The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Four Madison Opera singers will collaborate with the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) to perform Winterfest Concerts this Friday night and Saturday afternoon

March 10, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Each year, over a weekend, the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) perform the Diane Ballweg Winterfest Concerts.

But this year a new collaboration will take place.

On this Friday night, March 13, at 7 p.m. in the Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall of the new Hamel Music Center, 740 University Avenue, the senior WYSO Youth Orchestra (below) will accompany four singers from the Madison Opera’s Studio Artist program in which they transition to a professional career by singing minor roles and being understudies for leading roles.

Tickets are $10 for adults, and $5 for youth under 19, and are available in advance through the Campus Ticket Office, and at the venue 30 minutes before the concert.

WYSO says the Friday night concert is close to selling out.

Here are some details: “Now in its eighth year, the Studio Artist Program is an important part of Madison Opera’s artistic and educational mission. The 2019-20 Studio Artists are four singers (below) in the transition between their education and their professional careers.

They are (from left, clockwise): baritone Stephen Hobe; mezzo-soprano Kirsten Larson; tenor Benjamin Hopkins; and soprano Emily Secor. They will sing duets, trios and quartets. There will also be an orchestral overture and a prelude.

WYSO music director Kyle Knox, who is also the associate music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, will conduct both singers and instrumentalists. (You can hear WYSO members talking about playing and performing in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Says Knox (below): “Young instrumentalists rarely get to accompany soloists and singers. Playing opera in particular is something that tends to come much later in their careers, and for many of them, never at all.”

The program includes excerpts from favorite operas, including: arias by “Nabucco” and “Rigoletto” by Verdi; “La Clemenza di Tito” by Mozart; “The Barber of Seville” and “William Tell” by Rossini; “Lohengrin” by Wagner; “The Elixir of Love” by Donizetti; “Carmen” by Bizet; and “La Boheme” by Puccini. For a complete program with specific titles plus ticket information, go to:

For more detailed information about the Madison Opera Studio Atrists program and its WYSO collaboration, go to:


On this Saturday, March 14, in Mills Hall in the Mosse Humanities Building, 455 North Park Street, the following groups will perform. No programs have been posted.

11:30 a.m. — Opus One and Sinfonietta (below)

1:30 p.m. — Harp Ensemble (below) and Concert Orchestra

4:00 p.m. — Percussion Ensemble (below) and Philharmonia Orchestra

The WYSO Winterfest Concert series is funded by: Diane Ballweg, with additional funding from the Wisconsin Arts Board; Dane Arts; Madison Arts Commission; American Girl’s Fund for Children; Eric D. Batterman Memorial Fund; and the Coe and Paul Williams Fund for New Musicians.

The performance in the Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall was made possible by an additional gift from Martha and Charles Casey. The appearance of the Studio Artists in this program has been underwritten by the Charles and Mary Anderson Charitable Fund, Charles and Martha Casey, and David Flanders and Susan Ecroyd.


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Classical music: Don’t overlook the many FREE and varied student recitals at the UW-Madison School of Music as the semester comes to an end. Plus, this week’s concert of new music is POSTPONED and the Fall Opera Scenes Workshop takes place on Thursday night.

November 17, 2015

ALERTS: The concert by the UW-Madison Contemporary Chamber Ensemble that was scheduled for this Wednesday night has been POSTPONED. No word yet about the new date.

The fall edition of University Opera’s Opera Scenes will offer its latest production on this Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall. The FREE event features work by students in the Fall Opera Workshop class at the UW-Madison. Students direct, stage and sing the scenes. Piano accompaniment is again the norm,  but this time a small Baroque orchestra of strings and winds will also be there.

The program will include scenes from “Der Freischütz” by Carl Maria von Weber; “Arabella” by Richard Strauss; “La Clemenza di Tito” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; and “Orlando” by George Frideric Handel. Also, violist, conductor, singer and critic-blogger Mikko Rankin Utevsky will make his opera conducting debut in the half-hour excerpt of Handel, which includes a mad scene. For more information, including a list of the singers, here is a link:

By Jacob Stockinger

There are still quite a few big, important and appealing concerts left as the semester and the year wind down, with just over six weeks remaining until 2016.

At the UW-Madison, there are several major choral concerts, several of them with holiday music and holiday themes, just as many other music organizations — including the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Wisconsin Union Theater, the Madison Bach Musicians  among them — do as the holidays approach.

There are probably some noteworthy student recitals at Edgewood College too, but The Ear generally doesn’t hear about those.

So The Ear wants to direct your attention to the many student degree recitals – both undergraduate and graduate – that begin to pile up as the semester comes to a close.

All are free and usually take place at 6:30 or 8:30 p.m. in Morphy Hall.

