By Jacob Stockinger
The critically acclaimed Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below) will perform Johann Sebastian Bach’s Magnificat with full orchestra and additional works by Bach, George Frideric Handel and Heinrich Schütz on this coming Friday, April 28, at 7:30 p.m. at Luther Memorial Church, 1021 University Avenue, in Madison.
There will be an additional concert on Sunday, April 30, at 2 p.m. at the Young Auditorium, UW-Whitewater, 930 West Main Street, in Whitewater.
The Baroque splendor of Bach’s Magnificat will be performed by the Wisconsin Chamber Choir with its professional orchestra, Sinfonia Sacra.
Featured soloists include trumpet virtuoso John Aley, oboist Marc Fink, violinist Leanne League, New York-based tenor (and former Madisonian) Alex Gmeinder (below top) and mezzo-soprano Rachel Wood (below bottom, in a photo by Michael Cooper.)
Sharing billing with the Bach is Handel’s impressive Utrecht Te Deum, which, like the Magnificat, exalts in the colors of voices, trumpets, timpani, oboes, flutes and strings.
Inspired by Mary’s song of praise from the Gospel of Luke (depicted below), the Magnificat is one of Bach’s most glorious and varied pieces. Its music offers a sampling of every style of music in Bach’s repertoire as a composer.
Imposing, concerto-like movements crowned by brilliant trumpet fanfares highlight the full chorus, whereas solo arias, duets and trios deepen the mood of the text in counterpoint with constantly changing instrumental colors—from lush strings to playful flutes to the dolorous oboe d’amore. (You can hear the “Magnificat” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
In the solo movements the professional singers share the stage with highly accomplished members of the choir including Christopher Eggers and Nicole McCarty; Madison Savoyards regulars Bill Rosholt and Natalie Falconer; and many others.
The members of Sinfonia Sacra are drawn from the rosters of the Madison Symphony, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble, and the music faculties of UW-Madison, UW-Whitewater and UW-Oshkosh.
Founded in 1998, the Wisconsin Chamber Choir has established a reputation for excellence in the performance of oratorios by Bach, Mozart and Brahms; a cappella works from various centuries; and world premieres. Artistic Director Robert Gehrenbeck (below), who directs choral activities at the UW-Whitewater, has been hailed by critics for his vibrant and emotionally compelling interpretations of a wide variety of choral masterworks.
Advance tickets for the April 28 performance at Luther Memorial Church in Madison are available for $20 ($10 for students) from www.wisconsinchamberchoir.org, via Brown Paper Tickets, or at Orange Tree Imports and Willy Street Coop (all three locations).
Advance tickets for the April 30 performance at Young Auditorium in Whitewater are available from www.uww.edu/youngauditorium/tickets
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear’s friend and opera veteran filed this review:
By Larry Wells
The opera’s mystifying combination of fairy tale and Masonic ritual has been better explained by others, including the legendary Anna Russell. Those who know her only through her analysis of Wagner’s “Ring” Cycle should seek out her lecture on “The Magic Flute, which is accompanied on the CD by an equally humorous look at Verdi’s “Nabucco.” A search through the iTunes store will easily yield these treasures.
The scenery and costumes (below), which were borrowed from Arizona Opera, were superb. I was captivated by the clever set, the opulent costumes and the amazing props.
The choice to have the spoken dialogue in English, while the sung parts remained in German with supertitles in English, was a smart move and helped move the ridiculous plot lines along.
And the singing was, for the most part, first-rate.
Special mention should be made of Andrew Bidlack (below top) as a consistently arresting Tamino and Amanda Woodbury (below, right, with Scott Brunscheen as Monostatos) as a crystalline Pamina. Their first act duet was perfection.
Likewise, Caitlin Cisler played the Queen of the Night (below center) and her vocal fireworks were spectacular, plus she was a delight to watch in her bizarre winged costume. (You can hear the Queen of the Night’s astonishing and virtuosic aria in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
I enjoyed Alan Dunbar’s Papageno (below). He has a gift for comedy.
