The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: In Dvorak’s “Rusalka,” the Madison Opera demonstrated how beautiful music and convincing stagecraft can overcome a weak story

May 1, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Opera Guy for this blog – Larry Wells – took in last weekend’s production by the Madison Opera of “Rusalka” and filed the following review. Performance photos are by James Gill.

By Larry Wells

I thoroughly enjoyed attending the Sunday afternoon performance of Antonin Dvorak’s opera “Rusalka” presented by Madison Opera in Overture Hall. Until then I had only heard recordings of this lushly orchestrated work.

The opera is a fairy tale involving a rather dithering water sprite (below right) who does not follow her father’s wise advice not to pursue a mortal prince (below left) and to stick to her own kind. She ignores his advice, and this leads to her eventual unhappiness and to the death of her prince.

That she also becomes mute when in the presence of the prince adds to everyone’s woes, and it seems a peculiar device to have the lead soprano not be able to sing for most of the second act of the opera.

Her inability to communicate naturally leads to the prince’s frustration, and my companion suggested that she could simply have used paper and pencil to communicate. But since she had been brought up in a river, perhaps she never learned to read and write.

Nevertheless, common sense did not seem to inhabit either Rusalka or her prince. As my companion also pointed out, love isn’t always logical.

In any event, the production and the music made up for the libretto’s shortcomings.

The set featured beautiful projections, from the Minnesota Opera, of forest, water and woodlands during the first and third acts.

The second act took place at the prince’s palace. It appeared to be an International Style palace in the manner of architect Mies van de Rohe, which must have also been disconcerting for Rusalka. Nonetheless, the set was very striking and beautifully lit.

Tenor John Lindsey (below top) portrayed the prince and William Meinert (below bottom left, with Emily Birsan) was Rusalka’s father, a water goblin. Both sang well, although Lindsey had the distracting habit of casting his chin and eyes downward as he sang.


But the stage belonged to the women.

Emily Birsan (below) as Rusalka was a study in subtle shadings of her expressive soprano voice (below, singing the famous  aria “Song to the Moon”). She is a powerful singer and convincing actress who was engaging to watch and to hear.

Lindsay Ammann (below) as the sorceress Jezibaba was powerful in voice and in her command of the stage. Her third act aria was sensational, and her calling Rusalka a “empty little water bubble” was so apt it made the audience titter.

The villainous Foreign Princess portrayed by Karin Wolverton (below, standing over John Lindsey) seemed to be the only sensible character in the opera. She likewise commanded the stage and displayed a powerful voice with passionate commitment to her role.

Three water sprites – portrayed by Kirsten Larson, Saira Frank and Emily Secor (below, in order from left) – provided Rhine maiden-like commentary and gorgeous vocalizations despite having to wander around the stage at times seeming to be fascinated by twigs.

A shout-out goes to tenor Benjamin Liupaogo (below), still a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music, who only sang a couple of lines but sang them very beautifully. He is someone to watch!

The Madison Symphony Orchestra was conducted by John DeMain (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson). The strings and winds sounded particularly good that day, and DeMain brought out all of the interesting Bohemian folky gestures Dvorak included in the score. I found Dvorak’s orchestral score engaging throughout the performance. (You can hear the opening Overture in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Altogether it was charming afternoon of beautiful music, excellent singing and fetching staging of a strange tale.

Madison Opera has announced its upcoming season offerings, which are Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata” (Nov. 1 and 3), Gregory Spears’ “Fellow Travelers” (here Feb. 7 and 9, it has already hit Chicago and Minneapolis and is slated for Tucson next season as well), and Jacques Offenbach’s comic “Orpheus in the Underworld” (April 17 and 19).

It seems a very interesting season, and subscription tickets will go on sale in early May. For more information, go to: https://www.madisonopera.org


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Classical music: The 13th season of “Live from The Met in HD” opens this Saturday with Verdi’s opera “Aida” starring Anna Netrekbko

October 5, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

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This Saturday, Oct. 6, the new 10-opera season of the series “Live From the Met in HD” starts with Giuseppe Verdi’s popular late masterpiece and epic opera “Aida.” 

The hi-definition broadcast of a live performance from the Metropolitan Opera (below) in New York City – which is a revival production with the superstar Russian soprano Anna Netrebko — starts at 11:55 a.m. and runs until 4:13 p.m. The encore showings are on next Wednesday, Oct. 10, at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

The opera will be sung in Italian with supertitles in English, German, Spanish and Italian.

Tickets are for Saturday broadcasts are $24 for adults and $22 for seniors. For encore showings, all tickets are $18.

The cinemas where the opera can be seen are two Marcus Cinemas: the Point Cinema on the west side of Madison and the Palace Cinema in Sun Prairie.

Here is a link to the Marcus website for address and more information:

http://www.marcustheatres.com/movies/met-aida-live

Get out your datebooks!

Here is a link to the Metropolitan Opera’s web site where you can find the titles, dates, casts, production information and video clips of all 10 productions in the 2018-19 season, which include operas by Bizet, Wagner, Donizetti, Saint-Saens, Puccini, Cilea and Poulenc plus a new work, “Marnie,” by Nico Muhly. (You can also see and hear the season trailer in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

https://www.metopera.org/season/in-cinemas/

Here is a link to a very positive review of “Aida” — Anna Netrebko as Aida is on the left in the photo by Sara Krulwich for The New York Times — by senior music critic Anthony Tommasini that appeared in The New York Times:

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/27/arts/music/anna-netrebko-aida-met-opera-review.html

Here is a link to a synopsis and cast list, which can be printed out:

https://www.metopera.org/globalassets/season/in-cinemas/hd-cast-sheets/aida_1819_hdsynopsis_global_nodates.pdf?performanceNumber=15145

Here is a link to other information about the production of “Aida,” including photos and audiovisual clips:

https://www.metopera.org/season/2018-19-season/aida/

And here is a Wikipedia history of the successful broadcast series that gives you more information about how many cinemas it uses, the size of the worldwide audience – now including Russia, China and Israel — and how much money it makes for The Met.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metropolitan_Opera_Live_in_HD


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Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra finishes its season with first-time performances of a piano concerto by Mozart and a Slavic Mass by Janacek

May 3, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below, in a photo by Peter Rodgers) concludes its current season with “Mass Appeal,” a program that includes two first-ever performances.

One work is the Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-Flat Major, K. 382, with Christopher O’Riley as the soloist. The other work is the massive “Glagolitic Mass” by the Czech composer Leos Janacek.

The concerts are in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, 201 State St., on Friday, May 4, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, May 5, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, May 6, at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets cost $18-$90. Ticket information is lower down.

MSO music director John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) had the following comments about the program:

“The concert opens with the exhilarating Overture to the opera Don Giovanni by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart,

“Janacek’s monumental Glagolitic Mass is a very dramatic work. The soloists who are joining us will fill Overture Hall with voluptuous sound, and the Madison Symphony Chorus will bring its high level of professionalism, adding to the thrilling auditory experience that is so characteristic of Janacek. (NOTE: You can hear the dramatic and brassy opening of the Glagolitic Mass in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

“This work also features the organ in a movement all its own, and will give our audiences a chance to once again experience the beauty and power of the Overture Concert Organ as played by MSO’s Principal Organist Greg Zelek (below).”

“Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni was completed in 1787. Mozart’s musical genius is evident in the subtle shadings of darkness he injects into even the most outwardly cheerful moments of the overture — which was most recently performed by the MSO in 2003.

“Composed in December of 1785, Piano Concerto No. 22 was the first concerto by Mozart (below) to include clarinets, his favorite woodwind, in its scoring. The concerto is considered to be a particularly elegant work, filled with ornate, often complicated, writing for the soloist that carries a natural sense of aristocratic poise.

“The Glagolitic Mass, considered to be one of the century’s masterworks and Janacek’s finest choral work, has often been viewed as a celebration of Slavic culture. With text in Old Church Slavonic, the five movements correspond to the Roman Catholic Ordinary of the Mass, omitting “Dona nobis pacem” in the Agnus Dei.

“The piece begins and closes with triumphant fanfares dominated by the brass and prominently features the organ throughout.

“Janacek (below) wanted it to be a Mass “without the gloom of the medieval monastic cells in the themes, without the same lines of imitation, without the tangled fugues of Bach, without the pathos of Beethoven, without the playfulness of Haydn,” rather he talks of the inspiration of nature and language.

“Acclaimed for his engaging and deeply committed performances, pianist Christopher O’Riley (below, in a photo by Dan Williams) is known to millions as the host of NPR’s From the Top, which spotlights gifted young classical musicians.

“O’Riley’s repertoire spans a kaleidoscopic array of music from pre-baroque to present-day. He performs around the world and has garnered widespread praise for his untiring efforts to reach new audiences.

Christopher O’Riley has performed as a soloist with virtually all of the major American orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Chicago Symphony, National Symphony, and San Francisco Symphony. He last appeared with the Madison Symphony Orchestra in 1995, making for a highly anticipated return with his performance this season.

Soprano Rebecca Wilson (below, in a photo by Jeremy Lawson) has been praised as a “staggeringly talented singer” by St. Louis Magazine. She has appeared with Union Avenue Opera, in the role of Gutrune in Richard Wagner’s Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods) and has performed throughout the Chicago area in many roles.

Hailed as possessing a voice of “spell-binding power and intensity” (The Register-Guard), mezzo-soprano Julie Miller (below, in a photo by Devon Cass) has appeared as a soloist with many orchestras and in many major concert halls across the country.

Tenor Rodrick Dixon (below, in a photo by Dan Demetriad) is a classical crossover artist who possesses a voice of extraordinary range and versatility. His body of work covers 25 years of television, recordings, live theater and concerts, including PBS Specials with tenors Victor Cook, and Thomas Young; “Hallelujah Broadway,” starring his wife, Alfreda Burke; the Miss World Pageant broadcast from China and Washington, D.C., on the “E” channel in 126 countries.

Dixon recently appeared in the annual Freedom Awards. His eclectic discography includes recordings for Sony BMG, EMI Records and Naxos.

Bass Benjamin Sieverding (below, in a photo by Lu Zang) has been recognized by critics nationwide for his “surprising depth” (Boulder Daily Camera), as well as his “natural gift for comedy” and “full, rich sound” (Ann Arbor Observer).

As an active soloist and recitalist, Sieverding performs both regionally and internationally. Sieverding is a three-time district winner and regional finalist of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.

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 (below) is directed by MSO assistant conductor Beverly Taylor and is comprised of more than 150 volunteer musicians who come from all walks of life and enjoy combining their artistic talent.

One hour before each performance, Beverly Taylor (below), Director of Choral Activities and Professor at the UW-Madison,will lead a 30-minute Prelude Discussion in Overture Hall to enhance concertgoers’ understanding and listening experience.

For more background on the music, please view the Program Notes by MSO trombonist and retiring UW-Whitewater professor J. Michael Allsen at: http://www.allsenmusic.com/NOTES/1718/8.May18.html

The Symphony recommends concert attendees arrive early for each performance to make sure they have time to pass through Overture Center’s security stations, and so they can experience the pre-concert talk (free for all ticket-holders).

Single Tickets for the 2017–2018 season finale May concerts are $18-$90 each and are on sale now at https://www.madisonsymphony.org/singletickets, 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 https://www.madisonsymphony.org/groups.

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: https://www.madisonsymphony.org/studentrush

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 May concerts is provided by Mirror 34 Productions, Fiore Companies, Inc., the Steinhauer Charitable Trust, Diane Ballweg, and WPS Health Solutions. Additional funding provided by Carla and Fernando Alvarado, Forte Research Systems and Nimblify, William Wilcox and Julie Porto, and Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.


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Classical music: Madison Opera’s “Magic Flute” proved enjoyable, opulent and superb

April 25, 2017
8 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s friend and opera veteran filed this review:

By Larry Wells

I attended last Sunday’s matinee performance of the Madison Opera’s production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” (Performance photos are by James Gill for the Madison Opera.)

The opera’s mystifying combination of fairy tale and Masonic ritual has been better explained by others, including the legendary Anna Russell. Those who know her only through her analysis of Wagner’s “Ring” Cycle should seek out her lecture on “The Magic Flute, which is accompanied on the CD by an equally humorous look at Verdi’s “Nabucco.” A search through the iTunes store will easily yield these treasures.

The scenery and costumes (below), which were borrowed from Arizona Opera, were superb. I was captivated by the clever set, the opulent costumes and the amazing props.

The choice to have the spoken dialogue in English, while the sung parts remained in German with supertitles in English, was a smart move and helped move the ridiculous plot lines along.

The playing by members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of guest conductor from the Juilliard School, Gary Thor Wedow, (below) was, as usual, brilliant.

And the singing was, for the most part, first-rate.

Special mention should be made of Andrew Bidlack (below top) as a consistently arresting Tamino and Amanda Woodbury (below, right, with Scott Brunscheen as Monostatos) as a crystalline Pamina. Their first act duet was perfection.

Likewise, Caitlin Cisler played the Queen of the Night (below center) and her vocal fireworks were spectacular, plus she was a delight to watch in her bizarre winged costume. (You can hear the Queen of the Night’s astonishing and virtuosic aria in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

I enjoyed Alan Dunbar’s Papageno (below). He has a gift for comedy.

And probably my favorite characters, the three ladies (below, from left, with Tamino) portrayed by Amanda Kingston, Kelsey Park and Anna Parks were brilliantly sung and acted.

UW-Madison graduate Anna Polum (below) did not disappoint in the smaller role of Papagena, and we will be fortunate to hear her again soon in Johannes Brahms’ “German Requiem” with the Madison Symphony Orchestra next month.

The three spirits, sung by local schoolboys, were fun to watch with their steampunk attire and props, but they were vocally rather thin.

Nathan Stark’s Sarastro tested the limits of his vocal range. It’s a difficult role in any event since Sarastro has the unfortunate habit of stopping the opera’s action in its tracks whenever he appears.

The audience loved the whole thing, laughing at the comic absurdities and applauding whenever the music paused. But I cannot help wondering why “The Magic Flute” is such a popular opera. Its plot is basically incomprehensible, its second act goes on a half hour too long, the Queen of the Night’s downfall is never satisfactorily explained, and despite a number of memorable tunes, there are, in my mind, many more musically satisfying operas.

Next season we can look forward to yet another of the countless performances of Bizet’s “Carmen” and yet another Mozart opera “The Abduction from the Seraglio.” Madison does seem to love its Mozart. But we will also be hearing the late Daniel Catan’s lush, Puccini-esque “Florencia en el Amazonas,” for which I give praise.

I got to thinking about what other lesser performed operas that are not 200 years old might please the Madison crowd and quickly came up with: Benjamin Britten’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”; Gian Carlo Menotti’s “The Consul”; Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide”; Douglas Moore’s “The Ballad of Baby Doe”; Samuel Barber’s “Vanessa”; and Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Sir John in Love.”

Each of these is as melodic as “The Magic Flute” and each has certainly more compelling storylines.

What are your suggestions?


Classical music: University Opera’s updated Hollywood production of Verdi’s “Falstaff” proves a triumph on all counts. Plus, FREE Opera Scenes concert is Tuesday night

November 20, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a guest review by The Opera Guy of Giuseppe’s Verdi’s “Falstaff” as staged by the University Opera. Performance photos are by Michael Anderson.

By Larry Wells

In the past few years I’ve seen Verdi’s “La Forza del Destino” set in the Spanish Civil War, Wagner’s Ring cycle re-imagined as the history of cinema, and Puccini’s “Turandot” presented as a performance by a traveling circus.

Thus, Verdi’s ‘Falstaff’ set in 1930’s Hollywood seemed a reasonable reinterpretation, and so it proved at its final performance Tuesday evening by University Opera.

“Falstaff,” drawn from three plays by Shakespeare, is Verdi’s final opera and a rare comedy. More importantly, gone are his familiar forms of a recitative followed by an aria with lots of oom-pa-pa orchestral accompaniment, now replaced with a conversational style that to me shows Wagner’s influence. It just doesn’t sound like Verdi, but it certainly sounds good.

I felt that the whole evening was a triumph.

The sets were beautifully dressed, the costumes were excellent and the lighting was effective.

uw-falstaff-set-and-cast-michael-anderson

The UW Symphony Orchestra, conducted by James Smith, played wonderfully, although from where I sat the sound was occasionally muffled.

Thank goodness a new music building is being built, and I trust that there will be a theater within it that will accommodate operatic performances. The current Music Hall has its limitations, one being that much of the orchestra was playing underneath the stage and another being that for some reason the theater’s temperature cannot be controlled. It was stiflingly hot during the performance.

As for the singing and acting, the cast I saw was uniformly strong. Falstaff, performed by UW-Madison faculty member Paul Rowe (below), was very robust and was particularly affecting during his act III soliloquy. The Ear mentioned to me his Oliver Hardy mannerisms, and once I noticed that I was constantly amused.

uw-falstaff-paul-rowe

Yanzelmalee Rivera as Alice was hilarious in her seduction scene and really came alive in Act III. Courtney Kayser as Meg was a compelling comic actress. Rebecca Buechel’s Mistress Quickly was an equally adept comic actress and had an excellent voice. Emily Weaver as Nannetta was a beautiful singer who shone in her third act moments as Queen of the Fairies. These four women had some outstanding ensemble moments, and I was constantly diverted by their antics as they outwitted the men.

Among the hapless male characters, Brian Schneider was a standout as Ford and the deep voice of Benjamin Schultz (below left, with Paul Rowe and Jiabao Zhang) made the minor character Pistola noticeable whenever he was on stage.

uw-falstaff-benjamin-schultz-left-paul-rowe-and-jiabao-zhang

But the voice of the evening belonged to tenor José Daniel Muñiz (below right) as Fenton. He excelled not only in his solo moments but blended extremely well with his paramour Nannetta (Claire Powling, below left).

uw-falstaff-jose-muniz-and-claire-powling

The outstanding ensemble work exhibited throughout the opera culminated in the grand fugue at the end of the opera, and the nearly full-house audience was blown away by those final moments. (You can hear the fugal finale, conducted by Sir George Solti, in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

The 1930’s Hollywood concept worked well. It seemed completely fitting and was undoubtedly more amusing than it would have been had the opera been set in the time of Henry IV.

“Well done” to the University Opera’s new full-time director David Ronis (below center) for his imagination and direction. I look forward to his production of Benjamin Britten’s “Turn of the Screw” in early March.

uw-falstaff-david-ronis

And since this University Opera production and other events are being presented to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and the exhibition of a First Folio at the Chazen Museum of Art, I want to put in a plug for Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Sir John in Love” which has almost exactly the same plot as “Falstaff” and is woefully underperformed.

I also want to draw your attention the FREE Opera Scenes concert by University Opera that will be presented this Tuesday night, Nov. 22, at 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall. Featured are singers, with piano accompaniment, in scenes from: Charles Gounod’s “Faust”; Claudio Monteverdi’s “The Coronation of Poppea“; Giacomo Puccini‘s “La Rondine”; Leonard Bernstein‘s “Trouble in Tahiti”; Gioacchino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville”;  Dominick Argento’s “Postcard From Morocco”; and Marc Blitzstein’s”Regina.” 


Classical music: Go inside the Money Opera at the Met with the Pulitzer Prize-winning financial reporter James B. Stewart.

March 30, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

It is no secret that the famed Metropolitan Opera in New York City has been having major financial and labor problems during the tenure of its General Director Peter Gelb (below).

Peter Gelb 2.jpg

But it is hard to find a better researched or more detailed account of what is going on than the account that was written by the journalist James B. Stewart and appeared in the March 23 issue of The New Yorker magazine.

A graduate of the Harvard University Law School, Stewart (below), you may recall, is a winner of the Pulitzer Prize, a former reporter for The Wall Street Journal and currently a columnist for the New York Times. He has also written best-selling books. Such qualifications give him added credibility when reporting on the fiscal state of the arts.

James B. Stewart

Plus, Stewart got access to documents and records as well as to members of the board of directors. His account is filled with specific details about costs and fundraising that are convincing.

The discrepancy, for example, between what the Met said was the official cost of its recent and controversial “Ring” cycle (below) by Robert Lepage of Cirque du Soleil and what others say it cost is both astonishing and appalling.

Lepage Ring set

In an interview with Jim Zirin, Peter Gelb defends himself and his tenure in a YouTube video at the bottom.

To The Ear, the larger question is whether some of the same criticisms apply to other large performing arts groups, opera companies and symphony orchestras in other cities.

But that is another story for another day.

Here is a link to the story about the Met by James B. Stewart:

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/03/23/a-fight-at-the-opera

 


Classical music: The Madison Bach Musicians will perform rarely heard vocal and instrumental holiday music from the Renaissance and Baroque eras this Saturday night.

December 10, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

If you follow this blog, you know the high respect that The Ear has for the Madison Bach Musicians (below) and its founder-director Trevor Stephenson, who is also a first-rate keyboard player and a supremely talented explainer whose talks are unfailingly instructive and entertaining.

Kangwon KIm with Madison Bach Musicians

Stephenson writes to The Ear about this weekend’s upcoming holiday concert, which will feature a lot of vocal music and compositions that are rarely heard in the usual holiday concert programs. Each year, he says, attendance keeps growing steadily for the early holiday music performed on period instruments with historically informed performance practices.

Here is what Trevor Stephenson (below) says:

Prairie Rhapsody 2011 Trevor Stephenson

This Saturday evening, Dec. 13, at 8 p.m. the Madison Bach Musicians will present its fourth annual Holiday Concert (below is a photo from the 2012 holiday concert) in the beautiful sanctuary of the First Congregational United Church of Christ, at 1609 University Avenue, near historic Camp Randall stadium.

Madison Bach Musicians in Bach Cantata Dec. 2012

The preconcert lecture is at 7:15 p.m. and the concert begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 for the public, $20 for students and seniors over 65, and they are available at Orange Tree Imports, Willy Street Co-op (east & west), Farley’s House of Pianos, Room of One’s Own and Ward Brodt. For tickets bought at the door, add $5. Student rush tickets will be available for $10 with a valid student ID. For more information about tickets and about MBM, visit www.madsionbachmusicians.org

This year, MBM has set the “Way-Back” machine for the 16th and 17th centuries.

We’ll open with a set of five masterworks for a capella or unaccompanied vocal quartet by Orlando di Lassus.

In addition to soprano Chelsea Morris (below, who now lives in Madison and who won the second Handel Aria Competition last summer at the Madison Early Music Festival), and alto Sarah Leuwerke (who also lives here in Madison), two outstanding young singers from New York City will be featured. Bass Davone Tines and tenor Kyle Bielfield are both recent graduates in voice from the Juilliard School and both are concertizing extensively throughout the world. Here are their websites. http://www.davonetines.com/ and
http://www.bielfield.com/

Chelsea Morris soprano

Then an instrumental band featuring recorder, dulcian or Renaissance bassoon, two viola da gambas, two baroque violins, and positive organ will present sonatas by Antonio Bertali and Johann Schenk.

Instruments and voices will join in works by Heinrich Schütz, Johann Schelle, Johann Froberger, and two of Johann Sebastian Bach’s amazing uncles Heinrich Bach and Johann Michael Bach.

The 16th and 17th centuries were full of religious upheaval, scientific advancement, global exploration and great advances in the dissemination of knowledge through the publishing revolution. The music printing presses as well really start rolling during these centuries.

The astoundingly beautiful music of Orlando di Lassus (below), which will open our upcoming concert, might have been largely unknown and –- after his death — even completely lost had it not been for the publishing houses (many of them in the Netherlands) that saw a strong market for this work.

Orlando di Lasso

It’s staggering really to think of the dozens, probably hundreds, of musicians pre-dating the advent of broad publication whose works existed only in a few handwritten copies that have not survived. Of course, even after publishing gets going in the latter part of what we now call the Renaissance in the 16th century, only a few composers enjoyed consistent press

What strikes me over and over again me about Lassus’ music is how the incredible complexity of its counterpoint is consistently directed toward a clear spiritual point. Remarkably, this miracle of style is still present 200 years after Lassus in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, where the density of the countrapuntal fabric actually helps keep the emotion centered. Claude Debussy remarked how in Bach’s music “the issue is never lost.”

Also, Lassus treats the human voice so well; all four singers have beautiful, independent lines that weave together into a mesmerizing curtain of sound. Legend has it that Lassus’ voice itself was so compelling that as a young singer he was “absconded with” more than once.

For the second work on the program I’ll play a fugue on the positive organ. This type of organ weighs only about 200 pounds and is relatively portable; MBM borrowed this beautiful instrument, made by the Dutch builder Klop, from Stephen Alltop in Evanston, Illinois.

The fugue I’ll play is by Giovanni Gabrieli, music director at the magisterial St. Mark’s church in Venice, which still stands today. Pieces like this fugue were typically composed in “open score,” simply four independent lines with no instrumental designation — the counterpoint is so great, the music works in any medium. I always imagine what it might have sounded like on four sackbuts (Renaissance trombones) positioned in opposing galleries in a resonant space like St. Marks.

Giovanni Gabrieli

The program also features two viola da gambas, bowed though fretted instrument in roughly the same register as a cello (there are also tenor and treble gambas).

Gambists Martha Vallon and Anna Steinhoff will perform a sonata by Heinrich Schenck based upon the famous Rhinemaidens legend, though this work comes two centuries before Richard Wagner went ballistic on the idea in hid “Ring” cycle.

Johann Schenck

The first half of the program will end with instrumental sonatas by the Italian virtuoso violinist Antonio Bertali (below and in a YouTube video at the bottom), who worked most of his career in Vienna, and was known for importing early Italian opera into the Austrian region. We’ll mix baroque violins, gambas, recorder, dulcian and organ in the Bertali set.

antonio bertali

The second part of the program opens with two pieces by German composer Heinrich Schütz (below).

Heinrich Schutz

The first is a celebratory Christmas piece (Christ the Lord is Born Today) for voices and instruments. That will be followed by a very secular piece, Golden Hair–for soprano, alto, two violins, and continuo—about how “you torture me with your beauty. Why won’t Venus send me some comfort! I languish and die.”

Seventeenth-century or whenever — how some things never change! Schütz worked at the Dresden court during the incredibly turbulent times of the Thirty Years War; some of his music is even designed for reduced ensembles, due to the ravages of the war. As a young man he traveled to Italy and studied with Monteverdi. Some of Schutz’s music is even directly borrowed, or adapted from Monteverdi, as is the case with Golden Hair as Schutz converts it from Italian to German.

Next are two works by Heinrich Bach (below),  Johann Sebastian Bach’s great uncle. First is an instrumental transcription of “Have Mercy Upon Us, O Lord God” for two violins and two gambas. Second is the mezzo-soprano solo, with instrumental accompaniment, “Oh, had I tears enough in my head to wash away my sins.” This unusual work sounds almost like 20th-century expressionism in many places. The harmony is very gnarled, twisted and gothic. To me, Alban Berg’s Wozzeck is just around the corner.

Heinrich Bach

Following this is a rare vocal work by the great 17th-century keyboard composer Johann Froberger (below). The inventive texture mixes three voices and instruments and the text celebrates the vanquishing of death and the ecstatic speaking in tongues by the Apostles when visited by the Holy Spirit. The vocal lines are very nimble and suggest the animation of “speaking in all languages.”

johann froberger

Johann Schelle’s wrote a good deal of seasonal music and this Christmas piece is a prayer to the infant Jesus imploring him to rest in our hearts so that we will never again forget him.

The sentiment is very close to that found in the final aria in J. S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, “Mache dich mein herze rein,” in which the soul expresses its longing to have the Savior entombed and enshrined within our hearts, so that we may live in grace. Schelle was the Kapellmeister at Leipzig during much of the latter part of the 17th century — two generations before J. S. Bach took the job in the early 1720s.

The final composer featured on this Holiday program, Johann Michael Bach, was the son of Heinrich Bach and was also the father of Johann Sebastian Bach’s first wife, Maria Barbara Bach. Put another way, Johann Michael Bach was J. S. Bach’s father-in-law. The text is from the Christmas gospel, where the angels implore the shepherds not to be afraid, but to rejoice, for the Savior has come to earth. J. M. Bach set the text for antiphonal choirs, and MBM will do this by having voices in dialogue with the instrumental band.

Johann Michael Bach

Here is the complete program:

Orlando de Lassus (c. 1532–1594): Ave Regina Coelorum; Adoramus te; Carmina Chromatico; Missa pro defunctis; Introit Jubilate Deo

Giovanni Gabrieli (1557–1612): Fuga del nono tono

Johann Schenck (1660–1716?): Sonata III for two viols from “Le Nymphe di Rheno”

Antonio Bertali (1605–1669): Sonata in A minor for two violins and continuo; Sonata in G major for recorder, violin and dulcian

INTERMISSION

Heinrich Schütz (1585–1682): Heute ist Christus der Herr geboren; Güldne Haare

Heinrich Bach (1615–1692): Erbarm dich ein, O Herre Gott (instrumental version).

Johann Froberger (1616-1667): Ach, dass ich Wassers genug hätte; Alleluia Absorta est mors.

Johann Schelle (1648–1701): Ach mein herzliebes Jesulein

Johann Michael Bach (1648–1694): Fürchtet euch nicht


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