Morphy Hall 2

The variety is stupendous. There are piano and chamber music recitals of all sorts. There are voice recitals. You can hear music for the flute, horn, violin, viola, saxophone, clarinet and percussion. (Below is student Sara Giusti in a recent piano recital.)

Sara Giusti playing

Here is a link to the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music online calendar of events and concerts for November and December (click forward to advance the schedule of events):

Click on the event you are interested in for details. Some of the listings have specific programs; others don’t. But almost all are good bets, given the caliber of the teaching and performing at the UW-Madison music school.

Happy Listening!

And please use the COMMENT section to let The Ear and his readers know about outstanding results when you hear them.

Let us now praise students too!


Classical music: Fresco Opera Theatre lands a body slam and puts a submission hold on opera and wrestling this Friday and Saturday in its production of “Opera Smackdown” at the Overture Center. And the audience will get to choose the winner!

March 13, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Opera is rarely just opera when the creative talents behind Fresco Opera Theatre decide to do it. Invariably, the Fresco folks come up with some creative and new or unexpected take that combines self-deprecating humor with serious singing and acting talent.

Take the latest project.

Is professional wrestling real competition? Or is it a staged, even faked, competition? And what does real opera’s theatrical qualities have in common with professional wrestling?

But then what does it really matter as long as the participants and fans have fun?

To launch its fourth season, Fresco Opera Theatre’s latest production — called “Opera SmackDown” –- is this coming weekend. It will be held on Friday, March 14, at 8 p.m. and on Saturday, March 15, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. in the Promenade Hall in the Overture Center. 

Fresco Opera Theatre logo

Here is one description from the preview video that sounds exactly like a Ring Announcer’s hype if you read it out loud:

From all over the country, from all “fachs” (that’s opera lingo for voice categories such as Coloratura, Lyric, Dramatic Soprano), bringing a fresh take on opera for a good portion of the 21st century, Fresco Opera, the worldwide leader in live entertainment brings you Opera SmackDown.

“The SmackDown Champion is the most coveted title in the opera world. There is no parallel, no bigger accolade in the genre. It is the dream of every competitor who ever stepped out on stage. From young artists to seasoned vets, eight singers will endure vocal battles they have trained years to prepare for.

“Who will outperform to seize the spotlight in this collision course with destiny? ONLY the studio audience can, and will, decide. Their vote determines the winner in this live internet broadcast, spanning the globe for all to see!

“These singers will battle each other, sacrifice their bodies, betray colleagues, and embrace the soulless ally that is desperation. To the victor goes the spoils. To the winner, a once in a lifetime chance to become the next heir apparent to the Fresco Opera SmackDown throne!”

Does the winner get to wear one of those really outrageously big and blingy belt buckles too?

wrestling belt

Here is how Jeff Turk, the president of the group’s board of directors who can be heard in a YouTube video at the bottom, describes the production and its novel concept:

“SmackDown is a take on the traditional vocal competition, with elements of pro-wrestling thrown in. We came upon this concept given the cut-throat nature and over-the-top presentations of both competitions and wrestling.

“Another twist is that the AUDIENCE will choose the winner. And the winner will receive a cash prize!

“Our goal here is to introduce the masses to opera. We have demonstrated over the years that performing classical music using familiar pop culture references makes it less intimidating for people who may not have any experience in the concert hall.

“I am proud of the fact our organization has inspired countless numbers of people who have had no experience with classical music to embrace it — which is good for all classical performers and organizations in the Madison area.

Tickets are $20.

Here are some links.

To the Fresco Website and preview video:

To the Overture Center for tickets:

And here are mini-bios of the contestants, with their nom-de-wrestling, vying for the championship:

Fresco Opera Theatre cast for Opera SmackDown

Mezzo Soprano Allison Waggener (Primal) recently won praise from reviewers for her “fine legato” and “strength and vocal beauty” as Annio in dell’Arte Opera Ensemble’s New York production of Mozart’s “La Clemenza di Tito.”   Other highlights from her 2012-2013 season include the roles of Miss Pooder in the Texas premiere of “The Hotel Casablanca” with Abilene Opera and Hansel in Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel” with Opera Oggi.

Diana Kelly Eiler (The Valkyrie) majored in vocal performance at Heidelberg College, where she received the Ohl Prize and Hoernemann academic awards, as well as making her professional debuts with the Toledo Opera in “Babes in Toyland” and Findlay Light Opera in “The Gondoliers” and “Die Fledermaus” while still a student. She was a N.A.T.S. Great Lakes Regional winner, Jessye Norman Award recipient, and semi-finalist in the Friedrich Schorr Opera Star Search.

