The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Mozart’s music requires the rhythms of both speech and dance, says maestro Gary Thor Wedow, who will also restore lost libretto text when he conducts two performances of “The Magic Flute” this weekend for the Madison Opera. Here is Part 2 of his interview with The Ear.

April 19, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Opera will stage Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Magic Flute this Friday night, April 21, at 8 p.m. and this Sunday afternoon, April 23, at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center. (Production photos are courtesy of the Arizona Opera from which the Madison Opera got the sets and costumes for its production.)

Yesterday’s post was the first of two parts. It has a plot synopsis and links to more information about the cast and production.

Here is a link to Part 1:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/04/18/classical-music-mozart-masterfully-melds-the-sensual-and-the-cerebral-says-maestro-gary-thor-wedow-who-will-conduct-two-performances-of-the-magic-flute-this-weekend-for-the-madiso/

The opera runs about 2 hours and 45 minutes with one intermission.

Tickets are $18 to $130.

“The Magic Flute” will be sung in German with English supertitles.

For more about the production and cast, go to:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2016-2017/the-magic-flute/

And also go to:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2016-2017/the-magic-flute/cast/

Here is Part 2 of The Ear’s recent email interview with conductor Gary Thor Wedow (below, conducting in an orchestra pit):

Are there certain “tricks” or “secrets” that you try to bring to conducting Mozart? Have you conducted “The Magic Flute” before? Do Mozart’s operas in general and this opera in specific present challenges? Where do you place the opera musically, both compared to other operas in general and in regard to its place in Mozart’s work?

I feel keenly that Mozart and all 18th-century music (probably continuing to this day) is either based on a rhetorical idea or a dance form; that music is either speaking or dancing. This style of music is “pre-French Revolution,” so No Two Notes are Created Equally! The lilt of language or the buoyancy of the dance has to infuse every moment; hierarchy and shape prevail.

I’ve been fortunate to have conducted The Magic Flute frequently, in many varied productions; it’s always been a part of my musical life. Because it’s a fairy tale, it lends itself to inventive and imaginative productions. Stage director Dan Rigazzi’s production (below) for Madison Opera is a whimsical one, influenced by the surrealist painter Magritte, steampunk and more, all rolled into one beautiful show.

Mozart was fascinated with German Singspiel, as it was opera in the language of the people. The Magic Flute is his masterpiece in this genre, though there are earlier works. There is the early Zaide – incomplete, but filled with gorgeous, innovative music –and also the more mature, sumptuous and comic The Abduction from the Seraglio; they are both rich and entertaining pieces.

The Magic Flute, I feel, has a special place in the opera repertoire for several reasons: its Masonic connections that were very important to Mozart, the drama, and its central themes that trace themselves back to ancient Egypt.

It also is a brilliant combination of comedy and deep spiritual drama in the guise of a heroic rescue tale. It uses an incredibly wide range of the most beautiful music written in every major genre: sacred music, opera seria, bel canto, folk song and complex Baroque counterpoint.

What would you like listeners to pay special attention to in the music of “The Magic Flute”?

I would say “Hang on!” Whatever style of music we are in, we are going to switch gears in a fairly short time. It’s a roller coaster, an Ed Sullivan Show, American Idol, and the Barnum and Bailey Circus all rolled into one.

This is your third time conducting at Madison Opera. Do you have an opinion about Madison musicians and audiences?

My previous two experiences in Madison have been the Opera in the Park concerts in 2012 and 2016 (below). These have been among the most sublimely satisfying moments of my musical life: a cornucopia of music played by this brilliant symphony orchestra with great singers.

The audiences have been magically focused and involved; the players are magnificent, dedicated musicians, and the community is very supportive of Madison Opera. It’s electric.

Is there anything else you would like to say about the music or this performance?

Magic Flute devotees might be startled to hear some new text in these performances, particularly in Tamino, Pamina and Sarastro’s arias and the duet with Pamina and Papageno. “Bei Männern” is now “Der Liebe.” (You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Let me explain by telling you a mystery story. After Mozart died, Constanze was desperate for money. Mozart’s Flute manuscript conducting score belonged to Schikaneder, the librettist and producer, but it seems that Constanze had another original score: the first original manuscript, which she then sold to a nobleman who eventually allowed it to be published.

This must have been a “composing score” that Mozart wrote first, before making the conducting score with the help of his assistant. The text deviates in several sections in notable ways. Probably Schikaneder, perhaps assisted by his Masonic brothers, “improved” the text, but Mozart had already shaped his music to the first text.

In most sections the differences are minimal and the new text was indeed an improvement. But in some cases I feel the original text was what inspired Mozart to write and orchestrate the way he did. Our marvelous singers have generously agreed to make the changes and I think we will all see how it fits the music so much better.

Sadly, Constanze’s manuscript was lost in the wars, but many scholars had already seen it and considered it to be genuine. I love how it shows how fluid the creative process is and how it spurs us to look anew at Mozart’s creative process.

On with the show!


Classical music: The Madison Savoyards will begin paying singers in its summer productions of Gilbert and Sullivan operas. Plus a FREE performance of a rarely heard work by Couperin is on Good Friday at noon.

March 23, 2016
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ALERT: UW-Madison professor and baritone Paul Rowe has sent in the following note: “There is a great, free “concert” or performance on this Friday at Luther Memorial Church, 1021 University Avenue, from noon to 3 p.m. Singers Chelsie Propst and Christina Kay with organist Bruce Bengtson will be performing François Couperin’s “Leçons de ténèbres” or “Lessons in Darkness.” This work is rarely heard in performance at all, much less in this complete form. It is a fabulous piece and a great way to spend a Good Friday afternoon before Easter with its contemplative mood and its beautiful solos and duets. There will also be appropriate readings and some other music as part of the service. It is definitely worth hearing.” 

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is some good news for amateurs and semi-professionals who participate in community music-making and community theater.

For the first time in its 53-year history, the Madison Savoyards, Ltd. will pay its singers. (Below is a photo of the Three Little Maids from last summer’s production of “The Mikado.”)

Madison Savoyards The Mikado 2015

“It is an exciting next step for the organization, and will help us attract the best possible talent,” says newly installed Savoyards board president Shane Magargal. “For over 50 years, the Savoyards has kept these comic operas by Gilbert and Sullivan alive in Madison. This move will help us continue to remain a vibrant part of the local theatrical community for years to come.” (Below, are photos of W.S. Gilbert on the left and Arthur Sullivan on the right.)

Gilbert and Sullivan

Auditions for the Savoyards’ summer production, The Gondoliers, will be held at Edgewood College on Monday, April 4 from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. (Room Regina R5), and on Saturday, April 9 from 1:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. (Mazzuchelli Hall, Room 208).

To schedule a time, send your request via email to audition@madisonsavoyards.org

Information about what to prepare can be found at www.madisonsavoyards.org on the “Auditions” page.

The Gondoliers will run at Music Hall, in the UW-Madison campus at the base of Bascom Hill, on July 29, July 30, August 5 and August 6 at 7:30 p.m.; and July 31 and August 7 at 3 p.m.

There will be pre-performance dinners both Fridays at the University Club.

The Madison Savoyards, Ltd. has been presenting Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas to Madison audiences since 1963, and is pleased to offer The Gondoliers for the fourth time in its production history. (At bottom is YouTube video with a brief excerpt from “The Gondoliers.”)


Classical music: Avery Fisher Hall will be renamed. Is there no end to the shameless egos of Big Money and the desperation of those who pursue it? What’s next? The Walmart States of America? Plus, this afternoon is your last chance to see the Madison Opera’s production of Beethoven’s “Fidelio,” which gets rave reviews.

