The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Festival Choir of Madison closes its season TONIGHT with a concert of East Asian music from China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan

May 18, 2019
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ALERT: Today and next Saturday, Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Music in Wisconsin” program, hosted by Lori Skelton, will air recorded performances from the past season by the Madison Opera. Both broadcasts start at 1 p.m. This week’s opera is the double bill of one-acts “Cav/Pag,” as Pietro Mascagni’s “Cavalleria rusticana” and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s “Paglicacci” are known. Next week will see Antonin Dvorak’s “Rusalka,” with the famous soprano aria “Song to the Moon.”   

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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement to post:

The Festival Choir of Madison (below) will present the last concert of the season, “Jasmine Flowers,” TONIGHT — Saturday, May 18 — at 7:30 p.m. in the Atrium auditorium of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, in Madison.

The choir and its artistic director, Sergei Pavlov (below right in front row), will perform arrangements of famous songs such as the Japanese “Sakura” (Cherry Blossom), arranged by the late Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu (his version is heard in the YouTube video at the bottom); and “Mo-Li-Hua” (Jasmine Flower), a popular Chinese folk song used variously as a national anthem and for the Olympics, arranged by the leading Korean composer Hyo-won Woo.

The choir will also feature other recent compositions sung in Taiwanese, Korean, Chinese, English and French  — including works by Chen Yi, Libby Larsen, Bob Chilcott, Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel — inspired by the musical traditions of East Asia.

Admission, with general seating, is $10 for students, $15 for senior citizens, and $20 for adults, with tickets available at the door the day of the concert. Tickets can also be purchased online through Brown Paper Tickets at:

https://www.festivalchoirmadison.org/concerts/2019/5/18/jasmine-flowers

The Festival Choir of Madison is an auditioned, mixed-voice volunteer choir of over 50 experienced singers. The choir performs thematic concerts of artistically challenging choral music from around the world for listeners who enjoy traditional, modern and eclectic works, and for singers who enjoy developing their talents with others.

To learn more about the Festival Choir of Madison, go to www.festivalchoirmadison.org.


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Classical music: Madison Opera gives completely satisfying and nearly perfect performances of “Cavalleria Rusticana” and “Pagliacci.” Here are four reviews

November 8, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

Larry Wells – who is The Opera Guy for The Well-Tempered Ear blog – went to the recent production of the Madison Opera and filed this review, with performance photos by James Gill:

By Larry Wells

I attended performances of Pietro Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana” and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci” presented by the Madison Opera at Overture Hall last Sunday afternoon.

Each of the operas is an hour and a quarter long. At least for “Cavalleria” (below), the time flew by while I was captivated by the good singing, excellent playing and charming staging. The opera is tightly constructed and the production flowed effortlessly to its dramatic conclusion.

The feckless mama’s boy Turridu was ably portrayed by tenor Scott Piper (below top) who sang beautifully throughout. His nemesis, Alfio, was sung by baritone Michael Mayes (below bottom). Mayes has an excellent voice and terrific musicianship, but he tended to overact.

The star of the show was soprano Michelle Johnson (below) as Santuzza.  Her big aria “Voi lo sapete” and her duets with Piper were rapturously dramatic. Her supple and nuanced performance had me uncharacteristically leaping to my feet and shouting “Brava!” as she took her curtain call. Hers is a voice I hope to hear again soon.

The Madison Symphony Orchestra shone throughout the performance, ably led by guest conductor Joseph Mechavich (below). I cannot recall hearing before such subtle control of its orchestral voices, and the ensemble glimmered in the well-known intermezzo. (You can hear that famous and beautiful Intermezzo, used in the film “The Godfather” and conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, in the YouTube video at the bottom.) 

The set and costumes, the bravura singing by the chorus, and the lighting were all above expectations. It was a completely satisfying experience.

“Pagliacci” is a more troublesome work for me. It has moments of lyrical genius but also what to me seems like filler – the chorus going on too long about getting to vespers, for example.

Mayes (below) portrayed the villainous Tonio in this opera.  Although his prologue was beautifully sung, his creepy overacting was a bit too much. For example, when Nedda spat at him in contempt, he wiped the spittle from his face and then licked his hand. His final utterance “La commedia e finita” was overly dramatic and lacking irony.

Piper sang the clown Canio (below), and by the time he got to the showpiece aria “Vesti la giubba” I was nervous that he would not be able to hit all the high notes. He did hit the notes, but it will take a couple more years for this role to fit his voice comfortably.

Nedda was portrayed by sensational Talise Trevigne (below bottom). Her big aria “Stridono lassù” was sung beautifully, and the orchestra shimmered in its accompaniment. Her duet with her lover Silvio, ably sung by baritone Benjamin Taylor (below top), was another highlight of the production.

Once again, the orchestral interlude was beautifully played.

Altogether, this was almost a perfect afternoon at Madison Opera. There appeared to be a gratifyingly large number of younger people attending, which I took as a good sign for the future. (Below is the tragic final scene of “Pagliacci” with Robert Goodrich, Michael Mayes and Scott Piper.)

I look forward to the next production: Stephen Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music” on Feb. 8 and 10. I saw it recently at Des Moines Metropolitan Opera, so I am interested to see how it will compare.

When all is said and done, I enjoyed “Pagliacci” but feel it is inferior to “Cavalleria.” Although both operas are frequently performed together, I have attended other pairings for “Cavalleria” including one with Puccini’s comic short opera “Gianni Schicchi.” That combination worked well. I wonder: Do readers have other suggestions for pairings?

Editor’s note: Everyone has an opinion. How did you and other critics find the Madison Opera productions? Leave your opinion in the COMMENTS section. And here are links to some other reviews:

Here is the review John W. Barker wrote for Isthmus: https://isthmus.com/music/satisfying-double-bill/

Here is the review, with a historical bent, that Greg Hettmansberger wrote for his blog “What Greg Says”: https://whatgregsays.wordpress.com/2018/11/06/madison-opera-goes-old-school/

 And here is what Lindsay Christians wrote for The Capital Times newspaper: https://madison.com/ct/entertainment/arts_and_theatre/theatre/love-revenge-passion-violence-open-the-season-at-madison-opera/article_1c27e195-cc2f-5826-9502-00544b88fae6.html


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Classical music: What makes this weekend’s performances of “Cavalleria Rusticana” and “Pagliacci” classically Italian operas and especially inviting for beginners?

October 30, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Opera will open its new season this weekend with two performances of Pietro Mascagni’s  “Cavalleria Rusticana” and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s ”Pagliacci.”

Details about the productions in Overture Hall on Friday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. appeared in a previous posting that includes information about the cast and the tickets ($18-$131):

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2018/10/13/classical-music-madison-opera-offers-preview-events-leading-up-to-cavalleria-rusticana-and-i-pagliacci-on-nov-2-and-4/

https://www.madisonopera.org/tickets/

But Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill), the general director of the Madison Opera, recently agreed to a Q&A with The Ear to discuss the two operas more specifically and at length. Here are her comments:

A veteran opera-goer told the Ear that he considers these two works ideal operas for people new to the art form.  Do you agree?

I think almost any opera is perfect for someone new to opera – supertitles make it possible to understand the words, so one can just sit down and enjoy the show.

That said, “Cav and Pag” are definitely what many people think of when you say the words “Italian opera”: elemental stories of love, hate and jealousy that lead to tragedy.

Cavalleria Rusticana, which means “Rustic Chivalry,” tells about a woman named Santuzza who had been seduced and abandoned by a man named Turridu. On Easter Sunday, she attempts to get Turridu back, then tells the husband of his new lover about that affair, resulting in a duel.

Pagliacci, which means “Clowns,” tells about a traveling theater troupe. Nedda, the wife of the troupe’s leader, Canio, wants to run away with her lover Silvio after the evening performance. Canio finds out, but goes on with the show even though his heart is breaking. He then snaps during the performance and kills both Nedda and Silvio.

The music in both operas ranges from glorious choral music (the Easter Hymn in Cavalleria Rusticana is one of the most famous opera choruses of all time for good reason) to famous arias (particularly the aria “Vesti la Giubba” from Pagliacci, or at least the line “Ridi, Pagliaccio!”), to orchestral music that is well-known in its own right, such as Cavalleria’s intermezzo, which plays an integral role in the final scene of “The Godfather” film trilogy. (You can hear that famous Intermezzo used in “The Godfather” film in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

They are also compact: Each opera lasts about 70 minutes, so a lot gets packed into a short amount of time. (Below is the set of “Pagliaccio” rented from the New Orleans Opera.)

What are the shared elements that make the two operas so compatible that they are often presented together?

Pagliacci was written in response to Cavalleria Rusticana:  Ruggero Leoncavallo (below top) saw what a hit Pietro Mascagni (below bottom) had his 1890 one-act opera about real people propelled by love and revenge, and wrote his own version that premiered just two years later, in 1892.

There are some obvious parallels: both take place in small Italian villages, both take place on religious holidays, and both involve love triangles that end with someone dead. Plus the last line of each opera is spoken, not sung.

They also have musical similarities, as both have full orchestrations, large choral segments, and a style of vocal writing that calls for dramatic, expressive singing. As a result, the combined pairing makes a satisfying night of Italian opera, rather than being simply two operas that happen to be done on the same night.

Does one usually overshadow the other or are they equals?

It very much depends on the tastes of an individual audience member. When the operas were new, Cavalleria was definitely the more popular of the two – even Queen Victoria wrote in her diary that she preferred it.

To modern eyes, Pagliacci may be more dramatically satisfying because more happens in it, such as the entire play-within-the-opera, which adds an element of humor to the high stakes of reality. But both are masterpieces in their own right, and the audience gets to enjoy them both.

Why do you think these verismo operas are still powerful today?

“Verismo” comes from the word “vero,” which means “true.” Cav and Pag tell stories about real people caught up in their lives, with all the emotional messiness that can entail – and those emotions are still driving people today.

Above all, the music of both operas is so powerful that it strikes to the heart of what opera can be. It can be thrilling, it can be moving, it can be funny – all in one night.

Is there something else you would like to say about the two operas and your production of them?

We have wonderful casts in each opera. Scott Piper (below top), who was last here as Cavaradossi in Puccini’s Tosca, sings both Turridu and Canio; and Michael Mayes (below bottom), who was last here as the lead in Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, sings both Alfio and Tonio.

We have two extraordinary sopranos making their debuts with us:  Michelle Johnson (below top) as Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana and Talise Trevigne (below bottom) as Nedda in Pagliacci.