And probably my favorite characters, the three ladies (below, from left, with Tamino) portrayed by Amanda Kingston, Kelsey Park and Anna Parks were brilliantly sung and acted.
UW-Madison graduate Anna Polum (below) did not disappoint in the smaller role of Papagena, and we will be fortunate to hear her again soon in Johannes Brahms’ “German Requiem” with the Madison Symphony Orchestra next month.
The three spirits, sung by local schoolboys, were fun to watch with their steampunk attire and props, but they were vocally rather thin.
Nathan Stark’s Sarastro tested the limits of his vocal range. It’s a difficult role in any event since Sarastro has the unfortunate habit of stopping the opera’s action in its tracks whenever he appears.
The audience loved the whole thing, laughing at the comic absurdities and applauding whenever the music paused. But I cannot help wondering why “The Magic Flute” is such a popular opera. Its plot is basically incomprehensible, its second act goes on a half hour too long, the Queen of the Night’s downfall is never satisfactorily explained, and despite a number of memorable tunes, there are, in my mind, many more musically satisfying operas.
Next season we can look forward to yet another of the countless performances of Bizet’s “Carmen” and yet another Mozart opera “The Abduction from the Seraglio.” Madison does seem to love its Mozart. But we will also be hearing the late Daniel Catan’s lush, Puccini-esque “Florencia en el Amazonas,” for which I give praise.
I got to thinking about what other lesser performed operas that are not 200 years old might please the Madison crowd and quickly came up with: Benjamin Britten’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”; Gian Carlo Menotti’s “The Consul”; Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide”; Douglas Moore’s “The Ballad of Baby Doe”; Samuel Barber’s “Vanessa”; and Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Sir John in Love.”
Each of these is as melodic as “The Magic Flute” and each has certainly more compelling storylines.
What are your suggestions?
By Jacob Stockinger
Three recent stories tell you just about everything you could want to know about superstar soprano Renée Fleming (below), now 58, as she prepares to retire — at least partly retire — from the opera stage but still devote herself to music on and off the concert stage.
The first story came in The New York Times in a preview profile before her upcoming appearance as the aging Marschallin in the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Richard Strauss’ “Der Rosenkavalier.” (You can hear some of her singing in that role in the YouTube link at the bottom.)
Here is a link to that story:
But just to eliminate any doubt about her leaving music altogether when she retires from singing and acting opera, Fleming also gave a long interview to Vanity Fair magazine in which she discusses her plans to still pursue music full-time as a recitalist, recording artist and someone working offstage to benefit opera and music, much as the famed Beverly Sills once did.
Here is a link to that story:
And then Fleming also clarified some confusion in the Times story about her future plans in an interview with National Public Radio (NPR):
By Jacob Stockinger
Instead of an orchestra, the prize-winning duo-pianists Stanislava Varshavski and Diane Shapiro (below) will be featured.
The performances are at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Admission is a free will donation.
FUS music director Dan Broner (below), who will conduct the performance, explains:
“However, we are including the fifth movement, with solo soprano, that was not included in the first London performance.
“More intimate than the orchestral version, the “London” version was a hit in New York City last season where they also had three performances of the “German” Requiem.”
NOTE: You can hear the first movement of the “London version” of the “German” Requiem in the YouTube video below.
By Jacob Stockinger
Madison has produced its share of important classical musicians who have gone on to achieve international reputations.
Among them was the composer Lee Hoiby (1926-2011).
More recently, there are the Naughton Twins, sister-duo pianists Christina and Michelle, who perform around the world.
And there is violist Vicki Powell (below), who was born in Chicago but started music lessons in Madison where she studied with the husband-and-wife team of violinist Eugene Purdue and Pro Arte Quartet violist Sally Chisholm, both of whom have taught at the UW-Madison.
Powell, who recently finished a tour of Asia and whose playing has garnered rave reviews internationally, returns to Madison this Friday night to perform with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra at 7:30 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.
WCO music director Andrew Sewell will conduct. Unlike Sewell’s typical eclectic programming that mixes music from different eras, this concert feature music from a single period – the mid-20th century.
