The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The timing and political climate could not be more relevant for seeing the Madison Opera’s production of “Fellow Travelers” this Friday night and Sunday afternoon

February 6, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

You might recall from a previous blog posting that this weekend, the Madison Opera will present its production of the 2016 opera “Fellow Travelers.”

(A preview from the Minnesota Opera’s production, which featured the same sets and many of the same singers at the Madison Opera’s production, can be seen in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Performances are this Friday night, Feb. 7, at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon, Feb. 9, at 2:30 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

Here is a link to more background and details about American history, the production, the cast and tickets.

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2020/01/14/classical-music-background-discussions-lectures-and-documentaries-lead-up-to-madison-operas-production-of-the-new-lgbtq-themed-opera-fellow-travelers-on-feb-7-and-9/

Today, all The Ear wants to do is to point out how timely this story about the “Lavender Scare” of purging and punishing gays during the Red Scare, anti-Communist witch hunt of McCarthyism in the late 1940s and 1950s.

The opera’s story is about a young man (below) who supports Republican Sen. Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin and then finds himself romantically and sexually attracted to another man who works in the State Department, one of McCarthy’s favorite targets.

He then has to deal with hypocrisy, with the contradictions between his personal life and his political beliefs as he goes from being victimizer to victim.

The political climate for such a work exploring fear and prejudice couldn’t be more relevant .

A lot of the credit for that can go directly to President Donald Trump (below), the master of “Fake News.”

Trump is a right-wing fear-monger and name-smearer, constantly raging against “radical left-wing Democrats.” He has even called Sen. Bernie Sanders — a Democratic candidate for president — a “Communist,” even though Sanders describes himself as a democratic Socialist along the lines of Western European socialists.

It is also no secret that in addition to such unfair and insulting name-calling, Trump and his homophobic supporters – including Vice President Mike Pence and Christian Fundamentalists – are looking to roll back the civil rights and human rights of people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer.

And they want to do so even at a time when an openly gay man who is married, Pete Buttigieg, is running for president and seems to have just won the Iowa caucuses.

Moreover, there is a direct link between McCarthyism and the homophobia of the Liar-in-Chief.

Remember that McCarthy’ lawyer was a closeted and self-hating gay man named Roy Cohn (below right, with McCarthy). There is some evidence that McCarthy himself was secretly homosexual too.

After the humiliating end of the Army-McCarthy hearings and the premature death of McCarthy, Cohn went into private practice in New York City.

And that is where Cohn became the lawyer – and a role model of thuggish public behavior — for a young real estate developer named Donald Trump (below left, with Roy Cohn).

Such partisan times as the present seem to call for and inspire didactic art – better called “message art.” The Ear hasn’t seen the opera yet, so he can’t say how well it fits the bill.

But at first glance, the opera sure seems to fit the times we live in and the personalities of many of those who determine such a disturbing political and social climate. As The Nation magazine put it, “Trumpism is the New McCarthyism.”

In short, the opera’s plot seems both pertinent and realistic, one that could take place in today’s Washington, D.C.

The Ear is anxious to find out more and to make up his own mind, including about the music to be sung by the cast and played by the Madison Symphony Orchestra under conductor John DeMain.

He also hopes many of you will see the opera, and then leave your reactions and comments here, be they positive or negative.

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Classical music Q&A: The Ear checks in on the Madison Savoyards about the success of this summer’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Iolanthe” and of the company itself.

July 24, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

Starting this Thursday, July 24, the Madison Savoyards will wrap up the final four performances of this summer’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’sIolanthe.”

Iolanthe poster.web

Performances take place in the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Music Hall (below) on Bascom Hill — a venue that is more or less historically contemporary with G&S operas — on this Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30 p.m.; and on Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m.

MusicHall2

For more information, including tickets, here is a link to the Savoyards’ homepage:

http://www.madisonsavoyards.org

I have so far been unable to attend the opera this summer, but here is a link to a very positive review by John W. Barker (below), who often writes for this blog, that appeared in Isthmus:

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=40454

John-Barker

Here is a link to my earlier post for the first week of the production:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/07/16/classical-music-the-madison-savoyards-celebrates-50-years-of-staging-gilbert-and-sullivan-with-an-encore-production-of-iolanthe-that-opens-this-friday-and-saturday-nights-at-uw-madi/

And here is a Q&A that Evan Richards (below), the secretary of the Madison Savoyards’ board of directors as well as the videographer and webmaster, did via email for The Ear.  (Richards also took the photos of the production of “Iolanthe” on today’s post.) And at bottom is a YouTube video of Evan Richards talking in 2011 about the Madison Savoyards.

You might have also heard him last week on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “The Midday” during his very informative and entertaining interview with hosts Norman Gilliland, so here is a link to that interview:

http://wpr.org/webcasting/asx/listen17.asx

Evan Richards

Why did the Madison Savoyards want to do “Iolanthe” this summer 

2013 marks the beginning of the second 50 years of the Madison Savoyards. The first performance of the Madison Savoyards in 1963 was “Iolanthe,” so we felt it fitting that we begin our second 50 years with the same opera. It was also due to be performed; the last performance was in 2001.

The Savoyards have a plan to produce all the G&S operas at least once between 2007 and 2020.

The more familiar and popular ones tend to be performed more often than the less known ones because it helps keep our bank balance black. But we feel our mission is to perform them all. Sometimes the obscure ones surprise us by drawing a larger audience than we expect, as was the case with

“Utopia Limited” (below)  in 2011, in its second Madison Savoyards production.

Utopia Limited 2

How would you compare “Iolanthe” to other well-known Gilbert and Sullivan operettas such as “The Pirates of Penzance,” H.M.S. Pinafore” and “The Mikado”?

“The Mikado,” “The Pirates of Penzance” and “HMS Pinafore” are the most familiar G&S operas in the USA and receive more performances than the others.

“The Mikado” is the most popular of all, in the US, in the UK, and around the world. The US has had a particular fondness for “The Pirates” since it was first performed here, and that has only increased in recent times with the Joseph Papp production in New York which brought it to the attention of many who were not familiar with G&S. “Iolanthe” came after “Pinafore” and “Pirates” (and “Patience”) and represents a more developed period in the G&S output.

By the time “Iolanthe” came along, both Gilbert and Sullivan (below, with Sullivan on the left)) were rich, having an income over time to rival the Prime Minister’s. Gilbert was building a new mansion with four bathrooms, central heating and a telephone.

The music is more sophisticated, as is the writing. The political satire is particularly sharp and, given the current partisan gridlock in Washington, D.C., particularly timely. One can make a case that it represents a peak of their achievement, but I would admit I would make a similar case for several other of their operas.

Gilbert and Sullivan (left)

What can you tell briefly about the plot and roles of “Iolanthe”?

Very briefly, we are dealing with fairyland, lawyers and the House of Lords (below), all of which are not connected with the real world. The plot is really rather dark and could have easily ended very badly, if it were not for the sudden turn at the end.

The roles are recognizable G&S characters, for example, the Lord Chancellor has the patter song, the famous “Nightmare” song, one of the best of all G&S patter songs.

DSC05637

What would you like to say about the cast, sets, costumes and other aspects of the production?

The sets and costumes are wonderful. The cast has some Savoyard veterans and some who are making their debut with us. It has all come together very well.

DSC05666

What kinds of shape in the Savoyards in after The Great Recession now that recovery is underway? What do future plans include?

Our bank balance is in the black, where we like to keep it. We plan multi-year cycles, so the popular show income can compensate for the obscure show losses. We have a wonderful and loyal band of followers who buy tickets and contribute. We have a board of directors that watches the expenses carefully to get the most out of every penny. So we weathered the storm rather well.

Future plans include performing all of the G&S operas between 2007 and 2020, and we are working on a collaboration with the Madison Ballet to mount “Pineapple Poll” in 2015.

Is there more you would like to say or add?

Don’t miss “Iolanthe” because it is a great show and it has not been seen in Madison for a dozen years. The music is Sullivan at his best, the words are Gilbert at his best, and the combination is better than the sum of each. So don’t miss it.


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