The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: In Dvorak’s “Rusalka,” the Madison Opera demonstrated how beautiful music and convincing stagecraft can overcome a weak story

May 1, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Opera Guy for this blog – Larry Wells – took in last weekend’s production by the Madison Opera of “Rusalka” and filed the following review. Performance photos are by James Gill.

By Larry Wells

I thoroughly enjoyed attending the Sunday afternoon performance of Antonin Dvorak’s opera “Rusalka” presented by Madison Opera in Overture Hall. Until then I had only heard recordings of this lushly orchestrated work.

The opera is a fairy tale involving a rather dithering water sprite (below right) who does not follow her father’s wise advice not to pursue a mortal prince (below left) and to stick to her own kind. She ignores his advice, and this leads to her eventual unhappiness and to the death of her prince.

That she also becomes mute when in the presence of the prince adds to everyone’s woes, and it seems a peculiar device to have the lead soprano not be able to sing for most of the second act of the opera.

Her inability to communicate naturally leads to the prince’s frustration, and my companion suggested that she could simply have used paper and pencil to communicate. But since she had been brought up in a river, perhaps she never learned to read and write.

Nevertheless, common sense did not seem to inhabit either Rusalka or her prince. As my companion also pointed out, love isn’t always logical.

In any event, the production and the music made up for the libretto’s shortcomings.

The set featured beautiful projections, from the Minnesota Opera, of forest, water and woodlands during the first and third acts.

The second act took place at the prince’s palace. It appeared to be an International Style palace in the manner of architect Mies van de Rohe, which must have also been disconcerting for Rusalka. Nonetheless, the set was very striking and beautifully lit.

Tenor John Lindsey (below top) portrayed the prince and William Meinert (below bottom left, with Emily Birsan) was Rusalka’s father, a water goblin. Both sang well, although Lindsey had the distracting habit of casting his chin and eyes downward as he sang.


But the stage belonged to the women.

Emily Birsan (below) as Rusalka was a study in subtle shadings of her expressive soprano voice (below, singing the famous  aria “Song to the Moon”). She is a powerful singer and convincing actress who was engaging to watch and to hear.

Lindsay Ammann (below) as the sorceress Jezibaba was powerful in voice and in her command of the stage. Her third act aria was sensational, and her calling Rusalka a “empty little water bubble” was so apt it made the audience titter.

The villainous Foreign Princess portrayed by Karin Wolverton (below, standing over John Lindsey) seemed to be the only sensible character in the opera. She likewise commanded the stage and displayed a powerful voice with passionate commitment to her role.

Three water sprites – portrayed by Kirsten Larson, Saira Frank and Emily Secor (below, in order from left) – provided Rhine maiden-like commentary and gorgeous vocalizations despite having to wander around the stage at times seeming to be fascinated by twigs.

A shout-out goes to tenor Benjamin Liupaogo (below), still a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music, who only sang a couple of lines but sang them very beautifully. He is someone to watch!

The Madison Symphony Orchestra was conducted by John DeMain (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson). The strings and winds sounded particularly good that day, and DeMain brought out all of the interesting Bohemian folky gestures Dvorak included in the score. I found Dvorak’s orchestral score engaging throughout the performance. (You can hear the opening Overture in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Altogether it was charming afternoon of beautiful music, excellent singing and fetching staging of a strange tale.

Madison Opera has announced its upcoming season offerings, which are Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata” (Nov. 1 and 3), Gregory Spears’ “Fellow Travelers” (here Feb. 7 and 9, it has already hit Chicago and Minneapolis and is slated for Tucson next season as well), and Jacques Offenbach’s comic “Orpheus in the Underworld” (April 17 and 19).

It seems a very interesting season, and subscription tickets will go on sale in early May. For more information, go to: https://www.madisonopera.org


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Classical music: The Madison Opera stages its first-ever production of Dvorak’s fairy tale opera “Rusalka” next Friday night and Sunday afternoon. A preview roundtable is this Sunday afternoon

April 20, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Opera will stage its production of Antonin Dvorak’s luxurious masterpiece Rusalka on Friday night, April 26, at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon, April 28, at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall at the Overture Center, 201 State Street.

Running time is 3 hours with two intermissions, and will feature projected supertitles with English translations of the original Czech that will be sung.

Tickets are $18-$131 with discounts available for students and groups. Go to: https://www.madisonopera.org/tickets/

Inspired by the classic fairy tale The Little Mermaid, the story travels from a mythical forest to a palace and back again. Its lush score includes the famous “Song to the Moon.” (You can hear Renée Fleming sing”Song to the Moon” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Set in a mythical realm, Rusalka is about a water nymph who falls in love with a human prince. She tells her father Vodnik that she wishes to become human and live with the Prince on land. Horrified, Vodnik tells her that humans are full of sin, but reluctantly suggests she enlist the help of Jezibaba, a witch. Jezibaba agrees to make her human, but cautions that Rusalka will lose her power of speech. Further, if the Prince betrays her, she will be cursed forever.

The Prince falls in love with Rusalka and plans to marry her, but her silence unnerves him, and a Foreign Princess interrupts the wedding festivities with evil intent. Rusalka returns to the lake as a spirit that lures men to their death – and the Prince follows her.

Rusalka is one of the most gorgeous operas in the repertoire,” says Kathryn Smith, Madison Opera’s general director (below, in a photo by James Gill). “I fell in love with it when I first saw it over 20 years ago, and listening to the score is a pure pleasure. I am so delighted to share this opera with Madison, so that everyone can learn how brilliant an operatic composer Dvorak was, and experience an opera that is justifiably popular around the world.”

Rusalka’s story was inspired by multiple sources, including Slavic mythology and the fairy tales of Karel Jaromir Erben, Hans Christian Andersen, and Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué.

The opera premiered on March 31, 1901 in Prague and quickly became a massive success, hailed as Dvorak’s masterpiece.

But it was not initially widely performed outside of Czech territories; the first U.S. performance was in 1975. But in recent decades, the opera by Dvorak (below) has become a regular part of the opera repertoire, due to its beautiful music and lovely story.

This production is not only a Madison Opera premiere, but also the company’s first-ever opera in Czech.

Madison Opera’s cast features both returning artists and debuts.

Soprano Emily Birsan (below) returns to Madison Opera in the title role, following successes here as Gounod’s Juliet and Musetta in Puccini’s La Bohème. Last month, she sang Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. The Chicago Tribune has praised her singing for her “amazing clarity of diction, accuracy of intonation and fineness of expression.”

Tenor John Lindsey (below) returns to Madison Opera as The Prince, after singing in last summer’s Opera in the Park.

Making their debuts with Madison Opera are soprano Karin Wolverton as the Foreign Princess, contralto Lindsay Amman as the witch Jezibaba and bass William Meinert as Rusalka’s father, Vodnik. Emily SecorSaira Frank and Kirsten Larson play the three wood sprites; Benjamin Liupaogo sings the Hunter.

The Madison Opera Chorus and Madison Symphony Orchestra round out the musical forces, all under the baton of John DeMain (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson), Madison Opera’s artistic director.

Keturah Stickann (below) directs her first opera for Madison Opera; she has directed both traditional and contemporary repertoire across all of the U.S., most recently for San Francisco Opera and Washington National Opera.

This production originated at Minnesota Opera and features projections (below) by Wendall K. Harrington, who has been described as “the godmother of modern projection design.”

In reviewing the Minnesota production, theTwin Cities Arts Reader praised “the stunning visuals on display, which only serve to enhance and elaborate on the action and the music.”

Madison Opera’s production of “Rusalka” is sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, Kay & Martin Barrett, Millie & Marshall Osborn, Sally & Mike Miley, Kato Perlman, Charles & Martha Casey, John Lemke & Pam Oliver, and The Ann Stanke Fund.

RELATED EVENTS

You can learn more about “Rusalka” at the events leading up to the performances.

Opera Up Close will take place this Sunday, April 21, 1-3 p.m. at the Margaret C. Winston Opera Center (below) 335 West Mifflin Street, $20 general admission; free for full-season subscribers; $10 for two-show subscribers.

This event features a multimedia behind-the-scenes preview of Rusalka. General director Kathryn Smith will discuss Antonin Dvorak and the history of his fairy-tale opera. Principal artists, stage director Keturah Stickann and conductor John DeMain will participate in a roundtable discussion about Madison’s production and their own takes on this masterpiece.

Pre-Show Talks by Kathryn Smith take place on Friday, April 26, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, April 28, at 1:30 p.m. at Wisconsin Studio at Overture Center, and are free to ticket holders.

Post-Opera Q&A’s are on Friday, April 26, and Sunday, April 28, immediately following the opera in the Wisconsin Studio at Overture Center, and are free to ticket holders.

More information — including cast biographies and a blog with Q&A interviews with some cast members — is available at https://www.madisonopera.org and https://www.madisonopera.org/2018-2019-season/rusalka/.


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Classical music: Holiday carols, gospel music and classical music mix at the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Christmas concerts this weekend — which will air later on Wisconsin Public Television for the first time

November 26, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

You have to hand it to the Madison Symphony Orchestra for embracing the community and putting on a memorable show.

When it comes to celebrating the holidays – and yes, the MSO does use the Christmas word – the MSO does so with a big variety of musical styles and a wide diversity of performers. That might explain why the concerts usually sell out year after year.

Beginning with caroling in the lobby before the concert to the sing-along finale, where music director and conductor John DeMain and the Madison Symphony Orchestra don their Santa hats (below, in a photo by Peter Rodgers) and more, “A Madison Symphony Christmas” is a joyous time for all.

Christmas classics are interwoven with enchanting new holiday music featuring members of the Madison Symphony Chorus, the Madison Youth Choirs and the Mount Zion Gospel Choir as well as guests soloists soprano Cecilia Violetta Lopez and bass-baritone Kyle Ketelson.

This tradition marks the embrace and start of the holiday season for many people in Madison.

Performances of “A Madison Symphony Christmas”will be held in Overture Hall, 201 State Street, on Friday night, Nov. 30, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday night, Dec. 1 at 8 p.m.; and Sunday afternoon, Dec. 2, at 2:30 p.m. Ticket details are below.

In addition, 45 minutes before each concert, audiences are invited to share the spirit of the holiday season singing carols along with the Madison Symphony Chorus.

TV PREMIERE

For the first time, “A Madison Symphony Christmas”can be experienced again in December — airing on Wisconsin Public Television (NOT Wisconsin Public Radio as mistakenly listed in an earlier edition) on Monday, Dec. 17, at 8 p.m., and on Christmas Day, Tuesday, Dec. 25, at 9:30 p.m. 

“Our annual Christmas concert has become a very meaningful experience for everyone involved — the choruses, orchestra musicians, singers and the audience,” says DeMain. “With the Mt. Zion Gospel Choir, Madison Youth Choirs, and Madison Symphony Chorus joining our internationally acclaimed opera singers, and climaxing with the entire audience participating in our Christmas carol sing-along — one cannot help but leave the Overture Hall with a feeling that the holiday season has begun. And hopefully, you will have a big glow in your heart.”

For more information and the full program, which includes the excerpt from Handel’s “Messiah” in the YouTube video at the bottom, go to: https://madisonsymphony.org/event/a-madison-symphony-christmas/

ABOUT THE SOLOISTS

Celebrated soprano Cecilia Violetta Lopez (below, in a photo by Devon Cass) has been named one of opera’s “25 Rising Stars” by Opera News.

Lopez has received accolades for her signature role of Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata, which she has performed countless times throughout North America.

Her debut of the role was with Martina Arroyo Foundation’s prestigious summer festival, Prelude to Performance. She has also performed the role with Opera Tampa, Opera Idaho, Ash Lawn Opera, and in her company debut with Virginia Opera. Lopez also recently made her European debut as Norina in Donizetti’s Don Pasquale with Zomeropera in Belgium.

Based in the Madison suburb of Sun Prairie, bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen (below, in a photo by Lawrence Brownlee) is in frequent demand by the world’s leading opera companies and orchestras for his vibrant and handsome stage presence and his distinctive vocalism.

He has won first prize in several international vocal competitions, including those sponsored by the Metropolitan Opera National Council, the Richard Tucker Music Foundation (Career Grant), the George London Foundation, the Licia Albanese Puccini Foundation, the Sullivan Foundation, Opera Index, and the MacAllister Awards.

Highlights of Ketelsen’s recent seasons include performances at the Opernhaus Zurich, Staatsoper Berlin, Minnesota Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Canadian Opera Company and the Metropolitan Opera, as well as performances with the San Francisco Symphony, the National Symphony and performances at Carnegie Hall.

ABOUT THE MADISON SYMPHONY CHORUS 

The Madison Symphony Chorus (below top, in a photo by Greg Anderson) gave its first public performance on February 23, 1928 and has performed regularly with the Madison Symphony Orchestra ever since. The Chorus is comprised of more than 150 volunteer musicians who come from all walks of life and enjoy combining their artistic talent under the direction of Beverly Taylor (below bottom), who directs the choral program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music.

ABOUT THE MADISON YOUTH CHOIRS 

Recognized as an innovator in youth choral music education, Madison Youth Choirs (MYC) inspires enjoyment, learning and social development through the study and performance of high-quality and diverse choral literature. The oldest youth choir organization in Wisconsin, MYC serves more than 1,000 young people, ages 7-18, in a wide variety of choral programs. In addition to a public concert series, MYC conducts an annual spring tour of schools and retirement centers, performing for more than 7,000 students and senior citizens annually.

ABOUT THE MOUNT ZION GOSPEL CHOIR 

Under the leadership of Leotha Stanley and his wife, Tamera Stanley, the Mount Zion Gospel Choir (below) has been a part of the MSO Christmas concerts since 2005. The choir is primarily comprised of members from Mount Zion Baptist Church and includes representatives from other churches as well. The choir has traveled extensively throughout the Midwest and has journeyed to Europe, singing in France and Germany.

The Symphony recommends concert attendees arrive early for each performance to make sure they have time to pass through Overture Center’s security stations.

The lobby opens 90 minutes prior to each concert.

More information about A Madison Symphony Christmasis found here: https://madisonsymphony.org/event/a-madison-symphony-christmas/.

Tickets for A Madison Symphony Christmascan be purchased in the following ways:

 Discounted seats are subject to availability, and discounts may not be combined.

Major funding for the holiday concert is provided by: American Printing, Fiore Companies, Inc., Nedrebo’s Formalwear, Maurice and Arlene Reese Family Foundation, BMO Harris Bank, Hooper Foundation/General Heating & Air Conditioning, Judith and Nick Topitzes, and An Anonymous Friend. Additional funding provided by Colony Brands, Inc., J.H. Findorff & Son Inc., Flad Architects, Forte Research Systems & Nimblify, Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren s.c., and Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts. The Community Carol Sing is presented in partnership with Overture Center for the Arts.


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Classical music: Madison Opera will stage its first-ever production of Mozart’s “The Abduction from the Seraglio” this Friday night and Sunday afternoon

February 7, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend, the Madison Opera presents The Abduction from the Seraglio by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart on Friday, Feb. 9, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 11, at 2:30 p.m. in the Capitol Theater at the Overture Center for the Arts, 201 State Street.

According to a press release, the opera — below is a mock-up of the locally designed and constructed set — will be sung in German with English used for dialogue and in the translated supertitles above the stage. Running time is about 2-1/2 hours with one intermission.

Tickets are $25-$114 with student and group discounts available. Call the Overture Box Office at (608) 258-4141 or visit www.madisonopera.org

With some of the most virtuosic vocal writing by Mozart (below), the opera is an adventure story of love, danger, humor and humanity.

Set in the 17th-century Ottoman Empire, the opera begins when Belmonte, a Spanish nobleman, arrives at Pasha Selim’s palace to rescue three people who had been captured during a shipwreck: his fiancée, Konstanze, and their servants, Blonde and Pedrillo.

A simple escape proves no easy task, and Mozart’s masterpiece weaves together comedy, quiet reflection and youthful optimism, with a happy ending brought about by an Enlightened ruler.

Abduction is a simply marvelous opera,” says Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill), Madison Opera’s general director who will give free pre-performance talks in the third-floor Wisconsin Studio at 7 p.m. on Friday night and 1:30 p.m. on Sunday afternoon. “It’s the opera with which Mozart started to reinvent opera, with not only the expected arias, but also brilliant ensemble work. The very real humanity of the piece – its funny parts, its moving parts and the universal truth of the ending – is extraordinary.”

The Abduction from the Seraglio (Die Entführung aus dem Serail) was Mozart’s first major success. Written for the National Singspiel in Vienna – a pet project of Emperor Joseph II – it premiered in 1782 and was an immediate hit. (You can hear the familiar and captivating Overture in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Like all singspiels, the opera uses spoken dialogue; indeed, the critical role of Pasha Selim is entirely spoken, perhaps one of the few instances of a major opera character not singing a note. In Madison, the dialogue will be performed in English, with the music sung in German (with projected English translations).

With a libretto by Johann Gottlieb Stephanie the Younger – an unauthorized adaptation of a libretto by Christoph Friedrich Breztner – Abduction was one the first successful German-language operas.

It was immortalized in the film Amadeus, and is famous for a possibly apocryphal story in which Emperor Joseph II criticized the work, saying to Mozart, “Too many notes,” and Mozart responded, “Exactly as many as needed.”

Abduction would go on to become Mozart’s most popular opera during his lifetime, but it has been a comparative rarity in the United States. This is Madison Opera’s first production of the opera in the company’s 57-year history.

“Mozart’s music for Abduction is a delight from start to finish,” says John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), Madison Opera’s artistic director and conductor. “Great – and at times excitingly challenging – arias are enhanced by beautiful duets, trios and quartets. It has always been a favorite opera of mine, and I’m so looking forward to Madison Opera’s first production of this masterpiece with an absolutely knockout cast of great young singers.”

Mozart’s phenomenal vocal writing requires a strong team of five singers, and Madison Opera’s cast features a number of returning favorites.

Amanda Woodbury (below) sings the Spanish noblewoman Konstanze, whose aria “Martern aller Arten” is one of the most challenging arias ever written. Woodbury debuted with Madison Opera as Pamina in The Magic Flute last spring, and has recently sung leading roles for the Metropolitan Opera and Los Angeles Opera.

Tenor David Walton (below) sings Belmonte, Konstanze’s fiancé; he debuted at Opera in the Park this past summer, has sung many leading roles for Minnesota Opera, and sings at the Glimmerglass Festival this summer.

Matt Boehler (below) returns as Osmin, the palace overseer with some devilishly low bass notes. He sang Rocco in Fidelio and Leporello in Don Giovanni for Madison Opera, and more recently has sung with Minnesota Opera, Opera Philadelphia, and the Canadian Opera Company.

Konstanze and Belmonte’s servants, Blonde and Pedrillo, are sung by Ashly Neumann(below top) in her Madison Opera debut and Wisconsin native Eric Neuville (below bottom), who sang Laurie in Little Women for Madison Opera.

Alison Mortiz (below) directs this new production in her debut with Madison Opera. Moritz has directed at opera companies around the United States, including Central City Opera, Tulsa Opera and Tri-Cities Opera.

The sets and costumes (below) are locally made specifically for this production.

The scenery and lighting are designed by Anshuman Bhatia, also in his Madison Opera debut, with costumes designed by Karen Brown-Larimore. As always, the opera features the Madison Opera Chorus and the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

Madison Opera’s production of The Abduction from the Seraglio is sponsored by Kay and Martin Barrett, Fran Klos, Sally and Mike Miley, and the Wisconsin Arts Board.


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Classical music: The Minnesota Orchestra will try performing shorter and more informal concerts next season. What do you think? Should that be tried here in Madison and elsewhere?

November 16, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

You may remember that at the beginning of November, The Ear posted a series of 10 suggestions  to improve orchestral concerts (below bottom) intended to draw in bigger, newer and younger audiences.

concert

The suggestions were made by conductor Baldur Bronniman (below).

Baldur Bronniman

I added two suggestions of my own: Make concerts shorter and make tickets cheaper.

The post drew a lot of strong responses, mostly con but some pro, from readers. You should check them out.

Here is a link:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/11/02/classical-music-an-orchestra-conductor-suggests-10-ways-to-improve-concerts-the-ear-adds-two-more/

Now I see that, with the help of a grant, the Minnesota Orchestra will try putting on some shorter and more informal concerts. The orchestra recently returned from the brink of bankruptcy and disaster under Finnish Grammy-winning music director Osmo Vanska, who took the same percentage pay cut at his players. (He is below and at bottom in a YouTube video conducting symphonies by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius), 

osmo vanska

While The Ear proposed 90-minute concerts without intermission, it seems the Minnesota Orchestra will try out the 60-minute formula in three concerts between this coming January and June. The programs look pretty good.

(Thanks for directing me to the story goes to Steve Kurr, below, the Middleton High School  music teacher and conductor of the Middleton Community Orchestra, which generally follows a short and more informal programs  for its concerts.)

Steve Kurr conducting

I will be anxious to see the results. So will a lot of other orchestra maestros and administrators, I suspect.

Just maybe we are beginning to see the start of a trend in bringing concert hall practices up to – or down to? — the standards of a high-tech and very busy society that is both timed-deprived and driven by a shorter attention span.

Here is a link to the story:

http://m.startribune.com/entertainment/music/280257972.html

What do you think of the ideas in general and the experiments in Minnesota?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music: The Opera Student Showcase concert this Sunday afternoon will introduce David Ronis as the new director of University Opera and spotlight University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate soprano Shannon Prickett.

September 12, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a the press release for the University Opera’s Student Showcase that will take place this coming Sunday afternoon and will preview the talent and productions of the upcoming season:

“A concert of favorite melodies by Vincenzo Bellini, Giuseppe Verdi and others -– mostly operatic but one clearly comic -– will be presented by students from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music’s opera program.

The concert will take place this Sunday afternoon, September 14, at 3 p.m. in the First Unitarian Society of Madison’s Landmark Auditorium (below) at 900 University Bay Drive.

FUS1jake

Directing the concert and this year’s University Opera program will be David Ronis (below, in a photo by Luke DeLalio), currently on leave from the Aaron Copland School of Music at City University of New York, and Hofstra University. He is serving as the interim successor to longtime director William Farlow, who retired from the University of Wisconsin-Madison last spring. (At bottom is a YouTube video of the work that the versatile Ronis recently did at Queens College with an early music version of Luigi Rossi’s opera “Orfeo.”)

Here is a link to a press release, issued by the UW-Madison School of Music when David Ronis was chosen from a nationwide search last spring, with Ronis’ impressive background:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/2014/07/11/school-of-music-announces-david-ronis-as-visiting-director-of-opera/

David Ronis color CR  Luke DeLalio

Most of the singers will appear in this year’s productions of Benjamin Britten’s Albert Herring this fall and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Magic Flute in the spring.

Here is a link to information about the upcoming season of the University Opera:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/opera/

But one singer -– soprano Shannon Prickett (below top) – is an alumna returning from her current work as Resident Artist at the Minnesota Opera.

While in Madison from 2011 to 2013 and working on her Master’s of Music degree, Prickett performed lead parts in Puccini’s La Bohème, Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Luigi Cherubini’s Medea, Pietro Mascagni’s L’amico Fritz, and Verdi’s Requiem.

In the Showcase concert, she will sing arias from Verdi’s I Lombardi, Giacomo Puccini’s Manon Lescaut, and a dramatic duet from Verdi’s Aïda with new mezzo-soprano doctoral student Jessica Kasinski, below bottom. (The Ear has no word on specific works to be performed.)

Shannon Prickett head shot

Jessica Kasinski

Other singers will take on arias by Mozart, Donizetti, Bellini, Richard Strauss and even Flanders and Swann: That number requires good humor as well as pianistic skill from the accompanist, and will provide a treat for fans of the multi-talented and critically acclaimed Thomas Kasdorf (below), another graduate of the UW-Madison.

Thomas Kasdorf

The concert is a benefit for the University Opera that sponsored by Opera Props, which supports the University Opera. Admission is a contribution of $25 per person, $10 for students. A reception follows.


Classical music: Allan Naplan, the former general director of the Madison Opera, has been named as executive director of the Arizona Musicfest based in Carefree (don’t you love that name), near Phoenix.

March 17, 2013
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ALERT: If you want to know about whether you should attend the performances today (at 3 p.m.) and Tuesday night (7:30) p.m. in Music Hall of University Opera’s production of Mascagni’s “L’Amico Fritz” (with Shannon Prickett and Aldo Perelli, below in a photo by Brent Nicastro), here is a review by John W. Barker written for Isthmus:

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=39412&sid=d5dd06c8fbafef9a2cb026b18818c449

And here is a link to a Q&A with director William Farlow and some background, including which UW-Madison student sings what roles on what day:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/03/14/classical-music-qa-university-opera-director-william-farlow-talks-about-why-he-likes-mascagnis-rarely-staged-opera-lamico-fritz-which-will-get-three-performances-on-friday-night-sunday/

L'Amico Fritz 3 Also Perrelli and Shannon Prickett CR Brent Nicastro

By Jacob Stockinger

Last we heard of Allan Naplan (below), he had left his big new job with the Minnesota Opera just a year or so after taking it and leaving the Madison Opera after five years. That was two years ago.

Allan Naplan 2

Rumors said his departure had to do with artistic differences, but no reasons or specifics were ever publicly given.

Then many people wondered what would happen to Naplan’s promising career, and The Ear heard nothing.

Until now.

A friendly source tells me that the talented and amiable Naplan has, not unexpectedly, landed on his feet – even if it is not in the field of opera. True, the news comes a little late — but it is still news to me and maybe news to you too!

Here is the press release:

Arizona Musicfest 
appoints
 Allan E. Naplan as Executive Director

“Wednesday, January 23, 2013 Carefree, Arizona – Ann Wallenmeyer, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Arizona Musicfest, today announced the appointment of Allan E. Naplan as Executive Director, effective February 1, 2013.

“Allan Naplan has enjoyed a 20-year career as a performing artist, composer, educator and arts administrator. Most recently, he served as President and General Director of Minnesota Opera.

“In making the announcement, Wallenmeyer said, “Speaking for the Board and our Artistic Director, Robert Moody, I am delighted that Allan Naplan will join Arizona Musicfest as our Executive Director. We are especially pleased that he will be able to be a part of our 2013 Festival and we look forward to introducing him to our patrons, partners, and audiences throughout the community.”

“Wallenmeyer thanked the members of the Arizona Musicfest Search Committee, led by Chuck Goldthwaite, former Chairman of the Board, for the excellent outcome of a national search.

arizona musicfest logo

“Robert Moody, Artistic Director of Arizona Musicfest, added, “I am thrilled that Allan Naplan is joining the Arizona Musicfest team as our new Executive Director. I’ve spent a good deal of time with him during the search process, and as a result I can’t wait to begin ‘scheming’ with him as we plan the next great chapter of the Festival. The future is incredibly bright for Arizona Musicfest with Allan Naplan at the administrative helm.”

“In accepting the position, Allan Naplan said, “I am honored to have been chosen to lead Arizona Musicfest and am excited by the breadth of musical experiences the Festival offers, as well as the excellence it achieves through its acclaimed performances and important education and youth programs.” (See the YouTube video at the bottom of the  “Music Minutes” the festival provides to public schools.)

“Naplan continued, “I look forward to forging important relationships with the Festival’s audience, dedicated volunteers and the community at large, as well as to working with the Arizona Musicfest Board, staff, artists and especially Maestro Moody in developing and enhancing the Festival.”

Arizona Musicfest cactus

“Arizona Musicfest 2013 (Jan. 28 – March 4) presents top artists of classical, chamber, jazz, blues, country, rock n’ roll and opera, such as Denyce Graves, Keb’ Mo’ and Parker Quartet, in exceptional programs (created especially for Arizona Musicfest) at venues throughout the scenic desert foothills of Scottsdale and Carefree.

“At the heart of the Festival is the 60-member Arizona Musicfest Orchestra (below), comprised of musicians from the nation’s finest orchestras, the 100-voice Arizona Musicfest Chorus, and the Arizona Musicfest Chamber Players.

arizona musicfest orchestra

“Allan Naplan began his career as an opera singer and transitioned to administration as a member of the staff of Houston Grand Opera. He served as Director of Artistic Administration of Pittsburgh Opera before being appointed General Director of Madison Opera, where he transformed the company through his leadership in fundraising, audience development, and financial management as well as repertoire and productions, educational programs, and community engagement.

“At Minnesota Opera, Naplan enhanced the company’s community engagement and education activities, oversaw major gift cultivation, and introduced enhancements to the company’s marketing and public profile. During his time with the company, the organization produced the world premiere of the Pulitzer Prize-winning opera by Kevin Puts, “Silent Night” (below).

Kevin Puts "Silent Night" Michal Daniel for Minnesorta Opera

“As a published composer, Naplan’s works, which are standard repertoire for children’s choirs, have been performed and recorded in over 40 countries, and have been featured at Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, the White House, and aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia.

“Naplan has a Bachelor of Music Degree from Ithaca College where he majored in vocal performance and music education. He and his wife Christina Harrop have two young sons, Jonah (age 4) and Elliot (age 2).”

For more information about Naplan and the southwest festival, here is a link:

www.azmusicfest.org

 


Classical music: The bigger concert hall doesn’t necessarily have the better music.

November 2, 2012
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ALERT: On Saturday night ay 8 p.m. in Morphy Hall, UW bassoonist Marc Vallon (below, in a photo by James Gill, with modern and baroque bassoons) will perform a FREE concert on the University of Wisconsin School of Music Faculty Concert Series. The program will feature a variety of works by Georg Philipp Telemann; “Récit et Allegro “by Noël-Gallon; “Stick” by UW composer by Stephen Dembski; “Chamber Concerto for Bassoon and Strings” by David Dies and a selection of John Coltrane songs.

By Jacob Stockinger

This is A Tale of Two Concert Halls.

One is Mills Hall (below), the largest concert hall at the University of Wisconsin School of Music. It has a capacity of about 700.

The second is the smaller Morphy Recital Hall, which is right across from Mills. It has a capacity of about 170.

Mills is usually where the Faculty Concert Series takes place; where the UW Symphony Orchestra and Chamber orchestra take place; where the Choral Union and other large groups take place.

I know Mills mostly from smaller events such as student recitals, master classes and the annual concert by the winners of Beethoven Sonata Competition.

But last Thursday night, Oct. 25, provided a wonderful example of how you cannot and should not use the size of the hall to judge the quality of the music.

Most people in line were waiting to get into a flute recital that featured Stephanie Jutt with acclaimed pianist Christopher Taylor and cellist Trace Johnson. That was in Mills Hall and turned out to be, I have no doubt, a memorable concert.

But The Ear was going to the warm and woody Morphy Hall to hear a concert that was advertised simply as an appearance by the soprano Jamie-Rose Guarrine and keyboardist-composer Scott Gendel.

That concert turned out to be so much more than was advertised.

Despite the comparatively small, though enthusiastic, attendance (below) and empty seats, the concert proved to be a perfect Homecoming event.

In addition to Guarrine and Gendel, who were classmates and graduated from the UW School of Music in 2005, we heard Guarrine’s husband Karl Knapp (below, who studied with UW professor and Pro Arte Quartet cellist Parry Karp)

These two distinguished and talented alumni, who have gone on to big careers as singer and composer, were also joined in Baroque music by UW oboist Marc Fink, Pro Arte Quartet violinist Suzanne Beia and UW trumpeter John Aley (see the three below).

In perhaps the most touching moment, her teacher of 12 years, UW tenor James Doing, joined Guarrine on stage for a warm and touching Nocturne by Donizetti.

So it was indeed a reunion in so many ways. As I said: A perfect event for Homecoming.

Other things only added to the concert.

The Baroque arias by Handel, Bach and Alessandro Scarlatti were wonderful – light, transparent, lyrical and soulful. Guarrine’s singing of bel canto from Donizetti and Bellini was admirable. And she sang two lovely songs by Gendel, who talked a bit about his music.

Imagine: A voice concert with no Mozart, no Schumann or Brahms, no Puccini or Verdi. But I did hear two beautiful songs (one is at the bottom) by the neo-Romantic Italian composer Stefano Donaudy (1880-1941, incorrectly identified on the program as his poet brother Alberto, whom I had never even heard of. I’ll have to check him out, and so should you. (See the YouTube video at bottom.)

As for Guarrine, who has sung locally with the University Opera and the Madison Opera as well as the Santa Fe Opera, the Minnesota Opera and many others, she is a voice to continue to watch as her career will no doubt continue to blossom. Her pitch is impeccable, her tone is beautiful and her diction is excellent. She has stage presence.

And she has power to spare. Gendel, who not only an award-winning composer but also a professional opera rehearsal pianist and vocal coach played difficult piano parts powerfully. His playing is not shy or timid. But Guarrine was never drowned out. She easily held her own and then some in great balance.

And as an encore for the standing ovation she received, she  delighted the audience with one of Harvard math professor Tom Lehrer’s old but enduringly naughty ditty “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park.”

As I recently wrote, the UW School of Music really is attracting more and more talented students with better and better performances as a result:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/10/05/classical-music-hear-for-yourself-how-university-of-wisconsin-music-students-have-gotten-better-by-going-to-the-uw-chamber-orchestras-free-opening-concert-of-maxwell-davies-ravel-and-schube/

Here are links to individual websites that will convince you.

First, through her agent, for Jamie-Rose Guarrine:

http://jamieroseguarrine.com

Then for Scott Gendel:

http://www.scottgendel.com/Home.html

No doubt I will see and you will see me many more time this semester in Mills Hall.

But I also expect you will see me more than usual in Morphy Hall. I hope to see you there.


Classical music Q&A: Former Metropolitan Opera stage director Kristine McIntyre talks about Verdi’s “A Masked Ball,” which opens the Madison Opera’s new season this Friday night and Sunday afternoon.

October 22, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

This is Kathryn Smith’s second season as general manager of the Madison Opera. For more about her and her impressive background, here is a link to a story that appeared last week in The Wisconsin State Journal:

http://host.madison.com/entertainment/arts_and_theatre/stage-presence-impressive-career-guides-opera-director/article_99138d7a-1935-11e2-86c9-001a4bcf887a.html

But the Madison Opera’s 51st season will also be the first season that Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill) herself has selected and put together. Last year, she ended up being responsible for the three operas that her predecessor, Allan Naplan, chose before he left for the Minnesota Opera, from which he has since unexpectedly resigned. (Sorry, The Ear has no update. Can anyone out there help with news of Naplan?)

Smith’s inaugural season is an impressive one. It that starts this coming weekend with Verdi’s “A Masked Ball” (“Un Ballo in Maschera”) in Overture Hall on Friday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m.; then moves on to the Madison Opera’s first-ever Handel opera, “Acis and Galatea” Jan. 10-13; and concludes with Mozart’s masterpiece “Don Giovanni” on April 26 and 28  before going on to Opera in the Park on July 13 for a peek at next season.

Tickets to “A Masked Ball” are $18-$118. Call the Overture Center Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

Here are links to the Madison Opera’s website and to the page for “A Masked Ball” where you can find a lot of information about the various productions (casts, sets, program notes) and the organization and its history plus an opera blog:

http://www.madisonopera.org

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2012-2013/masked_ball/

Maestro John DeMain (below), the artistic director of the Madison Opera who also specializes in opera and conducts it around the US and world, will conduct members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, which he also heads.

Stage director Kathrine McIntyre (below) recently gave an email interview to The Ear:

Can you briefly introduce yourself and your career?

I fell in love with opera when I was 16 and decided pretty young that I wanted to be an opera director. My educational background is English literature and theater, so my process is to really delve into both the text and the psychological reality of the characters.

I began my opera career at the San Francisco Opera and then worked at the Metropolitan Opera (below) for 8 years where I directed revivals of Verdi and Rossini and assisted on new productions. I left the Met in 2008 in order to focus on my own directing work, and now I direct all over the country. I’ve been fortunate to split my career between working on new and recent works and many new productions of classic opera repertory.

Where do you place “Un Ballo” in Verdi’s overall output and in the history of opera?

“Ballo” comes just after the period we refer to as Verdi’s middle years – after he composed “La Traviata” and “Il Trovatore” and “Rigoletto” so he was at the height of his dramatic and musical skills. It was a period in which he was also obsessed with Shakespeare and had spent years trying unsuccessfully to turn King Lear into an opera.

All of that impacts “Ballo” –– it is a very skillful piece, brilliantly constructed and so well characterized. Verdi (below) really pushed many of his composition ideas to the edge in “Ballo,” particularly his amazing ability to mix light and dark elements in the same scene. You could write a treatise just on his use of laughter throughout the piece. He took a lot of chances in “Ballo” and it’s a shame that it’s not done more in this country because it’s really extraordinary and very, very satisfying, both musically and dramatically. (See McIntyre’s further comments about “Ballo” as a neglected masterpiece in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

What do you see as the relevance of the opera – its plot, characters and music — to today’s public?

On one level, “Ballo”  (the set is below, in a photo by Douglas Hamer for the Lyric Opera of Kansas City) is about a classic love triangle: a man falls in love with his best friend’s wife. That’s certainly a timeless theme.

But at a larger level, it’s also about the conflict between public and private life, between duty and emotion. It’s about the nature of leadership, in this case about kingship, and it asks, “What duty does a sovereign or leader have to those he leads?”

Those are profound questions that we are still trying to answer. So Verdi is telling both a human story and exploring big themes –- in that way, the work is really Shakespearean in scope, and like a great Shakespeare play, it’s universal.

What specific aspects of this particular production or interpretation would you single out to the pubic as noteworthy or unusual and why?

This is going to be a very dramatically satisfying production. We have a cast who are not only great singers, but also great actors who are deeply invested in the dramaturgy of the piece. And amazingly, they are all doing their parts for the first time, so the energy of discovery and exploration will be a huge part of the production.

