By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear’s friend and opera veteran filed this review:
By Larry Wells
The opera’s mystifying combination of fairy tale and Masonic ritual has been better explained by others, including the legendary Anna Russell. Those who know her only through her analysis of Wagner’s “Ring” Cycle should seek out her lecture on “The Magic Flute, which is accompanied on the CD by an equally humorous look at Verdi’s “Nabucco.” A search through the iTunes store will easily yield these treasures.
The scenery and costumes (below), which were borrowed from Arizona Opera, were superb. I was captivated by the clever set, the opulent costumes and the amazing props.
The choice to have the spoken dialogue in English, while the sung parts remained in German with supertitles in English, was a smart move and helped move the ridiculous plot lines along.
And the singing was, for the most part, first-rate.
Special mention should be made of Andrew Bidlack (below top) as a consistently arresting Tamino and Amanda Woodbury (below, right, with Scott Brunscheen as Monostatos) as a crystalline Pamina. Their first act duet was perfection.
Likewise, Caitlin Cisler played the Queen of the Night (below center) and her vocal fireworks were spectacular, plus she was a delight to watch in her bizarre winged costume. (You can hear the Queen of the Night’s astonishing and virtuosic aria in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
I enjoyed Alan Dunbar’s Papageno (below). He has a gift for comedy.
And probably my favorite characters, the three ladies (below, from left, with Tamino) portrayed by Amanda Kingston, Kelsey Park and Anna Parks were brilliantly sung and acted.
UW-Madison graduate Anna Polum (below) did not disappoint in the smaller role of Papagena, and we will be fortunate to hear her again soon in Johannes Brahms’ “German Requiem” with the Madison Symphony Orchestra next month.
The three spirits, sung by local schoolboys, were fun to watch with their steampunk attire and props, but they were vocally rather thin.
Nathan Stark’s Sarastro tested the limits of his vocal range. It’s a difficult role in any event since Sarastro has the unfortunate habit of stopping the opera’s action in its tracks whenever he appears.
The audience loved the whole thing, laughing at the comic absurdities and applauding whenever the music paused. But I cannot help wondering why “The Magic Flute” is such a popular opera. Its plot is basically incomprehensible, its second act goes on a half hour too long, the Queen of the Night’s downfall is never satisfactorily explained, and despite a number of memorable tunes, there are, in my mind, many more musically satisfying operas.
Next season we can look forward to yet another of the countless performances of Bizet’s “Carmen” and yet another Mozart opera “The Abduction from the Seraglio.” Madison does seem to love its Mozart. But we will also be hearing the late Daniel Catan’s lush, Puccini-esque “Florencia en el Amazonas,” for which I give praise.
I got to thinking about what other lesser performed operas that are not 200 years old might please the Madison crowd and quickly came up with: Benjamin Britten’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”; Gian Carlo Menotti’s “The Consul”; Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide”; Douglas Moore’s “The Ballad of Baby Doe”; Samuel Barber’s “Vanessa”; and Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Sir John in Love.”
Each of these is as melodic as “The Magic Flute” and each has certainly more compelling storylines.
What are your suggestions?
By Jacob Stockinger
The Madison Opera will stage Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Magic Flute this Friday night, April 21 at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon, April 23, at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall. (Production photos are courtesy of the Arizona Opera, from which the Madison Opera got its sets and costumes.)
Here are an introduction and some details, courtesy of the Madison Opera:
Written in the last year of his life, Mozart’s opera is part fairy tale, part adventure story, and is filled with enchantment.
Set in a fairy-tale world of day and night, the opera follows Prince Tamino and the bird-catcher Papageno as they embark on a mission to rescue Pamina, the daughter of the Queen of the Night. Pamina had been kidnapped by Sarastro, the leader of a religious order. But it turns out that exactly who is “good” and who is “evil” is not always what it appears.
Along the way to happily-ever-after, Pamina, Tamino and Papageno face many challenges, but are assisted by a magic flute, magic bells, a trio of guiding spirits and their own clear-eyed sense of right and wrong.
