The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Madison Opera will present the Midwest premiere of ‘Charlie Parker’s Yardbird.’ Here are the many impressive preparatory events for the public that start this Friday

January 17, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following information to post about a local opera production that is both exciting and an inspired choice to mark February as Black History Month:

Madison Opera will present the Midwest premiere of “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird” on 8 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 10, and 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 12, in the Capitol Theater at Overture Center for the Arts.

charlie-parkers-yardbird-logo-for-maidson-opera

For more information about the cast and the production as well as about purchasing tickets ($25-$114), go to:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2016-2017/charlie-parkers-yardbird/

With music by Swiss composer Daniel Schnyder (below top) and a libretto by writer and poet Bridgette A. Wimberly (below bottom), the acclaimed opera “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird” tells of the legendary jazz musician and the people closest to him.

daniel-schnyder-2017

bridgette-wimberly

The opera, which melds jazz and opera, is set on the day that saxophone great Charlie Parker died in 1955. As his body lies unclaimed in a New York City morgue, Parker returns in spirit to the jazz club Birdland, determined to compose a final masterpiece. Family and friends blend in and out of his memories, including his three wives, his mother, his friend Dizzy Gillespie and even his drug dealer.

Charlie Parker’s Yardbird premiered in June 2015 at Opera Philadelphia (below is tenor Lawrence Brownlee, in a photo by Dominic Mercier, in the title role of Charlie Parker in the Philadelphia production) and was subsequently presented by the company at the Apollo Theater in New York City in April 2016. (You can hear an excerpt in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The New York Times praised it for its “pulsing, jazz-infused score,” while the Wall Street Journal said, “its rhythms snap and swing, its melodies – including real arias – seize the ear, its ensembles crackle with energy.”

Tenor Lawrence Brownlee in Charlie Parker's Yardbird CR Dominic Mercier for Opera Philadelphia

Madison Opera will be only the second company to present this work, which is sung in English with projected text and runs 90 minutes without an intermission.

“I saw Charlie Parker’s Yardbird when it premiered in Philadelphia and instantly knew it would be a perfect opera for Madison,” says Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill), Madison Opera’s general director. “The very American story and the exciting jazz-inflected music fit perfectly into our ever-expanding range of repertoire.”

She adds, “It’s not a straightforward narrative of Parker’s life, but rather elements of his life as refracted through his memories and imagination, and particularly his relationships with the women in his life.”

Kathryn Smith Fly Rail Vertical Madison Opera

Madison Opera’s cast includes both debuts and returning favorites, as well as a number of singers who created their roles in the world premiere.

Joshua Stewart (below), a young American tenor who has sung at La Scala, Bayerische Staatsoper, and Opera de Lausanne, debuts in the tour de force role of Charlie Parker.

joshua-stewart-2017

Angela Brown (below) returns following her performance at Opera in the Park 2016 as Addie Parker, Charlie’s mother, a role she created in Philadelphia.

Angela Brown 2016

Will Liverman, who sang Figaro in Rossini’s The Barber of Seville here in 2015, sings jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie, a role he created in Philadelphia.

will-liverman-2017

Krysty Swann debuts as Rebecca Parker, Charlie’s first wife. Angela Mortellaro, who sang Galatea in Handel’s Acis and Galatea in 2013, returns as Doris Parker, Charlie’s third wife, a role she created in Philadelphia.

Rachel Sterrenberg debuts as Chan Parker, his final wife, a role she created in Philadelphia. Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, in whose hotel suite Parker died, is sung by Julie Miller in her Madison Opera debut.

Directing this production is Ron Daniels (below), who staged the world premiere and was the opera’s dramaturge, involved in the creation and workshop process. 

ron-daniels-opera-director-2017

John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) conducts, with members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra in the pit.

DeMain says:  “I am so happy to be a part of Madison Opera’s Midwest premiere of Charlie Parker’s Yardbird. Parker was consumed with music, breathing it day and night. All of us who are passionate about performing and listening to music can identify with this phenomenal musician and will not want to miss this jazz-infused opera, the perfect expression of Parker’s range and depth as a musician.”

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Composer Daniel Schnyder will attend the opening night performance and join Smith for the Pre-Opera Talk that evening at 7 p.m. in the Wisconsin Studio.

In addition to the performances, Madison Opera and its community partners are hosting a series of related events, collectively known as “Extending the Stage,” which culminate in a concert of Charlie Parker’s music with composer Daniel Schnyder and the UW-Madison’s Blue Note Ensemble.

These events include Opera Novice; community previews; Opera Up Close; discussions of the life and music of Charlie Parker (below); and presentations of rare jazz films.

All events are open to the public and the majority are free of charge.

charlie-parker-1

RELATED EVENTS: EXTENDING THE STAGE

Opera Novice: Jazz Opera?
 Friday, Jan. 20 | 6-7 p.m. The Margaret C. Winston Madison Opera Center, 335 W. Mifflin Street. FREE and open to the public

New to opera? Passionate about Puccini, but not sure about a jazz opera? Join General Director Kathryn Smith for a short, fun, and informative evening exploring the history of jazz and opera, including a live performance of an aria from Charlie Parker’s Yardbird.  With plenty of time to ask questions, it’s the perfect jump-start for the opera-curious.

Community Preview of Charlie Parker’s Yardbird,
 Tuesday, Jan. 24 | 7-8 p.m. Capitol Lakes Retirement Community, 333 W. Main St. FREE and open to the public

Join a Madison Opera staff member for a multimedia look at Charlie Parker’s life, the history of the opera Charlie Parker’s Yardbird, and some insights into Madison Opera’s production.

Opera Up Close, Sunday, Feb. 5 | 1-3 p.m. The Margaret C. Winston Madison Opera Center, 335 West Mifflin Street. Admission: $20; free for full-season subscribers and full-time students with ID; $10 for two-show subscribers.  Tickets available at the door.

Come even closer with a behind-the-scenes preview of Charlie Parker’s Yardbird.  A multimedia presentation on Charlie Parker and the history of this opera will be followed by a roundtable discussion with the leading artists of Madison Opera’s production.  There is no better way to get “up close” to this acclaimed new opera.

