The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Jacques Offenbach’s fantastical masterpiece “The Tales of Hoffmann” will be performed by Madison Opera on Friday night and Sunday afternoon. Here is Part 1 of a two-part preview

April 12, 2016
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ALERT: The concert by the UW-Madison Contemporary Chamber Ensemble that was scheduled for this Saturday has been CANCELED due to illness.

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s friends at the Madison Opera write:

Madison Opera will present two performances of  “The Tales of Hoffmann” by French composer Jacques Offenbach (below) this weekend.

Jacques Offenbach

The production will be performed in Overture Hall of the Overture Center on Friday at 8 p.m. and on
 Sunday at 2:30 p.m. It will be sung in French with projected English translations.

Tickets are $18-$129. Student and group discounts are available. Tickets can be purchased at the Overture Box Office, 201 State St., Madison, and by calling (608) 258-4141 or visiting www.madisonopera.org

This will be the company’s first production in 20 years of Offenbach’s masterpiece, which moves in a fantasy world. It offers showpiece arias for the bravura cast, the gorgeous “Barcarolle,” and a moving tribute to what it means to be an artist. (You can hear the famous and familiar Barcarolle in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

THE STORY

As he sits in a tavern, the poet Hoffmann drinks, smokes and encounters Lindorf, his rival for his current lover, the opera singer Stella.

He recalls how his nemesis seems to appear constantly in his life, and urged on by his fellow bar patrons, tells the three tales of his loves: Olympia, who turns out to be a mechanical doll; Antonia, a singer who dies of a mysterious illness; and Giulietta, a courtesan who steals his reflection. His adventures take him from Munich to Venice, always accompanied by his most faithful love, his muse.

The opera ends back in the tavern, as Hoffmann’s muse consoles him and urges him on to the higher purpose of art.

Madison Opera Hoffmann set 2

PRAISE AND BACKGROUND

“The Tales of Hoffmann is one of my absolute favorite operas,” says Kathryn Smith (below in a photo by James Gill), the general director of Madison Opera. “I love the music, the story, the myriad facets to the characters, and the fact that no two productions of this opera are identical. It has comedy, tragedy, drinking songs, lyrical arias, and even some magic tricks.”

Offenbach’s final opera, “The Tales of Hoffmann” premiered in 1881 at the Opera-Comique in Paris. The title character was based on the writer E.T.A. Hoffmann, now most famous as the author of the original “Nutcracker” story; the different acts were adaptations of Hoffmann’s own short stories.

Offenbach was celebrated for over 100 comic operettas such as “Orpheus in the Underworld”; “Hoffmann” was intended to be his first grand opera. Unfortunately, he died before completing the opera, and other composers finished it. Over the past century, there have been many different versions of the opera, with different arias, different plot points, and even different orders of the acts.

Kathryn Smith Fly Rail Vertical Madison Opera

“The Tales of Hoffmann, for me, is the perfect blend of great music and
 great theater,” says John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), the artistic director of Madison Opera and the music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. “It’s particularly fun to conduct because the orchestra plays a central role in
the moment to moment unfolding of the drama, and Offenbach achieves this at the same time as he is spinning out one gorgeous melody after another.”

John DeMain full face by Prasad

THE CAST

Madison Opera’s cast features a quartet of debuts in the leading roles. Harold Meers (below), who sang at Opera in the Park in 2015, makes his mainstage debut as Hoffmann, the poet.

Harold Meers

Sian Davies (bel0w) makes her debut singing three of Hoffmann’s loves – Antonia, Giulietta and Stella – a true vocal and dramatic feat. Jeni Houser returns to Madison Opera following her most recent role as Amy in Mark Adamo’s “Little Women” to sing the role of his fourth love, Olympia. She has also appeared here in George Frideric Handel’s “Acis and Galatea” and Stephan Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd.”

Sian Davies

Baritone Morgan Smith makes his debut as Hoffmann’s nemesis, who appears in forms both sinister and comic.

Making her debut as Hoffmann’s sidekick Nicklausse, who also turns out to be his Muse, is mezzo-soprano Adriana Zabala.

Returning to Madison Opera as the four servants is Jared Rogers, who sang Beadle Bamford in Stephen Sondheim‘s “Sweeney Todd.” Thomas Forde, last here as Don Basilio in Giaocchino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville,” sings the dual roles of Luther and Crespel. Robert Goderich, who sang Pirelli in “Sweeney Todd,” sings Spalanzani, the mad inventor. Tyler Alessi makes his debut as Schlemil.

Three Madison Opera Studio Artists round out the cast: Kelsey Park as the voice of Antonia’s dead mother and William Ottow and Nathaniel Hill as two students.

SETTING

Madison Opera’s production is set in the Roaring 1920s, with stylish costumes that are perfect for Offenbach’s fantasy that travels time and location.

Madison Opera Hoffmann set 3

Kristine McIntyre (below), who directed Jake Heggie‘s “Dead Man Walking” and Giuseppe Verdi’s “A Masked Ball” for Madison Opera, stages this complex story that has a vast dramatic scope.

