The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The annual sold-out Christmas concert by the Madison Symphony Orchestra, guest artists and local groups is this coming weekend

November 27, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) and the Music Director John DeMain will kick off the 2017 holiday season this weekend with the annual “A Madison Symphony Christmas.”

The holiday celebration is filled with traditions from caroling in the lobby before the concert to the closing sing-along, where John DeMain (below) and the Madison Symphony Orchestra don their Santa hats.

Christmas classics are interwoven with new holiday music. Guest artists soprano Emily Pogorelc and tenor Eric Barry join DeMain, the MSO, the Madison Symphony Chorus, Madison Youth Choirs, and Mount Zion Gospel Choir on stage for the family-friendly celebration.

The concerts are in Overture Hall at the Overture Center, 201 State St., on Friday, Dec. 1, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 2, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Dec. 3, at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets are $18-$90. See below for details.

The program features an array of music including Joy to the World by Georg Frideric Handel; Johann Sebastian Bach’s Mass in B minor with the Madison Symphony Chorus (below); Mozart’s Mass in C minor with Emily Pogorelc; John Rutter’s Shepherd’s Pipe Carol (heard in the YouTube video at the botttom) with the Madison Youth Choirs; Do You Hear What I Hear?; the Seven Joys of Christmas; Leotha and Tamera Stanley’s Christmas Peace with the Mount Zion Gospel Choir.

In addition, sing-a-longs that include O Come, All Ye Faithful, Away in a Manger, The First Noel, Silent Night, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, and We Wish You a Merry Christmas.

Praised for her “lively, incisive soprano” by the New York Times, soprano Emily Pogorelc (below) currently attends the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music. A native of Milwaukee, Pogorelc has performed with the Opera Philadelphia, Glimmerglass Opera Festival, Curtis Opera Theatre, and the Florentine Opera. She has won first place in numerous competitions, and was featured on National Public Radio’s From the Top.

Winner of the Bel Canto Prize at the 2016 Maryland Lyric Opera Competition, Spanish-American tenor Eric Barry (below) is “making an impressive mark” on opera and concert stages “with a clear timbre, evenness of projection and exceptional sensitivity” (Opera News).

His engagements have included performances with the Shreveport Opera, Boston Midsummer Opera, Opera Memphis, North Carolina Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, and the Teatro Comunale di Sulmona along with music festivals around the world. He returns to the MSO after appearing as a featured soloist in 2015.

The Madison Symphony Chorus (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) gave its first public performance on February 23, 1928, and has performed regularly with the Madison Symphony Orchestra ever since. The Chorus is comprised of more than 150 volunteer musicians who come from all walks of life and enjoy combining their artistic talent.

Recognized as an innovator in youth choral music education, Madison Youth Choirs (MYC, below) inspires enjoyment, learning, and social development through the study and performance of high-quality and diverse choral literature.

The oldest youth choir organization in Wisconsin, MYC serves more than 1,000 young people, ages 7–18, in a wide variety of choral programs. In addition to a public concert series, MYC conducts an annual spring tour of schools and retirement centers, performing for more than 7,000 students and senior citizens annually.

Under the leadership of Leotha Stanley and his wife, Tamera Stanley, the Mount Zion Gospel Choir (below, in a photo by Bob Rashid) has been a part of the MSO Christmas concerts since 2005.

The choir is primarily comprised of members from Mount Zion Baptist Church and includes representatives from other churches as well. It has traveled extensively throughout the Midwest and has toured to Europe, singing in France and Germany. 

Concertgoers are encouraged to arrive 45 minutes before the concert begins to join the Madison Symphony Chorus as they lead a selection of Christmas carols in the festively lit lobby at Overture Hall.

Adds the MSO: These concerts typically sell out, so early ticket purchases are encouraged.

Single Tickets are $18-$90 each and are on sale now at:, through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street, or by calling the Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

Groups of 15 or more can save 25% by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734.