Ballo” takes great actors because the characters are much more complex and realistic than in many other operas of the same period. The piece is also based on a true piece of history and I always think it’s fascinating when real life is elevated to the level of grand opera.

What would you like to say about working with the Madison Opera and this production?

I’m thrilled to be back in Madison doing this opera, which is one of my favorites and one I’ve wanted to direct for a long time. I live in Portland, Oregon, so I actually feel very at home here in Madison. I’m having a great time working with the chorus, the local singers and the dancers who are in the cast.

Is there anything else you would like to say or add?

If anyone is on the fence about opera, or about Verdi, then I think this is the piece for you. It has great music that will be extraordinarily sung, but it’s also very powerful dramatically – and really entertaining. Verdi never lets the story or music lag, so the piece just tears along and suddenly you are at a masked ball and it’s all about to go horribly wrong. It is a real evening of music theater.


Classical music news: Michigan-born composer Kevin Puts wins the Pulitzer Prize for his World War I opera “Silent Night” two weeks after the Madison Symphony Orchestra performs his “Inspiring Beethoven.” Listen to excerpts of both here.

April 19, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Some people in Madison complain about not hearing enough contemporary or new music.

But the reality is that we get to hear a fair amount of new music.

The acclaimed Lincoln Trio last week performed works by living women composers, including UW composer Laura Schwendinger, on the UW School of Music’s Guest Artist series.

And this week, the Pro Arte String Quartet (below) will perform the fourth world premiere – John Harbison’s String Quartet No. 5 — of a commission this season. (The FREE concert is this Saturday at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall.) The Pro Arte will have done two string quartets (Walter Mays and John Harbison, who is another Pulitzer prize winner) and two piano quintets (Paul Schoenfield and William Bolcom.)

Then there is the UW Contemporary Chamber Ensemble, which this week performed the music of John Harbison (below) and UW alumnus Steven Burke. And this weekend the Madison Chamber Choir is giving the world premiere of a vocal work by San Francisco composer David Conte.

Plus, the Madison chapter of Classical Revolution and New Music Everywhere (NEW MUSE) have already played contemporary works this season.

I’m sure there are more I haven’t mentioned.

But perhaps the most newsworthy or timely performance occurred over the first weekend in April when the Madison Symphony Orchestra under John DeMain gave three performances of “Inspiring Beethoven” – based on Ludwig’s famous Symphony No. 7 — by the young Michigan-born, Yale-trained composer Kevin Puts (below).

And now – just this week — comes news that Puts has won this year’s Pulitzer Prize for music for his opera “Silent Night” (below, in a photo by Michal Daniel for the Minnesota Opera) about the temporary, unofficial Christmas Truce between the Germans and the Allies during World War I.

Talk about being timely!

So here is link to a story with excerpts, about the work and the composer:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/04/16/150764941/kevin-puts-wins-music-pulitzer-for-world-war-i-opera-silent-night

And here is link to another story about Puts and his Michigan roots:

http://www.mlive.com/entertainment/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2012/04/pulitzer_prize_winning_compose_1.html

So, here is a shout-out by The Ear to Maestro John DeMain (below, in a photo by James Gill) and the Madison Symphony Orchestra for making such a prescient and pertinent choice.

Congratulations to all.

And maybe the Madison Opera, where DeMain is the artistic director, will stage a production of “Silent Night” in the not too distant future.

Unfortunately, it was during spring break and I wasn’t able to attend the concert, at which French pianist Philippe Bianconi soloed in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 and then the new MSO Concertmaster Naha Greenholtz turned in a reportedly outstanding performance of Richard Strauss’ tone poem “Ein Heldenleben” (A Hero’s Life).

(The other local connection, of course, is that Allan Naplan, the former general director of the Madison Opera, was at the helm of the Minnesota Opera as president and general director when it gave the world-premiere performance of Puts’ opera, but just recently announced his resignation from the post after only one year.)

Puts sure knows how to choose his material. The Christmas Truce is a popular and timely topic in a time of war and severe partisanship. You might recall when the all-male vocal group Cantus performed a similar piece, quite movingly, during the holiday season at the Wisconsin Union Theater two seasons ago. And World War I (below) plays a big role in the popular PBS Masterpiece drama series “Downton Abbey.”

Now the fact that Puts has won the Pulitzer Prize makes me all the more sorry I missed the MSO concert. But it is the kind of piece – a short curtain-raiser that is a good prelude to a real Beethoven symphony or concerto – that I expect to hear again and see programmed soon.

The performances of “Inspiring Beethoven” (below) were generally well reviewed and received, though there were some exceptions:

Here is Lindsay Christians’ review for 77 Square:

http://host.madison.com/entertainment/arts_and_theatre/reviews/symphony-review-bianconi-honors-beethoven-strauss-honors-himself/article_6055a9d9-e567-5828-bbc0-c9cd9154b7ad.html

Here is Greg Hettmansberger’s review for Madison Magazine and his blog “Classically Speaking”:

http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/March-2012/Madison-Symphony-Wins-the-Battle/

Here is John W. Barker’s review of the Puts work for Isthmus:

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=36362

Here is a link to Bill Wineke’s review for Channel3000.com:

http://www.channel3000.com/entertainment/Review-Bianconni-Returns-to-Madison-Symphony/-/1628/10369204/-/wf90ys/-/index.html

What did you think of the Puts piece that tried to capture Beethoven’s creative process?

How did you find his music?

The Ear wants to hear.


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