Kristine McIntyre 2016

Tomorrow: Artistic and music director John DeMain and stage director Kristine McIntyre address the differences between the reputation and the reality of “The Tales of Hoffman.”

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Classical music: Playing softly is the mark of great music-making

April 5, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Like so many young pianists, when The Ear was young he wanted to project strength. He wanted to play BIG virtuosic pieces and play them FAST and LOUD — even though they were usually way beyond his ability.

Pieces such as the “Appassionata” Sonata and “Emperor” Concerto by Ludwig van Beethoven.

The Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18, and Prelude in C-sharp minor (“Bells of Moscow”) by Sergei Rachmaninoff.

The Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor by Peter Tchaikovsky.

The “Great Gate at Kiev,” from “Pictures at an Exhibition,” by Modest Mussorgsky.

The ”Military” Polonaise and the “Revolutionary” Etude by Frederic Chopin.

You know, the kind of piece that can easily descend into pounding and banging, but that makes an impression on listeners and people who don’t play — and on the player too!

Back then, doing that kind of muscular music-making seemed the task of a real virtuoso.

But no longer.

Maturity brings an appreciation of subtlety and softness, which are much better hallmarks of musicality. Softness is definitely NOT weakness. In fact for The Ear, softness has become a kind of test of mature musicianship.

The past year or so has been a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate that the mark of a really great and mature virtuoso artist is the ability to play softly.

The most recent example came this past Sunday afternoon when The Ear heard pianist Garrick Ohlsson (below) play the Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15, by Johannes Brahms with the Madison Symphony Orchestra under the baton of MSO’s longtime music director and conductor John DeMain.

Garrick Ohlsson

To be sure, the MSO performed absolutely superbly on its own in the 2011 Symphony by Steven Stucky and the tone poem “Don Juan” by Richard Strauss.

But the second half of the concert, devoted to the concerto, was both ear-opening and heart-rending.

The first concerto is a product of Brahms’ youth and is dramatic. Ohlsson, who possess both power and great technique, has no problem getting a huge sound out of the piano when he wants to or playing the most virtuosic passages with absolute fluidness and complete command.

But here is what really mattered: Ohlsson took away the bombast and bluster you so often hear in this early work. You felt as if you were hearing the concerto for the first time or at least hearing it anew.

What emerged was a uniquely convincing and beautifully poetic reading of this famous work – and not just in the slow movement but also in various interludes during the first and third movements. Plus, Ohlsson was joined by DeMain and the MSO whose accompaniment bought into his interpretation and also emphasized subtlety. It was complemented perfectly by the quietly songful encore, which was the lyrical Nocturne in D-flat major by Chopin.

There have been other occasions like that over the past year or so.

Here are just a few.

The duo-pianists Alessio Bax and Lucille Chung (below) at Farley’s House of Pianos played an all-Schubert recital and proved how seductive quiet and restrained playing can be.

Lucille Chung and Alessio Bax 2015

UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor (below, in a photo by Michael R. Anderson) can compete with the best when it comes to forceful playing. But what lingers in The Ear’s mind is hearing Taylor’s seductive playing of the slow movement from the Piano Sonata No. 3 in F minor, Op. 5, by Johannes Brahms as a great example in how playing softly draws in listeners but requires great virtuosity and control.

Christopher Taylor Recital

Christopher Taylor Recital

Pianist Emanuel Ax (below), who played the Piano Concerto No. 4 by Beethoven with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, also demonstrated an uncanny ability to play softly with deep tone.

Emanuel Ax portrait 2016

There were other examples in various kinds of music. The Ear recalls beautifully soft singing in some songs by Franz Schubert during the Schubertiade (below) at the UW-Madison in late January.

Schubertiade 2016 Shepherd on the Rock

He also remembers some fantastic quiet playing of Johann Sebastian Bach and Brahms in the debut recital by UW violinist Soh-Hyun Park Altino (below, in a photo by Caroline Bittencourt).

Soh-Hyun Park Altino CR caroline bittencourt

There are many other examples from other individuals and groups, including the violinist Benjamin Beilman with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra; the UW Choral Union in the Gloria by Francis Poulenc; the Madison Opera’s productions of Puccini’s “La Boheme” and Mark Adamo’s “Little Women”; pianist Joyce Yang at the Wisconsin Union Theater; and the Pro Arte Quartet among others.

But you get the point.

It isn’t easy to play softly. In fact, it can be downright hard.

But it makes music so beautiful.

So moving.

So unforgettable.

As listener or player, try it and see for yourself.


Classical music: University Opera will stage three performances of “Transformations” this Friday night, Sunday afternoon and next Tuesday night.

March 8, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Take children’s fairy tales – such as “Sleeping Beauty” (below) — and recast them through adult reinterpretations. You can get some pretty weird and dark and humorous results.

Henry Meynel Rheam painting Sleeping Beauty

That is not only the formula for Stephen Sondheim’s popular Broadway musical and later Hollywood movie “Into the Woods.”

It also worked for the Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet Anne Sexton, who grew depressed and killed herself at age 45. Her versions then became an opera.

anne sexton

The music, described as tonal and accessible, is by Conrad Susa (below), who taught at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. The contemporary opera has been popular and widely staged.

Conrad Susa

This weekend and early next week, University Opera – the opera program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music – will give three performances in Music Hall of the work on Friday night at 7:30 p.m., Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. (NOT 3:30 as first posted here mistakenly) and Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. (NOTE: An ad on Wisconsin Public Radio erroneously lists the performance times on Friday and Tuesday nights as 7 p.m. and 7 p.m., respectively.)

Admission is $25, $20 for seniors and $10 for students.

Members of the cast even posted an invitation video on YouTube:

For more information, visit the A Tempo blog of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, which features remarks from interim opera director David Ronis (below, in a photo by Luke Delalio), who is based in New York City, and details about the pre-concert discussion on Friday night from 6 to 7 p.m. (There will also be talk back sessions after each performance.):

https://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2016/02/29/university-opera-presents-spring-show-transformations/

David Ronis color CR Luke DeLalio

The music director is graduate student in conducting Kyle Knox (below), who recently conducted Mark Adamo’s “Little Women” for the Madison Opera and who conducts ensembles at the UW-Madison and the Middleton Community Orchestra.

Kyle Knox 2

For even more background, visit:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/2016/02/12/university-opera-presents-transformations/

Here is a sample, a YouTube video of the “Hansel and Gretel” section of “Transformations”:


Classical music: Here is the schedule of the Chazen Museum of Art’s chamber music concerts — live and streamed — for 2016. They start this Sunday afternoon with the Wisconsin Brass Quintet. Plus, Mark Adamo will talk about his opera at the performance TONIGHT of “Little Women” by the Madison Opera

February 5, 2016
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ALERT: Kathryn Smith, the general director of the Madison Opera, which is presenting Mark Adamo‘s opera “Little Women” tonight at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, writes: “One thing you might let your readers know is that Mark Adamo is doing the pre-show talk TONIGHT in tandem with me  — meaning I’m going to ask him questions, so he can talk about his opera instead of me doing so as usual. That is at 7 p.m. in the Wisconsin Studio of the Overture Center, and is free to ticket holders.”

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following message that you may want to print out or write into your datebook:

The Chazen Museum of Art is pleased to announce the continuation of Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen for 2016.

On the FIRST SUNDAY OF EVERY MONTH, the Chazen presents chamber music performances in Brittingham Gallery III of the old Conrad A. Elvehjem Building.

SALProArteMay2010

In addition to the gallery performance, the monthly concerts are streamed live on the Internet, making them readily accessible anywhere in the world.

This year marks the 38th season for Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen. Until 2015, the series took place weekly and was broadcast live by Wisconsin Public Radio.

When WPR stepped away, the Chazen took over the series.

Lori Skelton, the producer of Sunday Afternoon Live at WPR for many years, has again volunteered to program the concert series and act as its host. Without her musical expertise, as well as her generosity of spirit, the Chazen would not be able to continue this popular program.

During the intermissions, live stream listeners will hear an interview or conversation featuring the museum’s director, Russell Panczenko. Topics include current exhibitions and the permanent collection.

Concerts begin at 12:30 p.m.

All concerts are free and open to the public. However, seating is limited. Chazen Museum of Art members may call 608-263-2246 to reserve seating the week before the concert.

To listen to the concert live on the Internet, simply go to www.Chazen.wisc.edu on the day of the concert and click on Sunday Afternoon Live at the Chazen.

2016 Schedule

This Sunday, February 7:  Wisconsin Brass Quintet 

Wisconsin Brass Quintet

Wisconsin Brass Quintet

March 6:  Pro Arte String Quartet

April 3:  Clocks in Motion percussion ensemble

Clocks in Motion group collage 

May 1:  Pro Arte Quartet

June 5:  Madison Bach Musicians

Kangwon KIm with Madison Bach Musicians

July 3 TBD

August 7 TBD

September 4:  Black Marigold Wind Quintet

Black Marigold new 2016

October 2:  Pro Arte String Quartet

November 6:  Parry Karp, cello

Parry Karp

December 4:  Pro Arte String Quartet (below in a photo by Rick Langer)

Pro Arte 3 Rick Langer copy


Classical music: “It always starts from the singing line.” Composer and librettist Mark Adamo talks about creating his popular opera “Little Women,” which will be performed twice this weekend by the Madison Opera.

February 3, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Opera will present its modernist production of the popular contemporary opera “Little Women” (below, in a traditional production by the Calgary Opera) by Mark Adamo this weekend.

Christina Ryan,Calgary Herald CALGARY, AB.:JANUARY 21, 2010 -- Calgary Opera's Canadian premiere production 'Little Women' stars Krisztina Szabo as Meg, Allyson McHardy as Joe, Mariateresa Magisaro as Beth, and Catherine May as Amy in Calgary on January 21, 2010.(Photo by Christina Ryan/Calgary Herald) (for Entertainment story by Bob Clark)00025573A

Christina Ryan,Calgary Herald CALGARY, AB.:JANUARY 21, 2010 — Calgary Opera’s Canadian premiere production ‘Little Women’ stars Krisztina Szabo as Meg, Allyson McHardy as Joe, Mariateresa Magisaro as Beth, and Catherine May as Amy in Calgary on January 21, 2010.(Photo by Christina Ryan/Calgary Herald)

Performances are in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center on Friday at 8 p.m. and on Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets to the opera, based on Louisa May Alcott’s famous 19th-century American novel of the same name, run $21-$101. You can call the Overture Center box office at 608 258-4141.

The production features guest conductor Kyle Knox (below), a busy and experienced musician who is a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. His dramatic story was featured on this blog yesterday:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/02/02/classical-music-here-are-two-dramas-behind-the-scenes-in-this-weekends-production-of-mark-adamos-little-women-by-the-madison-opera/

Kyle Knox 2

Candace Evans (below) returns as the stage director:

Candace Evans

Heather Johnson (below) returns to sing the lead role of Jo March:

Heather Johnson

“Little Women” will be sung in English with projected surtitles.

The running time is 2-1/2 hours with one intermission.

Also, Mark Adamo is doing the pre-show talk on Friday night in tandem with the Madison Opera’s general director Kathryn Smith. Says Smith: “That means I’m going to ask him questions, so he can talk about his opera instead of me doing so as usual. That is at 7 p.m. in the Wisconsin Studio of the Overture Center, and is free to ticket holders.”

For more information about the opera, tickets, the cast and the production as well as the pre-performance lecture and post-performance Q&A, visit:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2015-2016/little_women/

Here is a link to Mark Adamo’s informative website, where you can also see what other music Adamo, who teaches composition at New York University, composes:

http://www.markadamo.com

And here is link to his entry on Wikipedia:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Adamo

Adamo – who will attend the Friday night performance — generously agreed to a recent email interview with The Ear:

mark adamo BW

Is there anything beyond what is on your website that you think readers should know about you, your background and your career, including your latest and upcoming projects?

The website has only a little detail about “Becoming Santa Claus,” which is my fourth opera and which was given a lovely premiere (below) in Dallas in December. I’m editing the soundtrack for an upcoming DVD of the piece even as we speak.

Adamo Becoming Santa Claus

What attracted you to “Little Women” as a subject for an opera?

I actually resisted it up front. I thought it was charming, but too antique and undramatic even to speak, let alone sing.

I was drawn to it only when I realized the show was neither “Three Weddings and a Funeral” (that is, not a story of all the March girls, save Beth, growing up to marry) nor a story of a girl struggling to be an artist (her whole family supports her) but a startling, and startlingly proto-modern, story of a girl/woman who learns too late that the destinies of even those she loves are out of her control.

Once it occurred to me that it was the story of everyone who’s ever heard, or uttered, the words, “I love you, but I have to leave” — and didn’t know why it had to be so — I knew the piece could sing.

How difficult a challenge is it for you to do both the score and the libretto? Do you prefer doing one to the other or find one easier?

For me, it’s natural. I was trained not only as a musician but as a playwright and lyricist (and, less comprehensively, as an actor and director) and, temperamentally, I’m the sort of artist who likes to take the most various, and longest possible, view of the project first before I start it.

An opera is a structure of words and music designed to be acted So the more questions I ask myself up front, the clearer both the script and the score can become even before they’re created, because the piece has been conceived in toto first and then the words and music designed to express it.

So I ask myself: What is the story? How can the journey of this character tell it? What is the sound of this story as verbal diction? Vocal contour? Harmonic mass? Melodic line? (Below are the handwritten manuscript and published score to a work by Mark Adamo.)

Adamo score for Tim Thumb

How would you describe the style of your music to the general public?

It always starts from the singing line. But I let the emotion of the character and the flow of the story determine everything else.

If the character feels like she’s making beautiful discoveries as she falls in love, the harmonies open up, moving from key to key before it settles when she does. If the conversation is turbulent, unsettled, inconclusive, the music is similarly fugitive.

Technically, that means the music is tonal, except when it’s chromatic; harmonic, unless just a sound or an orchestral color can carry the meaning; rhythmically steady, unless rhythms careen every which way to follow the turns of argument. In sum, it is eclectic — but not arbitrarily so. (NOTE: In a YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear an example in Beth’s aria from the production of “Little Women” by the Fayetteville Opera.)

“Little Women” has been performed in more than 65 international productions. What do you think has made it so popular? What is the usual public reaction to the work?

It’s actually over 100 at this point. Obviously, the path of the opera begins with the novel, one of the most beloved in English since its publication. Obviously, you try, as an artist, to make a piece as true and clear and deep as you can. But you can’t control whether artists subsequently believe in that piece (or not), or whether audiences embrace it (or not.)

Eighteen years after its premiere, my only possible response is gratitude that this opera is still speaking so often and to so many.

 


Classical music: Here are two dramas behind the scenes in this weekend’s production of Mark Adamo’s “Little Women” by the Madison Opera

February 2, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Opera will present its production of Mark Adamo’s popular contemporary chamber opera “Little Women” this weekend.

Performances are in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center on this Friday at 8 p.m. and on this Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets to the opera, based on Louisa May Alcott’s famous novel of the same name, run $21-$101. You can call the Overture Center box office at 608 258-4141.

For more information about the opera, tickets, the cast and the production, and the pre-performance lecture and post-performance Q&A, visit:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2015-2016/little_women/

But not all the drama involved with this production is visible on the stage.

One drama is the creative process of writing both the libretto and the music for the opera, which was Adamo’s first opera and which has seen some 65 productions around the world.

Longtime music critic and freelance writer Mike Muckian covers that quiet drama quite insightfully in the Wisconsin Gazette, where he published an interview with Mark Adamo (below). And Muckian even broke some news about Adamo co-writing a new opera with his spouse, acclaimed composer John Corigliano.

Here is a link:

http://www.wisconsingazette.com/on-stage/adamos-landmark-little-women-comes-to-madison-opera.html

Mark Adamo

The other drama concerns the conductor of the opera, Kyle Knox. Knox (below), who is a very experienced graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, has gone into conducting after physical problems forced him to give up his career as a clarinetist with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

That story is covered exceptionally well in the UW-Madison music blog A Tempo by veteran journalist Katherine Esposito, who is also the concert manager and director of public relations for the UW-Madison School of Music.

Here is a link to that story:

https://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2016/01/29/kyle-knox-the-accidental-conductor/

Kyle Knox

Kyle Knox 2

The Ear will also post a Q&A with Mark Adamo. In the meantime, perhaps these behind-the-scenes dramas will whet your appetite for both the Q&A and the actual production.

Here is a YouTube video with an excerpt from “Little Women,” with acclaimed mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato singing the aria “Things Change, Jo”:


Classical music: Does Madison have enough listeners for the city’s many classical music concerts?

January 15, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Is the problem that Madison has too many concerts by too many musicians?

Or is the problem maybe instead that Madison, a mid-size city, has too few listeners for so many musicians?

PAQ Jalbert audience ovation

Here is what got The Ear wondering about that question.

This coming Sunday afternoon is another “train wreck,” as The Wise Critic likes to describe worthwhile events that conflict.

What’s a listener to do?

At 1:30 p.m., the Oakwood Chamber Players (below) perform an intriguing program of unusual music at Oakwood Village West, on Madison’s far west side.

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/01/12/classical-music-the-oakwood-chambers-players-will-perform-playful-works-by-elisenda-fabregas-malcolm-arnold-and-robert-schumann-this-saturday-night-and-sunday-afternoon/

Oakwood Chamber Players 2015-16

At 3:30 p.m., Opera Props stages a benefit for the University Opera at the First Unitarian Society of Madison that features talented singers (including soprano Tyana O’Connor, below top) from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music joined by UW-Madison alumnus, “Barihunk” baritone and rising Broadway star Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek (below bottom). Lots of famous arias and duets will be sung to piano accompaniment, with a reception following.

Here is a link to details:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/01/14/classical-music-broadway-star-and-uw-madison-alumnus-joins-students-for-the-university-opera-benefit-this-sunday-afternoon/

Tyana O'Connor soprano

Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek as barihunk

At 4 p.m., there is a terrific duo-piano recital at Farley’s House of Pianos, on Madison’s far west side, by the husband-and-wife team of Alessio Bax and Lucille Chung (below) featuring the music of Franz Schubert and Francis Poulenc.

Here is more about that concert:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=43117&action=edit

Lucille Chung and Alessio Bax 2015

The Ear has mentioned such conflicts before and knows that there is little point to complaining. Others will chime in and point out how lucky we are to live in a city with so many choices.

Nonetheless, it got The Ear to wondering.

Maybe the problem is not that Madison has so many musicians and music-makers.

Maybe the problem is that Madison doesn’t have enough listeners to go around and reward them all.

The Ear finds it hard to believe that each of the three events being held on Sunday afternoon won’t affect attendance for the other two.

And it will happen again and again later this winter and spring. Even in the summer too, if last summer is any guide.

Take Friday night, Feb. 5 when the St. Lawrence String Quartet plays two quartets by Franz Joseph Haydn and the new String Quartet No. 2 by John Adams at the Wisconsin Union Theater and the Madison Opera also opens its production of Mark Adamo’s opera “Little Women” at the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

Take Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day, when the Madison Symphony Orchestra will perform music by Maurice Ravel, Peter Tchaikovsky and the famous Violin Concerto by Ludwig van Beethoven, with Russian-born soloist Alina Ibragimova, that afternoon at 2:30 p.m. and then that same night the winners of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music concerto competition will perform works by Sergei Rachmaninoff, Sergei Prokofiev, Richard Strauss and more, including a student work, at 7:30 p.m.

And if you look over the semester, you will find other conflicts.

Are there enough listeners to go around?

So many Madison classical musicians, both individuals and groups, are top quality and deserve big, enthusiastic audiences — and the kind of financial support that comes with good attendance.

But scheduling conflicts, along with a limited number of listeners, might be preventing that. And that doesn’t even include competition from the wealth of non-classical music events in the area!