For more information, visit,

Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $12 or $18 tickets.

More information is at:

Seniors age 62 and up receive 20% savings on advance and day-of-concert ticket purchases in select areas of the hall.

Discounted seats are subject to availability, and discounts may not be combined.

Major funding for the Christmas concert is provided by: American Printing, Nedrebo’s Formalwear, John W. Thompson and Jane A. Bartell, Maurice and Arlene Reese Family Foundation, BMO Wealth Management, Hooper Foundation/General Heating & Air Conditioning, Judith and Nick Topitzes, and An Anonymous Friend. Additional funding provided by Colony Brands, Inc. J.H. Findorff & Son, Inc., Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren s.c., the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.

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Classical music: A new chamber version of Daron Hagen’s “Shining Brow,” an opera about architect Frank Lloyd Wright, gets successfully staged at — and somewhat upstaged by — by Wright’s masterpiece home Fallingwater.

June 15, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

Today’s posting is by guest blogger Ron McCrea (below). McCrea, a longtime Madison journalist, is the author of “Building Taliesin: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home of Love and Loss,” published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press in 2012. McCrea traveled to Pittsburgh last weekend to see a chamber adaptation of American composer Daron Hagen’s opera “Shining Brow” performed on the decks of Fallingwater, Wright’s famous 1937 summer home, built beside a stream and over a waterfall deep in the woods of western Pennsylvania. Here is a report by McCrea (below), including photos mostly  taken by him.

ron McCrea headshot

By Ron McCrea

Do you go to the opera to see the opera, or to admire the opera house? Do you go to see the action onstage, or to see who has shown up in the boxes? For opera fans, the answer is probably a bit of both, though if the opera is truly grand the setting quickly recedes when the house lights dim.

The setting never receded at Fallingwater on Saturday night. The competition posed by this stupendous woodland summer palace, with the sound of its rushing waterfall (below bottom) constantly playing in the background and the light changing on its ivory decks as the sun set, was too much for six singers and seven instrumentalists to overcome, as cleverly and effectively as the opera “Shining Brow” was staged.

Fallingwater 1

Fallingwater's waterfall

June 8 was Wright’s 146th birthday. It was also another visit by composer Daron Hagen to Fallingwater. He snapped photos from the terraces before the performance, while the 120 ticket-holders, who paid $350, were allowed to roam the Edgar Kaufmann House with drinks and hors d’oeuvres (below), as though they were regular guests of the Pittsburgh department store magnate who commissioned Wright to build a summer place that would make them both immortal.

It worked for Wright: His face appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1938 with his color rendering of Fallingwater in the background. (For a full account, see “Fallingwater Rising” by Franklin Toker, Alfred A. Knopf, 2003.)

Fallingwater Al fresco buffet

Hagen, who graduated from UW-Madison in 1982, stood rapt as he watched the floating performance on the terraces. “Shining Brow,” an early work originally commissioned by the Madison Opera, received its world premiere in Madison in 1993. For the performances by the Opera Theater of Pittsburgh, Hagen cut down his work from two hours to 70 minutes, eliminating choruses, scenes and an amusing barbershop quartet sung by Chicago journalists who have come to Wisconsin to cover the scandal at Taliesin, Wright’s “love bungalow.”

Hagen also reduced his instrumental forces from a full orchestra to a chamber ensemble consisting of a violin, viola, cello, oboe/English horn, three kinds of clarinets with one player, and keyboard (below).

The re-orchestration had a good, full sound, and everything was well amplified and lighted for the outdoor stage. The action, directed by Jonathan Eaton and conducted by Robert Frankenberry, moved among four levels of terraces and used the approaches to the house.

Musicians at Fallingwater

The opera tells the story of Wright (baritone Kevin Kees, below); his mentor, Louis Sullivan (tenor James Flora); his lover, Mamah Borthwick Cheney (soprano Lara Lynn Cottrill); her husband, Edwin Cheney (bass-baritone Dimitrie Lazich); and Wright’s wife Catherine (soprano Kara Cornell).