“The Magic Flute has been beloved around the world since its 1791 premiere,” says Kathryn Smith (below in a photo by James Gill), Madison Opera’s general director. “It has been called a fairy tale for both adults and children, with a story that works on many levels, all set to Mozart’s glorious music. I’m so delighted to be sharing it again with Madison, with an incredible cast, director and conductor.”
The opera runs about 2 hours and 45 minutes with one intermission.
Tickets are $18 to $130.
“The Magic Flute” will be sung in German with English supertitles.
For more about the production and cast, go to:
And also go to:
Dan Rigazzi, who has been on the directing staff at the Metropolitan Opera for 10 years, makes his Madison Opera debut with this beautiful production that incorporates some steampunk elements into its fairy-tale setting.
Gary Thor Wedow, a renowned Mozart conductor, makes his mainstage debut with this opera, after having conducted Opera in the Park in 2016 and 2012.
Conductor Wedow (below) recently agreed to do an email Q&A with The Ear:
Could you briefly introduce yourself to readers?
Hello! I’m an American conductor, born in LaPorte, Indiana. A faculty member at The Juilliard School, I spend a lot of time with music of the 18th century — Handel and Mozart and often earlier, like Monteverdi, Purcell and Cavalli. But I conduct everything and grew up in love with the Romantics. I’ve also always done a lot of contemporary music. I love it all.
Mozart’s music sounds so clear and easy or simple, but the reality is quite different, musicians say. What do you strive for and what qualities do you think make for great Mozart playing?
Mozart engages both the brain and the heart. He challenges your intellect with amazing feats of counterpoint, orchestration and structure while tugging at your heart, all the time pulling you along in a deep drama.
Mozart was an Italian melodist with a German contrapuntal, harmonic engine – like an incredible automobile with an Italian slick body and a German motor.
Do you share the view that opera is central to Mozart’s music, even to his solo, chamber and ensemble instrumental music? How so? What is special or unique to Mozart’s operas, and to this opera in particular?
From all accounts, Mozart (below, in his final year) was a huge personality who was full of life and a keen observer of the human condition; his letters are full of astute, often merciless and sometimes loving evaluations of family, colleagues and patrons.
Mozart’s music speaks of the human condition: its passions, loves and hopes— no matter what genre. His music is innately dramatic and primal, going immediately to the most basic and universal human emotions with breathtaking nuance, variety and depth. (You can hear the Overture to “The Magic Flute,” performed by the Metropolitan Opera orchestra under James Levine, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
Tomorrow: Tricks to conducting Mozart and what to pay special attention to in this production of The Magic Flute.
By Jacob Stockinger
Madison has produced its share of important classical musicians who have gone on to achieve international reputations.
Among them was the composer Lee Hoiby (1926-2011).
More recently, there are the Naughton Twins, sister-duo pianists Christina and Michelle, who perform around the world.
And there is violist Vicki Powell (below), who was born in Chicago but started music lessons in Madison where she studied with the husband-and-wife team of violinist Eugene Purdue and Pro Arte Quartet violist Sally Chisholm, both of whom have taught at the UW-Madison.
Powell, who recently finished a tour of Asia and whose playing has garnered rave reviews internationally, returns to Madison this Friday night to perform with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra at 7:30 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.
WCO music director Andrew Sewell will conduct. Unlike Sewell’s typical eclectic programming that mixes music from different eras, this concert feature music from a single period – the mid-20th century.
It offers “Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge” by British composer Benjamin Britten, who studied with Bridge. Also included are two other British works: the Suite for Viola and Chamber Orchestra by Ralph Vaughan Williams, with Vicki Powell, and “Benedictus” by Sir Alexander Mackenzie. All three works are rarely performed.
The concluding work, on the other hand, is the popular and well-loved “Appalachian Spring” – a timely work for the coming of spring yesterday morning — by the American composer Aaron Copland.
For more information about the program, about how to get tickets ($10-$80) and about Vicki Powell, go to:
And here is a link to Vicki Powell’s website with a biography, concert bookings, recordings, reviews and her community outreach projects:
By Jacob Stockinger
This is a post about a very appealing FREE concert by Juilliard violinist Laurie Smukler (below) on this Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall.
But for The Ear, some context seems fitting.
Some seasons are memorable for great singing or great piano playing or great orchestral playing. And there certainly has been, and will continue to be, lots more of all three this autumn and winter.