November 23, 2014
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ALERT: Today at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center is your last chance to see the Madison Opera‘s production of Ludwig van Beethoven‘s only opera “Fidelio.” The production has drawn high praise from local critics. (Below, in a photo by James Gill, are the lead singers tenor Clay Hilley as the imprisoned Florestan and soprano Alexandra LoBianco as his wife Leonore.) For tickets, call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141.

Here is a review by John W. Barker for Isthmus:

http://www.isthmus.com/daily/article.php?article=44067&sid=39e0add1db8c192442a2b8defe5ff286 

And here is a review by Greg Hettmansberger for Madison Magazine’s blog “Classically Speaking”:

http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/November-2014/Fidelio-Rings-True/

Fidelio Production Stills

By Jacob Stockinger

It reads like something right out of a novel by Charles Dickens or Honore de Balzac or Emile Zola.

Did you hear about Avery Fisher Hall (below)? They want to rename it!!!!

Avery Fisher Hall

It needs major work and expensive upgrading.

The stakes only get higher and more expensive, of course. But Big Money is no doubt up to the challenge.

Some you may remember the comments I recently posted about the renaming of the Wisconsin Union Theater as Shannon Hall (below) because of generous donations. A plaque would have sufficed, like at Camp Randall Stadium

It shouldn’t be too hard for Big Money to follow the more modest and more respectable examples of local philanthropists Jerry Frautschi and Pleasant Rowland, who funded the Overture Center for the Arts without plastering their names all over it.

Shannon Hall UW-Madison

But no! The rich need to splash their names all over the buildings so that we honor wealth more than public service or history.

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/10/01/classical-music-the-ear-offers-cheers-and-jeers-for-the-wisconsin-union-theaters-renovated-shannon-hall/

Well, now I see that a renovation of famed Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center in New York City is seeking some deep pockets by offering naming rights.

Or should I say “re-naming rights.”

Officials will even pay the Fisher family millions of dollars to allow the renaming of the legendary hall where so many great careers have started and been put on display for the public.

That’s tacky, and even outdoes the University of Wisconsin-Madison when it asked the Elvehjem (pronounced LVM) family if it could rename the Elvehjem Museum of Art to the Chazen Museum of Art.

The Ear didn’t like that, either. But at least the UW-Madison didn’t pay for the family’s permission, didn’t buy back the honor and then turn around and give it to someone else.

Maybe that is the reality of financing projects in today’s income disparity and wealth gap plus lower taxes on the rich that Trickle-Downers want to lower even more.

But it is nonetheless shameful.

What’s next? Avery Fisher Hall becomes David H. Koch Hall?

When do we become the Wal-Mart States of America?

Here is the story that appeared in The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/14/arts/music/lincoln-center-to-rename-avery-fisher-hall.html?_r=0

Tell us what you think of it.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: On the last day of the Fiscal Year, The Ear says to arts groups “Show us the money” — and where it goes — if you want more. Cultural organizations should be transparent about their budgets, and accountable to the public about money, power and politics.

June 30, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is June 30, 2014.

You might well think it is just another day of another month in another year.

Except that it is not.

It marks the end of Fiscal Year 2013-14.

That means that all kinds of organizations -– for-profit businesses, non-profit groups and charitable organizations – will be figuring out how they met, exceeded or failed to meet their budgets for the past fiscal year that ends today.

It also means they have set budgets for the new fiscal year that starts tomorrow, Wednesday, July 1.

budget columns compared

 

The Ear knows that he has been deluged with requests for donations, often multiple mailings from the same organization. Now, perhaps it is due to the gradual recovery and an expanding economy, with more disposable income at play.

The requests have come from big organizations like the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Madison Opera, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, the Overture Center for the Arts, the Wisconsin Union Theater, the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, Edgewood College and the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) among many others.

Of course the requests for help have also come from smaller organizations including the Oakwood Chamber Players, the Madison Early Music Festival (MEMF), the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society (BDDS), the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble, the Middleton Community Orchestra and the Ancora String Quartet among others.