A Charlie Parker Concert and Discussion with Daniel Schnyder and the Blue Note Ensemble Thursday, Feb. 9 | 7:30 p.m. Morphy Recital Hall, UW-Madison. FREE and open to the public

Composer Daniel Schnyder joins UW-Madison’s Blue Note Ensemble for an evening featuring music by Charlie Parker, with solos performed by both Schnyder and UW-Madison saxophone students. The evening includes an aria from Charlie Parker’s Yardbird and a discussion about Parker and the opera with Schnyder, UW-Madison Professor of Saxophone Les Thimmig, and General Director Kathryn Smith.

Pre-Opera Talks: Friday, Feb. 10 |7 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 12 | 1:30 p.m. Wisconsin Studio at Overture Center. FREE to ticket holders

Attend an entertaining introduction to Charlie Parker’s Yardbird one hour prior to curtain. On Friday night, composer Daniel Schnyder will join General Director Kathryn Smith to talk about the piece. Be sure to arrive early, as space is limited.

An Evening of Rare Jazz Films: Alicia Ashman Library. Friday, Feb. 3 | 7 p.m.; Goodman South Madison Library. Tuesday, April 11 | 6 p.m. FREE and open to the public (Below is footage of Charlie Parker playing and of people discussing the man and his artistic achievement.)

Jazz archivist Gary Alderman will present and explain films of the historically significant innovators of modern jazz, including the only two known existing videos with sound of Charlie Parker.

Among the other musicians shown will be those relevant to Parker’s music and career, including Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis.

The Life and Music of Charlie Parker: DeForest Area Public Library: Monday, Feb. 13, 6:30 p.m.; Alicia Ashman Library: Friday, Feb. 24, 7 p.m.; Fitchburg Public Library: Sunday, Feb. 26, 2 p.m.; Oregon Public Library:  Friday, March 10, 6:30 p.m. FREE and open to the public

UW-Madison Professor of Saxophone Les Thimmig (below) will talk about Charlie Parker’s life and music, as well as the history of bebop.

More information is available at www.madisonopera.org/education.

Les Thimming


Classical music: Madison Opera gets a $20,000 grant from the NEA for its February production of “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird”

December 22, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Opera has some good news to share:

National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Jane Chu has approved more than $30 million in grants as part of the NEA’s first major funding announcement for fiscal year 2017.

Included in this announcement is an Art Works grant of $20,000 to Madison Opera to support the Midwest premiere of Daniel Schnyder’s Charlie Parker’s Yardbird on Friday night, Feb. 10, and Sunday afternoon, Feb. 12, 2017.

charlie-parkers-yardbird-logo-for-maidson-opera

The Art Works category focuses on the creation of art that meets the highest standards of excellence, public engagement with diverse and excellent art, lifelong learning in the arts, and the strengthening of communities through the arts.

“The arts are for all of us, and by supporting organizations such as Madison Opera, the National Endowment for the Arts is providing more opportunities for the public to engage with the arts,” said NEA Chairman Jane Chu. “Whether in a theater, a town square, a museum, or a hospital, the arts are everywhere and make our lives richer.”

Madison Opera will be only the second company to present Charlie Parker’s Yardbird, which premiered in spring 2015 at Opera Philadelphia (below, with Lawrence Brownlee in the title role on the right and the real Charlie Parker on the left). You can see and hear the trailer for the Opera Philadelphia production in the YouTube video at the bottom.

charlie-park-and-lawrence-brownlee

Set on the night that saxophone great Charlie Parker died, the opera begins with Parker returning in spirit to the jazz club Birdland, determined to compose a final masterpiece. Family and friends blend in and out of his memories in an acclaimed new work that tells of his tortured, brilliant life “with a pulsing, jazz-infused score” (The New York Times).

Madison Opera’s performances take place in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center and are directed by Ron Daniels and conducted by John DeMain.

The cast features Joshua Stewart, Angela Brown, Will Liverman, Rachel Sterrenberg, Julie Miller, Angela Mortellaro, and Krysty Swann.

“It is an honor to receive a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and be recognized for our artistic work on a national level,” says Madison Opera General Director Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill). “The NEA’s funding will not only help us share this thrilling new opera with our region, but also support an array of Charlie Parker-related events, allowing true community engagement with the opera and its subject.”

Kathryn Smith Fly Rail Vertical Madison Opera

In addition to the public performance on Feb. 10 and 12, 2017, Madison Opera’s “Extending the Stage” activities include “Jazz at the Opera Center,” a concert with Richie Cole and the Alto Madness Orchestra on Jan. 8; Opera Novice on Jan. 20; Opera Up Close on Feb. 5; “A Charlie Parker Concert and Discussion” with the Swiss composer Daniel Schnyder and UW-Madison’s Blue Note Ensemble on Feb. 9; and a variety of previews and presentations on Charlie Parker, jazz, and the opera at various libraries and retirement communities.

For more information on any of these events, got to: madisonopera.org.

For more information on projects included in the NEA grant announcement, go to arts.gov/news.

Madison Opera is a non-profit professional opera company based in Madison, Wisconsin. Founded in 1961, the company grew from a local workshop presenting community singers in English-language productions to a nationally recognized organization producing diverse repertoire and presenting leading American opera singers alongside emerging talent.

A resident organization of the Overture Center for the Arts, Madison Opera presents three productions annually in addition to the free summer concert Opera in the Park and a host of educational programming.


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: Opera in the Park takes place TONIGHT!!! Start your week – and every day – with John Zeck’s “Composers Datebook.” Should Wisconsin Public Radio air it?

July 24, 2016
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ALERT: Because of weather and storms, the Madison Opera’s 15th annual FREE “Opera in the Park” has been postponed from last night to TONIGHT. Here is a link with more details about the event:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/07/18/classical-music-madison-operas-free-opera-in-the-park-turns-15-and-takes-place-this-saturday-night/

By Jacob Stockinger

You might recall that last Sunday—at the start on a new week, just like today — The Ear suggested a FREE app for iPhones, iPads and iPods that offers a daily briefing on classical music.

It is called “Composer of the Day” and is put together by the music department at Wittenberg University.

Here is a link to that post and that app:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/07/17/classical-music-composer-of-the-day-app-is-a-great-way-to-start-a-new-week/

But there is another FREE  classical musical datebook that a loyal and knowledgeable reader of this blog suggested. The reader specifically praised the fact that it works on many different platforms.

It is “Composers Datebook” with host John Zeck (below), and it is done for Minnesota Public Radio and then distributed through American Public Media.

