The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Madison Opera travels to the jungle for the local premiere of the Spanish opera “Florencia en el Amazonas” this Friday night and Sunday afternoon

April 23, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend, the Madison Opera travels to the jungle to present the Madison premiere of Florencia en el Amazonas (with sets from the production by the Arizona Opera, below) by Daniel Catán on Friday night, April 27, at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon, April 29, at 2:30 p.m. in the Overture Hall at the Overture Center for the Arts, 201 State Street.

The opera will be sung in Spanish with English supertitles. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission.

Tickets are $18-$130 with discounts available for students and groups. For more information about tickets and the production, go to www.madisonopera.org

Mexican composer Daniel Catan’s lush and accessible orchestral soundscape brings the Amazon River to life in this magical and mystical journey.

Set in South America at the turn of the 20th century, the story begins when Florencia Grimaldi, a famous opera singer, embarks anonymously on a voyage down the Amazon River to sing a concert in Manaus, Brazil.

She is traveling to the concert incognito; her real hope for the journey is to be reunited with the lover she left behind, a butterfly hunter.

On the boat with her are a young journalist, Rosalba, who is writing a biography of Grimaldi; a couple feeling the strain of their long marriage, Paula and Alvaro; the boat’s captain; the captain’s restless nephew, Arcadio, who falls in love with Rosalba; and a man who is a rather mystical presence, Riolobo.

Over the course of the journey, the passengers encounter a storm, piranha, and ultimately cholera.

Florencia en el Amazons is simply gorgeous,” says Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill), Madison Opera’s General Director.  “I heard only wonderful things about it following its 1996 premiere, and when I saw the opera 10 years ago, I realized why audiences love it so much.

“The music is ravishing, the setting is physically beautiful, and the characters are fascinating. I am delighted to be presenting it in Madison, as part of our vision of sharing operas from all time periods and in all languages.”

Florencia was the third opera composed by Daniel Catán (below, in a photo by Gina Ferazzi for the Los Angeles Times) and the first Spanish-language opera to be commissioned by a major U.S. opera company. Houston Grand Opera premiered the work in 1996; it has since been performed across North America and Europe, with companies like Houston, Los Angeles, and Seattle producing it multiple times due to audience demand.

The opera’s libretto, while an original story, was inspired by the writings of the Nobel Prize-winning Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez (below) author of 100 Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera. Librettist Marcela Fuentes-Berain was a protégé of Márquez; according to Catán, he and Fuentes-Berain would show García Márquez parts of the libretto as they were finished. Elements of the author’s trademark magic realism pervade many parts of the opera.

Catán’s music was acclaimed for its lush writing.  The New York Times said, “Mr. Catán’s writing for the voice is luxuriously lyrical; and he orchestrates with skill.” (You can hear the opera’s opening scene in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Catán wrote two more operas before dying at age 62 of a heart attack. At his sudden death in 2011, Plácido Domingo called him “one of the great opera composers of our time, beloved by audiences and especially by the musicians who had the privilege of performing his incredible work.”

“I am so happy to have the opportunity to perform this absolutely gorgeous opera,” says John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), Madison Opera’s Artistic Director. “I had the pleasure of knowing Daniel Catán, and commissioned an orchestral suite from this opera for the Madison Symphony Orchestra, which we performed in 2003.

“We all were struck by the power and sweep of the music. This story of the power of love and music in all of our lives will be sung by a great cast of singers, and the orchestral fabric will lift audiences out of their seats and transport them to the magical world of the Amazon. This is an opera written in our time, with a musical score that will leave audiences wanting to hear it again and again.”

Madison Opera’s cast features a number of returning favorites. For revealing 10-question interviews with cast members, go to the MadOpera blog at: http://madisonopera.blogspot.com

Elizabeth Caballero (below) sings Florencia Grimaldi, a role she has sung for New York City Opera and Nashville Opera. The Cuban-American soprano debuted with Madison Opera at Opera in the Park in 2007 and returned in Carmen, La Traviata,and Don Giovanni. Last month, she sang Mimì in La Bohème at the Metropolitan Opera.

