The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Madison Opera’s production of “Romeo and Juliet” excelled in singing, orchestral playing, drama and other aspects that redeemed a largely unmemorable work. Plus, what is good music for Veterans Day?

November 11, 2016
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ALERT: Today is Veterans Day. What piece of classical music should be played to mark the event? The Ear suggests the War Requiem by Benjamin Britten. Leave your choice in the COMMENT section.

By Jacob Stockinger

Today’s post features a guest review of Madison Opera’s “Romeo and Juliet” by Larry Wells. Wells has been enjoying opera since he was a youngster. He subscribed to the San Francisco Opera for nearly 20 years, where he last saw “Romeo and Juliet,” sung by Alfredo Kraus and Ruth Ann Swenson

More recently he lived in Tokyo and attended many memorable performances there over nearly 20 years. These included Richard Strauss rarities such as “Die Ägyptische Helena” and “Die Liebe der Danae” as well as the world’s strangest Ring Cycle by Richard Wagner and a space-age production of Puccini’s “Turandot,” featuring Alessandra Marc singing “In questa reggia” while encased in an inverted cone.

By Larry Wells

Last Sunday’s matinee performance of Charles Gounod’s “Romeo and Juliet” by Madison Opera at the Overture Center was a feast for the eyes. The costumes, sets, lighting and staging were consistently arresting. (Performance photos are by James Gill.)

But we go to the opera for music and drama.

The tragedy of Romeo and Juliet is well known. Gounod’s opera substitutes the tragedy with melodrama, and therein lies one of the work’s flaws. Despite sword fights, posturings and threats as well as one of opera’s lengthiest death scenes, one leaves the theater thinking that a vast amount of theatrical resources have been squandered on something insubstantial.

madison-opera-romeo-and-juliet-sword-fight

However, despite its dramatic flaws, the opera’s music has somehow endured. And Sunday’s performance milked the most out of the music that could have been expected.

The star of the show was the Madison Symphony Orchestra under the expert direction of Maestro John DeMain (below). He knows how to pace a performance, how to build an exciting climax and how to highlight a solo instrument.

He is an incredibly intelligent conductor, and we are fortunate to have him in Madison. I want to make special mention of the beautiful harp playing, which, according to the program, was accomplished by Jenny DeRoche.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

The second star on the stage was the Madison Opera Chorus (below). The chorus plays a significant part in many of the opera’s scenes, and the singing was stirring when it needed to be and tender when it was called for.

madison-opera-romeo-and-juliet-chrous-and-set

As for the soloists, highest praise must go to UW-Madison alumna soprano Emily Birsan (below right) for her portrayal of Juliet. Her solo arias, particularly her big number in the first act as well as her subsequent lament, were stunning.

Her Romeo, tenor John Irvin (below left), sounded a little forced during his forte moments, but he sang magnificently in his quiet farewell to Juliet after their balcony scene. (You can hear the famous balcony scene, sung by Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

madison-opera-romeo-and-juliet-john-irvin-and-emily-birsan

Their voices blended beautifully in the opera’s multiple duets. And the wedding quartet, where they were joined by Allisanne Apple’s nurse (below, rear right) and Liam Moran’s Friar Lawrence (below, middle center), was a highlight of the performance.

madison-opera-romoeo-and-juliet-friar-and-nurse

The opera abounds with minor characters, all of which were ably portrayed. Special mention should be made of Stephanie Lauricella (below, far right) for her fantastic moments as Romeo’s page; Madison’s Allisanne Apple for her amusing portrayal of Juliet’s nurse Gertrude; Sidney Outlaw (below, second from left) as a robust Mercutio; and Philip Skinner as a powerful Lord Capulet.

madison-opera-romeo-and-juliet-sidnay-outlaw-left-and-page-right

I have wondered why this opera is still performed. Its music is lovely but unmemorable, and its dramatic impact is tenuous.

I left the performance thinking that it had been a good afternoon at the theater – certainly more interesting than the Packers’ game – but wishing that one of a couple dozen more meaty operas had been performed in its place.

Since we are celebrating the 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare, how much more interesting would have been Benjamin Britten’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream”? 