The Pagliacci cast is completed by Benjamin Taylor making his debut as Silvio and Robert Goderich singing Beppe; the Cavalleria cast is completed by Danielle Wright as Lucia and Kirsten Larson as Lola.


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Classical music: Madison Opera offers preview events leading up to performances of “Cavalleria Rusticana” and “I Pagliacci” on Nov. 2 and 4

October 13, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following information to post:

The Madison Opera presents the classic double-bill of Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci, by Pietro Mascagni and Ruggero Leoncavallo respectively, on Friday, Nov. 2 ,at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 4, at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall.

“Cav and Pag” – as they are traditionally known because they are usually presented together — feature some of the most emotionally dramatic music in the repertoire, these two operas offer the ultimate portrayal of passion and jealousy on stage.

Both operas are set in rural Italy and follow characters whose human emotions lead to tragic endings. (The sets, below, used in Madison, come from the New Orleans Opera.)

Cavalleria Rusticana (“Rustic Chivalry”) tells the story of Turridu, who has abandoned his lover, Santuzza, to rekindle an affair with his now-married former girlfriend. As Easter Sunday unfolds, Santuzza and Turridu engage in a battle of emotions that will end with violent consequences.

I Pagliacci (“The Clowns”) tells of a small theatrical troupe arriving in a village for a performance.  Nedda, wife of the troupe’s leader Canio, agrees to run off with her lover, Silvio, that evening.  Another troupe member, Tonio, tells Canio, who responds violently.

But the show must go on, and as Nedda and Canio enact the play-within-a-play, reality bleeds over onstage and tragedy follows. (You can hear the famous aria “Vesti la giubba” sung by Luciano Pavarotti in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

“When people think of the phrase ‘Italian opera,’ it’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci that often come to mind,” says Kathryn Smith (below, in a  photo by James Gill), Madison Opera’s general director.  “The intense emotions of both the characters and the music they sing has never been equaled. I vividly remember the first time I saw Cavalleria and was overwhelmed by the power of it. I am so delighted to produce these operas in Madison for the first time in over 30 years, with this fantastic cast and production team.”

Cavalleria Rusticana by Pietro Mascagni (below) was written for a one-act opera competition in 1890. Based on a short story and play of the same name, it was an immediate smash hit, with 185 productions around the world within three years, making Mascagni an international icon of Italian music.

Ruggero Leoncavallo (below) wrote I Pagliacci two years later in direct response, hoping for a similar success with a one-act opera about real people caught up in an emotional web. Like Mascagni, he had an immediate success, and the two operas have been paired together intermittently for much of the 20th century.

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

Making her debut in the role of Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana is soprano Michelle Johnson, who has been praised for her “extraordinary breath control and flawless articulation.”

Also making her Madison Opera debut is soprano Talise Trevigne in the role of Nedda in Pagliacci; Trevigne has received acclaim for her “luxuriant vocalism [and] unwavering commitment to character.”

Returning to Madison Opera are tenor Scott Piper(below top) in the dual roles of Turridu/Canio and baritone Michael Mayes(below bttom) in the dual roles of Alfio/Tonio. Piper was last seen in Madison as Cavaradossi in the 2013 production of Puccini’s Tosca; Mayes returns to Madison after his electrifying performance as Joseph De Rocher in Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking in 2014.

Rounding out the Cavalleria Rusticana cast are Kirsten Larson as Lola and Danielle Wright as Mamma Lucia, both in their Madison Opera debuts.

Pagliacci will also feature baritone Benjamin Taylor in his Madison Opera debut as Silvio and Madison favorite Robert Goodrich as Beppe.

Kristine McIntyre (below) returns to direct, after her highly acclaimed production of Daniel Catan’s Florencia en el Amazonas last season.

Conducting this production will be Joseph Mechavich (below), who made his Madison Opera debut with Mozart’s Don Giovanni and most recently conducted Opera in the Park 2017. Says Mechavich, “Seeing Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci is the ultimate in an Italian operatic experience.  Audiences will have a visceral reaction to synthesis of music and drama.”

Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci both have magnificent choral writing, from the celebrated Easter Hymn in Cavalleria Rusticana to the Chorus of the Bells in Pagliacci, as well as sumptuous orchestral music.

Rounding out the musical forces are the Madison Opera Chorus, members of the Madison Youth Choirs, and the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

Events leading up to the opera can help the community learn more about Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci. Community preview will be offer an entertaining look at “reality opera” – the “verismo” school, which produced works like Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci.

Cinematheque and Madison Opera will co-sponsor a showing of the 1928 silent film Laugh, Clown, Laugh on Oct. 22.  Opera Up Close provides an in-depth discussion of the operas, including a cast roundtable, on Oct. 28.

RELATED EVENTS

Laugh, Clown, Laugh (1928); Saturday, Oct. 20, 7 p.m.; UW Cinematheque, 4070 Vilas Hall (http://cinema.wisc.edu)

FREE and open to the public; doors open 30 minutes before showtime

Lon Chaney (below), the “Man of a Thousand Faces,” plays Tito, a smiling-on-the-outside circus clown heading for heartbreak after he becomes smitten with the fetching Simonetta (Loretta Young). This reworking of the Pagliacci story offers a great showcase for the two leads and talented director Herbert Brenon. The silent film will feature live piano accompaniment by David Drazin and will be preceded by Acrobatty Bunny (1946), starring Bugs Bunny.

Opera Up Close; Sunday, Oct. 28, 1-3 p.m.; the Margaret C. Winston Opera Center, 335 West Mifflin Street

$20 general admission; free for full-season subscribers; $10 for two-show subscribers

Join Madison Opera for a multimedia behind-the-scenes preview of Cavalleria Rusticana & Pagliacci.  General Director Kathryn Smith will discuss the composers and the history of these two pieces. Principal artists, stage director Kristine McIntyre and conductor Joseph Mechavich will participate in a roundtable discussion about Madison’s production and their own takes on these masterpieces.

Pre-Opera Talks: Friday, Nov. 2, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 4, at 1:30 p.m. in the Wisconsin Studio at Overture Center, free to ticket holders. Attend an entertaining half-hour introduction to “Cavalleria Rusticana” and “Pagliacci” one hour prior to curtain.

Post-Opera Q&A: Friday, Nov. 2, and Sunday, Nov. 4, following the performance in the Wisconsin Studio at Overture Center, free to ticket holders

You’ve seen the operas and loved them. But are you perhaps wondering about …?  Join General Director Kathryn Smith immediately after the performances to ask questions about what you have just seen.

More information — including a blog that has interviews with the cast members — is available at www.madisonopera.org


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Classical music: Madison Opera’s FREE 17th annual “Opera in the Park” takes place this Saturday night in Garner Park

July 16, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

Madison Opera’s annual Opera in the Park (below) celebrates its 17th year on this coming Saturday night, July 21, at 8 p.m. in Garner Park on Madison’s far west side, near West Towne Mall.

The annual FREE and family-friendly concert of opera and Broadway favorites closes the company’s 2017-18 season and provides a preview of the 2018-19 season.

A Madison summer tradition that often attracts over 15,000 people (below, in a photo by James Gill), Opera in the Park is an evening of music under the stars that features selections from opera and Broadway.

This year’s Opera in the Park features four soloists: soprano Elizabeth Caballero; soprano Brenda Rae; tenor John Lindsey; and baritone Levi Hernandez.

Caballero (below top) and Hernandez (below bottom) recently starred in Madison Opera’s acclaimed production of “Florencia en el Amazons” last spring.

Lindsey (below) is making his debut, and will return to the company as the Prince in Antonin Dvorak’s Rusalka in April, 2018.

Rae (below) is also making her Madison Opera debut. She did her undergraduate work at the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music before going on to the Juilliard School and an international career. She is singing Cunegonde in Candide at Santa Fe Opera this summer, and is performing at Opera in the Park in between performances there.

The four soloists are joined by the Madison Opera Chorus and Madison Symphony Orchestra (below top, in a photo by James Gill), conducted by Gary Thor Wedow (below bottom), who has guest conducted Opera in the Park before.

The evening is hosted by Madison Opera’s General Director Kathryn Smith and WKOW-TV’s 27 News co-anchor George Smith (below).

Opera in the Park  is the most wonderful and most unique performance we give at Madison Opera,” says Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill). “We have beautiful voices performing music from many centuries in many languages, while thousands of members of our community relax together under the same night sky. It truly shows how music and opera can connect us. I am so grateful to all of our supporters for enabling us to produce this free concert every summer, harnessing the community-building power of music.”

Opera in the Park 2018 features arias and ensembles from Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci, which open the 2018-19 season in November; Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music, which will be performed in February; and Antonin Dvorak’s Rusalka, which will be performed in April. (You can hear the beautiful “Song to the Moon” from Rusalka — a signature aria for superstar soprano René Fleming — sung by Frederica von Stade, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The program also includes selections from La Bohème, Turandot, La Sonnambula, The Marriage of Figaro, El Niño Judío, La del Soto del Parral, My Fair Lady, Candide, On the Town, and more. For a complete list of repertoire on the program, which is subject to change, go to: https://www.madisonopera.org/2018-2019-season/oitp/

As always, this evening will include one number conducted by the audience with light sticks (below).

Garner Park is located at 333 South Rosa Road, at an intersection with Mineral Point Road. Parking is available in the CUNA Mutual Group and University Research Park lots across the street.

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 22, at 8 p.m.

While Opera in the Park is free to attend, it would not be possible without the generous support of many foundations, corporations and individuals.

Sponsors of Opera in the Park 2018 are:  the BerbeeWalsh Foundation, the John and Carolyn Peterson Charitable Foundation, Full Compass Systems, the Raymond B. Preston Family Foundation, University Research Park, Colony Brands, the Evjue Foundation – the charitable arm of The Capital Times, Hooper Foundation, MG&E Foundation, Johnson Bank, National Guardian Life, Wisconsin Bank and Trust, the Wisconsin Arts Board, Dane Arts and the Madison Arts Commission.

Madison Magazine, Wisconsin Public Radio, Magic 98, and La Movida are media sponsors for this community event.

RELATED EVENT: Prelude Dinner at Opera in the Park 2018 is on Saturday, July 21, at 6 p.m. in the park under a tent.

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 $145 per person or $1,100 for a table of eight. More information is available at www.madisonopera.org

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 featuring leading American opera singers and emerging talent.

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


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Classical music: Fresco Opera Theatre lands a body slam and puts a submission hold on opera and wrestling this Friday and Saturday in its production of “Opera Smackdown” at the Overture Center. And the audience will get to choose the winner!