Rachel Sterrenberg sings the journalist Rosalba; she debuted in Charlie Parker’s Yardbird here last season.

Adriana Zabala (below), who sang in The Tales of Hoffmann and at last summer’s Opera in the Park, sings Paula, a role she has also sung at San Diego Opera and Arizona Opera.

Nmon Ford (below, in a photo by Guy Madmoni), who sang Scarpia in Tosca with Madison Opera in 2013, sings the mysterious Riolobo.

Mackenzie Whitney, who debuted as Rodolfo in La Bohème with Madison Opera in 2015, returns as Arcadio, the Captain’s nephew. Levi Hernandez, who debuted in The Magic Flute here in 2005, returns as Alvaro. Bass Ashraf Sewailam (below) makes his Madison Opera debut as the Captain of the El Dorado.

Kristine McIntyre (below) returns to direct this Madison Opera premiere. She has directed many successful productions for Madison Opera, including Dead Man Walking and The Tales of Hoffmann. Recent work includes productions at Pittsburgh Opera, Utah Opera, Des Moines Metro Opera, and Kentucky Opera.

The production prominently features members of Kanopy Dance Company, playing spirits of the river.  Lisa A. Thurrell, co-artistic director of Kanopy, has created choreography for her dancers and this production.

The set (below) comes from Arizona Opera, with costumes designed by Madison Opera’s Karen Brown-Larimore, who designed the costumes for The Abduction from the Seraglio in February.

As always, the opera features the Madison Opera Chorus and the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

Madison Opera’s production of “Florencia en el Amazons” is sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, Thompson Investment Management, Inc., Carla and Fernando Alvarado, Thomas Terry, the Ann Stanke Fund, Kennedy Gilchrist and Heidi Wilde, and Charles Snowdon and Ann Lindsey.

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Classical music: At 75, does opera superstar Placido Domingo still have what it takes?

June 16, 2016
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

He is 75.

He was a superstar tenor for decades, often competing with the late Luciano Pavarotti for top honors in the opera world.

Then he became a conductor and now he sings as a baritone since his voice dropped with old age.

But does Spanish-born and Mexican-raised Placido Domingo (below) still have what it takes to be in the top ranks of the opera world?

FRENI

Famed critic Norman Lebrecht, who lives and works in the United Kingdom, recently heard Domingo sing in “Nabucco” by Giuseppe Verdi at Covent Garden in London.

Here is his review and first-hand account from his blog Slipped Disc:

http://slippedisc.com/2016/06/domingo-you-pitiful-old-man-a-shadow-of-what-you-were/

 


Classical music: Madison Opera’s “Tales of Hoffmann” proved a musical and theatrical delight from beginning to end. Plus, the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble performs Saturday night

April 22, 2016
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ALERT: This Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. at the Gates of Heaven Synagogue, 300 East Gorham Street in James Madison Park, the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble will perform a concert of music by Claudio Monteverdi, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, Georg Philipp Telemann, Francois Couperin and others. Tickets at the door are $20 for the public, $10 for students. A free reception with the musicians follows at 2422 Kendall Avenue, second floor. For more information about the performers and the program, visit www.wisconsinbaroque.org

By Jacob Stockinger

Editor’s note: The Ear’s good friend and knowledgeable classical music fan Larry Wells offered the following review of last weekend’s production of Jacques Offenbach’s “The Tales of Hoffmann” by the Madison Opera. Production photos are by James Gill for the Madison Opera.

By Larry Wells

I had been looking forward to Madison Opera’s production of “The Tales of Hoffmann” by Jacques Offenbach (below) ever since it was announced.

Jacques Offenbach seated

The opera is a particular favorite of mine, and I’ve seen a number of productions in larger houses, most recently in Tokyo and most memorably a production at the San Francisco Opera 30 years ago with Placido Domingo and James Morris.

I was interested to see how Madison Opera would approach this somewhat theatrically difficult work, and Sunday’s performance was a delight from beginning to end.

First, the singing.

The cast was consistently strong, and each singer could be mentioned in a positive vein. So, I single out three who particularly stood out.