It seems similar to the format of “The Writer’s Almanac” with Garrison Keillor that, unfortunately, Wisconsin Public Radio no longer carries. But maybe WPR would consider including the “Composers Datebook” in its “Morning Classics” lineup? It certainly would be an educational addition, something just right for an alternative to commercial radio.

john zech

The two-minute daily diary streams nicely. It has many more details and examples about composers and includes sound clips of their work. It also does more than one entry for each day.

Turns out that the Ear already wrote about it in 2010. But it is worth a repeat visit to remind readers about this fine resource.

Here is a link, which you can bookmark or subscribe to, that post:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2010/10/05/classical-music-review-“composers-datebook”-is-a-radio-gem-for-classical-fans-listen-to-it-read-it-get-free-podcasts/

And here is a direct link to “Composers Datebook.”

http://www.yourclassical.org/programs/composers-datebook/episodes

Try it.

See what you think.

And decide whether Wisconsin Public Radio should air it.

Then tell The Ear and his readers what you think.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Madison Opera’s FREE “Opera in the Park” turns 15 and takes place this Saturday night

July 18, 2016
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following press release about one of the fun cultural highlights of the summer, which was started by the late Ann Stanke 15 years ago.

In The Ear’s experience, the whole event is a kind of light opera in itself, with food and amusements as well as community social interactions and of course great music that is beautifully performed.

Madison Opera’s FREE Opera in the Park will celebrate its 15th year on this Saturday, July 23, at 8 p.m. in Garner Park on Madison’s far west side.

Opera in Park 2012 crowd 2 James Gill

The annual free concert of opera and Broadway favorites closes the company’s fantastic 2015-16 season and provides an enticing preview of the upcoming 2016-17 season.

A Madison summer tradition that attracts over 15,000 people every year, Opera in the Park brings the best of opera and Broadway to the community, creating an enchanting evening of music under the stars.

Opera in the Park 2016 stars soprano Emily Birsan (below top), soprano Angela Brown (below second), tenor Scott Quinn (below third) and baritone Sidney Outlaw (below fourth).

Emily Birsan 2016

Angela Brown 2016

Scott Quinn

Sidney Outlaw

They are joined by the Madison Opera Chorus and Madison Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the returning Gary Thor Wedow (below) instead of John DeMain, who is spending the summer guest conducting at the acclaimed Glimmerglass Festival in upper New York State.

gary wedow

The evening is hosted by Madison Opera’s General Director Kathryn Smith and WKOW TV’s 27 News Wake-Up Wisconsin anchor Brandon Taylor.

Opera in the Park is without question my favorite night of the year,” says Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill). “When you combine a live performance of beautiful music with thousands of people from across our community, all under a gorgeous night sky, you get the most important performance Madison Opera gives.

“I often brag to my colleagues around the country about our Opera in the Park, as it is so distinctly important in our community – not to mention having the highest per capita attendance of any such concert in the U.S.

“I am so proud that we are celebrating our 15th summer of this incredible event, and grateful to all who make it possible.”

Kathryn Smith Fly Rail Vertical Madison Opera

Opera in the Park 2016 features arias and ensembles from Charles Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet, which opens the 2016-17 season in November; Daniel Schnyder’s jazz-inspired Charlie Parker’s Yardbird, which will be performed in February; and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Magic Flute, which will be performed in April.

In celebration of the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, the concert will also offer selections from Shakespeare-based operas and musicals such as Hamlet, The Boys from Syracuse and Kiss Me, Kate.

shakespeare BW

Classic selections from Aida and Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi, The Pearl Fishers by Georges Bizet; Porgy and Bess by George Gershwin and more round out this spectacular evening, which always includes one number conducted by the audience with light sticks (below).

Opera in the Park 2014 light sticks

Garner Park is located at 333 South Rosa Road in Madison’s far west side. Parking is available in the CUNA Mutual Group and University Research Park lots.

Attendees are encouraged to bring picnics, blankets and chairs.

Alcohol is permitted but not sold in the park.

On the day of the concert, Garner Park will open at 7 a.m. Audience members may NOT leave items in the park prior to this time.

The rain date for Opera in the Park is Sunday, July 24, at 8 p.m.

Madison Opera is grateful to the major sustaining donors who support Opera in the Park not only this year, but have done so for many years, enabling the concert to reach this 15th anniversary: CUNA Mutual, the Berbeewalsh Foundation, the John and Carolyn Peterson Charitable Foundation, Full Compass Systems, University Research Park, Colony Brands, the MGE Foundation, and an Anonymous Friend.  

Opera in the Park 2016 is also generously sponsored by the Richard B. Anderson Family Foundation, BMO Harris Bank, Starion Financial, Wisconsin Bank & Trust, National Endowment for the Arts Wisconsin Arts Board, Dane Arts, the Evjue Foundation, and the Madison Arts Commission. WKOW, Isthmus, Madison Magazine, Wisconsin Public Radio, Triple M, Mix 105.1, and WOLX are media sponsors for this community event.

RELATED EVENT: PRELUDE DINNER AND FUNDRAISER

The Prelude Dinner (below) at Opera in the Park 2016 is at 6 p.m.

This annual fundraiser to benefit Opera in the Park helps support Madison Opera’s free gift to the community.

The event includes dinner catered by Upstairs Downstairs, VIP seating at the concert, a complimentary light stick and a reception with the artists following the performance.

Tickets are $135 per person or $1,000 for a table of eight. More information is available at www.madisonopera.org

Opera in Park donor dinner

 


Classical music: Puccini was a master crafter of drama, says Kathryn Smith. The Madison Opera stages its production of “La Bohème” this Friday night and Sunday afternoon.

November 9, 2015
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Anyone want to bet that it qualifies as almost everyone’s first and still favorite opera?

On Friday night, Nov. 13, at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon, Nov. 15, at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall at the Overture Center for the Arts, the Madison Opera will perform its production of Giacomo Puccini’s evergreen “La Bohème.”

The opera will be sung in Italian with English surtitles.

Tickets are $18 to $129 and are available from the Overture Center Box Office at (608) 258-4141 or from www.madisonopera.org. Student and group discounts are available.

The classic opera by Puccini (below) tells of the lives, loves and losses of a group of young artists in a bohemian quarter of Paris.

puccini at piano

On Christmas Eve, the poet Rodolfo and the artist Marcello burn pages from Rodolfo’s latest drama, trying to stay warm in their garret. They are joined by their roommates, Colline and Schaunard, and head out to celebrate at Café Momus.