March 13, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Opera is rarely just opera when the creative talents behind Fresco Opera Theatre decide to do it. Invariably, the Fresco folks come up with some creative and new or unexpected take that combines self-deprecating humor with serious singing and acting talent.

Take the latest project.

Is professional wrestling real competition? Or is it a staged, even faked, competition? And what does real opera’s theatrical qualities have in common with professional wrestling?

But then what does it really matter as long as the participants and fans have fun?

To launch its fourth season, Fresco Opera Theatre’s latest production — called “Opera SmackDown” –- is this coming weekend. It will be held on Friday, March 14, at 8 p.m. and on Saturday, March 15, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. in the Promenade Hall in the Overture Center. 

Fresco Opera Theatre logo

Here is one description from the preview video that sounds exactly like a Ring Announcer’s hype if you read it out loud:

From all over the country, from all “fachs” (that’s opera lingo for voice categories such as Coloratura, Lyric, Dramatic Soprano), bringing a fresh take on opera for a good portion of the 21st century, Fresco Opera, the worldwide leader in live entertainment brings you Opera SmackDown.

“The SmackDown Champion is the most coveted title in the opera world. There is no parallel, no bigger accolade in the genre. It is the dream of every competitor who ever stepped out on stage. From young artists to seasoned vets, eight singers will endure vocal battles they have trained years to prepare for.

“Who will outperform to seize the spotlight in this collision course with destiny? ONLY the studio audience can, and will, decide. Their vote determines the winner in this live internet broadcast, spanning the globe for all to see!

“These singers will battle each other, sacrifice their bodies, betray colleagues, and embrace the soulless ally that is desperation. To the victor goes the spoils. To the winner, a once in a lifetime chance to become the next heir apparent to the Fresco Opera SmackDown throne!”

Does the winner get to wear one of those really outrageously big and blingy belt buckles too?

wrestling belt

Here is how Jeff Turk, the president of the group’s board of directors who can be heard in a YouTube video at the bottom, describes the production and its novel concept:

“SmackDown is a take on the traditional vocal competition, with elements of pro-wrestling thrown in. We came upon this concept given the cut-throat nature and over-the-top presentations of both competitions and wrestling.

“Another twist is that the AUDIENCE will choose the winner. And the winner will receive a cash prize!

“Our goal here is to introduce the masses to opera. We have demonstrated over the years that performing classical music using familiar pop culture references makes it less intimidating for people who may not have any experience in the concert hall.

“I am proud of the fact our organization has inspired countless numbers of people who have had no experience with classical music to embrace it — which is good for all classical performers and organizations in the Madison area.

Tickets are $20.

Here are some links.

To the Fresco Website and preview video:

http://www.frescooperatheatre.com

http://www.frescooperatheatre.com/upcoming-productions.html

To the Overture Center for tickets:

http://overturecenter.com/production/opera-smackdown

And here are mini-bios of the contestants, with their nom-de-wrestling, vying for the championship:

Fresco Opera Theatre cast for Opera SmackDown

Mezzo Soprano Allison Waggener (Primal) recently won praise from reviewers for her “fine legato” and “strength and vocal beauty” as Annio in dell’Arte Opera Ensemble’s New York production of Mozart’s “La Clemenza di Tito.”   Other highlights from her 2012-2013 season include the roles of Miss Pooder in the Texas premiere of “The Hotel Casablanca” with Abilene Opera and Hansel in Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel” with Opera Oggi.

Diana Kelly Eiler (The Valkyrie) majored in vocal performance at Heidelberg College, where she received the Ohl Prize and Hoernemann academic awards, as well as making her professional debuts with the Toledo Opera in “Babes in Toyland” and Findlay Light Opera in “The Gondoliers” and “Die Fledermaus” while still a student. She was a N.A.T.S. Great Lakes Regional winner, Jessye Norman Award recipient, and semi-finalist in the Friedrich Schorr Opera Star Search.

George Abbott (Canto Libre) has 20 years of singing performance experience starting with the Children’s Chorus of San Antonio at age nine. His credits include singing with: Madison Bach Musicians, Fresco Opera Theater, University Theater, Music Theater of Madison, Middleton Players Theater, Madison Opera Chorus, and Madison Choral Project.

J. Adam Shelton (The Gladiator), lyric tenor, recently performed as the Leading Man Ghost in Fresco Opera’s Paranormal Playhouse. During this season, he will finish his doctorate at the University of Wisconsin where his dissertation, “The Singing Dream: A 21st Century Critical Edition of Tauberlieder”, explores the compositions of the great Austrian tenor, Richard Tauber.

Madison native Rachel Edie Warrick (Vox) is thrilled to be singing her second show with Fresco Opera. Rachel is a versatile performer who has sung with Madison Opera, Opera for the Young, Madison Choral Project and the Madison Bach Musicians. Rachel has also been a soloist throughout the Midwest in Handel’s “Messiah” and “Alexander’s Feast,” J. S. Bach’s B Minor Mass, Magnificat, and “St. Matthew Passion,” the Mozart Vespers, and Haydn’s “The Creation.”

Soprano Erin Sura (Toxin) has recently been seen performing the role of Donna Elvira in “Don Giovanni” with East Side Chamber Players, and in the Skylight Opera Theatre’s production of Beethoven’s “Fidelio,” in addition to appearing as a soprano soloist in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the Concord Chamber Orchestra, and Vivaldi’s Gloria with the South Shore Chorale.