The star of the show, for me, was coloratura soprano Jeni Hauser (below, center, in white) as Olympia, the doll. Her vocal pyrotechnics were sensational. She would be a wonderful Zerbinetta, and I would enjoy seeing her tackle Baby Doe. She is a very funny physical comic actress, and she was simply wonderful.

Madison Opera Hoffmann Doll Olympia Jeni Hauser CR James Gill

Morgan Smith (below) as Hoffmann’s four nemeses was excellent possessing a strong, deep bass-baritone. As a side note, he is the second singer I’ve seen and heard recently in Wisconsin who will be featured in Tucson Opera’s upcoming premiere of “Riders of the Purple Sage,” the other being Keith Phares who was in Florentine Opera’s recent production of Jake Heggie’s “Three Decembers.” It will be conducted by Keitaro Harada, who is a talent to watch.

Madison Opera Hoffmann Morgan Smith CR James Gill

The third standout was mezzo-soprano Adriana Zabala (below) as Hoffmann’s Muse and attendant. She was outstanding vocally and fun to watch.

Madison Opera Hoffmann Adriana Zabala The Muse JAMES GILL

Hoffmann was sung by tenor Harold Meers (below right, in suit).  For an exhausting role, Meers toughed it out and, when singing full voice, was resonant and lyrical.

Madison Opera Hoffmann Harold Meers on right CR James Gill

The production was set in a well-stocked bar, and Hoffmann’s series of bad choices in love appeared fueled by alcohol.

Madison Opera Hoffmann set CR James Gill

The set, from the Virginia Opera, and costumes were dazzling, particularly in the Giulietta act, which in a departure from the productions I’ve seen, was the third act. I felt that the change of the order of the acts made a lot of sense dramatically.

And I loved the use by stage director Kristine McIntyre of the Roaring Twenties theme – flappers and Charlestons, along with gondolas, fog and a bit of German Expressionism. Total fun.

Madison Opera Hoffmann Gondola CR James Gill

Madison Opera Hoffmann Morgan Smith in cape CR James Gill

The Madison Symphony Orchestra was excellent throughout, and Maestro John DeMain is a treasure whom Madison is extremely fortunate to have. His sense of timing and dynamics is a wonder.

My favorite moment of the opera is the ensemble in the Giulietta scene “Hélas Mon Coeur,” and its performance Sunday nearly brought me to tears. In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear that music performed by Placido Domingo and the remarkable Agnes Baltsa.

So, bravo Madison Opera, for a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon at the opera. I heard several people say that it was a long one — three hours — but for me the time flew.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Since reviews are subjective, for purposes of comparison here is a link to John W. Barker’s rave review that just appeared in Isthmus:

http://isthmus.com/arts/stage/tales-of-hoffman-madison-opera/


Classical music: Should superstar tenor Placido Domingo retire?

March 28, 2015
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Should Spanish superstar tenor Placido Domingo (below) – who has aged into a baritone as well as a conductor and the artistic director of an opera company – retire?

FRENI

That is the touchy question that was taken up last week by The New York Times senior music critic Anthony Tommasini in his opening night review of Domingo’s performance in the role of the King of Spain Don Carlo (below, in a photo by Sara Krulwich for The New York Times) in the opera by Giuseppe VerdiErnani,” which was based on the play “Hernani” by French writer Victor Hugo.

Placido Domingo in Ernani at the Met 2015 Sara Krulwich NYT

The production of “Ernani” is taking place at the Metropolitan Opera – hardly a strange stage to the veteran Domingo, who is now 74. James Levine led the orchestra. And Tommasini offered quite specific criticisms to back up his opinion about Domingo. 

Here is a link to the review:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/23/arts/music/review-ernani-with-placido-domingo-a-tussle-to-hold-on-to-a-love.html?_r=0

Read it and weigh in with your own opinion about whether it is time for the great Placido Domingo to retire.

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music: Twenty years ago, The Three Tenors created “popera” and changed the history of opera singing. Did it help or hurt opera? And who was the greatest tenor of the three? Plus, Madison Opera’s FREE Opera in the Park is Saturday night.