So: Does Madison just have too many music-makers for the number of listeners?

Please say what you think about the problem of competition and scheduling conflicts in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.

BDDS 2014 Playhouse standing ovation


Classical music: Mark Adamo’s new opera “Becoming Claus” explores the commercialism and historical meaning of Christmas

December 27, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

By now most of the Christmas gifts have been bought, given and opened.

And soon the gift cards will be spent.

So how commercial is the holiday?

And how does one return to the true meaning of the holiday?

Those were the issues that composer and librettist Mark Adamo set out to explore in his new opera ‘Becoming Claus,” which recently received its world premiere at the Dallas Opera, where it was commissioned. (You can hear Mark Adamo discuss how he became an opera composer in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Mark Adamo

It might interest local readers especially because the Madison Opera will stage Mark Adamo’s opera version of Louisa May Alcott‘s “Little Women” on Feb. 5 and 7 in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

Here is a link to more information about that local production:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2015-2016/little_women/

In fact, perhaps the new chamber opera (below) will one day be staged in Madison, where its message would be sure to resonate.

becoming claus

Here is a story, which has a terrific interview with the composer, about Mark Adamo’s new opera that appeared on the Deceptive Cadence blog of National Public Radio (NPR).

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2015/12/11/459364003/re-imagining-santa-claus-from-grasping-kid-to-avatar-of-generosity


Classical music: Puccini makes us all bohemians. Madison Opera scores a big heart-rending success with “La Bohème.” The final performance is this afternoon.

November 15, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Loyal readers of this blog know very well the name of Mikko Rankin Utevsky. The young violist, baritone and conductor is a senior at the University of Wisconsin School of Music, where he studies with Pro Arte Quartet violist Sally Chisholm, plays in the UW Symphony Orchestra, and sings with the University Opera.

Utevsky, who has won awards and impressive reviews for his work in music education since his days at Madison’s East High School, is the founder and conductor of the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO – www.MAYCO.org), which will perform its sixth season this summer. He also directs a local community orchestra, The Studio Orchestra (www.disso.org).

You can check out his many honors and projects by typing his name into the search engine on this blog site.

Utevsky offered The Ear a guest preview review of this past weekend’s performance of “La Bohème” by the Madison Opera.

I immediately took him up on the offer. After all, he is a fine and perceptive writer who, you may recall, has done other opera reviews and who blogged for this post when he was on tour with the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) tour to Vienna, Prague and Budapest.

Here is the review by Mikko Utevsky (below):

new Mikko Utevsky baton profile USE

By Mikko Rankin Utevsky

Giacomo Puccini’s “La Bohème” is perhaps the most beloved of all operas, adored by newcomers and veterans alike for its richly Romantic melodies, subtly shaded score and sheer vocal magnetism. (Performance photos are by James Gill for the Madison Opera.)

This weekend’s production anchors Madison Opera’s writer-themed season, which continues with Mark Adamo‘s “Little Women” in February and Jacques Offenbach’s “Les Contes d’Hoffman” (The Tales of Hoffmann) in April.

The famous numbers in “La Boheme” — the first-act arias “Che gelida manina” by the poet Rodolfo (Mackenzie Whitney) and “Si, mi chiamano Mimi” by Mimi (Eleni Calanos), and the following duet “O soave fanciulla” in particular — are familiar showstoppers, and were well sung Friday night. (You can hear Jussi Bjorling and Renata Tebaldi sing the arias and duets in the YouTube video at the bottom. Can you not be moved?)

Boheme Madison Opera USE Mimi and Rodolfo GILL

But the indisputable star of this production was Maestro John DeMain (below in a photo by Prasad), whose flexible leadership in conducting united a remarkably even cast and the Madison Symphony Orchestra, whose lush, supple sound filled Overture Hall to the rafters with a powerful reading of Puccini’s rich and colorful score.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

One was struck by the tightness of composition. For a composer often accused of pandering to popular tastes, sacrificing musical integrity for cheap emotional tricks, the score to “La Bohème” is densely motivic and self-referential.

As in Mozart or Verdi, the orchestra often represents the subtext or the emotional undercurrents of the scene, with snatches of remembered melody drifting throughout the drama. The only complaint must be that we sometimes heard a bit too much of this lovely orchestra, to the detriment of balance with the singers.

Among the cast, the sense of camaraderie between the members of the male quartet — Marcello, Rodolfo, Colline and Schaunard — was palpable, by turns rowdy and rambunctious and in the fourth act deeply moving.

Madison Opera Boheme cafe sceneJames Gill

Whether this was the result of some special chemistry between the singers (Dan Kempson, Mackenzie Whitney, Liam Moran, and Alan Dunbar) or something drawn out by director David Lefkowich (below), it brought the ensemble scenes to life marvelously, and drew the audience into the lives of the four friends quite powerfully.

David Lefkowich 2013

Dan Kempson (below) deserves special praise as the painter Marcello, a somewhat unsympathetic role, both for humanizing the jealous lover and for his rich and warm singing throughout the evening.

Madison Opera boheme Rodolfo GILL

Tenor Mackenzie Whitney brought a clear and smooth tone to the role of Rodolfo, shining brightest in ensemble singing.

Evan Ross, in the buffo roles of Benoit and Alcindoro, brought humor, but not enough sound to be consistently heard over the orchestra, leaving the audience chuckling at his mannerisms and the supertitles rather than what he actually sang.

Soprano Emily Birsan (below), a favorite of local audiences and a UW-Madison graduate, who recently graduated out of the Ryan Center at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, made an excellent showing as the flirtatious Musetta, whose gentle side in the fourth act was extraordinarily poignant.

Emily Birsan MSO 2014

And Eleni Calenos’ Mimi (below, second from right) was both credibly fragile and vocally excellent, with warmth to spare and the ability to draw the audience into the intimate final moments of her life.

Madison Opera Boheme death scene

Sets from the Lyric Opera of Kansas City made subtle but evocative use of perspective, drawing the eye where it needed to be without drawing attention away from the action. (I was particularly fond of the Cafe Momus.)

Madison Opera Boheme outdoor scene GILL

The city beyond the garret was subtly shaded by Connie Yun’s lighting design. And Anthony Cao’s chorus, together with the Madison Youth Choirs, brought the necessary sense of spectacle to the outdoor scenes in Act II.

Madison Opera Boheme outdoor 2 parade GILL

All in all, despite some balance issues early on, the gorgeous playing of the orchestra alone makes this a production worth hearing, and the largely young cast brings Puccini’s “verismo” (realistic) masterpiece vividly to life.

It’s another feather in the caps of artistic director John DeMain and general director Kathryn Smith of the Madison Opera.

It is sung in Italian with projected English supertitles. The final performance, with two intermissions, will be this afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center.


Classical music: On the eve of Opera in the Park, Madison Opera’s general director Kathryn Smith recaps the last season and previews the next.

July 23, 2015
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Madison Opera’s Opera in the Park marks its 14th anniversary this Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Garner Park on Madison’s far west side.

The annual FREE concert of opera and Broadway favorites closes the company’s extraordinary 2014-15 season and provides an appetizing preview of the 2015-16 season that celebrates writers and their inspirations.

Typically, Opera in the Park attracts over 14,000 people every year.

Opera in Park 2012 crowd 1 James Gill

This year, Opera in the Park stars soprano Eleni Calenos, contralto Meredith Arwady, tenor Harold Meers and local bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen, and features former Madison Opera Studio Artist Anna Laurenzo.

Here is a link to Kyle Ketelsen’s Q&A with The Ear:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/07/21/classical-music-local-opera-star-kyle-ketelsen-talks-about-returning-to-madison-operas-free-opera-in-the-park-this-saturday-night-and-why-he-continues-to-live-here/

Artistic Director John DeMain conducts the Madison Opera Chorus and Madison Symphony Orchestra. The evening will be hosted by Madison Opera’s General Director Kathryn Smith and by WKOW TV’s 27 News “Wake-Up Wisconsin” anchor Brandon Taylor.

Opera in Park 2012 stage

“I love Opera in the Park,” says Smith, in a prepared statement. “It is by far the most important performance Madison Opera gives. The magic combination of thousands of people sitting under the summer night sky and our singers and orchestra performing beautiful music on stage creates something truly inspiring. It is a testament to Madison’s love of music – and love of being outdoors – that we have the highest per capita attendance of any such concert in the country.”

The program for Opera in the Park 2015 includes arias and ensembles from Giacomo Puccini’s “La Bohème,” which opens the 2015-16 season in November; Mark Adamo’s “Little Women,” which will be performed in February; and Jacques Offenbach’s “The Tales of Hoffmann,” which will be performed in April.

The concert will also offer arias and ensembles from such classic operas as Antonin Dvorak‘s “Rusalka,” Charles Gounod’s “Faust,” Arrigo Boito‘s “Mefistofele” and Georg Frideric Handel‘s “Semele.” Broadway hits from “The Music Man,” “Guys and Dolls,” “Kiss Me, Kate” and “Wonderful Town” will round out the evening of music, which always includes one number conducted by the audience with light sticks.

Garner Park is located at 333 South Rosa Road, at the intersection of Mineral Point Road, west of Whitney Way. Parking is available in the CUNA Mutual Group and University Research Park lots. Attendees are encouraged to bring picnics, blankets and chairs. Alcohol is permitted, but not sold in the park.

On the day of the concert, Garner Park will open at 7 a.m. Audience members are not allowed to leave items in the park prior to this time. The rain date for Opera in the Park is Sunday, July 26, at 8 p.m.

Here are two links to help you find information about Opera in the Park.

For general information, go to:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2014-2015/park/

And for more information about the cast, go to:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2014-2015/park/cast/

For information about the next season, go to:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2015-2016/

On the eve of the outdoor event, Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill) – who is the general director of the Madison Opera – agreed to revisit the past season and talk about the upcoming season with The Ear.

Kathryn Smith Fly Rail Vertical Madison Opera

What kind of artistic and financial shape did the Madison Opera emerge from for the past season?