It offers “Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge” by British composer Benjamin Britten, who studied with Bridge. Also included are two other British works: the Suite for Viola and Chamber Orchestra by Ralph Vaughan Williams, with Vicki Powell, and “Benedictus” by Sir Alexander Mackenzie. All three works are rarely performed.
The concluding work, on the other hand, is the popular and well-loved “Appalachian Spring” – a timely work for the coming of spring yesterday morning — by the American composer Aaron Copland.
For more information about the program, about how to get tickets ($10-$80) and about Vicki Powell, go to:
And here is a link to Vicki Powell’s website with a biography, concert bookings, recordings, reviews and her community outreach projects:
By Jacob Stockinger
This coming week, the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) will present organist Samuel Hutchison (below) and acclaimed singers Andrew Bidlack and Kyle Ketelsen performing as a trio in vocal and instrumental music from oratorios and operas.
The concert is Tuesday night, Feb. 21, at 7:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, 201 State Street.
Principal Organist and Curator for the Madison Symphony Orchestra Samuel Hutchison joins forces with two outstanding singers in the first half to perform a program of favorite arias and overtures from Handel’s Messiah, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, and Rossini’s Stabat Mater.
Opera will be the focus of the second half, featuring arias and selections from Bizet’s Carmen, Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and Gounod’s Faust.
For the full program, go to: http://www.madisonsymphony.org/organopera
Featured by Opera News as one of their top 25 brilliant young artists, tenor Andrew Bidlack (below) — who is replacing David Portillo — makes his debut in Overture Hall following performances at The Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Welsh National Opera and London’s Covent Garden.
Bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen (below, in a photo by Dario Acosta), who lives in nearby Sun Prairie, has sung with major opera companies throughout the world including The Metropolitan Opera, the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the State Opera of Berlin. He is praised for his vibrant stage presence and his distinctive vocalism.
In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear Kyle Ketelsen sing the role of Don Escamillo in a Barcelona, Spain, production of Bizet’s “Carmen.” He is singing the same role in the Metropolitan Opera’s current production of “Carmen.”
General Admission for each Overture Concert Organ performance is $20. Tickets can be purchased at madisonsymphony.org/organopera, (608) 258-4141 or the Overture Center Box Office.
Student Rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $10 tickets.
This performance is sponsored by the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation. Support for all Overture Concert Organ programs is provided by the Diane Endres Ballweg Fund.
With a gift from Pleasant T. Rowland, the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) commissioned the Overture Concert Organ, which is the stunning backdrop of all MSO concerts.
By Jacob Stockinger
Here is a guest review by The Opera Guy, who is himself a senior and who has followed opera for many decades and across several continents, including North America, Europe and Asia. Performance photos are by James Gill for the Madison Opera.
By Larry Wells
On Sunday afternoon I attended the second, and final, of two sold-out performances of Daniel Schnyder’s “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird,” presented by Madison Opera, which gave the Midwest premiere of the new work.
Although it is a chamber opera featuring only 16 instrumentalists and running a little over 90 minutes, it was an engaging, satisfying and often hypnotic operatic experience.
The orchestral and vocal music were readily accessible. As a compliment to the composer, I was reminded of the later work of the great British composer Michael Tippett.
The plot features Charlie Parker’s mother, three of his wives, his friend Dizzy Gillespie and his current patroness, the fascinating Baroness Nica de Koenigswarter, as they confront Parker’s spirit after his death but before his removal from the morgue and burial.
(Below, standing in front of the photo-portrait set of the Birdland jazz club, are the major cast members, many of whom were in the original world premiere productions at Opera Philadelphia and the Apollo Theater of Harlem in New York City. From the left, they are: Angela Brown as Addie Parker; Will Liverman as Dizzy Gillespie; Rachel Sterrenberg as Chan Parker; Angela Montellaro as Doris Parker; Joshua Stewart as Charlie Parker; and Krysty Swann as Rebecca Parker.)
