By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received the following information to post about a local opera production that is both exciting and an inspired choice to mark February as Black History Month:
For more information about the cast and the production as well as about purchasing tickets ($25-$114), go to:
With music by Swiss composer Daniel Schnyder (below top) and a libretto by writer and poet Bridgette A. Wimberly (below bottom), the acclaimed opera “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird” tells of the legendary jazz musician and the people closest to him.
The opera, which melds jazz and opera, is set on the day that saxophone great Charlie Parker died in 1955. As his body lies unclaimed in a New York City morgue, Parker returns in spirit to the jazz club Birdland, determined to compose a final masterpiece. Family and friends blend in and out of his memories, including his three wives, his mother, his friend Dizzy Gillespie and even his drug dealer.
Charlie Parker’s Yardbird premiered in June 2015 at Opera Philadelphia (below is tenor Lawrence Brownlee, in a photo by Dominic Mercier, in the title role of Charlie Parker in the Philadelphia production) and was subsequently presented by the company at the Apollo Theater in New York City in April 2016. (You can hear an excerpt in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
The New York Times praised it for its “pulsing, jazz-infused score,” while the Wall Street Journal said, “its rhythms snap and swing, its melodies – including real arias – seize the ear, its ensembles crackle with energy.”
Madison Opera will be only the second company to present this work, which is sung in English with projected text and runs 90 minutes without an intermission.
“I saw Charlie Parker’s Yardbird when it premiered in Philadelphia and instantly knew it would be a perfect opera for Madison,” says Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill), Madison Opera’s general director. “The very American story and the exciting jazz-inflected music fit perfectly into our ever-expanding range of repertoire.”
She adds, “It’s not a straightforward narrative of Parker’s life, but rather elements of his life as refracted through his memories and imagination, and particularly his relationships with the women in his life.”
Madison Opera’s cast includes both debuts and returning favorites, as well as a number of singers who created their roles in the world premiere.
Joshua Stewart (below), a young American tenor who has sung at La Scala, Bayerische Staatsoper, and Opera de Lausanne, debuts in the tour de force role of Charlie Parker.
Angela Brown (below) returns following her performance at Opera in the Park 2016 as Addie Parker, Charlie’s mother, a role she created in Philadelphia.
Will Liverman, who sang Figaro in Rossini’s The Barber of Seville here in 2015, sings jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie, a role he created in Philadelphia.
Krysty Swann debuts as Rebecca Parker, Charlie’s first wife. Angela Mortellaro, who sang Galatea in Handel’s Acis and Galatea in 2013, returns as Doris Parker, Charlie’s third wife, a role she created in Philadelphia.
Rachel Sterrenberg debuts as Chan Parker, his final wife, a role she created in Philadelphia. Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, in whose hotel suite Parker died, is sung by Julie Miller in her Madison Opera debut.
Directing this production is Ron Daniels (below), who staged the world premiere and was the opera’s dramaturge, involved in the creation and workshop process.
John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) conducts, with members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra in the pit.
DeMain says: “I am so happy to be a part of Madison Opera’s Midwest premiere of Charlie Parker’s Yardbird. Parker was consumed with music, breathing it day and night. All of us who are passionate about performing and listening to music can identify with this phenomenal musician and will not want to miss this jazz-infused opera, the perfect expression of Parker’s range and depth as a musician.”
Composer Daniel Schnyder will attend the opening night performance and join Smith for the Pre-Opera Talk that evening at 7 p.m. in the Wisconsin Studio.
In addition to the performances, Madison Opera and its community partners are hosting a series of related events, collectively known as “Extending the Stage,” which culminate in a concert of Charlie Parker’s music with composer Daniel Schnyder and the UW-Madison’s Blue Note Ensemble.
These events include Opera Novice; community previews; Opera Up Close; discussions of the life and music of Charlie Parker (below); and presentations of rare jazz films.
All events are open to the public and the majority are free of charge.
RELATED EVENTS: EXTENDING THE STAGE
Opera Novice: Jazz Opera? Friday, Jan. 20 | 6-7 p.m. The Margaret C. Winston Madison Opera Center, 335 W. Mifflin Street. FREE and open to the public
New to opera? Passionate about Puccini, but not sure about a jazz opera? Join General Director Kathryn Smith for a short, fun, and informative evening exploring the history of jazz and opera, including a live performance of an aria from Charlie Parker’s Yardbird. With plenty of time to ask questions, it’s the perfect jump-start for the opera-curious.