George Abbott (Canto Libre) has 20 years of singing performance experience starting with the Children’s Chorus of San Antonio at age nine. His credits include singing with: Madison Bach Musicians, Fresco Opera Theater, University Theater, Music Theater of Madison, Middleton Players Theater, Madison Opera Chorus, and Madison Choral Project.

J. Adam Shelton (The Gladiator), lyric tenor, recently performed as the Leading Man Ghost in Fresco Opera’s Paranormal Playhouse. During this season, he will finish his doctorate at the University of Wisconsin where his dissertation, “The Singing Dream: A 21st Century Critical Edition of Tauberlieder”, explores the compositions of the great Austrian tenor, Richard Tauber.

Madison native Rachel Edie Warrick (Vox) is thrilled to be singing her second show with Fresco Opera. Rachel is a versatile performer who has sung with Madison Opera, Opera for the Young, Madison Choral Project and the Madison Bach Musicians. Rachel has also been a soloist throughout the Midwest in Handel’s “Messiah” and “Alexander’s Feast,” J. S. Bach’s B Minor Mass, Magnificat, and “St. Matthew Passion,” the Mozart Vespers, and Haydn’s “The Creation.”

Soprano Erin Sura (Toxin) has recently been seen performing the role of Donna Elvira in “Don Giovanni” with East Side Chamber Players, and in the Skylight Opera Theatre’s production of Beethoven’s “Fidelio,” in addition to appearing as a soprano soloist in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the Concord Chamber Orchestra, and Vivaldi’s Gloria with the South Shore Chorale.

Soprano CatieLeigh Laszewski(Asylum) is currently completing a Master of Music degree at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. With UW Opera, she has performed the role of Caterina in Mascagni’s “L’amico Fritz” and scenes from “Die Fledermaus” (Rosalinda), Bizet’s “Carmen” (Frasquita), “Hansel and Gretel” (Gretal), and Debussy’s “Pelleas et Melisande” (Melisande) in Opera Workshop.

Caroline Wright (The Boss), Soprano, received her vocal training at Illinois Wesleyan University and the University of Wisconsin – Madison. While studying, Caroline performed roles such as Lauretta from Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi,” the title role from Carlisle Floyd’s “Susannah,” and Donna Anna from Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.”

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Classical music Q&A: The prolific American composer Robert Kyr discusses the origin and interpretation of his oratorio “The Passion According to Four Evangelists,” which the UW Choral Union, the UW Chamber Orchestra and four soloists will perform this coming Saturday and Sunday. Part 1 of 2. Plus, FREE opera scenes will be performed Wednesday night at the UW.

April 23, 2013

ALERT: On Wednesday night, April 24, 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall (below) Opera Workshop will perform a Scene Recital that is FREE and OPEN to the public. The program includes scenes from the following operas: “Hansel and Gretel” by Humperdinck; “La Clemenza di Tito,” “Cosi Fan Tutte” and “Idomeneo” by Mozart; and “The Pearl Fishers” by Bizet. Opera workshop is a semester-long course designed to help the singer improve his or her competency as a singing actor. The student is given a scene from an opera to learn. During the course, the student is coached, assisted with language diction, and given tips on stage directions. At the end of the semester, students perform their pieces in front of an audience. The workshop is considered a safe place for the student to learn and grow as an artist. 


By Jacob Stockinger

This coming weekend will see two performances of American composer Robert Kyr’s “The Passion According to Four Evangelists” by the campus-community UW Choral Union (below), the UW Chamber Orchestra and four soloists, all under the baton of longtime UW choral director Beverly Taylor.

 UW Choral Union  12:2011

The soloists are soprano Anna Slate, mezzo-soprano Jennifer D’Agostino, tenor James Doing and baritone Paul Rowe.

The concerts are in Mills Hall on Saturday at 8 p.m. and on Sunday night at 7:30 p.m. (NOT 3:30 mistakenly printed first). Tickets are $15 for the General Public and $8 for Students and Seniors. The 
UW Box Office can be reached at (608) 265-2787. Remaining tickets are sold at the door.

Also: The American composer Robert Kyr will do half-hour pre-concert lectures in Mills for TICKETED patrons one hour before each concert. UW students are not free to these concerts. Saturday’s lecture 7-7:30 p.m. with the concert at 8 p.m. Sunday’s lecture is 6:30-7 p.m. with the concert at 7:30 p.m.

For background, here is a link to a fascinating NPR story about and interview with Robert Kyr and to Kyr’s own website:

The composer (below) — who is deeply committed to social justice and peace activism — graciously agreed to an email Q&A with The Ear:

robert kyr

Could you briefly introduce yourself and your work and career, and where the Passion According to Four Evangelists fits in?

I am a composer, writer and filmmaker who has composed 12 symphonies, three chamber symphonies, three violin concertos, chamber music, and more than 80 works for vocal ensembles of all types (with and without instruments).

Within the past two decades, most of my works explore a wide variety of topics from an intercultural perspective: Spiritual Themes (The Passion according to Four Evangelists, Songs of the Soul, and The Cloud of Unknowing); Conflict and Reconciliation, as well as Peace-Making  (Symphony No. 9—The Spirit of Time, Symphony No. 10— Ah Nagasaki: Ashes into Light, The Unutterable, and Waging Peace, which is based on first person witness testimony of the citizens of Baton Rouge about violence in their city); and Living in Harmony with Nature, preserving our environment (A Time for Life, an environmental oratorio, and  Symphony No. 11—Yosemite: Journey of Light, a multimedia symphony).

I am the chair of the composition department at the University of Oregon School of Music and Dance, where I also direct three musical organizations: the Oregon Bach Festival Composers Symposium, the Music Today Festival, and the Vanguard Concert and Workshop Series. Currently, I am also the President of our University Senate, which involves doing quite a bit of mediation, as an endeavor of peace-making. (A performance of Robert Kyr’s “Now Is the  TIme” is in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

What are your current and future projects and plans?

Immediately following the performances of The Passion according to Four Evangelists, I will go directly to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for the rehearsals and premiere of a work that I finished in the past few months, Waging Peace for 6 actors and actresses, soprano and baritone soloists, a chorus of 120 singers, and an instrumental ensemble. The text is based on first-person witness accounts of the citizens of Baton Rouge about the plague of violence in their city. It was written as part of a workshop that I gave there, which resulted in 400 pages of testimony that is anguished and often terrifying, yet ultimately hopeful.

In our relentlessly violent era, I believe that music and the arts have a significant role to play as part of our individual and collective healing process. I have co-created Waging Peace with the citizens of Baton Rouge as a testament to the power of the human spirit to overcome even the most extreme adversity.

On quite a different note, at the end of May, I will travel to Austin, Texas, to work with Craig Hella Johnson and his remarkable ensemble, Conspirare Company of Voices. They will perform an entire concert of my music, consisting of two works—The Cloud of Unknowing and Songs of the Soul, which explores the theme of love from a variety of perspectives. It includes texts by St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross — the former was the spiritual mentor of the latter  — as well as Psalm texts and excerpts from “The Cloud of Unknowing,” a guide to contemplation of the Divine by an anonymous 14th-century monk. Following their two concerts, Craig and Conspirare will record both of my works for the Harmonia Mundi record label. (Below is a photo Robert Kyr composing at a piano.)

robert kyr composing

What was the inspiration behind The Passion according to Four Evangelists?

In setting the passion text, I wanted to emphasize the universality of the story. As a narrative, it is neither doctrine nor dogma, but rather, a story told collaboratively by four individuals who emerge from “the community” as represented by the chorus.

In The Passion according to Four Evangelists, the story of Christ’s suffering and death is told from the differing viewpoints of the four gospel narrators, who join together to present a composite version of it.

The roles of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are sung by four soloists — soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone, respectively — and the shared parts of the story are set as duos, trios and quartets.

Unexpectedly, the most prominent evangelist roles—Matthew and Mark—are sung by the soprano and alto, which reverses the oratorio and opera tradition of giving women’s roles to men. In addition, each soloist also takes the part of a principal character in the drama: the soprano and alto represent Mary and Mary Magdalene in the Stabat Mater (Mary Stood Weeping); the tenor is Jesus; and the baritone is Pilate. In this way, the evangelists narrate a story that they enact, as well.

My intention to emphasize the universal qualities of the passion involves the issue of gender, as well. In The Passion according to Four Evangelists, the role of women is highlighted by prominently featuring them in two pivotal scenes—Daughters of Jerusalem (scene 3 of Part II, the central scene of The Way of the Cross) and Witness (the final scene of Part III).

In Witness, the passion concludes with an intense tableau in which the soprano and alto soloists sing Psalm 88, a psalm of desolation, while the women’s chorus (accompanied by violins and violas only) repeats a phrase from the Latin Stabat Mater text—“stabat mater lacrimosa”…Mary stood weeping.” This scene focuses on the women standing at the cross who mourn the death of Jesus.

These final moments of the work are a musical pièta expressing the lamentation of Jesus’ mother and friends. As the Stabat Mater finishes, the circle of mourners expands to include all of humanity, as represented by the full chorus (SATB), which sings the De Profundis: “Out of the Depths, I cry to you, O Lord”, followed by an epilogue that foreshadows the resurrection.

Kyr Passion CD cover

Tomorrow: Part 2 — What should the audience listen for in this weekend’s performances by the UW Choral Union of Robert Kyr’s “The Passion according to Four Evangelists”? How does the composer describe the sound and style of his music? What does he think of his ties to Madison?


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