But what has really stood out to The Ear this Fall is the string playing, especially the violin.
Actually it started in the summer with a sizzling, white-hot performance by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society. The BDDS interspersed Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” with Astor Piazzolla’s “Four Seasons in Buenos Aires.”
Violinist Suzanne Beia (below top) played the Vivaldi seasons and McGill University violinist Axel Strauss from Montreal (below bottom) played the Piazzolla seasons. The dueling violins were something to behold and to hear! And the alternation kept listeners from tiring of one particular composer or style. It was a thoroughly enjoyable and thoroughly memorable concert.
Then came an unforgettable performance of the Violin Concerto by Tchaikovsky, played with intimacy and clarity as well as stunning virtuosity by the prize-winning Russian-born Ilya Kaler with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra under Andrew Sewell.
Then came wonderful performances by Norwegian violinist Henning Kraggerud of the Violin Concerto No. 1 by Max Bruch and some works by Kraggerud himself, accompanied by the Madison Symphony Orchestra under John DeMain.
Over at the Wisconsin Union Theater, superstar Joshua Bell didn’t disappoint. Appearing in a recital with pianist Alessio Bax, Bell played music by Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, Claude Debussy, Eugene Ysaye, Pablo de Sarrasate and Manuel Ponce. Violin recitals just don’t get better.
In between came several performances by the four always reliable and always outstanding string players of the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet (below top, in a photo by Rick Langer) as well as the newly reformed Ancora String Quartet (below bottom).
And there were many other events.
But The Season of Strings isn’t over yet.
This Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, there is a FREE recital by Laurie Smukler, a violin professor at the Juilliard School who is also doing a guest residency here that features master classes in the violin and chamber music.
Smukler was invited by and will be joined by Soh-Hyun Park Altino (below, in a photo by Caroline Bittencourt), who teaches violin at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and whose debut recital last year still lingers in The Ear’s ear.
Both women, who are personal friends, are terrific musicians and highly accomplished violinists.
The intriguing program, with the distinguished pianist Victor Asuncion, features the popular work “The Lark Ascending” by English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams; the Sonata for Two Violins by Soviet composer Sergei Prokofiev; and the Violin Sonata No. 3 in D minor by Brahms. (You can hear the heart-rending slow movement of the Brahms, played by violinist Itzhak Perlman and pianist Daniel Barenboim, in a popular YouTube video at the bottom.)
For more information about all events related to the Smukler residency, go to:
ALERT: Trevor Stephenson, keyboardist and founder of the Madison Bach Musicians, will perform a solo recital on the fortepiano TODAY starting at 12:30 p.m. in Brittingham Gallery III of the Chazen Museum of Art at the UW-Madison.
The program includes works — sonatas and mazurkas, a fantasy and an impromptu — by Domenico Scarlatti, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Frederic Chopin, Joseph Haydn and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach.
Admission is FREE and the recital will be streamed live at the following website:
By Jacob Stockinger
This past week, two readers posted comments about the so-called Death of Classical Music.
One reader clearly lamented it and didn’t believe in it.
The other reader didn’t desire it, but seemed to accept it as a fact and remarked that the demise was classical music’s own fault due to conservative programming and other shortcomings in falling behind the times.
Albright’s point of view is that the “death” of classical music might even be beneficial to classical music in the long run – at least if you are talking the “death” of classical music such as it is right now and has been in recent times.
Albright’s essay appeared on the CNN website and makes for interesting reading and food for thought.
At least The Ear thinks so.
Read it and see what you think.
Then share your thoughts and ideas about the death of classical music and Charlie Albright’s essay with The Ear and other readers.
Here is a link:
By Jacob Stockinger
Here is some news of personnel changes of local interest:
Principal Bass Fredrick Schrank and Principal Clarinet Joseph Morris will not be returning to the Madison Symphony Orchestra next season.
Schrank (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) is retiring after 39 years of service to the orchestra, joining the bass section in 1977 and becoming Principal in 1982.
For a biography and more about Schrank, visit:
Joe Morris (below in a photo by Katrin Talbot) is a more recent addition, but has certainly made a positive impact in his three years as Principal and he has chosen to not return. He married last summer and has been based out of Salt Lake City since that time. He also performed with the Middleton Community Orchestra.
For more about Morris, visit:
Principal Clarinet auditions will be held May 31 and June 1. More details will be posted on our website soon at: http://www.madisonsymphony.org/employment
Principal Bass and other string auditions will be held Sept. 6-11, exact schedule to be announced in mid-April.
UW-MADISON GRADUATE JOINS THE BOSTON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
Daniel Kim (below), a prize-winning UW-Madison graduate, has been named among four new string players (one violinist and three violists) for the prestigious Boston Symphony Orchestra, which just won a Grammy Award for a recording of a Shostakovich symphony.
Here is his impressive bio:
Violist Danny Kim, a native of Saint Paul, Minnesota, earned his master of music degree in viola performance from The Juilliard School under the tutelage of Samuel Rhodes, longtime violist of the Juilliard String Quartet and a frequent quest artist with the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet.
He began his musical studies at a young age on the violin with his mother, Ellen Kim, and then transitioned to the viola in high school under Sabina Thatcher.
Kim completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Wisconsin–Madison where he studied with professor and Pro Arte Quartet violist Sally Chisholm (below), and received a BA in viola performance and a certificate in East Asian Studies. He also won several prizes and performed on Wisconsin Public Radio.
Kim was a Fellow of the Tanglewood Music Center, where he won the Maurice Schwartz Prize, and has participated in such festivals as Marlboro, Pacific Music Festival, and Aspen, and as a teacher was in residence with El Sistema in Caracas and Northern Lights Chamber Music Institute in Ely, Minn.
Kim has performed with distinguished ensembles and artists including the Metropolis Ensemble in collaboration with Questlove and The Roots, New York Classical Players, Camerata Virtuosi New Jersey, and Symphony in C and appeared on Sesame Street with conductor Alan Gilbert.
As a chamber musician, Kim has performed with the Chamber Music Society of Minnesota, members of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Pro Arte Quartet, and collaborated with artists including Joseph Silverstein, Peter Wiley, Marcy Rosen, Richard O’Neill, Charles Neidich, Anthony McGill, Nathan Hughes and others.
Kim toured South Korea in 2014 with his string quartet, Quartet Senza Misura, and violist Richard O’Neill. He also was a tenured member of Madison Symphony Orchestra.
See more at:
By Jacob Stockinger
A musician in the Madison Symphony Orchestra, whom The Ear holds in very high regard, says that the four-section, continuous movement Symphony No. 1 by contemporary American composer Steven Stuckey (below) is “beautiful.”
This is a discerning man and musician, and The Ear – who has never heard works by Stucky — trusts his judgment.
Even so, the work will be The Big Unknown on the MSO program this weekend. It also features pianist Garrick Ohlsson in the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Johannes Brahms and the tone poem “Don Juan” by Richard Strauss. Both works are major standards of the Romantic and Late Romantic repertoire.
Here is a link with more information about the performances, which will be held tonight, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.
John DeMain, the longtime music director and conductor of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, recently told The Ear about how he had wanted to program a work by a living composer. After all, DeMain has championed other new music, including the world premiere of John Adams’ famous opera “Nixon in China.”
But a very aggressive form of brain cancer took away that chance when Stucky, who composed chamber music and choral music as well as symphonic music, taught at Cornell University and the Juilliard School, died just two months ago at 66.
So The Ear thought that it might be good to have more background about Stucky.
Here is Stucky himself talking about his 2012 Symphony that will be performed by the MSO and its emotional journey. It includes a performance by superstar conductor Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which commissioned the work:
And here is a lengthy and detailed obituary about Stucky that appeared in The New York Times. It also includes excerpts of reviews of his works and gives readers a context by which to judge Stucky’s achievement.
The Ear is looking forward to hearing the work. (Another sample, in a YouTube video at the bottom, is his 2011 work “Silent Spring,” composed to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the publication of Rachel Carson’s landmark book about DDT and pollution in the environment and nature.
He is also looking forward to hearing from others about the work.
So if you go to the MSO concert and hear Steven Stucky’s Symphony No. 1, why not leave your opinion or assessment in the COMMENTS section?