Soprano CatieLeigh Laszewski(Asylum) is currently completing a Master of Music degree at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. With UW Opera, she has performed the role of Caterina in Mascagni’s “L’amico Fritz” and scenes from “Die Fledermaus” (Rosalinda), Bizet’s “Carmen” (Frasquita), “Hansel and Gretel” (Gretal), and Debussy’s “Pelleas et Melisande” (Melisande) in Opera Workshop.

Caroline Wright (The Boss), Soprano, received her vocal training at Illinois Wesleyan University and the University of Wisconsin – Madison. While studying, Caroline performed roles such as Lauretta from Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi,” the title role from Carlisle Floyd’s “Susannah,” and Donna Anna from Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J37IEOXiRGI

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Classical music education: Last Sunday afternoon, we said good-bye to master music educator and Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra (WYSO) founder Marvin Rabin. The Ear thinks Rabin would have liked how he was celebrated and remembered.

January 2, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Last Sunday afternoon, as the winter sun was getting low in the sky and the thermometer was dropping even lower, we gathered to say good-bye to Marvin Rabin (below).

marvin rabin BW

Rabin, you may recall, died Dec. 5 at the age of 97. He was a pioneer in music education and in addition to achievements around the U.S. — especially Kentucky, Boston and Illinois — and around the globe, in 1966 Rabin came to Madison to found and direct the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra, which still exists and is bigger and better than ever.

Here is a link to the WYSO website with more information:

http://wyso.music.wisc.edu

The crowd, which came from both coasts and around the U.S., was at capacity, a full house on the floor and in the balcony (below) of the sleek and contemporary Atrium auditorium at the First Unitarian Society of Madison. Apparently, even more people wanted to attend the memorial but couldn’t find seats or parking.

Rabin Memorial crowd

The Ear thinks it was exactly the kind of memorial that Marvin would have liked.

I say that for several reasons.

All the speakers — from the masterful host Dick Wolf (below top), who worked besides Marvin for decades at the University of Wisconsin-Extension, and radio host son David Rubin (below bottom) to friends, admirers and former students and members of the general public — kept their remarks short, dry-eyed and to the point.

Rabin memorial Dick Wolf

David Rubin

The impromptu speakers (below) also kept the mood just right: not too serious or reverent, but leavened with wit and stories that didn’t drag on forever. In short, the mood of the memorial modeled itself on the manner of Marvin himself, at least as far as I and many others knew him.

Rabin memorial speaker

His son-in-law Frank Widman read two poems by Rainer Maria Rilke that touched on music, especially “To Music” with its fitting line: “You speech, where speeches end … Music. Space that has outgrown us, heart-space.”

But most of all, I think that Marvin — who embodied The Wisconsin Idea of reaching everyone in the state and elsewhere —  would have enjoyed all the music that was played by current WYSO students as well as former WYSO students who are now professional educators and musicians themselves. (Forgive me, but they are too many to name individually.)

Under the baton of WYSO’s music director James Smith, who directs the conducting program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, the WYSO Chamber Orchestra turned in a moving and emotionally restrained performance of Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.”

It was an appropriate choice not only for its universally appreciated sorrowful content (“the world’s saddist music”), but also because it has deep Madison ties: the world-famous work was given its world premiere in 1936 in Rome by the Pro Arte String Quartet, which has been in residence at the UW-Madison since 1940. That is what the famous conductor Arturo Toscanini heard and then asked the composer to add some string basses and orchestrate it.

Rabin memorial WYSO Chamber Orchestra

A WYSO Alumni Quartet (below, with the cellist hidden by the violist), made up of students from 1972, played the exquisite slow movement from the final string quartet, No. 16 in F Major, Op. 135, by Ludwig van Beethoven. (You can hear it played by the Artemis Quartet in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

It proved the perfect work for the occasion because it is a work where Beethoven moves from the futuristic Romanticism and Modernism of the late quartets and returns to more formal structure of a Classical aesthetic that Beethoven worked with in his early Op. 18 quartets. Such an embracing of diverse styles was typical of Marvin no less than of Ludwig.

Rabin memorial WYSO alumni quartet

Following open-mic reflections and memories of Rabin by perhaps a half-dozen people the WYSO String Quartet played the poignant “Intermezzo Sinfonico,” arranged for string quartet, from Pietro Mascagni’s opera “Cavalleria Rusticana.”

Rabin memorial WYSO string quartet

And the final touch was a slow but elegant reading, in Hebrew, of the Kaddish, the Jewish mourner’s prayer for the dead.

And then the relatively brief memorial was over, with some refreshments and small talk, exactly the kind of elbow-to-elbow socializing, where old friends reconnect, that Marvin excelled at and relished.

Even if you didn’t know Marvin Rabin in life, you grew to know him through the memorial.

What emerged was a man who was as devoted to life-long learning as he was to life-long teaching. And the judgment was unanimous: Marvin Rabin was a man who lived his life fully out of his love of music and his love of other people.

Rabin came across in remembrance exactly as he did in life: A zesty, energetic and witty man who was immensely smart and sensitive but who wore his gifts lightly and who was also anxious, even impatient, to share them with others.

Rabin portrait USE

And we can still learn from Marvin Rabin. His accumulated wealth came from giving himself away. And we – all of us — are the rich beneficiaries of his personal and professional generosity.

Is there any thing more to add besides: The world needs more Marvin Rabins – the more, the better; and the sooner, the better.


Classical music: Allan Naplan, the former general director of the Madison Opera, has been named as executive director of the Arizona Musicfest based in Carefree (don’t you love that name), near Phoenix.

March 17, 2013
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ALERT: If you want to know about whether you should attend the performances today (at 3 p.m.) and Tuesday night (7:30) p.m. in Music Hall of University Opera’s production of Mascagni’s “L’Amico Fritz” (with Shannon Prickett and Aldo Perelli, below in a photo by Brent Nicastro), here is a review by John W. Barker written for Isthmus:

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=39412&sid=d5dd06c8fbafef9a2cb026b18818c449

And here is a link to a Q&A with director William Farlow and some background, including which UW-Madison student sings what roles on what day:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/03/14/classical-music-qa-university-opera-director-william-farlow-talks-about-why-he-likes-mascagnis-rarely-staged-opera-lamico-fritz-which-will-get-three-performances-on-friday-night-sunday/

L'Amico Fritz 3 Also Perrelli and Shannon Prickett CR Brent Nicastro

By Jacob Stockinger

Last we heard of Allan Naplan (below), he had left his big new job with the Minnesota Opera just a year or so after taking it and leaving the Madison Opera after five years. That was two years ago.

Allan Naplan 2

Rumors said his departure had to do with artistic differences, but no reasons or specifics were ever publicly given.

Then many people wondered what would happen to Naplan’s promising career, and The Ear heard nothing.

Until now.

A friendly source tells me that the talented and amiable Naplan has, not unexpectedly, landed on his feet – even if it is not in the field of opera. True, the news comes a little late — but it is still news to me and maybe news to you too!

Here is the press release:

Arizona Musicfest 
appoints
 Allan E. Naplan as Executive Director

“Wednesday, January 23, 2013 Carefree, Arizona – Ann Wallenmeyer, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Arizona Musicfest, today announced the appointment of Allan E. Naplan as Executive Director, effective February 1, 2013.

“Allan Naplan has enjoyed a 20-year career as a performing artist, composer, educator and arts administrator. Most recently, he served as President and General Director of Minnesota Opera.

“In making the announcement, Wallenmeyer said, “Speaking for the Board and our Artistic Director, Robert Moody, I am delighted that Allan Naplan will join Arizona Musicfest as our Executive Director. We are especially pleased that he will be able to be a part of our 2013 Festival and we look forward to introducing him to our patrons, partners, and audiences throughout the community.”

“Wallenmeyer thanked the members of the Arizona Musicfest Search Committee, led by Chuck Goldthwaite, former Chairman of the Board, for the excellent outcome of a national search.

arizona musicfest logo

“Robert Moody, Artistic Director of Arizona Musicfest, added, “I am thrilled that Allan Naplan is joining the Arizona Musicfest team as our new Executive Director. I’ve spent a good deal of time with him during the search process, and as a result I can’t wait to begin ‘scheming’ with him as we plan the next great chapter of the Festival. The future is incredibly bright for Arizona Musicfest with Allan Naplan at the administrative helm.”

“In accepting the position, Allan Naplan said, “I am honored to have been chosen to lead Arizona Musicfest and am excited by the breadth of musical experiences the Festival offers, as well as the excellence it achieves through its acclaimed performances and important education and youth programs.” (See the YouTube video at the bottom of the  “Music Minutes” the festival provides to public schools.)

“Naplan continued, “I look forward to forging important relationships with the Festival’s audience, dedicated volunteers and the community at large, as well as to working with the Arizona Musicfest Board, staff, artists and especially Maestro Moody in developing and enhancing the Festival.”

Arizona Musicfest cactus

“Arizona Musicfest 2013 (Jan. 28 – March 4) presents top artists of classical, chamber, jazz, blues, country, rock n’ roll and opera, such as Denyce Graves, Keb’ Mo’ and Parker Quartet, in exceptional programs (created especially for Arizona Musicfest) at venues throughout the scenic desert foothills of Scottsdale and Carefree.

“At the heart of the Festival is the 60-member Arizona Musicfest Orchestra (below), comprised of musicians from the nation’s finest orchestras, the 100-voice Arizona Musicfest Chorus, and the Arizona Musicfest Chamber Players.

arizona musicfest orchestra

“Allan Naplan began his career as an opera singer and transitioned to administration as a member of the staff of Houston Grand Opera. He served as Director of Artistic Administration of Pittsburgh Opera before being appointed General Director of Madison Opera, where he transformed the company through his leadership in fundraising, audience development, and financial management as well as repertoire and productions, educational programs, and community engagement.

“At Minnesota Opera, Naplan enhanced the company’s community engagement and education activities, oversaw major gift cultivation, and introduced enhancements to the company’s marketing and public profile. During his time with the company, the organization produced the world premiere of the Pulitzer Prize-winning opera by Kevin Puts, “Silent Night” (below).

Kevin Puts "Silent Night" Michal Daniel for Minnesorta Opera

“As a published composer, Naplan’s works, which are standard repertoire for children’s choirs, have been performed and recorded in over 40 countries, and have been featured at Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, the White House, and aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia.

“Naplan has a Bachelor of Music Degree from Ithaca College where he majored in vocal performance and music education. He and his wife Christina Harrop have two young sons, Jonah (age 4) and Elliot (age 2).”

For more information about Naplan and the southwest festival, here is a link:

www.azmusicfest.org

 


Classical music Q&A: University Opera director William Farlow talks about why he likes Mascagni’s rarely staged opera “L’Amico Fritz,” which will get three performances on Friday night, Sunday afternoon and Tuesday night. Plus, the acclaimed Wisconsin Brass Quintet marks 40 years with a LIVE-STREAMED concert on Friday night.

March 14, 2013
3 Comments

ALERT: The 40th Anniversary Season Finale Concert by the UW-Madison‘s Wisconsin Brass Quintet will take place Friday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall. Admission is FREE and open to the public. (Members of the Wisconsin Brass Quintet, shown below in a photo by Katrin Talbot, are, from left, Jessica Jensen on trumpet, Daniel Grabois on horn, John Stevens on tuba, John Aley on trumpet, and Mark Hetzler on trombone.) The program is a serious and challenging one. As trombonist Mark Hetzler told the Wisconsin State Journal, “This [brass] music, while it is virtuosic and exciting, is also quite intellectual and cerebral. Imagine modern music for string quartet. This kind of music branches into those deeper places like that sort of music would.” On the program are: “Gravikord,” written for the quintet’s 40th birthday by UW horn professor Daniel Grabois; “Magnum Mysterium,” by local celebrity composer John Harbison; “Suite of Madrigals,” by Carlo Gesualdo, arranged for brass quintet by Mark Hetzler; and “Adam’s Rib,” by James MacMillan. And here is another first: If you cannot attend in person, consider watching it LIVE on your computer via streaming! It starts at 8 p.m. CDT; subtract or add hours as your time zone requires.

Livestream webcast link

Read a story by Gayle Worland in last Sunday’s Wisconsin State Journal:

“A milestone of note for Wisconsin Brass Quintet”

Wisconsin Brass Quintet Cr Katrin Talbot

By Jacob Stockinger

William Farlow, the director of University Opera at the UW-Madison, has done it again: He is offering listeners the chance to see and hear a rarely staged opera.

This time it is “L’Amico Fritz” (My Friend Fritz) by Pietro Mascagni (below), best known for the popular “Cavalleria rusticana.”

Pietro Mascagni

The UW Symphony Orchestra will accompany the student singers and be conducted by James Smith.

The opera will be sung in Italian with English surtitles by Christine Seitz.

The opera, according to director Farlow, “is a vibrant, youthful love story.” The opera takes place in the idyllic pastoral setting of Alsace-Lorraine, and Farlow has elected to set it in 1891, the year the opera premiered. 

Three performances will be given in Music Hall (below): Friday night at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m.; and Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m.

MusicHall2

Farlow’s casts include undergraduate and graduate students from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Most roles are multiple cast for this opera. The title role of wealthy landowner Fritz will be shared by Alex Gmeinder (March 15 and 19) and Aldo Perelli (March 17). Cassie Glaeser (15) and Shannon Prickett (17 and 19) will sing opposite them as Suzel, the peasant girl Fritz comes to love. The rabbi David, Fritz’s matchmaking friend, will be sung by Jordan Wilson at all three performances. Bethany Hickman (15) and Lindsay Metzger (17 and 19) will share the role of Beppe, a gypsy. Erik Larson in the role of Hanezò, Josh Sanders as Federico, and Catie Leigh Laszewski as Catarina complete the cast. (Below is a photo by Brent nicastro of Shannon Prickett, Also Perelli and Lindsay Metzger.)

L'Amico Fritz 1 Brent Nicastro, back Lindsay Metzger; fore Shannon Prickett and Aldo Perrelli CR Brent Nicastro

Production staff includes costume designers Sydney Krieger and Hyewon Park, technical director/set designer Greg Silver, lighting designer Steven M. Peterson, scenic artist/set designer Liz Rathke, guest vocal coach Thomas Kasdorf and chorus master Susan Goeres. This production is made possible by a gift from an anonymous donor, as well as additional funding from Opera Props.

Single tickets are $22 general, $18 senior/student and $10 UW-Madison students. Tickets can be ordered at www.uniontheater.wisc.edu/boxoffice or by calling (608) 265-ARTS.

Director William Farlow recently gave an email Q&A to The Ear:

Farlowweb

Can you briefly tell us something about the origin and story of “L’amico Fritz” and why it is so rarely performed or heard?

It is based on the novel “L’ami Fritz” by Emile Erkmann and Alexandre Chatrian. I believe that most companies are reluctant to produce the opera because they feel, wrongly, that is must be coupled with another short opera.

Why did you pick it for the University Opera 

For the same reason I pick all my operas at UW –- to give my singers the best roles suited to their individual voices.

What do you think of Mascagni as a composer? How do you compare this music and libretto to his much more famous opera “Cavalleria rusticana”? 

Mascagni is an excellent composer.  As much as I love “Cavalleria,” “Fritz” shows many other dimensions of his talent -– lyricism and inventive orchestration.

Is the opera’s libretto metaphorically relevant to the world situation today? Or is it just a simple rustic love story?

Yes, a simple love story, but very relevant.  It concerns our response to feeling love for another person.

What else would you like to say or have the public know about either the opera or this production? 

Such a lovely, sadly neglected piece – with so much gorgeous music! (Listen to the YouTube video of the famous “Cherry Duet” with Luciano Pavarotti and Renee Fleming at the bottom.)


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