Community Preview of Charlie Parker’s Yardbird, Tuesday, Jan. 24 | 7-8 p.m. Capitol Lakes Retirement Community, 333 W. Main St. FREE and open to the public
Join a Madison Opera staff member for a multimedia look at Charlie Parker’s life, the history of the opera Charlie Parker’s Yardbird, and some insights into Madison Opera’s production.
Opera Up Close, Sunday, Feb. 5 | 1-3 p.m. The Margaret C. Winston Madison Opera Center, 335 West Mifflin Street. Admission: $20; free for full-season subscribers and full-time students with ID; $10 for two-show subscribers. Tickets available at the door.
Come even closer with a behind-the-scenes preview of Charlie Parker’s Yardbird. A multimedia presentation on Charlie Parker and the history of this opera will be followed by a roundtable discussion with the leading artists of Madison Opera’s production. There is no better way to get “up close” to this acclaimed new opera.
A Charlie Parker Concert and Discussion with Daniel Schnyder and the Blue Note Ensemble Thursday, Feb. 9 | 7:30 p.m. Morphy Recital Hall, UW-Madison. FREE and open to the public
Composer Daniel Schnyder joins UW-Madison’s Blue Note Ensemble for an evening featuring music by Charlie Parker, with solos performed by both Schnyder and UW-Madison saxophone students. The evening includes an aria from Charlie Parker’s Yardbird and a discussion about Parker and the opera with Schnyder, UW-Madison Professor of Saxophone Les Thimmig, and General Director Kathryn Smith.
Pre-Opera Talks: Friday, Feb. 10 |7 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 12 | 1:30 p.m. Wisconsin Studio at Overture Center. FREE to ticket holders
Attend an entertaining introduction to Charlie Parker’s Yardbird one hour prior to curtain. On Friday night, composer Daniel Schnyder will join General Director Kathryn Smith to talk about the piece. Be sure to arrive early, as space is limited.
An Evening of Rare Jazz Films: Alicia Ashman Library. Friday, Feb. 3 | 7 p.m.; Goodman South Madison Library. Tuesday, April 11 | 6 p.m. FREE and open to the public (Below is footage of Charlie Parker playing and of people discussing the man and his artistic achievement.)
Jazz archivist Gary Alderman will present and explain films of the historically significant innovators of modern jazz, including the only two known existing videos with sound of Charlie Parker.
Among the other musicians shown will be those relevant to Parker’s music and career, including Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis.
The Life and Music of Charlie Parker: DeForest Area Public Library: Monday, Feb. 13, 6:30 p.m.; Alicia Ashman Library: Friday, Feb. 24, 7 p.m.; Fitchburg Public Library: Sunday, Feb. 26, 2 p.m.; Oregon Public Library: Friday, March 10, 6:30 p.m. FREE and open to the public
UW-Madison Professor of Saxophone Les Thimmig (below) will talk about Charlie Parker’s life and music, as well as the history of bebop.
More information is available at www.madisonopera.org/education.
By Jacob Stockinger
Vienna has been called “The Paris of the Reich.”
The urbane Prêtre – who specialized in French music but also was much in demand for a lot of German and Italian repertoire — studied karate and judo. But he also enjoyed the good life and by all accounts had a terrific sense of humor coupled to a “joie de vivre.”
He often said he preferred being a guest conductor to being a music director because the former was like a love affair and the latter was like a commitment. Yet Prêtre was committed: He is survived by his wife of more than 50 years.
His conducting career spanned 70 years. He was known for his association with the Vienna Philharmonic and the Vienna Symphony. But he also conducted 101 performances of seven operas at the famed Metropolitan Opera in New York City. He also frequently conducted in Milan, Philadelphia and Chicago.
Here is a good summary obituary, with sound clips of orchestral and operatic music, from National Public Radio (NPR):
And here is a longer obituary, which gives you the French flavor of the man and the musician, from The New York Times:
And here is George Prêtre’s most popular video on YouTube, which also serves as a fine memorial in sound:
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear’s friends at the Madison Symphony Orchestra write:
National vocalists, Madison community chorus members and the audience – all will get a chance to shine when Conductor John DeMain and the Madison Symphony Orchestra (both are below) kick off the holiday season with the much-loved tradition of the Madison Symphony Christmas concerts this coming weekend.