The Ear wants to hear.
CORRECTION: Yesterday’s post about the University Opera’s production of “Transformations” this weekend and early next week contained an error in the performance times. The correct times for performances in Music Hall are Friday night at 7:30 p.m., Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. (NOT 3:30) and Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. The Ear apologizes and regrets the error.
By Jacob Stockinger
Talk about great performers making great music! This weekend’s concerts by the Madison Symphony Orchestra are a MUST-HEAR program of all masterpieces.
A Madison favorite — world-renowned pianist Emanuel Ax (below) — reunites for the third time with the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) and its music director and conductor John DeMain for three concerts this weekend in Overture Hall.
The concerts will feature music by Ludwig van Beethoven, beginning with his Coriolan Overture. Ax will then perform Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 with the orchestra. The concert will end with Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 4.
The program will begin with Ludwig Van Beethoven’s brief but stormy Coriolan Overture. The concert will continue with Beethoven’s lyrical and impressive Piano Concerto No. 4.
Gustav Mahler’s light and sunny Symphony No. 4, with its famous finale featuring a soprano singing folk poetry, will bring the program to an elegant conclusion with the help of soprano Alisa Jordheim (below).
The concerts are in Overture Hall on Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center for the Arts, 201 State Street.
Born in Lvov, Poland, and raised in Winnipeg, Canada, pianist Emanuel Ax (below) first came to the public’s attention in 1974 when he won the first Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Competition in Tel Aviv. Ax concertizes extensively with the world’s top orchestras, and has been awarded seven Grammy Awards. He also teaches at the Juilliard School in New York City, where he himself studied.
A devoted chamber musician, Ax has worked regularly with artists such as cellist Yo-Yo Ma, pianist Peter Serkin, violinist Jaime Laredo, and the late violinist Isaac Stern. He has often performed solo recitals, chamber music and concertos in Madison with the MSO and at the Wisconsin Union Theater.
Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture reflects the struggle of Roman general Coriolanus as he debates whether or not to invade Rome, a story told in William Shakespeare’s tragedy Coriolanus. The first part is introduced by explosive chords and almost violent strings representing the fires of war, while the second theme is much more graceful, inspired by the voice of his mother.
Piano Concerto No. 4 written by Beethoven in 1806 was one of the first piano concertos where the piano begins alone. Beethoven’s innovation of this concept was noted by scholars as was the rapidly developing technology behind pianos at the time. (You can hear Emanuel Ax discuss Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
The Symphony No. 4 by Mahler (below) represents a kind of peaceful interlude in his series of works as it is almost completely upbeat and joyful. Scored for a fairly small orchestra by Mahler’s standards, the work is built around the song, “Das himmlische Leben” (The Heavenly Life), which is finally sung in its entirety by a solo soprano in the fourth movement.
One hour before each performance, Anders Yocom (below), Wisconsin Public Radio host, will lead a 30-minute Prelude Discussion in Overture Hall to enhance concertgoers’ understanding and listening experience.
More background on the music can also be found in the Program Notes at: http://www.madisonsymphony.org/ax
Single Tickets are $16 to $85 each, available at www.madisonsymphony.org/ax and through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street or call the Box Office at (608) 258-4141.
Groups of 15 or more can save 25% by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734. For more information visit, www.madisonsymphony.org/groups
Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $12 or $15 tickets. More information is at: www.madisonsymphony.org/studentrush. Students can receive 20% savings on seats in select areas of the hall on advance ticket purchases.
Seniors age 62 and up receive 20% savings on advance and day-of-concert ticket purchases in select areas of the hall. Discounted seats are subject to availability, and discounts may not be combined.
There will also be a Club 201 event for this concert on Saturday night. For $35, young professionals between 21 and 39 get a ticket and are invited to a post-concert party. Reservations must be made by TOMORROW, Thursday, March 10. For information, visit:
Find more information at www.madisonsymphony.org.
Major funding for the March concerts is provided by The Madison Concourse Hotel & Governor’s Club, Stephen Morton, University Research Park, UW Health & Unity Health Insurance, and Marvin J. Levy. Additional funding is provided by James Gallegos and George Anglin, JP Cullen, and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.