominees, including Sherman, worked on):
Here are links to some other analyses and documentaries:
mozart string quintet g minor
By Jacob Stockinger
This season has once again been a good one for the series “Live From the Met in HD.” For one, it will see the last two installments of Richard Wagner’s ambitious “Ring” cycle.
Take a look for yourself. Here is a link to the season’s website:
But even more exciting for The Ear is the satellite broadcast of “The Enchanted Island” (below) this Saturday at 11:55 CST at the Point and Eastgate cinemas in Madison. Tickets are $24 for adults, $22 for seniors. (Unfortunately, there is no encore presentation.)
This is sure to be a lot of people’s idea of “new music.”
A brainchild of the Met’s general director Peter Gelb, “The Enchanted Island” has been in the work for more than four years, and is, if you will, a newly born baroque opera – if you can go backwards in history.
That is because it is a pastiche, a mix or blend, created by Jeremy Sams. It features music selected from Handel, Vivaldi and Rameau. It also takes as main characters the lovers from Shakespeare’s comedy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and throws them into the plot of Shakespeare’s late romance “The Tempest.”
The 3-1/2 hour opera also features a stellar cast, including famed countertenor David Daniels, mezzosoprano Joyce DiDonato, soprano Danielle de Niese and superstar tenor Placido Domingo as King Neptune (below), and the orchestra conducted by early music master William Christie. The sets and costumes look colorful and fantastical.
It all sounds very intriguing and engaging, something that could succeed wildly – or fail miserably.
Well, I am happy to report that the reception has been terrific. Both the opera and the production have met with critical acclaim and success with the public.
Here, for example, are a couple of reviews from the New Year’s Eve world premiere at the Metropolitan Opera:
Here are downloadable notes and synopsis:
And here is a link to videos:
And here is a link to a photo essay of stills from “The Enchanted Island”:
And here is a blog posting by the singer and cast member Danielle de Niese, who performed at the Wisconsin Union Theater several seasons ago:
For background about “The Enchanted Island,” visit:
What do you think of “The Enchanted Island” and what its success means?
Would you like to see more such productions?
The Ear wants to hear.