Our fiscal year doesn’t end until the end of August, but overall it has been a great year on all fronts. From the triumphant music of our first staged Fidelio (below, the prisoners’ chorus in a photo by James Gill) to the sold-out Sweeney Todd and the joyous The Barber of Seville, it was an immensely satisfying season.

Audience and critical response to each opera was strong, and often included some surprise that the individual enjoyed that particular show more than he or she had expected. It feels like we have proved in the past few seasons that we can produce consistently great opera across the spectrum. I am also encouraged by the new audiences we attract and the diversity of age range I see in our lobbies.

Fidelio prisoners' chorus James Gill

Can you rank each show in terms of popularity? Did you learn anything special from the season?

It’s difficult to rank this season’s shows, because we know they drew very different audiences. For example, the audience at Sweeney Todd was definitely younger than the audience at Fidelio — the non-subscription performance in particular seemed to have an average age of 30 — and a number of people brought their young children to The Barber of Seville for their first opera.

In absolute numbers, the order would be Barber (below, in a photo by James Gill), Sweeney Todd and Fidelio, but there was not a wide gap between them.

The main thing I’ve learned with each successive season is that we are doing the right thing by having such a mix of operas. Some of our patrons love Beethoven, some only like comedy, and some were only interested (or very much un-interested) in Sweeney Todd.

By doing such a range, we serve a much wider audience than if we focused on only one segment of our audience. Hopefully this adds to the growing understanding that opera is not a monolithic art form.

Madison Opera barber of seville cast action

How and why did you choose the operas for next season? Why Puccini’s “La Boheme”? Why Offenbach’s “Tales of Hoffmann”? Does “Little Women” represent something of a departure for Madison Opera? Is there an umbrella concept or unifying theme to the season?

Choosing a season’s operas is a question of balancing the classic, the rare and the new; picking a range of composers and languages; and in general coming up with the “mix” that defines us.

We have not performed La Bohème in eight years, so it was time to bring back the greatest love story in opera. While some long-time opera-goers may have seen it many times, we also have many in our audience who have only come to opera recently, so this will be their first Bohème.

la boeme banner

Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann is a brilliant piece that is both scarily large and immensely exciting to produce, packed with beautiful music and special effects. It happens to be a personal favorite opera not only for me, but also for John DeMain and Kristine McIntyre, our stage director. We look forward to sharing this literally fantastic work on the Overture Hall stage, as we have not performed it in 20 years.

tales of hoffmann banner

Little Women came out of Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, to some extent. After the success of Dead Man Walking, many people — particularly those who were surprised by how much they enjoyed a 21st-century opera — asked me what we were doing next. I did not want another nine years to go by before we did another major American opera, but I also wanted a completely different story, so that it would not be a literal comparison.

Mark Adamo’s Little Women has been one of the most-performed American operas since its 1998 premiere; its basis in a story that has been beloved for generations makes it the perfect way to keep growing our American repertoire.

As is often the case, the season theme emerges after I’ve picked the operas. Next season turned out to be a season of writers: Rodolfo is a poet; so is Hoffmann. Jo March writes stories for magazines and is in fact the only writer we see succeeding in her craft during the opera.

That said, the unifying theme is the same one I strive for every season: Great operas that tell wonderful stories with enthralling music.

little women banner

What role did the new Madison Opera Center play in the past season’s productions? Has it lived up to expectations?

Over the past two years, the Margaret C. Winston Madison Opera Center (below) has played a major role in defining who we are. On a basic level, it is where we rehearse, fit costumes and have our offices. It is also where the singers hang out, give press interviews, do their laundry, cook the occasional meal, work on music for their next gig and bump into our trustees in the common areas.

Having our own space has enabled us to add programs like the free Opera Novice series and hold more workshops with our high school apprentices.

On a financial level, revenue from the parking ramp in particular is an increasingly important part of our budget, as it is not dependent on donors or ticket sales. On a community level, having our rehearsal hall regularly used by groups such as CTM, Theatre Lila, and Capital City Theatre shows that we truly are part of the larger artistic fabric of Madison. The Center was designed to be a home on many levels, and we are well on the way to achieving that dream.

Madison Opera Center interior

What else would you like to say or add about the past season, the next season and perhaps also the Opera in the Park?

I am always grateful for the enormous number of people who make Madison Opera possible. Opera has never been cost-effective, and our patrons, volunteers, artists, production teams, and staff are all committed to sharing this glorious art form with everyone from the 2,000 teenagers at our student matinees to the 15,000 people at Opera in the Park.

Our season ends with this summer’s Opera in the Park this Saturday, which is always the perfect way to finish the year. This summer is the concert’s 14th year – which means that 2016 will be the 15th year, a milestone that was perhaps unthinkable when we started in Garner Park in 2002.

We have the highest per capita attendance for such an event in the U.S., which is a strong testament to the greater Madison community’s love for what we do. I won’t reveal the repertoire for this summer’s concert yet, but we have four amazing soloists and plenty of light sticks (below), so I hope everyone has the date on their calendars.

Opera in the Park 2014 light sticks


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