July 20, 2014
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

This past Wednesday marked the 20th anniversary of The Three Tenors phenomenon -– a blockbuster “crossover” concert (below) that was held outdoors on July 16, 1994 in Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles to mark the FIFA World Cup final.

three tenors 1994 dodgers stadium

The concert, which featured a mix of light, popular and serious music, took something of a drubbing from the serious classical music critics.

But it didn’t matter.

The public loved it –- and then some.

And the public kept on loving it and still does. Which is while you still see it on TV and hear it on radio, even two decades later, and why it has spawned so many imitators.

The event turned opera singing into a rock concert-like stadium event for the masses and the popular media, and brought to singing a huge global audience. Talk about genius in marketing and branding!

The event no doubt also helped pave the way for such mass outdoor concerts as the Madison Opera’s 13th annual FREE “Opera in the Park” (below),” with this year John DeMain conducting soloists plus members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Madison Opera Chorus. It will take place this coming Saturday night, July 26, at 8 p.m. in Garner Park on Madison’s far west side.

Here is a link to the upcoming Madison Opera event, which previews the coming season and which usually attracts more than 10,000 listeners each summer. You can find information about directions, seating, artists and repertoire:

http://madisonopera.org/performances-2013-2014/park/

Opera in the Park

The 1994 event also dramatically changed the careers of the original Three Tenors -– Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras.

It brought all of them – and also conductor Zubin Mehta – unbelievable amounts of money for a one-night stint. And that, in turn, translated into astronomical fees for future individual tours by each of them.

You can relive the 1994 event through a sound sample in the story as well as through a YouTube video, which has almost 3 million hits, at the bottom of The Ear’s favorite aria, by Giacomo Puccini, from the event. It is in a terrifically comprehensive story, filled with lots of facts big and small, that Anastasia Tsioulcas researched and wrote for the outstanding “Deceptive Cadence” blog on NPR or National Public Radio.

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/07/16/330751895/how-the-three-tenors-sang-the-hits-and-changed-the-game

What do you think of The Three Tenors and its impact on the classical music scene and the opera scene? On the culture in general?

Did it help or hurt the cause of great singing and staging serious opera?

And who do you think was the greatest tenor of the three?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music review: This Saturday’s “Met Live in HD” broadcast features “The Enchanted Island,” an acclaimed baroque opera pastiche – with music by Handel, Vivaldi and Rameau, and with characters and a plot drawn from Shakespeare. It sounds like a MUST-SEE and MUST-HEAR.

January 20, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

This season has once again been a good one for the series “Live From the Met in HD.” For one, it will see the last two installments of Richard Wagner’s ambitious “Ring” cycle.

Take a look for yourself. Here is a link to the season’s website:

http://www.metoperafamily.org/metopera/liveinhd/LiveinHD.aspx

But even more exciting for The Ear is the satellite broadcast of “The Enchanted Island” (below) this Saturday at 11:55 CST at the Point and Eastgate cinemas in Madison. Tickets are $24 for adults, $22 for seniors. (Unfortunately, there is no encore presentation.)

This is sure to be a lot of people’s idea of “new music.”

A brainchild of the Met’s general director Peter Gelb, “The Enchanted Island” has been in the work for more than four years, and is, if you will, a newly born baroque opera – if you can go backwards in history.

That is because it is a pastiche, a mix or blend, created by Jeremy Sams. It features music selected from Handel, Vivaldi and Rameau. It also takes as main characters the lovers from Shakespeare’s comedy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and throws them into the plot of  Shakespeare’s late romance “The Tempest.”

The 3-1/2 hour opera also features a stellar cast, including famed countertenor David Daniels, mezzosoprano Joyce DiDonato, soprano Danielle de Niese and superstar tenor Placido Domingo as King Neptune (below), and the orchestra conducted by early music master William Christie. The sets and costumes look colorful and fantastical.

It all sounds very intriguing and engaging, something that could succeed wildly – or fail miserably.

Well, I am happy to report that the reception has been terrific. Both the opera and the production have met with critical acclaim and success with the public.