Staying behind, Rodolfo answers a knock on the door and meets his new neighbor, a seamstress named Mimi. The two fall instantly in love, and the opera charts the course of their relationship, as friendship, poverty, and illness intersect in what has often been called “the greatest love story ever sung.”

La Bohème is simply perfect,” says Kathryn Smith, Madison Opera’s General Director. “The passionate music is perfectly matched to the very emotionally true story of young people dealing with life in all of its happiness and sorrow. Bohème never ages and is perfect for both opera newcomers and opera omnivores.”

La Bohème has been an audience favorite since its first performance on Feb. 1, 1896 at the Teatro Regio in Turn, Italy, and is performed by opera companies around the world. Its popularity over the past century is undiminished and its ravishing score has inspired generations of artists, including the composer Jonathan Larson, who used it as the basis for his award-winning 1996 musical Rent, and Baz Lurhmann, director of the 2001 movie Moulin Rouge. It also played a pivotal role in the movie “Moonstruck” with Cher and Nicholas Cage.

“La Bohème is one of the reasons I fell in love with opera and wanted to become an opera conductor,” says John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), Madison Opera’s Artistic Director and conductor. “It has glorious lyricism, engaging and ultimately gripping theater, and is sumptuously written for the orchestra. It is a perfect specimen.”

John DeMain full face by Prasad

The cast features a mixture of returning Madison Opera artists and debuts.

Following her performance at Opera in the Park 2015, Eleni Calenos (below) makes her main stage debut as the seamstress Mimi, a role she has previously performed at Palm Beach Opera.

Palm Beach Opera "La Boheme" dress rehearsal Thursday, January 15, 2015.

Palm Beach Opera “La Boheme” dress rehearsal Thursday, January 15, 2015.

Making their Madison Opera debuts are Mackenzie Whitney (below) in the role of the enamored poet Rodolfo and Dan Kempson, singing the role of his friend and artist Marcello. Whitney recently sang in Rappacini’s Daughter with Des Moines Metro Opera; Kempson has recently sung with Santa Fe Opera and Fort Worth Opera.

Mackenzie Whitney La Boheme

The other bohemian friends are played by faces familiar to the Madison Opera audience. UW-Madison alumna Emily Birsan (below) sings Musetta, Marcello’s on-and-off again lover, a role she just performed at Boston Lyric Opera.

Emily Birsan MSO 2014

Liam Moran returns as the philosopher Colline, following his performance as Don Fernando in last season’s Fidelio. Alan Dunbar (below, in a photo by Roy Heilman), last seen here in The Barber of Seville, sings Schaunard. They are joined by Evan Ross, debuting with Madison Opera as Benoit and Alcindoro.

Alan Dunbar CR Roy Heilman

This traditional staging is directed by David Lefkowich, who directed The Daughter of the Regiment for Madison Opera.

David Lefkowich 2013

Madison Opera’s general manager Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill) generously answered an email Q&A for The Ear:

Kathryn Smith Fly Rail Vertical Madison Opera

What about the story makes “La Bohème” such an enduring classic for both first-timers and veterans?

The story is such a universal one that it is instantly relatable for opera newcomers, but still carries an emotional immediacy for those who have seen it before. A group of 20-something friends struggle financially, have fun together, fall in love, break up and deal with illness and death – this is a story that plays out in real life every day. As audience members, I think we grow with La Bohème: what moves you the most when you are 23 years old might be Act III; later in life, Act IV might strike a stronger chord.

And what about the same aspect in the music?

Puccini’s music is so emotional and melodic that it appeals to every ear, and it is so perfectly tied to the story that it is impossible to separate the two. “O Soave Fanciulla” could only be a love duet, and the heartbreak of Mimi’s phrase, “Addio, senza rancor” sums up every painful romantic breakup in just a few notes. (You can hear soprano Anna Netrebko and tenor Rolando Villazon sing “O Soave Fanciulla” in a concert version at the bottom in a YouTube video.) 

Is Puccini’s reputation as a serious and innovative opera composer, not just a popular one, being reexamined and revised upward in recent years?

I think that may be a question for critics and academics! In our world – the performance world – Puccini has always been highly regarded, as his shows have been wildly successful with audiences, regardless of what critics or other composers might write. “La Bohème” was definitely harshly criticized when it was new, with phrases like “musical degradation” tossed about, but it has been one of the most performed operas around the world ever since.

What do you think is the most overlooked or underrated aspect of “La Bohème” and of Puccini in general?

I think people overlook how tight the dramaturgy is. There is not one page of Bohème that could be removed without having the entire structure collapse. Most 19th-century operas can — and do —  benefit from cuts, but Puccini doesn’t waste time, either musically or dramatically. In addition, the music really illustrates the story. There are specific moments where the music tells us what happens on stage, and as long as you obey the music, the story will work.

Are there special things you would like the public to know about this particular production? Do you have comments about the concept and cast, sets and costumes?

This is a traditional production, but that doesn’t mean it looks exactly like every other La Bohème, as every cast and director brings their own ideas and chemistry to the mix.

We have a spectacular young cast who are perfectly matched with each other and will bring this classic story to vivid life.

We have two exciting debuts, with Mackenzie Whitney as Rodolfo and Dan Kempson as Marcello.

Returning to us are Eleni Calenos (Mimì), who sang at Opera in the Park last summer; Emily Birsan (Musetta), who graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and who last sang with us in 2010; Alan Dunbar (Schaunard), who was last in Rossini’s Barber of Seville; and Liam Moran (Colline), who debuted in Beethoven’s Fidelio last fall.

Add in our wonderful Madison Opera Chorus, the Madison Youth Choirs and the Madison Symphony Orchestra, and it will be a musical and dramatic feast.

 


Classical music: On the eve of Opera in the Park, Madison Opera’s general director Kathryn Smith recaps the last season and previews the next.

July 23, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Madison Opera’s Opera in the Park marks its 14th anniversary this Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Garner Park on Madison’s far west side.

The annual FREE concert of opera and Broadway favorites closes the company’s extraordinary 2014-15 season and provides an appetizing preview of the 2015-16 season that celebrates writers and their inspirations.

Typically, Opera in the Park attracts over 14,000 people every year.

Opera in Park 2012 crowd 1 James Gill

This year, Opera in the Park stars soprano Eleni Calenos, contralto Meredith Arwady, tenor Harold Meers and local bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen, and features former Madison Opera Studio Artist Anna Laurenzo.

Here is a link to Kyle Ketelsen’s Q&A with The Ear:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/07/21/classical-music-local-opera-star-kyle-ketelsen-talks-about-returning-to-madison-operas-free-opera-in-the-park-this-saturday-night-and-why-he-continues-to-live-here/

Artistic Director John DeMain conducts the Madison Opera Chorus and Madison Symphony Orchestra. The evening will be hosted by Madison Opera’s General Director Kathryn Smith and by WKOW TV’s 27 News “Wake-Up Wisconsin” anchor Brandon Taylor.

Opera in Park 2012 stage

“I love Opera in the Park,” says Smith, in a prepared statement. “It is by far the most important performance Madison Opera gives. The magic combination of thousands of people sitting under the summer night sky and our singers and orchestra performing beautiful music on stage creates something truly inspiring. It is a testament to Madison’s love of music – and love of being outdoors – that we have the highest per capita attendance of any such concert in the country.”

The program for Opera in the Park 2015 includes arias and ensembles from Giacomo Puccini’s “La Bohème,” which opens the 2015-16 season in November; Mark Adamo’s “Little Women,” which will be performed in February; and Jacques Offenbach’s “The Tales of Hoffmann,” which will be performed in April.

The concert will also offer arias and ensembles from such classic operas as Antonin Dvorak‘s “Rusalka,” Charles Gounod’s “Faust,” Arrigo Boito‘s “Mefistofele” and Georg Frideric Handel‘s “Semele.” Broadway hits from “The Music Man,” “Guys and Dolls,” “Kiss Me, Kate” and “Wonderful Town” will round out the evening of music, which always includes one number conducted by the audience with light sticks.

Garner Park is located at 333 South Rosa Road, at the intersection of Mineral Point Road, west of Whitney Way. Parking is available in the CUNA Mutual Group and University Research Park lots. Attendees are encouraged to bring picnics, blankets and chairs. Alcohol is permitted, but not sold in the park.

On the day of the concert, Garner Park will open at 7 a.m. Audience members are not allowed to leave items in the park prior to this time. The rain date for Opera in the Park is Sunday, July 26, at 8 p.m.

Here are two links to help you find information about Opera in the Park.

For general information, go to:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2014-2015/park/

And for more information about the cast, go to:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2014-2015/park/cast/

For information about the next season, go to:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2015-2016/

On the eve of the outdoor event, Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill) – who is the general director of the Madison Opera – agreed to revisit the past season and talk about the upcoming season with The Ear.

Kathryn Smith Fly Rail Vertical Madison Opera

What kind of artistic and financial shape did the Madison Opera emerge from for the past season?

Our fiscal year doesn’t end until the end of August, but overall it has been a great year on all fronts. From the triumphant music of our first staged Fidelio (below, the prisoners’ chorus in a photo by James Gill) to the sold-out Sweeney Todd and the joyous The Barber of Seville, it was an immensely satisfying season.

Audience and critical response to each opera was strong, and often included some surprise that the individual enjoyed that particular show more than he or she had expected. It feels like we have proved in the past few seasons that we can produce consistently great opera across the spectrum. I am also encouraged by the new audiences we attract and the diversity of age range I see in our lobbies.

Fidelio prisoners' chorus James Gill

Can you rank each show in terms of popularity? Did you learn anything special from the season?

It’s difficult to rank this season’s shows, because we know they drew very different audiences. For example, the audience at Sweeney Todd was definitely younger than the audience at Fidelio — the non-subscription performance in particular seemed to have an average age of 30 — and a number of people brought their young children to The Barber of Seville for their first opera.

In absolute numbers, the order would be Barber (below, in a photo by James Gill), Sweeney Todd and Fidelio, but there was not a wide gap between them.

The main thing I’ve learned with each successive season is that we are doing the right thing by having such a mix of operas. Some of our patrons love Beethoven, some only like comedy, and some were only interested (or very much un-interested) in Sweeney Todd.

By doing such a range, we serve a much wider audience than if we focused on only one segment of our audience. Hopefully this adds to the growing understanding that opera is not a monolithic art form.

Madison Opera barber of seville cast action

How and why did you choose the operas for next season? Why Puccini’s “La Boheme”? Why Offenbach’s “Tales of Hoffmann”? Does “Little Women” represent something of a departure for Madison Opera? Is there an umbrella concept or unifying theme to the season?

Choosing a season’s operas is a question of balancing the classic, the rare and the new; picking a range of composers and languages; and in general coming up with the “mix” that defines us.

We have not performed La Bohème in eight years, so it was time to bring back the greatest love story in opera. While some long-time opera-goers may have seen it many times, we also have many in our audience who have only come to opera recently, so this will be their first Bohème.

la boeme banner

Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann is a brilliant piece that is both scarily large and immensely exciting to produce, packed with beautiful music and special effects. It happens to be a personal favorite opera not only for me, but also for John DeMain and Kristine McIntyre, our stage director. We look forward to sharing this literally fantastic work on the Overture Hall stage, as we have not performed it in 20 years.

tales of hoffmann banner

Little Women came out of Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, to some extent. After the success of Dead Man Walking, many people — particularly those who were surprised by how much they enjoyed a 21st-century opera — asked me what we were doing next. I did not want another nine years to go by before we did another major American opera, but I also wanted a completely different story, so that it would not be a literal comparison.

Mark Adamo’s Little Women has been one of the most-performed American operas since its 1998 premiere; its basis in a story that has been beloved for generations makes it the perfect way to keep growing our American repertoire.

As is often the case, the season theme emerges after I’ve picked the operas. Next season turned out to be a season of writers: Rodolfo is a poet; so is Hoffmann. Jo March writes stories for magazines and is in fact the only writer we see succeeding in her craft during the opera.

That said, the unifying theme is the same one I strive for every season: Great operas that tell wonderful stories with enthralling music.

little women banner

What role did the new Madison Opera Center play in the past season’s productions? Has it lived up to expectations?

Over the past two years, the Margaret C. Winston Madison Opera Center (below) has played a major role in defining who we are. On a basic level, it is where we rehearse, fit costumes and have our offices. It is also where the singers hang out, give press interviews, do their laundry, cook the occasional meal, work on music for their next gig and bump into our trustees in the common areas.

Having our own space has enabled us to add programs like the free Opera Novice series and hold more workshops with our high school apprentices.

On a financial level, revenue from the parking ramp in particular is an increasingly important part of our budget, as it is not dependent on donors or ticket sales. On a community level, having our rehearsal hall regularly used by groups such as CTM, Theatre Lila, and Capital City Theatre shows that we truly are part of the larger artistic fabric of Madison. The Center was designed to be a home on many levels, and we are well on the way to achieving that dream.

Madison Opera Center interior

What else would you like to say or add about the past season, the next season and perhaps also the Opera in the Park?

I am always grateful for the enormous number of people who make Madison Opera possible. Opera has never been cost-effective, and our patrons, volunteers, artists, production teams, and staff are all committed to sharing this glorious art form with everyone from the 2,000 teenagers at our student matinees to the 15,000 people at Opera in the Park.

Our season ends with this summer’s Opera in the Park this Saturday, which is always the perfect way to finish the year. This summer is the concert’s 14th year – which means that 2016 will be the 15th year, a milestone that was perhaps unthinkable when we started in Garner Park in 2002.

We have the highest per capita attendance for such an event in the U.S., which is a strong testament to the greater Madison community’s love for what we do. I won’t reveal the repertoire for this summer’s concert yet, but we have four amazing soloists and plenty of light sticks (below), so I hope everyone has the date on their calendars.

Opera in the Park 2014 light sticks


Classical music: Local opera star Kyle Ketelsen talks about returning to Madison Opera’s FREE Opera in the Park this Saturday night and why he continues to live here while having an international career.

July 21, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Saturday night will bring the 14th annual FREE outdoors Opera in the Park put on by the Madison Opera.

The concert starts at 8 p.m. in Garner Park, on Madison’s far west side where Mineral Point Road and Rosa Road intersect. (The rain date is this Sunday.)

There will be many treats, from the music and light sticks to ice cream cones and picnic dinners, to enjoy at the popular event that now draws up to 15,000 people. (Garner Park opens at 7 a.m. the day of the concert. Blankets, chairs, food and beverages are allowed.)

But one of the big draws this year is the chance to see and hear bass-baritone native son Kyle Ketelsen (below, in a  photo by Dario Acosta). Ketelsen – who sang with the Madison Opera early in his career and who continues to make his home in Sun Prairie — has sung at the Metropolitan Opera and many other major opera companies in Europe and elsewhere.

Kyle Ketelsen face shot 1 Dario Acosta

This will be the first time Ketelsen returns to Opera in the Park since 2008.

Here is a link to general information about the event, which features the vocal soloists, the Madison Opera Chorus and members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, all playing under the baton of John DeMain the music director and conductor of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the artistic director of the Madison Opera:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2014-2015/park/

And here is a link to biographies of the guest soloists:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2014-2015/park/cast/

Ketelesen, who just returned from a month-long stint out-of-town, kindly agreed to a Q&A with The Ear:

kyle ketelsen headshot 2

How have you seen Opera in the Park develop since you appeared in the inaugural one 14 years ago?

It has developed from a relatively small, enterprising venture from Madison Opera, into a destination event that people really count on and look forward to.  Any more growth, and they’ll have to relocate to the Kohl Center!

Opera in the Park 2014 crowd

What music will you be singing this year?

I will sing arias from “Mefistofele” and “Faust,” both as the devil (below).  Then I will do a trio from “The Tales of Hoffmann,” as the devil again.  They are some of my favorite roles.  On the lighter side, a duet from “Kiss Me Kate” and a famous tune from “Guys and Dolls.”  We’re mixing it up quite a bit. I always enjoy singing musical theater, but rarely get a chance.

Kyle Ketelsen as devil

What are the best parts of singing outdoors and what are the most difficult or challenging parts of doing so? What do you most enjoy about it?

You get to “cheat” a bit with the microphone.  Indoors, opera singers are very rarely amplified, so every crescendo and decrescendo is all you. This way, I can play pop singer, and just fade away from the mic for a nice diminuendo.

The roar — hopefully! — of that crowd of 15,000 is an absolute rush as well!

Sometimes we get the urge to push to be heard in an outdoor concert, which is of course entirely wrong.  We’re accustomed to hearing our own reverb from an opera house or concert hall. But outside, it’s an entirely different feel, acoustically.  You need to trust the microphone and the sound guy, and know that you’ll indeed be heard. (Below is a photo — not of Kyle Ketelsen — from a past Opera in the Park by James Gill.)

Opera in Park 2012  Matt Boehler by James Gill

What role did the Madison Opera play in fostering your now international career?

Certainly regional opera is a starting point for nearly all U.S. singers, no matter where their career eventually takes them.  The Madison Opera offered me the opportunity to sing a number of roles at a very early stage in my career.  My first Leporello (below, at the Metropolitan Opera) in “Don Giovanni” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, for example, was in Madison.

I was able to lay the groundwork for what has become a calling card of mine, which I’ve sung at the Met, Covent Garden, Chicago Lyric Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Madrid, Munich and others.  It was a nurturing environment to test-drive such an amazingly intricate, complex role.

Kyle Ketelsen Leporello  The Met

You perform in Europe and around the US. Why do you continue to base your career in Sun Prairie, a suburb of Madison? Does it put you at a professional disadvantage not to live in New York City or Chicago?

My wife and I are from small towns in Wisconsin and Iowa, so it’s felt like home from the beginning.  We absolutely prefer the slower, easy-going approach to life.  Not to mention quiet!  Trees, grass, open spaces and elbow room we hold at a premium.

I work enough in big cities. There is no desire, or necessity, to make my home there.  Thankfully, I’ve never needed to be in the middle of things, professionally, in order to start my career.

I feel living in the Midwest gives me an advantage, actually.  When I’m home, I’m refreshed.  It renews me, and gives me the strength to then go back out when it’s time. (Below is Ketelsen in Bizet’s “Carmen” at the Chicago Lyric Opera. At bottom is a YouTube video of Keletsen singing the role of Escamillo and the famous Toreador Song from “Carmen” in Los Angeles under the direction of Gustavo Dudamel.)

Kyle Ketelsen in Carmen at Chicago Lyric

What else would you like to say about yourself, about Opera in the Park or about major highlights of your career since you last sang in Opera in the Park and in upcoming seasons?

It’s especially fulfilling singing in the Madison area.  It draws a truly unique, incredibly appreciative, gracious audience.  See my website KyleKetelsen.InstantEncore.com for more information.

 


Classical music: Baritone Will Liverman talks about the fun of playing Figaro in the Madison Opera’s production of Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” this weekend.

April 20, 2015
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EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this post made the error of calling Will LIVERMAN by the wrong name of Livermore. I apologize for the inaccuracy.

By Jacob Stockinger

For the first time in 12 years and the first time in Overture Hall, the Madison Opera will present “The Barber of Seville” by Gioachino Rossini (below) at 8 p.m. on this Friday, April 24, and at 2:30 p.m. on this Sunday, April 26, in Overture Hall.

Rossini photo

The opera will be sung in Italian with English surtitles.

Tickets are $18-$125. Student and group discounts are available. For tickets and more information, call the Overture Center box office at 201 State St., Madison, at (608) 258-4141 or go to www.madisonopera.org

One of the earliest romantic comedies, “The Barber of Seville” tells how Figaro, the title character, helps Count Almaviva and Rosina outwit the latter’s guardian, bringing about a wedding in the final scene.

Multiple disguises, love notes passed in secret, and even a music lesson are used to bring the young couple together. Since its first performance in 1816, Barber has been an international hit, with Figaro’s aria “Largo al factotum” becoming perhaps the most famous opera aria of all time.

“The Barber of Seville” was one of the first operas I fell in love with,” says Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill), general director of the Madison Opera. “Rossini’s musical brilliance is unique, and the way the music literally sparkles is one of its most enduring characteristics. It’s a genuine pleasure to share one of the all-time great operas with our community.”

Kathryn Smith Fly Rail Vertical Madison Opera

This will be the first time John DeMain, the artistic director of the Madison Opera and music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, has conducted “The Barber of Seville” in Madison, and he considers it a perfect conclusion to the company’s 10th anniversary in Overture Hall.

“The effervescent strains of Rossini’s scintillating score should be especially vibrant in the glorious acoustics of Overture Hall,” says DeMain (below in a photo by Prasad). “It will be like drinking musical champagne.”

John DeMain full face by Prasad

A dynamic young cast brings this witty comedy to life. Emily Fons, a Wisconsin native who debuted with Madison Opera at Opera in the Park 2012, returns for her first main stage role with the company. These will be her first performances of Rosina, a role she sings later this summer at Opera Theatre of St. Louis and next season at Pittsburgh Opera.

Making his debut opposite Fons is tenor John Irvin, a recent graduate of
the Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago — which is now headed by former UW-Madison School of Music professor and professional soprano Julia Faulkner. Irwin also sang Count
 Almaviva for Lyric Opera’s family performance.

Another recent Ryan 
Opera Center graduate, baritone Will Liverman, makes his Madison Opera debut as the illustrious barber Figaro, a role he has previously sung at the Utah Opera and in Lyric Opera of Chicago’s family performance.

Two Madison Opera favorites return in key roles. Alan Dunbar, whose most recent appearances were in “Dead Man Walking” (below, third from right) and the Overture 10th Anniversary Celebration, sings Rosina’s guardian, Dr. Bartolo. Thomas Forde, who sang Judge Turpin in Madison Opera’s recent “Sweeney Todd,” sings Don Basilio, the music teacher and purveyor of gossip.

Dead Man Walking with  (from left) Daniela Mack, Susanne Mentzer, Michael Mayes, Saira Frank, Alan Dunbar, Adam Shelton and Jamie Van Eyck

Madison Opera Studio Artist soprano Chelsea Morris (below) sings her first principal role as Berta, and baritone Trevor Martin makes his debut as Fiorello. Directing this traditional staging is Doug Scholz-Carlson, who directed “The Tender Land” and “The Turn of the Screw” for Madison Opera.

Chelsea Morris soprano

“I am thrilled with this cast,” says Smith. “Rossini requires a lot of vocal teamwork, and it’s exciting to produce the opera with singers who are perfectly matched to their roles and to each other.”

Will Liverman (below) recently agreed to a Q&A with The Ear:

Will Liverman

Can you briefly introduce yourself to readers?

My name is Will Liverman, and I hail from beautiful Virginia Beach, Virginia. I graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois for my undergraduate degree and finished with a Master’s degree at the Juilliard School. I recently completed the Ryan Opera Center program at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Have you sung the role of Figaro before? How have you changed or developed it? If the role is new to you, what do you find most appealing and most challenging about it?

I have only sung this role twice before. The more that I sit with this role, the more that I think it’s imperative to show that Figaro is a man with a good heart. There’s more to Figaro than just wanting money from the Count Almaviva and only looking after himself. I think he really enjoys helping people and he takes pride in that.

Will Liverman Figaro

Is it fun to play Figaro? 

Figaro is a TON of fun. First of all, comedy is my favorite thing to do onstage and The Barber of Seville is the essence of an opera comedy. It’s fun because there are so many different comedic bits to play in each scene. The music is exciting to sing, and it’s a satisfying show to perform.

What do you think explains the popularity and longevity of Rossini’s opera ever since it was first performed in 1816 in Rome? Why should the public today go see and hear it?

Each production has the potential to be something completely different in terms of how it’s staged and who’s singing in the cast. That can be said about other operas as well but The Barber of Seville is essentially a showcase for singers and you get to laugh out of your chair while you’re at it! In addition to Barber being one of the most well-known operas to the general public, it has endless amounts of comedic moments that a director can use.

In your interpretation, what aspects of Figaro’s character do you emphasize and why?

Figaro is three steps ahead of everyone in this piece and in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro. It’s important that comes through in every way, because being a cunning man with a plan is simply what he does and how he is able to help everyone.

What would you like to say about the famous showstopping “Largo al factotum” aria in terms of singing it and its universal appeal? (NOTE: You can hear it sung by Dmitri Hvorostovsky with Charles Dutoit conducting the Montreal Symphony in a popular YouTube video at the bottom.)

There isn’t much to be said about it. The aria speaks for itself, and it’s the most famous aria tune out there. My job is to not mess it up and at the same time make it my own!

What else would you like to say about your role, about the opera or about this production?

This production is going to be fantastic! I say that because when you’re able to laugh a lot in rehearsal at how funny the staging is -– and you’re one of the folks performing –- you know the audience is going to enjoy it even more. At least, I hope they do!