But there has been a lot of turmoil in the music world lately. Last year saw the death of the City Opera of New York and of the San Diego Symphony Orchestra. It saw the death and resurrection of the Minnesota Orchestra, which chose to spend a lot on money on a new hall rather than on the musicians who make the “product.”

Anyway, it all got The Ear to thinking that we hear constant pleas about need, including how ticket prices just don’t cover production expenses. So no wonder that there is a lot of competition for donor dollars.

money.3

But what we don’t hear very much about is what happens to the money that the various groups collect –- often in large amounts. Does anyone out there know the salaries of the conductors and executive directors, of directors of development and of the musicians?

So here is my proposal to classical music groups in the area:

Fair is fair. If you feel you can honestly ask the public for money because you need it, then I think the public is entitled to know why that money is needed, and how it has been spent and will be spent.

I would like to see how big many endowment funds are, and how much many groups draw from them each year.

I would like to see how much money goes to top administrators. And how much goes to overhead expenses like hall rental and score rental, to advertising and business operations. And how much actually goes to musicians.

budget calculator

Maybe it could be cast in percentages, like in a budget pie chart — then posted on the group’s home website.

Budget pie chart

Better yet, I would like to see raw total numbers out in the open and easy to access.

How about stating expenses and income in terms of how a given amount of cents is spent out each dollar donated.


budget pie

I would also like to see some comparative salaries over the past five years. Partially that is because I want to see a history of percentage raises at a time when most working people are not seeing their wages rise, and have not seen that for a very long time.

I suspect a lot, maybe even most, of donation requests and organizations are completely above-board. But I also suspect some potentially embarrassing things are being kept quiet or secret or conveniently overlooked. They could be things that might discourage ordinary listeners from making donations, or help the rest of us to prioritize to whom we will give money.

But The Ear says: If you don’t come clean about spending the public’s money, then you forfeit your right to ask for that money.

I don’t say all this as an enemy or even skeptic of the arts. I say it as someone who supports the arts and culture, someone who thinks transparency and accountability will help the arts, especially given the current widening wealth gap and the concern it has raised.

So The Ear says:

“Show us the money.”

He also notes that bring a non-profit organization and being a charity are not the same thing, just as he recalls the abuses more than a decade ago of the national head of the United Way who was living in luxury off the money that good people donated to eradicate or at least alleviate social misery and inequality.

Finally, The Ear can’t stop thinking that a big part of the problem that classical music organizations face with falling attendance and not attracting young audiences has to do with how much a ticket goes for. Moreover, he suspects that the lion’s share of such expenses are NOT going to the individual musicians’ salaries.

Madison Symphony Orchestra overhead 2

So I ask all large and small music organizations -– all arts organizations, really –- to move quickly and openly toward greater transparency and accountability. Even if it is available on some tracking website, we should not have to search for it. Such research should be done for us, the targeted donors.

When you ask for our money, please also tell us where it has gone in past fiscal years and where it will go in the coming fiscal year.

Talking about money and power and politics in the arts often seems to demean the arts in the minds of many people. It somehow seems to dirty the arts to link them to such non-aesthetic things.

But such is the reality. The Ear knows from many years of being an investigative reporter -– one who uncovered criminal wrongdoing and even scandal at the Wisconsin Arts Board — that money, power and politics rule the art world as much or more than beauty does, and they do so in the arts no less than in other worlds.

It is too bad that the regular media don’t do a better job of policing the arts, which only want positive feature stories, approving reviews and good PR. Citizens need to be informed, especially since Big Money has become more important.

So isn’t it time to get some things cleared up, specifically the financing of arts group in the coming fiscal year?

budget money in a jar

What do you readers think?

Do you have relevant facts to share?

Should arts groups disclose -– either by law or voluntarily — their budgets and where the money that they have already received has gone before they are entitled to ask for more money?

Let The Ear and his readers and especially the arts groups in town know where you stand and what they should do to satisfy you so that you can help them.

 

 


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