Here, for example, are a couple of reviews from the New Year’s Eve world premiere at the Metropolitan Opera:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/02/arts/music/the-enchanted-island-at-the-metropolitan-opera-review.html?_r=1&ref=anthonytommasini

http://www.seattlepi.com/entertainment/article/Review-Enchanted-Island-a-clever-Met-concoction-2435476.php

http://metoperafamily.org/metopera/liveinhd/LiveinHD.aspx

Here are downloadable notes and synopsis:

http://www.metoperafamily.org/metopera/history/stories/synopsis.aspx?id=437

And here is a link to videos:

http://www.metoperafamily.org/metopera/broadcast/template.aspx?id=15418

And here is a link to a photo essay of stills from “The Enchanted Island”:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/gallery/2012/jan/11/the-enchanted-island-metropolitan-opera-pictures

And here is a blog posting by the singer and cast member Danielle de Niese, who performed at the Wisconsin Union Theater several seasons ago:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/danielle-de-niese/baroque-coming-out-party_b_1177726.html

For background about “The Enchanted Island,” visit:

http://www.npr.org/2011/12/31/144515617/the-enchanted-island-a-mashup-of-classic-masters

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/15/arts/music/15opera.html

What do you think of “The Enchanted Island” and what its success means?

Would you like to see more such productions?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music reviews: Critics call New Year’s Eve concerts successes. PBS’ all-American program of Gershwin and Bernstein by the New York Philharmonic gets a rave, and so does the Metropolitan Opera’s “new” Baroque work “The Enchanted Island.”

January 3, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Well, if you weren’t out dining and dancing, or making merry at some party somewhere, the chances are pretty good that you spent New Year’s Eve at home.

And if you did that the chances are pretty good, especially if you are a classical music fan, that earlier in the evening you watched the New Year’s Eve festive all-American concert of music by George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein given by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet under the baton of the orchestra’s music director Alan Gilbert (below).

The Ear saw and heard much of the concert that sold-out Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center and also reached millions of viewers via PBS’ award-winning “Live From Lincoln Center” series that is produced by UW-Madison alumnus John Goberman.

I could write up what I most liked about it. (Thibaudet’s sloppy dress and disheveled tuxedo, below, for the “Rhapsody in Blue” finale was really the only thing I didn’t like.) But New York Times critic Alan Kozinn did a pretty good job of that.

So I direct you to his review and his analysis of how the Alan Gilbert Era seems to be putting its own American stamp of New Year’s Eve festivities in the Big Apple. I like the idea of ringing in the New Year by celebrating American music.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/02/arts/music/new-york-philharmonic-at-avery-fisher-hall-review.html?ref=allankozinn

That same night, the Metropolitan Opera also celebrated the coming of the new year with the world premiere of its scissors-and-paste baroque opera “The Enchanted Island” with an impressive cast that included superstar tenor Placido Domingo as Neptune (below) as well Danielle de Niese (at bottom), Joyce Di Donato and countertenor David Daniels.

But you will have to wait until the “Met Live in HD” broadcast on Saturday, Jan. 21, at 11:55 CDT at the Eastgate ad Point cinemas in Madison, to enjoy that production.

As we draw closer to that HD broadcast, I will post something with more details about the specially commissioned pastiche Baroque opera that uses music by Handel, Vivaldi, Purcell and Rameau among others and combines characters and plots taken from two Shakespeare plays (“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “The Tempest”).

But in the meantime here is Anthony Tommasini’s informative and entertaining rave review in the New York Times about the world premiere. It sounds like a MUST-HEAR to the Ear, though I doubt it will become a new year’s institution the way the other concerts or events less difficult to produce might.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/02/arts/music/the-enchanted-island-at-the-metropolitan-opera-review.html?ref=anthonytommasini

And here is another positive review:

http://www.theatermania.com/new-york-city/reviews/01-2012/the-enchanted-island_47300.html

And here is a third, one that uses the word “triumph”:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/howard-kissel/the-enchanted-island_b_1179007.html

We call all judge how just it is and whether we agree with it when we finally get to see and hear this engaging novelty production nearer the end of the month.


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