A pioneer and innovator of bebop in the world of jazz, saxophonist Parker died young and dissolute, destroyed by drugs and alcohol. Portrayed by Joshua Stewart (below), Parker is unsympathetic and weak, desperate to create but distracted. Stewart is a fine, convincing actor. His singing was often compelling, but his voice was too thin in the higher reaches demanded by the score.
The other characters were ably portrayed and consistently strong vocally. Will Liverman’s Dizzy Gillespie was a standout – lyrical and touching.
Likewise, Krysty Swann (below center with a baby) was solid vocally and emotionally convincing as Parker’s abandoned first wife Rebecca Parker.
Rachel Sterrenberg was moving and gripping vocally as Parker’s final wife Chan.
Julie Miller as Baronness Nica commanded the stage whenever she appeared, perhaps because of her bright red dress in a sea of black garments but also because of her powerful portrayal and expressive singing.
Whenever Angela Brown (below right, with Joshua Stewart as Charlie Parker) was onstage as Parker’s mother, Addie, she was the focus. She owned the role, she sang beautifully, and she had some of the best material to sing.
One of the finest moments in the opera was an orchestral interlude followed by a vocalise by another of Parker’s wives, Doris, sung by Angela Mortellaro (below). I was totally captivated, as I was by the quintet toward the end with Dizzy, the three wives and Parker’s mother.
Such are the moments for which an opera aficionado waits – several minutes of total aural delight.
Maestro John DeMain was, as always, in full command of the score as he led members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. I was in a position to watch him conduct, and he was always totally involved in the moment. I repeat what I have said before: Maestro DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) is a treasure for which Madison should be constantly grateful.
I personally like newer music and always welcome the chance to hear something other than the tired Brahms overtures, Tchaikovsky symphonies and Mozart piano concertos.
The argument in Madison seems to be that to fill seats, you have to give the audience what it wants; and the belief is that it wants music that is tried, true and safe.
The fact that this new work sold out both performances in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center and that the audience was not entirely made up of seniors seems to suggest that the halls can be filled if the programming is more adventurous.
I say let’s hear more music of the 20th and 21st centuries, draw in a new audience and give the seniors a little thrill.
What do you think?
By Jacob Stockinger
Jazz and classical music are not so different, says Swiss-born composer Daniel Schnyder.
For Schnyder, it is more than an academic matter. He puts his point of view into action in his acclaimed chamber opera “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird,” which deals with the life of the bebop saxophone player and jazz giant. (You can see the YouTube trailer for the productions by Opera Philadelphia and the Apollo Theater in Harlem at the bottom.)
The Madison Opera will offer the work’s Midwest premiere when it stages the chamber opera this Friday night (NOT Saturday night, as first mistakenly posted here) at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. Both performances are in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center. (Performances photos below are from the world premiere at Opera Philadelphia.)
Here is a link to more general information about the opera, tickets, the cast and the production:
Daniel Schnyder (below) — who will perform a FREE concert of the music of Charlie Parker and do a question-and-answer session on this Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. (NOT 7 p.m. as mistakenly first stated here) in Morphy Hall on the UW-Madison campus — also agreed to an email interview with The Ear:
What was the work’s genesis and what gave you the idea for “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird”? Are you a big jazz fan and did you see the work as a way to meld the jazz and classical styles of music?
I am a jazz fan. I am also a jazz musician and I love to compose, play and improvise in the jazz idiom. I have recorded more than 30 jazz CDs.
I love to combine jazz and classical music. I just finished a symphony for orchestra and big band, a commission by the Temple University in Philadelphia.
The idea from the very beginning was to write an opera for Lawrence Brownlee, the great African-American tenor. Opera Philadelphia asked me to write a work for him and we tried several libretto options. After hearing a recital by Larry singing gospel songs, I came up with the idea to write an opera about Charlie Parker’s life.
How would you describe the musical style of the opera in terms of tonality and melody, and its accessibility to the general public? What were the audience reactions in Philadelphia and New York City?
In both places, the audiences were very moved by the story and the music. The topic hit a nerve, something our society has to reflect upon, a general issue that concerns us all as a nation.
The music itself is not hard to listen to and moves swiftly. For the orchestra and singers, the opera is rather challenging, since Charlie Parker (below) was a virtuoso. The music moves fast and often in off-beat rhythms that are unusual for classical musicians. There are also a lot of odd meters and tricky patterns that sometimes connect to Parker’s music and sometimes relate to the music that came after him.
The audience will have a ball. There are 12-tone music passages reflecting on new music and opera — mostly in Nica’s parts — but there are a lot of R&B influences and jazz and Latin music grooves.
It would be false to see the opera as a patchwork of different musical sequences and styles. It is my music that is based on all these influences. The opera can be described as a modern music carpet with lots of colors of today’s music, rather than a quilt.
In what ways do you see the characters and the story as offering lessons and being relevant to today?
I guess this is obvious: Our society has to understand that different cultures and different ethnic backgrounds enrich America and are fundamental to its culture and success.
If we go down the path of segregation, divisiveness and disrespect, we all will lose. Jazz is the great coming together of different heritages, the roots of America, and it conquered the world.
We still erect barriers in society and music that are detrimental to growth and innovation. Other contemporary issues are also important in the opera, such as being a single parent, drug addiction and faith.
The opera also highlights that jazz musicians at the time could not earn money from recorded music, something that is true again today. The stealing of royalties from Parker and Dizzie Gillespie were different from today’s issues of streaming, but the problem of jazz musicians not receiving money for their creative works stays the same.
In the opera, Parker discusses the very nature of music, its volatility and the fact that you cannot physically possess it. This is one of the reasons why he wants to write the music down on paper. He wants to make it abstract, but realizes that he loses some of the essence of what he wants to say. That is the dilemma of the composer.
He also reflects on the notation system, which was not designed for jazz. He sings: “How can I put down these black dots on white paper, how can I capture these sheets of sound?”
The opera reflects on American history, but it simultaneously relates to today’s world. This is not just some nice story about the past; it is about us.
Quite a few other productions have been planned. What do you think explains the work’s popularity? Do you think it attracts new audiences to opera?
There might be many different reasons for that:
1) There are very few operas using the modern jazz idiom.
2) There are very few operas in which the leading roles are African-American.
3) The opera is flexible; it can be produced with a moderate budget in a lot of different venues. It is mobile, which is similar to L’Histoire du Soldat (The Soldier’s Tale) by Igor Stravinsky. It also has a length of just over 100 minutes.
4) As mentioned above, the opera hits a nerve; it is about our time and about us.
5) Charlie Parker is a legend, but very few people really know about him and his music. People are intrigued.
6) The music is very accessible; it can be played on the radio without getting boring or incomprehensible. Some modern operas rely a lot on light, staging and special visual effects. This opera works more like Carmen or a Verdi opera, told through the music.
7) It is an opera, not a musical. It only uses a song format in a few instances. The opera is composed in an open and evolving format, connected by leitmotifs similar to Wagner’s operas.
The music definitely has a lot of jazz influences, but the format is mostly one not used in jazz music. That creates a new experience. It does not fit into one of the known “drawers” of music, so it can be tempting to try to compare it to their pieces but it sticks out as musically different.
8) The opera is composed very close to the sound and rhythms of the words. Hence you can understand a lot. The language is very direct and clear, close to spoken language. That helps. You can actually understand a lot of the lyrics without reading the supertitles.
I tried to avoid the Strauss or Wagner effect of creating something where the mix of complex language and complex music creates something beautiful but often incomprehensible. French and Italian operas are better in this regard. “Yardbird” has a message that needs to be understood.
9) There are many riddles in the opera – musical riddles, but also hidden messages and references in the text – that can be explored. The opera plays in a twilight zone between death and life. This is also intriguing.
Is there something else you would like to say about yourself and the opera?
I enjoyed writing the opera very much. It was a great pleasure and an honor to reflect on one of the great music geniuses in American history.