The concerts will celebrate the holidays with a range of music from Johann Sebastian Bach, Irving Berlin, George Frideric Handel, Felix Mendelssohn, John Rutter, Ralph Vaughan Williams (his “Magnificat,” which you can hear performed at the La Scala opera house in Milan, Italy in the YouTube video at the bottom) and Franz Schubert to holiday favorites and rocking Gospel selections – topped off with the audience adding its voice to carols at the end.
The concerts are in Overture Hall of the Overture Center on Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.
Single Tickets are $16 to $85 each, available at www.madisonsymphony.org/singletickets 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.
Highlights of the concert include:
Soloists mezzo-soprano Emily Fons (below top) and bass-baritone David Govertsen (below bottom), who are accomplished national operatic singers.
Madison Symphony Chorus (below top), directed by Beverly Taylor (below bottom), with 165 members, who come from all walks of life to combine their artistic talent.
Madison Youth Choirs (below), directed by Michael Ross, which combines young voices for a memorable experience;
Mt. Zion Gospel Choir (below), directed by Tamera and Leotha Stanley, which uses jazz, blues and gospel harmonies to “raise the roof” in creating captivating music;
And Audience members who join in the singing.
Concertgoers are encouraged to arrive at the Overture Hall lobby 45 minutes before the concert, so they can be moved by the Madison Symphony Chorus leading carols in the festively lit lobby.
The festivities are sure to brighten spirits for all ages, and many families attend in groups of two or three generations.
PLEASE NOTE: These concerts typically sell out, so purchasing tickets early is encouraged.
Major funding for the December concerts is provided by American Printing, Nedrebo’s Formalwear, John W. Thompson and Jane A. Bartell, BMO Private Bank, Maurice and Arlene Reese Family Foundation, Hooper Foundation/General Heating & Air Conditioning, and Two Anonymous Friends. Additional funding is provided by National Guardian Life Insurance Company, Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren s.c., Hans and Mary Lang Sollinger, and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.
By Jacob Stockinger
Last year, classical music lost of a lot of important people -– performers and composers.
For The Ear, three of the most important people were the Italian conductor Claudio Abbado (below top), who was a master of the mainstream operatic and orchestral repertoire; the English conductor Christopher Hogwood (below middle), who also pioneered the performance and recording of early music, Baroque music, Classical era composers and even early Romantic composers — including Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, Georg Frideric Handel, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert — on period instruments and with historically informed performance practices; and the Dutch flutist and conductor Frans Bruggen (below bottom), whose career followed a similar trajectory as Hogwood’s.
Those men made us hear music in new, unexpected and exciting ways — the highest achievement that any performer or interpreter can aspire to.
But we also lost highly accomplished and important singers and instrumentalists, including pianists and violinists.
Below is a link to the NPR story.
When you click on each entry you will get photo and full obituaries, readers’ comments and fine sound samples. So don’t be afraid to leave the NPR page and follow the various links.
And be sure to use the Comments section of this blog for any additions and tributes you wish to add, perhaps by naming your favorite composer or work they performed or recorded.
NEWS: As you have probably heard by now, the acclaimed Italian conductor Claudio Abbado (below) has died at 80. Here are links to some stories about this maestro who had such a varied and prolific career:
The New York Times:
The Washington Post:
By Jacob Stockinger
Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.
By John W. Barker
It was a great pity that no more than 25 people turned out at the Gates of Heaven on Sunday afternoon for the latest program offered by Jerry Hui’s early-music group, Eliza’s Toyes (below, inside Gates of Heaven).
His program this time was a post-Christmas survey of English sacred music. The range of material ran from late-Medieval three-voice pieces through composers of the early 17th century, adding up to 13 selections in all.
This is the kind of music most regularly performed by a choir of some or another size, sometimes of mixed voices, sometimes in the British-cathedral style of all-male voices, with boys on the upper parts.
Hui (below) fielded a consort of six singers (three female, three male), so that each item was sung one singer per part — with a couple cases of a little doubling, I believe. While the result favored clarity against sonority, it must be said that, in certain full-textured items, some very lovely sonority was achieved.
My principal reservation was that the ordering of the program seemed aimed at a smooth variety of sounds, rather than at a demonstration of the momentous changes in English sacred composition. The key to those changes was the liturgical shift in the Anglican Reformation from motets setting traditional Latin texts to the new anthems with English texts.
The shift could be noted in the dominant composer of the program, the great William Byrd (1540-1623, below), represented by two Latin motets, and then an English anthem. “Sing joyfully”, which served as the dazzling finale (see the YouTube video at the bottom).
Byrd’s teacher, and then partner, Thomas Tallis (below), likewise spanned the reforming shifts, but was heard in one Latin motet, “O scrum convivium”, and a gorgeously harmonized Latin hymn, “O nata lux de lumina”. Earliest in the pre-Reformation lineup was Robert Fayrfax (1464-1521), whose five-voice setting of the Magnificat was in the traditional alternatim setting (odd-numbered verses of the canticle sung in chant, the even-numbered ones set polyphonically).
On the other hand, a poignant victim of the Reformation was Peter Philips (1560-1628, below), a staunch Roman Catholic who fled his homeland for a successful career in Catholic music on the Continent. His five-voice “O beatum et sacrosanctum Deum” made a noble closer to the first part of the program.
As for the Anglican, English-language composers, besides the case of Byrd, and besides the 15th-century para-liturgal songs, we had a rousing anthem by Christopher Tye (1505-1573, below top), “A sound of angels,” and, finally, a six-voice secular piece, “Music divine”, by the last survivor of the great era of Tudor music, Thomas Tomkins (1572-1656, below bottom).
The six singers who have been making up Eliza’s Toyes have settled into a beautifully balanced and smooth ensemble. They listen to, and sing in sync with, each other. There is nothing else like them, as a continuing performing group for early sacred ensemble music in Madison. Although he is a UW-Madison graduate who now teaches at University of Wisconsin- Stout, Hui has kept up his association with the group, convinced of its need for continuity.
It is one more of those blessings that make Madison’s musical life so wonderfully rich!
REMINDER: This Sunday, March 10, at 2 p.m. in Mills Hall on the UW-Madison campus, the University Bands will perform a FREE concert under conductors Justin Stolarik (below) and Matthew Mireles.
By Jacob Stockinger
An old friend and co-worker of The Ear saw the posting I did last week about Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI (see him in the photo below, at a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony conducted by Daniel Barenboim at La Scala opera house in Milan). Benedict has a passion for playing the piano and listening to classical music, especially for the works of Mozart and Beethoven (composers right in keeping with his conservative theology, no?).
Here is a link:
Well, now as the papal conclave in the Vatican starts slowly toward getting underway (NEWS FLASH: The Vatican has announced the conclave will begin Tuesday) to elect a new pope, it appears that a playlist has been put together – by an American theologian at Notre Dame University at the request of the website Spotify — of classical music to help the cardinals (below, in an Associated Press photo) choose a new pope.
Most of it is, of course, choral music, usually with sacred themes — but not all of it.
Some of it is familiar to me; much of it is not.
Some of its is well known and popular; some of it is not.
But the list is catholic rather than Catholic and sure has a lot of excellent and memorable music.
Whether listening to this excellent music would lead to an excellent new pope is another question.
Here is a link:
Can any one of you think of other pieces of classical music that might be added? I thought of three pieces by Franz Liszt (below), who was quite the handsome and rakish youth and young man but who became a Franciscan monk later in life. (Below, a photo of Liszt in 1870 by Pierre Petit.)
The works are “Benediction of God in Solitude” from his “Poetic and Religious Harmonies” series, and his two “legends” about Saint Francis of Assisi: “St. Francis Preaching to the Birds” and “Saint Francis Walking on the Waves” (below, in a great YouTube video by Lise de la Salle with some incredible shots of the keyboard and her fingers walking on the rolling WAVES of notes.)
The Ear wants to hear.
And just maybe the Vatican’s conclave of 142 cardinals, to say nothing of the new pope, also wants to hear.
ALERT: An apology is in order. Somehow, in Thursday’s round-up of FREE chamber music events at the University of Wisconsin-Madison this weekend, I left out the performance on the Faculty Concert Series on Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. in Mills Hall by The Thimming-Johnson Duo. UW clarinetist Les Thimmig (seen below with a saxophone) and UW pianist Jessica Johnson will perform the Sonatine in G minor, D. 406, by Franz Schubert; “Rhapsodie Dobrogeana” by Paul Jelescu; and two arias from Giuseppe Verdi‘s “Il Trovatore,” among other works. The duo will be joined by UW percussionist Anthony DiSanza on marimba.
By Jacob Stockinger
He plays the piano well.
He attends a lot of live performances and is a discerning listener.
He has a brother, who was a professional church choir conductor and a composer.
And now he is a retired ex-Pope or “pope emeritus,” as the Vatican has baptized Pope Benedict XVI, seen below at a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with conductor Daniel Barenboim at La Scala in Milan.)
The outstanding classical music blog, “Deceptive Cadence,” which you can fin don the website of National Public Radio, has a terrific and very detailed story about the retired pope and classical music.