It spans the years 1903-1914, which cover Wright’s commission to build a home for the Cheneys, his break with Sullivan, his liaison and elopement to Europe with Mamah, his breakup with Catherine, and the murder and fire at Taliesin that leave Mamah dead and Wright bereft.  The role of a maid who brings the angry, disillusioned Sullivan his drinks is sung by soprano Anna McTiernan.

Fallingwtaer Kevin Kees sings Wright

Librettist Paul Muldoon, now the poetry editor for The New Yorker magazine, plays fast and loose with history while having fun making double-entendres out of Sullivan’s description of the skyscraper as “every inch a proud and soaring thing.”

The opera really is less about history than about the competing claims of love and ambition, the jealousies between mentor and pupil, and the passion to create a new American art not tied to Europe.

Hagen, in a 40-minute talk on the bus (below) to Fallingwater, said the argument between Sullivan and Wright over whether Wright had “borrowed” his ideas or “purloined” them was much like the dispute that caused a rift between Arnold Schoenberg and his protégé Marc Blitzstein.

Daron Hagen lectures on fallingwater bus

Hagen recalled with affection the commission for “Shining Brow,” which came by phone from Madison while he and Muldoon were both young unknowns at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire. He remembered playing and singing the first act of “Shining Brow” for Leonard Bernstein at his Manhattan apartment, and playing through the entire opera in the same apartment (without Lenny) for a Madison delegation that included the Madison Opera’s General Director Ann Stanke (below top) and the Madison Symphony Orchestra‘s Music Director and the Madison Opera’s Artistic Director Roland Johnson (below bottom) both recently deceased.

ann stanke

Roland Johnson

The premiere in 1993 was well reviewed by The New York Times (the review was a first for the Madison Opera, Hagen said) and a Chicago Tribune critic in 1997 called the opera “one of the most universally praised new American works of the decade.” Madison music critic and this blog’s host, Jacob Stockinger, also wrote in The Capital Times that the opera deserved the Pulitzer Prize for music.

Nevertheless, Hagen said he had to wait a full decade before the opera was revived. After thinking he would become an overnight sensation, he came to realize that “Shining Brow” was “a home run in a Triple-A league.” Madison was too regional to win the attention of the Coasts -– a problem Wright himself had until he created Fallingwater.

A recording of the full opera by the Buffalo Philharmonic is available on Naxos. Pittsburgh Opera General Manager Scott Timm said a video of the Fallingwater performance might be issued if the unions agree to it.

SummerFest in Pittsburgh, whose theme this year is “Up Close and Passionate,” will run from July 6-21 at the historic Beaux-Arts Twentieth Century Club. “Shining Brow” will be performed on July 11 and July 19, with tickets priced between $20 and $40 and a pre-theater dinner available. For full information, visit

Fallingwater program

Classical music news flash: Allan Naplan, former general director of the Madison Opera, resigns after one year as president and general director of the Minnesota Opera

March 29, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

After what was, by all measures and accounts, a very successful six-season tenure at the Madison Opera, general director Allan Naplan (below) was recruited by the much larger Minnesota Opera to be its president and general director.

But now, after only one year on the job, Naplan has resigned.

No reason for his resignation has been given in the public accounts so far.

But The Ear suspects artistic differences might have something to do with it, as could fundraising, budget  or financial problems.

Or maybe Naplan was recruited for a much bigger job opportunity. (I found him to be both gifted and congenial, and suggested in a story that he could well be bound for an even bigger big city and an even bigger big opera company.)

Naplan had strong ideas about opera, especially given his background as a composer, a professional touring baritone and director of artistic administration at the Pittsburgh Opera before he came to Madison to take over from Ann Stanke, who died last spring.

Here is a link to the story:

If you know any more information about this art news event, The Ear would love to hear.

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