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Classical music: Madison Opera stages Charles Gounod’s opera “Romeo and Juliet” this Friday night and Sunday afternoon to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare

November 1, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Madison Opera will present Charles Gounod’s “Romeo & Juliet” on this Friday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center.

It will be sung in French with English subtitles and will last about three hours with one intermission.

Tickets are $18-$130.

With soaring arias, impassioned scenes and plenty of sword fights, Gounod’s gorgeous opera brings the famous tragic tale of young love to vivid life.

Set in 14th century Verona, Italy, the opera follows the story of Shakespeare’s legendary star-crossed lovers. The Montague and Capulet families are caught in a centuries-old feud.

One evening, Romeo Montague and his friends attend a Capulet ball in disguise. The moment Romeo spots Juliet Capulet, he falls in love, and she returns his feelings. Believing they are meant for one another, they proclaim their love, setting in motion a chain of events that will change both their families.

Romeo and Juliet is one of the most famous love stories in Western literature,” says Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill), the general director of Madison Opera. “Gounod’s operatic version of it is equally beloved, and it’s exciting to present an amazing cast that brings such vocal and dramatic depth to their story.

“I’m also delighted that we are performing the opera the same weekend that Shakespeare’s First Folio goes on display at the University of Wisconsin-Madison‘s Chazen Museum of Art, enabling our community to enjoy a very Shakespearean weekend.”

Kathryn Smith Fly Rail Vertical Madison Opera

Gounod’s operatic adaption of the tragedy of “Romeo & Juliet” premiered in 1867 at the Théâtre Lyrique in Paris. While Gounod is now better known for “Faust,” “Romeo and Juliet” was a bigger success at its premiere, and has stayed in the repertoire for 150 years due to its beautiful music, genuine passion mingled with wit, and exciting fight scenes.

“Having conducted Gounod’s Faust so often, I’m thrilled to finally have the opportunity to conduct his romantic masterpiece,” says John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), the artistic director of Madison Opera who will conduct the two performances.

“The vocal and orchestral writing is lyrical and downright gorgeous,” DeMain adds. “We have a glorious cast, the Madison Opera Chorus and the Madison Symphony.  What more could a conductor ask for!” (You can hear Anna Netrebko sing Juliet’s famous aria “Je veux vivre” — “I want to live” – in the popular YouTube video at the bottom.)

John DeMain full face by Prasad

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

John Irvin (below top) and Emily Birsan (below bottom) return to sing the title roles of Romeo and Juliet.  Irvin sang Count Almaviva in the 2015 production of The Barber of Seville, while Birsan returns from singing at Opera in the Park 2016 and Musetta in last season’s La Bohème.

john-irvin

Emily Birsan 2016

Sidney Outlaw, who sang at this past summer’s Opera in the Park, makes his mainstage debut as Romeo’s friend, Mercutio.  Liam Moran, who sang Colline in last season’s La Bohème, sings Frère Laurent, who unites the two lovers in the hope of uniting their families. Madisonian Allisanne Apple (below) returns as Gertrude, Juliet’s nurse.

Alisanne Apple BW mug

Making their debuts are Stephanie Lauricella as Romeo’s page, Stephano; Chris Carr as Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin; Philip Skinner as Lord Capulet; and Benjamin Sieverding as the Duke of VeronaFormer Madison Opera Studio Artist Nathaniel Hill returns as Gregorio, while current Studio Artist James Held sings the role of Paris.

Directing this traditional staging is Doug Scholz-Carlson (below), who directed Gioaccchino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville,” Aaron Copland’s “The Tender Land” and Benjamin Britten‘s “The Turn of the Screw” for Madison Opera. Scholz-Carlson is the artistic director of the Great River Shakespeare Festival and has directed the original “Romeo and Juliet,” among many Shakespeare plays.

He will discuss the differences between staging “Romeo and Juliet” as a play and as an opera in another posting tomorrow.

douglas-scholz-carlson

For more information about the production, the cast and tickets, go to:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2016-2017/romeo-and-juliet/


Classical music: The Madison Savoyards’ production — with paid singers — of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Gondoliers” opens this coming Friday night and runs through Aug. 7

July 26, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following press release to share:

The Madison Savoyards presents The Gondoliers (or The King of Barataria) by Gilbert and Sullivan (below), starting this Friday night, July 29, at 7:30 p.m. and running through Sunday, Aug. 7, at Music Hall, at the base of Bascom Hill on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

There will be six performances: Friday, July 29, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, July 30, at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, July 31, at 3 p.m.; Friday, August 5, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Aug. 6, at 7:30 pm; Sunday, Aug. 7, at 3 p.m. UW-Madison conducting student Kyle Knox will make his Madison Savoyards debut as Music Director for The Gondoliers. 

Gilbert and Sullivan (left)

Gilbert and Sullivan fans will not want to miss this tale of romantic complication, silliness and wonderful music, set in beautiful 18th-century Italy.

The story opens with a conundrum. Casilda, the young daughter of the Duke of Plaza-Toro, has arrived in Venice to meet her future husband, the prince of Barataria.

Upon arrival, however, she finds that his identity is in question. As an infant, the young prince was entrusted to a drunken gondolier, who promptly mixed up the baby with his own son.

Thus, in the wake of the king’s recent death, both gondolier brothers must jointly rule the kingdom until the prince’s nurse can be brought in to correctly identify him.

To further complicate the matter, both gondoliers have recently married their loves, and Casilda is, in fact, in love with another man. The story plays out and eventually resolves in typical Gilbert and Sullivan fashion, with hilarious circumstances intertwined with poignant, relatable moments.

Stage Director Audrey Lauren Wax has her artistic eye on the set design to help bring this story to life. “I am truly excited to work with a functional Gondola in this production,” says Wax, who most recently directed Princess Ida with the Savoyards in 2014.

“Our design and stage management team have gone above and beyond discussing and collaborating on the logistics of it.” Wax says. “I do think the audience will be quite pleased and excited the moment it hits the stage. And in the fashion of my directing approach, it has been designed with the idea of a puzzle in mind. You’ll just have to see the show in order to see this fabulous creation.”

Puzzle-like stage pieces aside, no Gilbert and Sullivan show would be complete without the trademark hummable tunes and patter songs, and The Gondoliers does not disappoint in either realm. You can hear a sample in the YouTube video at the bottom.

In a historic move for the Savoyards, all roles and some chorus positions will be paid. This has drawn a larger mix of current students and recent grads from University of Wisconsin-Madison and Edgewood College, as well as local youth and adult performers.

One such local favorite is Bill Rosholt, playing the Duke of Plaza-Toro in his 11th principal role with the Savoyards. Anmol Gupta appears with Rosholt as Luiz, the Duke’s assistant, and UW-Madison graduate student Becky Buechel (below) portrays the Duchess of Plaza-Toro, along with Deanna Martinez as her daughter, Casilda.

Savoyards Gondoliers Becky Buechel

Christopher Smith (below) and Brian Schneider play the handsome gondoliers Marco and Giuseppe, flanked by Gavin Waid (Antonio), Nicholas Kaplewski (Francesco), Coltan Bratland (Giorgio), and Sara Wojtak (Annibale) as the brothers’ Venetian gondolier friends.

Savoyards Gondoliers Christopher Smith

Contadine (peasant farmers) Gianetta and Tessa are portrayed by Lauren Welch (below) and Alaina Carlson, and Julia Ludwiczack plays all three contadine Fiametta, Giulia and Vittoria.

Savoyards Gondoliers Lauren Welch

Natalie Falconer portrays Inez, the King’s Foster-mother, and the cast is rounded out by a chorus of Gondoliers, Men-at-Arms, Heralds, Pages, and Contadine from the greater Madison area.

Tickets for The Gondoliers are $30 and $40, and can be purchased through the Campus Arts Ticketing Box Office, by phone at (608) 265-ARTS, or online at www.arts.wisc.edu

The Children’s Pre-Show is Sunday, August 7 from 1 to 2 p.m., and is free for any ticket holder age six to 12. Limited spots are available, so please contact Krystal Lonsdale at krys.lonsdale@gmail.com to reserve a space for your child.

For more information about the opera and the production, visit: www.madisonsavoyards.org

The Madison Savoyards, Ltd. has been presenting Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic operas for 53 years and strives to make each presentation come alive by knowing and respecting the special gifts of the authors and gathering a gifted and enthusiastic cast and crew.

The Savoyards first presented “The Gondoliers” in 1974, and most recently in 2003.


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