Here is a link:
By Jacob Stockinger
Christmas may be over, but there are still important holiday gifts and special deals involving classical music to be had. Here is one as described in a recent press release The Ear received;
“The go-to site for experiencing world-class classical performances on the Web – medici.tv – will be offering all music lovers in the U.S. an unlimited free day of viewing on Monday, Dec. 26 of the myriad programs in the site’s pay-per-view library. (A sample is below.)
Much of the live programming on medici.tv is available free throughout the year, but on the day after Christmas, the pay-for-view archival programs will be free, too – as a gift to the site’s fans and new friends.
What’s available on medici.tv now includes more opera than ever before – including acclaimed productions from the UK and Paris with such top stars as Jonas Kaufmann (below), Natalie Dessay and Gerald Finley.
There are also live Webcasts of top-tier orchestral concerts, vocal performances, and chamber recitals, along with vintage documentaries and music films – including the much-lauded Christopher Nupen catalog.
More and more praise accrues to medici.tv with each passing month.
New Yorker magazine writer Alex Ross (below) said on his blog, “The Rest Is Noise,” that “the hits keep coming at medici.tv.” Offering “treasures aplenty” was how Gramophone editor-in-chief James Jolly put it, designating medici.tv as one of the Web’s leading classical experiences.
The medici.tv app for iPads, iPhones, and other digital devices – available for free at the Apple app store – was named one of the top five apps for classical music by WQXR, the classical music station of New York City.
In addition to its live webcasts, medici.tv also offers an extensive library of video-on-demand programs, available via subscription. These performances, documentaries and archival features spotlight leading musical institutions and world-class artists – from golden-age legends to today’s top stars.
The 30-plus Christopher Nupen films available at medici.tv include not only the priceless du Pré documents (complete with Elgar’s Cello Concerto and a number of all-star chamber performances) but also films of Evgeny Kissin, Vladimir Ashkenazy and Nathan Milstein. All 32 Beethoven piano sonatas recorded by Daniel Barenboim (below) in 1983-84 will be available by the year’s end.
About medici.tv: Since its official launch in May 2008, medici.tv has gained international recognition, bringing together a community of music and arts lovers from 182 countries – online viewers who have watched over 12 million videos to date. The site currently averages more than 80,000 individual visitors each month.
In addition to offering live concert hall events that music lovers can experience on their computers and entertainment systems, medici.tv now offers a free application (available at the Apple App Store) that makes it possible to experience world-class artistry on iPads and iPhones.
Building on the success of webcasts from the Verbier Festival (below) in 2007, medici.tv has offered high-definition webcasts from many other leading festivals, including Aix-en-Provence, Saint-Denis, Aspen, Glyndebourne, Salzburg, and Lucerne; from such Parisian venues as the Opéra National de Paris, Auditorium du Louvre, Cité de la Musique, and Salle Pleyel; and from Milan’s famed La Scala.
Many operas and concerts performed by the world’s top artists and orchestras have been webcast as live events and later as video-on-demand (VOD) – all available for free. The list of artists presented at medici.tv is a “who’s who” of today’s stars, including Claudio Abbado, Martha Argerich, Daniel Barenboim, Pierre Boulez, Plácido Domingo, John Eliot Gardiner, Valery Gergiev, Bernard Haitink, Riccardo Muti (below), Anna Netrebko, Maurizio Pollini, Thomas Quasthoff and Simon Rattle.
Among the featured orchestras are such renowned ensembles as the Berlin Philharmonic, Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, London Philharmonic, Royal Concertgebouw (below), Orchestre National de France, Orchestre de Paris, Filarmonica della Scala, and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe.
In addition to webcasts of more than 80 live concerts each year, medici.tv has partnered with the world’s top artists and music institutions to offer subscriptions, giving music-lovers the opportunity to watch more than 700 Video On Demand programs – growing to 1,000 programs over the next two years.
They include concerts, operas, recitals, documentaries, master classes, artist portraits, and archival material. Featured artists include such legendary musicians as Leonard Bernstein, Maria Callas, Glenn Gould, Herbert von Karajan, Yehudi Menuhin, David Oistrakh, Sviatoslav Richter, Mstislav Rostropovich, Arthur Rubinstein (below), Georg Solti and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, as well as such leading film directors as Bruno Monsaingeon, Paul Smaczny and Frank Scheffer.
You can watch medici.tv concerts on iPhone with the free medici.tv App.
You can also: