The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: University Opera’s “Poppea” proves engaging, satisfying and timely. Performances remain this afternoon at 2 and Tuesday night at 7:30 

November 18, 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 University Opera and filed this review, with rehearsal photos of students, who alternate roles in different performances, by Michael R. Anderson.

By Larry Wells

The only other time I attended a performance of Claudio Monteverdi’s “The Coronation of Poppea” (1643) was in the early 1980s at The San Francisco Opera. Despite the appearance of Tatiana Troyanos as Poppea, I remember being baffled by both the static nature of the music and the grandness of the production of what seemed should be an intimate opera.

That memory, in addition to my being a fan of 20th-century music, made attending the opening performance of University Opera’s performance Friday evening fraught with foreboding.

Despite the production being a lengthy three hours, I must praise the ensemble and director David Ronis — who never disappoints — for keeping my attention throughout the evening as I witnessed an intimate retelling of the passion between Nero and Poppea (portrayed below by Benjamin Hopkins and Anja Pustaver).

The opera was staged in Music Hall on a semicircular platform with the small instrumental ensemble directly to the front side of the audience. Stunning lighting and beautiful costumes made up for the minimal set. I was seated in the center of the first row of the balcony and must say that the sightlines and the sound were superb, even though it was very hot up there. (Below is the coronation scene with Hopkins and Pustaver in the center.)

The ensemble was conducted by Chad Hutchinson (below) whom I had heard conduct the UW Symphony Orchestra the night before in a rousing Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. The plucked instruments – harp, guitars, theorbo (I had to look it up, too) and harpsichords – were the backbone of the accompaniment. Strings and recorders completed the orchestra, and they were a delight to the ear – totally delicate and restrained.

The plot of the opera involves love triangles and political intrigue. The supertitles created by David Ronis (below, in a photo by Luke Dalalio) were amusing and colloquial. So much of the political posturing by Nero, whose main motivation is consistently self-interest, seemed to be pertinent to our time.

Nero was sung by countertenor Thomas Aláan who has a voice of great agility and expressiveness. His lover, Poppea, who yearns to be his empress, was sung by Talia Engstrom. Hers is a voice of great suppleness and flexibility. Throughout the evening she acted and sang with great subtlety, and I admired her performance very much.

I had been primed for the opera’s very final duet (heard in the YouTube video at the bottom) to be the most sublime moment of the opera, but I was much more aroused by the farewell duet between Nero and Poppea toward the end of the first act. It was highly charged vocally and erotic in its beauty and delivery.

Other characters included Seneca, portrayed by bass Benjamin Galvin (below left front, surrounded, from left to right, by Eliav Goldman, Jack Innes, Jiabao Zhang, Jake Elfner and Noah Bossert.) The lower range of his voice is profound and impressive.

Kevin Green (below right with Pustaver) portrayed the hapless Ottone, and his baritone voice shows promise.

It was, however, a night for the female singers. Cayla Rosché’s Ottavia was beautifully sung. She was completely believable as the spurned wife of Nero. Likewise Kelsey Wang’s Drusilla, Ottone’s second choice, was also wonderfully sung.

In the first scene we were introduced to Fortuna, Virtù and Amore who shone vocally. Throughout the remainder of the opera they silently hovered in the background as visual reminders of the forces driving the plots. Love, portrayed by Emily Vandenberg, eventually triumphed and got to sing a bit more.

There were moments of humor sprinkled throughout the production. I do not know how historically informed they were, but they did help to lighten the heaviness of the political intrigue and amorous complexities.

Some were perhaps unintentional – particularly the absurdly amusing wig that Fortuna wore. But Professor Mimmi Fulmer, in the small role as Nutrice, had a moment of complete hilarity. Her performance – both vocally and as an actress – underlined the contrast between earnestly serious, focused students and a relaxed, confident professional. (Below is the final scene with Nero and Poppea).

Altogether, it was a surprisingly engaging evening. There remain chances to see it this afternoon and Tuesday evening. It is not a brief or light evening of entertainment, but it is wholly engaging, thought provoking, timely and certainly something out of the ordinary.

Two more performances take place in Music Hall: today at 2 p.m. and Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. For more information including how to get tickets – adults are $25, seniors are $20 and students are $10 — go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/university-opera-monteverdis-the-coronation-of-poppea/


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Classical music: A FREE concert of Polish piano music is on this Sunday afternoon at the UW-Madison

October 20, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement to post:

On this Sunday afternoon, Oct. 21, at 4 p.m., University of Oklahoma Professor Igor Lipinski (below) will perform a solo piano recital with commentary at Mills Concert Hall of UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music. Mills Hall is located at 455 North Park Street in the George Mosse Humanities Building.

At this FREE CONCERT, Lipinski will perform music by 19th through 21st century Polish composers: Fryderyk (Frederic) Chopin, Karol Szymanowski, Ignaz Jan Paderewski, Grazyna Bacewicz and Pawel Mykietyn. (Editor’s note: Sorry, no titles of specific works are listed.)

Since classical music from Poland has been rarely performed in concert halls in Madison, this recital will be a unique occasion to experience Poland’s musical heritage and diversity.

This concert also commemorates the 100th anniversary of Poland regaining independence at the conclusion of World War I, after 123 years of its partition and disappearance from the map of Europe.

Please join our local Polish community in celebrating this joyous occasion through appreciation of beautiful and captivating music from some of the Poland’s most important composers.

This event is organized by the Polish Student Association of UW-Madison and Mad-Polka Productions, with cooperation and financial support provided by Lapinski Fund (UW-Madison German, Nordic and Slavic Departments) and the Polish Heritage Club of Madison as well as the Sounds & Notes Foundation from Chicago.

ABOUT THE PERFORMER:

Prof. Igor Lipinski is native to Poland and currently teaching at the University of Oklahoma. At the age of 12, he won a Grand Prize at the Paderewski Piano Competition for Young Pianists in Poland.

He is a musician, piano teacher, performer and also a magician, sometimes surprisingly combining all of his interests during his performances.

He received his Doctor of Musical Arts in Piano Performance from Northwestern University and since then performed over 100 concerts, both solo and with orchestras, all over the U.S.

This will be his debut in Madison.

For more information, go to: www.igorlipinski.com

ABOUT THE COMPOSERS:

Fryderyk (Frederic) Chopin (1810-1849, below): He was born in Poland, but also composed and performed in Germany, Vienna and France. Probably the most prominent Polish composer as well as pianist and performer. Much of Chopin’s inspiration came from Polish village music from the Mazovia region. Chopin composed 57 mazurkas – the mazurka being one of his most beloved type of compositions. He also composed numerous polonaises, concertos, nocturnes and sonatas. (You can hear famous Polish pianist Arthur Rubinstein perform Chopin’s famously nationalistic “Heroic” Polonaise in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937, below): Part of “Young Poland” group of composers at the beginning of 20th century, Szymanowski composed operas, ballets, sonatas, concertos, cycle of songs, string quartets. Many of his compositions were also inspired by Polish folk music, including the famous ballet “Harnasie” based on the culture of Polish highlanders which he experienced while living in Zakopane.

Ignaz Jan Paderewski (1860-1941, below) was a remarkable figure in Poland’s turn-of-the-century history. He was a pianist, composer, statesman, politician, philanthropist, actor, businessman, patron of the arts and architecture, wine grower and humanitarian. As a pianist, he was praised for his interpretations of music of Chopin, Liszt, Bach and Beethoven. He successfully toured western Europe before eventually setting off for the USA. Starting with his first 1891 tour he crossed U.S. about 30 times in his 50-year career.

He was a very popular, charismatic and somewhat extravagant figure, which eventually resulted in “Paddymania” phenomenon. He was largely influenced by Chopin in his composition of sonatas, concertos, polonaises, Polish dances, symphonies, mazurkas, krakowiaks, minuets and even one opera. He also relentlessly supported and lobbied for Poland ‘s independence as World War I unraveled.  He influenced U.S. politicians and played a crucial diplomatic role in Poland regaining its independence in 1911.

Grazyna Bacewicz (1909-1969, below): Violinist, pianist, teacher, writer and composer, she was one of the few female classical music composers at the time in Poland and in the world. Thanks to a generous grant from Ignaz Jan Paderewski, she was able to study music in Paris. She composed numerous concertos, string quartets, sonatas, symphonies.

Pawel Mykietyn (1971-, below in a photo by Oliva Soto): Composer, clarinetist, member of Nonstrom Ensemble. In 1995, he won a first prize in the young composers category during the UNESCO composers competition in Paris. Mykietyn’s composing style is at times aggressive and postmodern, incorporating sharp rhythms to create a vivid and provocative sound. He has composed concertos, sonatas, symphonies, preludes and string quartets.

Thanks to all the sponsors and community support, this concert is FREE and open to the public.


Posted in Classical music
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