 


Classical music: The Ear goes to the 13th annual Opera in the Park and finds it might well have been the best one yet. Tell The Ear and the Madison Opera what you think. Plus, find out what happened on Day 5 of WYSO’s tour to Argentina.

July 29, 2014
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ALERT: Catch up on the 10-day tour to Argentina by the Youth Orchestra (below) of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras. Here is a link to Day 5:

www.wysotour2014.blogspot.com

WYSO Youth  Orchestra

By Jacob Stockinger

The final number and encore repetition of the program’s finale pretty much summed it up: It was a grand night for singing.

And indeed it was.

For listening too.

To The Ear, it seemed like after 13 of them, this one was the best Opera in the Park yet.

I know, I know: That is the very same cliche that the head honchos use to close the Olympic Games.

But I mean it. And I haven’t said it before.

Many things might have made it so good, so memorable.

The crowd was very big, maybe setting a record of between 14,000 and 15,000. And it was well behaved and attentive.

Opera in the Park 2014 crowd

Maybe it was the program, which was typical, and given out in a free brochure.

Opera in the Park 2014 programs

There were excerpts from the three operas that the Madison Opera will stage this coming season at the Overture Center: “Fidelio” by Ludwig van Beethoven; “Sweeney Todd” by Stephen Sondheim; and “The Barber of Seville: by Giachino Rossini. Plus, there were the popular tunes from Broadway shows like “A Little Night Music” by Sondheim, “Kiss Me, Kate” by Cole Porter and “State Fair” by Rodgers and Hammerstein. And let’s not forget the National Anthem to start things off.

It could have been the well-rehearsed Madison Opera Chorus and the confident players of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, all under the baton of John DeMain, but they are usual participants, givens if you will.

Opera in the Park 2014 MSO and John DeMain

It might have been the ever-improved sound system, despite a few glitches.

It could have been the high and even quality of the solo singers. But DeMain and Madison Opera’s gracious general director Kathryn Smith have an outstanding record for picking promising young talent to put on the stage, talent that has ties to the Metropolitan Opera and some other prestigious opera companies.

So when I weigh all the components, what I am left with is an intangible.

That is: What really made this year’s Opera in the Park so terrific was the chemistry between all the elements.

It was pretty much summed up in the famed “Toreador Song,” a sure-fire hit from the popular opera “Carmen” by George Bizet.

Hunky and flirty bad-boy baritone “toreador” Kelly Markgraf (below right) came out on stage and strutted as he saucily stripped off his summer white dinner jacket and tossed it aside to his competing female admirers.

Opera in the Park 2014 Toreador

Then soprano Jamie-Rose Guarrine, a very successful graduate of the University of Madison-Wisconsin School of Music, and Canadian mezzo-soprano Wallis “Legs” Giunta, who was making her Madison debut, fought over the dinner jacket while he sang and the audience roared and applauded as it brandished those fabulous — and I mean fabulous – luminescent day-glo light sticks.

Opera in the Park 2014 glo light sticks

Opera in the Park 2014 light sticks

Even John DeMain, who conducted the audience in the sing-along finale and encore (below), and the various players and other singers seemed as amused as the audience.

Opera in the Park 2014 conducting audience singalong

It was big fun.

The weather cooperated, no drops of rain coming until it was over and I was safely in my car.

But The Ear is left with some other things he liked:

I liked the seeing the opera “stars” arrive in a stretch limo (below top) in the park. It was way cool. But so were the carts (below bottom) provided to help those whose mobility was impaired.

Opera in the Park 2014 limo

Opera in the Park 2014 cart

I liked the table where you could buy vintage T-shirts going back a decade. And these collectibles were good deals. But they also made me think of Ann Stanke, the founder and longtime general director of the Madison Opera who started Opera in the Park and died in May of 2011. She would have been so happy with such a successful fulfillment of her dream.

Opera in the Park 2014 new T-shirt

Opera in the Park 2014 vintage T-shorts

ann stanke

I liked the ice cream stand by The Chocolate Shoppe –- the butter pecan was nutty and terrific — and kind of wish they would also had one pizza stand from, say, Glass Nickel. But maybe that gets too complex.

I liked that Madison Mayor Paul Soglin addressed the personal and social benefits to students who participate in the arts, and, citing a new report by the Overture Foundation, pledged to restored a city subsidy of $1.75 million dollars to the Overture Center — the home of the Madison Opera and the Madison Symphony Orchestra — in his next budget.

Opera in the Park 2014 Paul Soglin

I liked the tenor Sean Pannikar, who possessed that effortless and smooth Italian tenor tone and great high notes — all put to wonderful use in the aria “Che gelida manina” from Giacomo Puccini’s “La Boheme” and Franz Lehar’s schmaltzy and swoon-inducing “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz.” He was making his debut, and I want to see him return to Madison. Soon.

Opera in the Park 2014 Sean Panikkar

I really liked the big-voiced mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta, who has high notes and volume to spare. She also made her debut and proved to be another must-return talent, the sooner the better. (You can hear her voice and a profile of her life and career in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Opera in the Park 2014 Wallis Giunta

And I am not alone. The audience also seemed to like them both.

Baritone Kelly Markgraf lived up to the standards he set as Mozart’s Don Juan when he sang with the Madison Opera. His bad is s-o-o-o-o good. And Jamie-Rose Guarrine (below) proved a delight to hear, familiar as she is to local audiences. She had pitch, tone and expressive range — and showed it  all in a difficult and brief but beautiful aria by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Kelly Markgraf

Opera in the Park 2014 Jamie-Rose Guarrine

All four soloists sounded even and great, whether they sang solo, in duets, trios or quartets.

It all offered more proof for The Ear that great opera comes down not to acting or sets or costumes, but to the music and the singing.

And it was a grand night for singing.

Others agreed.

Here is a review by Lindsay Christians for The Wisconsin State Journal and 77 Square:

http://host.madison.com/entertainment/arts_and_theatre/on-a-grand-night-for-singing-mezzo-wallis-giunta-steals/article_b3f3538b-f6a1-55c6-8f18-fefddf793a21.html

You really should have been there.

But if you weren’t, well, maybe next year you will be.

Still, a lot of you did go this year.

So tell The Ear -– and the Madison Opera – what you thought of Opera in the Park 2014.

 

 


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