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
World-famous avant-garde stage director Peter Sellars (below, in a photo by Christian Carisius for the European Press Photo Agency) is known for his unorthodox recasting of operas and Bach cantatas.
But one of his productions, done almost 30 years ago, has proven especially prescient.
The plot centers on the medieval “droit du seigneur” that allowed a nobleman to be entitled by law to have sex with a servant on her wedding night before the husband did. (In the YouTube video at bottom is the famous and so breathtakingly beautiful Forgiveness scene, featured in the Oscar-winning film “Amadeus,” with the faithful Countess and the philandering Count that ends the masterpiece opera.)
In 1988 Sellars set the opera on the 52nd floor of the luxurious Trump Tower (below), as the equivalent of an aristocratic estate, of net-feudalistic excess and wealth.
With great insight and articulateness, Sellars recently discussed with The New York Times the inspired settings in light of the past history, campaign and recent election of President-elect Donald Trump.
The Ear found the interview both enlightening and entertaining, and he hopes you do too.
Here is a link:
It makes you wonder: How will other forms of art deal with the new administration?
Could it be that we are in for more activist protest art, something of a return to the 1960s and such efforts as Barbara Garson’s 1967 “MacBird,” which recast Shakespeare’s tragedy “Macbeth” as a theatrical satire of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, or LBJ, and First Lady Lady Bird Johnson as the Macbeths following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy or JFK?
What do you think?
Can you think of other works that lend themselves to such an approach to contemporary affairs?
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received the following word:
Bell’s performance kicks off the Wisconsin Union Theater’s Concert Series on Saturday, Nov. 5, at 8 p.m. in Shannon Hall.
The all-masterpiece program includes: the Sonata in A Major, Op. 12, No. 2, by Ludwig van Beethoven; the Sonata No. 3 in D Minor and the Scherzo in C Minor from the FAE Sonata, both by Johannes Brahms; the Sonata No. 3 in D minor by Eugene Ysaye; the Sonata in G minor by Claude Debussy; and the “Carmen” Fantasy by Pablo de Sarasate. (You can hear Joshua Bell play the opening movement of the Debussy sonata in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
Ticket prices are: UW-Madison students are $25; Union Members and non-UW students are $62, $56 and $25; UW Faculty and Staff are $64, $58 and $25; and members of the general public are $68, $62 and $35.
Tickets should be purchased soon and can be purchased on the website – https://union.wisc.edu/visit/wisconsin-union-theater/theater-tickets/ – or at the Memorial Union box office or by calling 608 265-ARTS.
Joshua Bell is one of the most celebrated violinists in the world, with numerous Grammy wins and nominations including Best Instrumental Soloist Performance with Orchestra and Best Engineered Album, Classical. He was one of the first classical artists to have VH1 feature a music video, and has performed on the Grammys twice.
Bell has performed for three different U.S. presidents and the president of China, and has taken part in several award-winning collaborations. He was the subject of a BBC documentary and received the Humanitarian Award from Seton Hall University. Bell is devoted to charitable causes, and has received the Academy of Achievement Award in 2008.
The vast experience of pianist Alessio Bax (below) in the music industry includes performing as a soloist with over 100 orchestras, including the London and Royal Philharmonics. He won the 2009 Avery Fisher Career Grant, and his impressive repertoire has continuously increased since he graduated from a conservatory in Bari, Italy, at the age of 14.
Both artists have performed several times in Madison, always to large houses and enthusiastic receptions.
By Jacob Stockinger
Two FREE and appealing but very different concerts are on tap this week at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music:
PRO ARTE QUARTET
On Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the acclaimed Pro Arte Quartet (below in a photo by Rick Langer) will perform a program that features standard works as well as new music.
The quartet will play the String Quartet in B-flat Major (1790), Op. 64, No. 3, by Franz Joseph Haydn; and the String Quartet No, 10 (1809), Op. 74, called the “Harp” Quartet, by Ludwig van Beethoven.
Less well is the contemporary work “Fantasies on the Name of Sacher” (2012) by French composer Philippe Hersant.
Here are program notes from Pro Arte cellist Parry Karp (below):
“The Haydn and Hersant are new pieces for the Pro Arte and it has been a great pleasure to learn them.
“The Haydn was written at the time that Haydn’s job as the court composer of the court of Esterhazy had come to an end. It is one of the “Tost” Quartets, named for the Hungarian violinist Johann Tost. Haydn dedicated the quartets to him to thank him for his performances and for helping Haydn get a publisher for the quartets.
“The next piece on the program is the “Fantasies for String Quartet” by the French composer Philippe Versant (b. 1948, below). Here are the composer’s notes on this piece:
“This piece has been in the works for years. First performed in 2008, the first version for string trio included six fantasies. I added two the following year, then an additional instrument (second violin). This version for string quartet was commissioned for the Cully Classique Festival, where it was premiered in 2012. Finally, for the Grand Prix Lycéen for Composers, I imagined a version for string orchestra, commissioned by Musique Nouvelle en Liberté (2013).
“The initial challenge was to write a series of pieces that were as different as possible, from a basic material that was very narrow. That common material is a short motif of 6 notes, which correspond (in Germanic notation) to the letters of Sacher’s name (with a few twists): S (E-flat) A C H(B) E R(D).
“This motif has already been used by a number of composers (Henri Dutilleux, Pierre Boulez and Benjamin Britten) in their homages to Paul Sacher, the great patron and conductor.
“Joined together by the omnipresence of these six notes, the eight fantasies offer strong contrasts in character and style:the first has a high-pitched, rarefied atmosphere a la Shostakovich; the second has a taunting and obsessional tone; there is a dramatic, tense ambience in the fourth …. Two others showcase the voices of the soloists: viola (lyrical) in the third and the cello (stormy) in the seventh.
“Some quotations pepper the discourse: In the third fantasy an altered version of a passage from Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 13, Op. 130, and the sixth combines motifs borrowed from Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 4, Igor Stravinsky’s “Symphony of Psalms” and Dmitri Shostakovich. A falsely naive, short children’s song closes the set.
The last piece on the program, the String Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 74, by Beethoven, was named the “Harp” Quartet by the first publisher of the work. It was so named because of the the unique use of pizzicato in the first movement of the piece.
This string quartet is one of the great masterpieces of the quartet repertoire with a brilliant first movement, a profound slow movement which foreshadows Beethoven’s late period, a brilliant scherzo, and a classical style variation movement as the finale.
On Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the Trio Unprepared will perform a FREE concert of improvised music.
Here is the blurb from the UW-Madison School of Music’s website:
Drawing from the vast resources of contemporary, jazz, classical and global music, the Trio Unprepared presents an evening of IMPROVISED music for piano and percussion. Ensemble members are Andre Gribou, piano, and Roger Braun and Anthony DiSanza on percussion. (DiSanza teaches at the UW-Madison and is a member of the Madison Symphony Orchestra.)
Trio Unprepared has performed globally in extraordinarily diverse musical settings and worked together in various configurations for many years.
This concert — and the subsequent tour of Wisconsin — brings the trio back together for the first time since performing in Switzerland in July 2015.
A master class will follow this concert, from 9 to 10:30 p.m.
ALERT: On Saturday night at 3:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall, David Richardson, a first-year DMA candidate in Collaborative Piano at the UW-Madison, will be joined by a guest artist, baritone Alan Dunbar, for a FREE performance of the famous song cycle “Winterreise” (Winter Journey) by Franz Schubert. The Ear hears it promises to be an outstanding performance.
By Jacob Stockinger
There are many student recitals and concerts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison each season – many dozens and maybe even into the hundreds.
But still there are standouts.
One such standout is coming up this Sunday night at 6 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall. That’s when the Hunt Quartet, made up of very talented UW-Madison graduate students, will perform a FREE concert.
Too bad it has to compete with the special two-hour final episode of the popular PBS series “Downton Abbey,” which The Ear suspects will cut into the audience. Could they have moved the concert up to 5 or earlier? That would be nice, but maybe hall logistics made that impossible.
Anyway, the members of the string quartet were selected by the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music faculty because they are outstanding performers and pedagogues.
Members are seen below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot. They are from left: Clayton Tillotson, violin; Blakeley Menghini, viola; Paran Amirinazari, violin; and cellist Andrew Briggs, cello.
The appealing all-masterpiece program is: String Quartet No. 5 in A major, Op. 18 No. 5, by Ludwig van Beethoven; Six Bagatelles for String Quartet, Op. 9, by Anton Webern; and the famous String Quartet in D minor, “Death and the Maiden,” by Franz Schubert. (You can hear the slow movement of the Schubert, based on a song he composed, played by the Alban Berg Quartet in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
The Hunt Quartet is the graduate string quartet for UW-Madison’s School of Music. As Project Assistants within the School of Music, the Quartet performs concerts at the School of Music and university events, as well as part of community outreach.
Members work closely with faculty, including the Pro Arte Quartet, and have Professor Uri Vardi as their principal coach. Other artists who have worked with the Quartet include violist Nobuko Imai, violist Lila Brown, and members of the Takacs String Quartet.
The Quartet is also the integral part of the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s “Up Close and Musical” program, visiting area schools to teach students about fundamentals of music and the string quartet.
The Hunt Quartet is generously sponsored by Kato Perlman and the Madison Symphony Orchestra.
By Jacob Stockinger
The new group The Willy Street Chamber Players (below) — certainly the biggest and most successful music news story of this summer — will end its first summer season with a MUST-HEAR concert on Bach and Mendelssohn this Friday night at 6 p.m.
The concert is at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1021 Spaight Street, which has both a performance space with fine acoustics hall and plenty of free parking.
Admission is $12 for adults; $8 for students and seniors.
You could hardly ask for a better program, which features two undisputed masterpieces.
The first is the Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 by Johann Sebastian Bach (below). It is scored without violins but for lower strings and it is irresistible for its melodies and harmonies and especially for its driving energy and rhythm.
The second work is the astonishing Octet -– really a double string quartet –- by Felix Mendelssohn (below) who composed it when he was only 16. It may well be Mendelsohn’s best work. It too is irresistible is its energy and melodies. It is thrilling and one of the quintessential chamber music works of all time! (You can hear the impetuous opening in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
The Ear is going and so should you.
By all accounts, the inaugural season of the Willy Street Chamber Players -– which included everything from classic Handel, Mozart, Brahms and Dvorak to new music by contemporary composers and a noon concert for families – has been a great success.
Here is a link to a review The Ear did of the first concert:
It’s enough to make one hopeful about a second season for the group and to make one impatient to see the programs.
The Ear bets both are already in the works!
By Jacob Stockinger
On this Tuesday night, May 6, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, pianist Jeffrey Siegel (below) will present this season’s last Keyboard Conversation, dedicated to love and love affairs by major Romantic composers, including Robert Schumann, Franz Liszt, Johannes Brahms, Frederic Chopin and the French Impressionist composer Claude Debussy.
According to sources, it will be Jeffrey Siegel’s last season of being sponsored by the Wisconsin Union Theater, which is using Mills Hall during renovations that will end this year when the hall reopens in the fall.
The Ear understands that the WUT tried to turn the declining attendance around for several years, but to no avail. So barring self-sponsorship or a new sponsor this concert is likely to be the last Keyboard Conversation in Madison. After more than a quarter century, that will be the sad end of a tradition.
The program includes the “Allegro non troppo ma enegetico” movement from the Piano Sonata No. 2 in F-sharp minor by Brahms; the Novelette, No. 1, plus “Warum?” (Why?) and “Aufschwung’ (Soaring) from Schumann’s “Fantasy Pieces; “Au bord d’une source” (At the Spring) and the popular “Liebestraum No. “3 (Love’s Dream, heard at bottom in a popular YouTube performance by Evgeny Kissin) by Franz Liszt; the “Minute” Waltz and the “Larghetto” slow second movement from the Piano Concerto No. 2 by Chopin; and “L’Isle joyeuse” (The Joyous Island) by Debussy.”
More information is available by calling the Box Office at 608-265-ARTS (2787). Tickets are: $32 for the General Public, $28 for Wisconsin Union Members, UW-Madison Faculty and Staff, and Non UW-Madison Student (with ID); and FREE for UW-Madison Student (with ID).
Tickets are required for entry even when free, so please reserve ahead of time.
For more information, including reviews and audio samples, visit:
Adds the Wisconsin Union Theater press release: “Whether you’re a classical music aficionado, a history buff, or just love a good story, Jeffrey Siegel’s Keyboard Conversations will take you beyond the music and into the lives and loves of some of the greatest composers of all time.
“In “Mistresses and Masterpieces,” Siegel introduces us to the romantic inspirations behind many popular works of classical music. While names like “Brahms” and “Schumann” may bring to mind proper-looking gentlemen in oil portraits, these brilliant composers’ lives were often closer to a soap opera than a history book blurb.
“As Siegel will tell you, these men not only loved and lost — they put their pain and passion into incredible works of music that still inspire those emotions to this day. Read more about these affairs in our blog.
“For the 26th consecutive season, Jeffrey Siegel presents his entertaining and informative concerts with commentary. He speaks to the audience briefly and in non-technical language before performing each composition in its entirety. The program will conclude with a Q and A.