By Jacob Stockinger
Even as it prepares for the annual Opera in the Park gala on July 23, the Madison Opera has announced its 2016-17 season, which is a combination of both the classic and the adventurous, even the intriguingly experimental.
Here is a list of productions with links to more details about the productions, cast, tickets and related events:
The operas by Gounod and Mozart are well-known staples of the repertoire.
But “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird” is new and will be a local, perhaps even regional, premiere and one of the earliest repeat performances of the new work.
The Ear thinks early Bravos are in order for such contemporary crossover programming that also focuses on race, diversity and African American culture. It also seems like a natural choice for John DeMain, who won a Grammy for the first all-black production of George Gershwin’s opera “Porgy and Bess.”
The new opera opened recently to fine reviews at the Apollo Theater in Harlem in New York City. (Below, in a photo by Dominic Mercier for Opera Philadelphia, is tenor Lawrence Brownlee in the title role of alto saxophonist and jazz great Charlie Parker.)
Here is a link to a background story about the work that appeared on the Deceptive Cadence blog of National Public Radio, or NPR, which first broadcast it on All Things Considered:
Here are members of the world premiere production talking about the work:
And here is a trailer with samples of the music and singing:
By Jacob Stockinger
Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who for 12 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. He also provided the performance photos for this review.
By John W. Barker
Two of the city’s important choral groups joined forces for a program presented at the First Congregational United Church of Christ last Friday night and Sunday afternoon.
Albert Pinsonneault (below), who used to teach at Edgewood College and now teaches at Northwestern University, and who is the director of both groups, conducted.
Each group had its own showcase in the program’s first half.
The Madison Chamber Choir (below) led off with the “Serenade to Music,” a setting of lines from William Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, which Ralph Vaughan Williams composed in 1938 for 16 of his favorite singers, with orchestra. He adapted this for full chorus, but that transition did not quite produce a work truly choral in character.
The choir sang the beautiful work very handsomely, but the substitution for the orchestra of a piano accompaniment was uncomfortable and, indeed, a disruption of diction. (You can hear the original version for chorus and orchestra in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
The Madison Choral Project (below top) came next with a performance of “Images, Shadows, Dreams: Five Vignettes” by the late David Baker (1931-2016, below middle).
Baker was a noted scholar and promoter of jazz, and his goal was a “fusion” of jazz with classical forms. To the five composed poems, Pinsonneault added readings of poems written by five young participants (below bottom) in the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Odyssey Project activities in cultural and educational support.
All this represents noble and praiseworthy efforts on behalf of disadvantaged African-Americans. But high ideals do not necessarily guarantee artistic achievement. Baker uses a combo of five instrumentalists, which bangs away behind the choir, hardly “fusing” anything in styles—neither honest jazz nor multicultural synthesis.
The choir, in its turn, sings mightily at music of generally simplistic technique — mostly unisons and chordal declamations. There is little to remember or admire, once the “messages” have worn off.
Fortunately, the intermission yielded to the one work of substance on the program, the Mass for Double Choir, by the Swiss composer Frank Martin (1890-1974, below), a combination of neo-classical and modernist styles that is better appreciated in Europe than here.
For this, the two choirs (below) merged, then divided into the requisite two components.
Martin’s writing is subtle, and his juxtaposition of the two choirs is not just antiphonal but artfully varied in their interaction—to which is added a great deal of harmonic experimentation. This is one of the choral masterpieces of the 20th century.
Pinsonneault and his 57 choristers gave it a glorious performance, showing what this conductor can do to make great choral sound out of great choral music.
The final programmed piece was a somewhat pretentious setting by contemporary Scottish composer James MacMillan (below) of a ballad by poet Robert Burns. As an encore, the singers perpetrated a glitzy, but uncredited, arrangement of “Loch Lomond”—the only piece that brought the audience to its feet.
This concert was an undeniable testimony to the splendid choral groups we have here, and to what Pinsonneault is accomplishing with these groups. But I kept returning to the dichotomy at which I hinted earlier.
Choral singing is a wonderful activity both to listen to and to participate in, and I share some of the enthusiasm for that. But I wonder how many in the audience were there seeking great CHORAL singing. I was there seeking great choral MUSIC.
Our choirs can give us the former, no question, and audiences can justly admire it. But has all this musical talent been applied responsibly to the latter? How much do our choral programs deal with trivia and little sweetmeats, rather than digging into the vast literature of magnificent choral art?
ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, from 12:15 to 1 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features classical guitarist Christopher Allen performing music by Abel Carlevaro, Leo Brouwer, Manuel Ponce and Federico Moreno-Torroba.
By Jacob Stockinger
Three upcoming events at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music merit your attention and maybe your attendance.
Two concern racial diversity and the role of African-American composers and performers. It is an issue here and at many music schools around the country.
The third involves a concert by Javier Calderon of Latin American composers who wrote for the classical guitar.
All events are FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.
On Thursday night at 5-6 p.m. in Room 1351 of the Mosse Humanities Building, baritone Emery Stephens of Wayne State University in Detroit will present a lecture-recital titled “African American Voices in Classical Music,” with UW-Madison collaborative pianist Martha Fischer, along with an interactive component for audience members.
Stephens will share brief histories of the composers and their music. The program will include unaccompanied spirituals, spiritual arrangements and art songs by African-American composers.
Works will be by Harry Burleigh (1866-1949), Edward Boatner (1898-1981), Hall Johnson (1888-1970), Margaret Bonds (1913-1972), Charles Brown (b. 1940), and Betty Jackson King (1928-1994). Sorry, specific titles have not been mentioned.
For more about Stephens and his subject, visit:
On Friday afternoon from 3:30 to 5 p.m. in Room 1351 of the Mosse Humanities Building Stephens will present a master class on his Beyond Race Project.
On Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, UW-Madison School of Music professor Javier Calderon will give a FREE faculty concert of guitar music by music of Eduardo Caba (Bolivia), Manuel Ponce (Mexico), and Heitor Villa-Lobos (Brazil).
By Jacob Stockinger
Today is a good day to think about the American singer Marian Anderson (below).
Maybe you think that opera is progressive, or at least more progressive than, say, orchestras or societies at large.
Well, think again.
Maybe in some things.
But not in race relations.
And that was on Jan 7, 1955.
That appearance came almost 20 years after she performed the historic 1939 outdoor recital (below) on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. That event, done to great critical acclaim and before a huge public crowd, came about because First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, with the help of President FDR, procured permission for Anderson to sing at the memorial after the Daughters of the American Revolution denied Anderson the use of Constitution Hall because of her race. It was broadcast nationally on the radio.
At the Met, Anderson performed the role of the sorceress Ulrica (below, from the photo archives at the Met) in “Un ballo in maschera” (A Masked Ball) by Giuseppe Verdi.
Anyway, the 60th anniversary celebration of that historic Met performance came this past week, on Wednesday.
Here is the NPR story that even has sound snippets of Anderson’s singing: