The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Wisconsin Public Radio will air the Madison Opera’s productions of “Romeo and Juliet” and “The Magic Flute” this Saturday afternoon and next Saturday afternoon

May 18, 2017
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Saturday live broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera ended for the season last weekend.

But opera on the radio continues.

The Madison Opera is partnering with Wisconsin Public Radio to present recorded broadcasts of Charles Gounod’s Romeo & Juliet on Saturday, May 20, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Magic Flute (below) on Saturday, May 27. (Photo are by James Gill for the Madison Opera.)

Both broadcasts begin at 1 p.m. Listeners can tune into their local WPR station or stream online at www.wpr.org/listen-live.

Each spring, two operas from Madison Opera’s season are presented by Wisconsin Public Radio to let listeners re-live the season.  These broadcasts cap off the end of the season of live radio broadcasts from The Metropolitan Opera that run from December through May on WPR’s News and Classical Music Network.

“We are committed to showcasing some of the best music and arts performances in Wisconsin. Our broadcast partnership with the Madison Opera, and organizations and musicians throughout the state, help to ensure everyone has access to live and local concerts no matter where they live,” said Peter Bryant (below), director of WPR’s News and Classical Music.

Charles Gounod’s Romeo & Juliet opens the broadcast series on Saturday, May 20, at 1 p.m.  In 14th-century Verona, Romeo meets Juliet in a crowded ballroom, setting in motion a chain of events that will change both their families. With soaring arias, impassioned scenes and plenty of sword fights, Gounod’s gorgeous opera brings Shakespeare’s classic tale of star-crossed lovers to vivid life.

Madison Opera’s cast features UW-Madison graduate and Lyric Opera of Chicago alumna Emily Birsan (below right) as Juliet, John Irvin (below left) as Romeo, Sidney Outlaw as Mercutio, Stephanie Lauricella as Stephano, Liam Moran as Friar Lawrence, Allisanne Apple as Gertrude, Chris Carr as Tybalt, Philip Skinner as Lord Capulet, Benjamin Sieverding as the Duke of Verona, Nathanial Hill as Gregorio, James Held as Paris, and Andrew F. Turner as Benvolio.

John DeMain conducts, featuring the Madison Opera Chorus and Madison Symphony Orchestra. The broadcast includes an intermission feature with Birsan, Irvin and DeMain, interviewed by WPR’s Lori Skelton.

On Saturday, May 27, at 1 p.m., the broadcasts conclude with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Magic Flute. A prince, a princess, a bird-catcher and a host of other fascinating characters invite you into a fantastical world of charmed musical instruments, mystical rituals, and a quest for enlightenment and wisdom.

Written in the last year of his life, Mozart’s sublime opera is part fairy tale, part adventure story, and all enchantment.

Madison Opera’s cast features Amanda Woodbury as Pamina, Andrew Bidlack as Tamino, Alan Dunbar as Papageno, Caitlin Cisler as The Queen of the Night, Nathan Stark as Sarastro, Scott Brunscheen as Monostatos, Amanda Kingston as the First Lady, Kelsey Park as the Second Lady, Anna Parks as the Third Lady, Anna Polum as Papagena, Matthew Scollin as the Speaker, Robert A. Goderich as the First Priest/Armored Man, and James Held as the Second Priest/Armored Man.

Julliard professor Gary Thor Wedow conducts, featuring the Madison Opera Chorus and Madison Symphony Orchestra.

The broadcast includes an intermission feature with Woodbury, Bidlack, Dunbar and Wedow, interviewed by WPR’s Lori Skelton.

Madison Opera is a non-profit professional opera company based in Madison, Wisconsin.  Founded in 1961, the company grew from a local workshop presenting community singers in English-language productions to a nationally recognized organization producing diverse repertoire and presenting leading American opera singers alongside emerging talent.  A resident organization of the Overture Center for the Arts, Madison Opera presents three productions annually in addition to the free summer concert Opera in the Park and a host of educational programming.


Classical music: A new recording of Rachmaninoff’s “All-Night Vigil” captures the Russian qualities the composer prized in this sacred music

April 12, 2017
Leave a Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a record 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 hosts an early music show once a month on Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

By John W. Barker

For reasons, astronomical and cultural, the Western and Eastern Orthodox celebrations of Easter are frequently held at separate dates. But this year they coincide (on this coming Sunday, April 16). That gives good reason to direct attention beyond familiar Western Easter music and instead to that of Eastern Orthodoxy.

A new recording of one of the landmarks of Russian Orthodox music provides further stimulus to this.

Russian Orthodox practice did not encourage extensive new compositions, but stressed elaborate liturgical rituals built around the heritage of medieval monophonic chant, while benefiting from the fabulous style of Russian choral singing—those low basses (“octavists”) in particular.

Most composers who worked to enrich the liturgical literature were professional church musicians, but a number of “secular” Russian composers also made contributions. Notable among them were Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Peter Tchaikovsky and Sergei Rachmaninoff (below).

It is the last of those three who has given us the music at hand, a truly memorable sacred creation. The work is his Op. 37, entitled “The Most Important Hymns of the ‘All-Night Vigil,” and commonly called “The All-Night Vigil” (Vsenoshchnogo Bdeniya) or else, more simplistically the “Vespers.”

It was composed during the early years of World War I, which was to bring about the collapse of the Russia that Rachmaninoff knew. It was performed in 1915, and two years later, amid the upheavals of the two Revolutions, the composer left his native land for good.

Rachmaninoff prized his Op. 37 above his other works; it was his proclamation of Russian identity, and after it he wrote no more sacred music. He even hoped that one section of it could be sung at his funeral. (A moving sample can be heard in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The Orthodox Christian celebration of the Resurrection places emphasis on the Saturday night offices of Vespers and Matins, in a prolonged and elaborate ritual. (This Vigil array can also be used for other significant feasts beyond Easter.)

Given the lengths, Rachmaninoff chose to set his selection of “the most important hymns” for his Op. 37, for a total of 15 sections. He did follow working practice by building his settings on or around traditional chant melodies. He expected that individual sections might have liturgical usage; but he understood that the totality was a grand concert work.

The Rachmaninoff All-Night Vigil, or “Vespers,” has been recorded many times, often by Russian choirs, which have the musical and liturgical style in their blood. But non-Russian groups and directors have also come to recognize the transcendent beauty of this masterwork.

Noteworthy among those was Robert Shaw, the great American choral master whose recording (on the Telarc label) has been acclaimed by his admirers for its predictably superb choral sound. But Shaw and his singers lack Russian sound or spiritual sensitivity.

Other American performers have joined in: the broadly paced recording with Charles Bruffy and his Phoenix and Kansas City choirs (for Chandos) is notable. Paul Hillier’s recording (for Harmonia Mundi) with the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir has earned great respect.

I have just been taken by the brand new release (below) from Paraclete Recordings of Massachusetts, with the Gloria Dei Cantores and members of three other choirs under the direction of Peter Jermihov.

They number 77 singers in all and, as recorded in a church setting, they make a sumptuous sound. Their emphasis is less on clarifying individual voice parts and more on relishing the rich blends that make up the total texture.

While treating the work as a grand concert piece, this performance goes beyond most others by including intonations by clerical celebrants, recalling the liturgical context that was always in the composer’s mind.

One of the striking features of this release is its thick album booklet. This is not only richly illustrated but contains an unusually penetrating background essay. Further, in presenting the Russian texts (in Cyrillic and transliteration) with English translations, it also gives useful comments section by section, for the fullest understanding of the liturgical contexts.

This is a noteworthy addition to the crowded recording picture for this sumptuous and deeply moving sacred music.


    Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,093 other followers

    Blog Stats

    • 1,724,387 hits
%d bloggers like this: