The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Here is music to greet Fall, which arrives today. Plus, up-and-coming coloratura soprano Brenda Rae returns to her alma mater UW-Madison from this Friday through Sunday to raise money for University Opera.

September 23, 2015
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ALERT: Autumn is here. The Fall equinox arrives today at 3:31 a.m. CDT. If you are looking for some appropriate music to listen to, here is a good selection — complete with audio samples – from Minnesota Public Radio:

Plus: The long-term weather prediction is for a warm Fall , according to the Web site Accuweather. Here is a link:

By Jacob Stockinger

Attention all opera fans!

Here is a press release for you from the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Music, written by concert manager and publicity director Kathy Esposito:

“Gazing at herself in a bewitched mirror, she is obsessed with her radiant beauty; she caresses her own face and simpers at an imagined lover.”

“That would be the Appleton, Wisconsin coloratura soprano Brenda Rae (below) in the Seattle Opera’s February production of George Frideric Handel’s “Semele,” in which she was described by Opera News as “sensual,” “dazzling” and “moving.” (You can see a clip in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Soprano Brenda Rae

Brenda will be on the UW-Madison campus September 25-27 as part of a larger three-day fund drive to put University Opera -– which has existed at UW-Madison for 57 years, but which relies mostly on ticket sales and donations to finance productions -– on a secure financial footing.

For a more detailed biography of Benda Rae, go to:

Here is a link to a story about Brenda Rae and the University Opera written  by Gayle Worland in The Wisconsin State Journal:

On Friday, there will be a FREE and PUBLIC master class in Music Hall from 5 to 7 p.m.

On Saturday, two special donor events are planned: the first, a VIP dress rehearsal followed by a private University Club reception for event sponsors.

For more about level of sponsorship and the fundraising drive visit:

And on Sunday at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, a ticketed public concert ($25 for adults) will feature Brenda Rae singing Reinhold Gliere’s rarely heard Concerto for Coloratura Soprano, accompanied by the UW Symphony Orchestra, conducted by James Smith. Also on the program are scenes and an aria from Giuseppe Verdi’s opera “La Traviata” and “Symphonic Dances” by Sergei Rachmaninoff.

The two events are part of a fund-raising drive that honors opera alumna Karen K. Bishop, who passed away in January. We hope you will consider becoming a supporter of University Opera by sponsoring this event and attending one or more performances.

Classical music: Madison Opera’s “Tosca” is a MUST-SEE and MUST-HEAR production that ends this afternoon.

November 3, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

Loyal readers of this blog know very well the name of Mikko Utevsky. The young violist and conductor is a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, where he studies with Pro Arte Quartet violist Sally Chisholm and plays in the UW Symphony Orchestra.

Utevsky, who has won awards and impressive reviews for his work in music education since his days at Madison’s East High School, is the founder and conductor of the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra, which will perform its fourth season next summer. He  was recently named the new Music Director of a local community orchestra, The Studio Orchestra. The ensemble has an out-of-date website here (

You can check out his many honors and projects by typing his name into the search engine on this blog site.

When Utevsky offered The Ear to be a guest reviewer of the opening performance Friday night of the Madison Opera’s production of “Tosca,” I immediately took him up on the offer. After all, he is a fine and perceptive writer who, you may recall, blogged for this post when he was on tour two summers ago with the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) tour to Vienna, Prague and Budapest.

Here is the review by Mikko Utevsky (below):

new Mikko Utevsky baton profile USE

By Mikko Utevsky

The Madison Opera opened its season Friday night with a performance of Giacomo Puccini‘s ever-popular “Tosca” that can only be described as seriously good. (Below is the final scene in a photo by James Gill for the Madison Opera.) This tale of politics, love and revenge requires a solid cast, intelligent direction and a powerful orchestra. The Madison Opera proved that it has all three.

tosca on ramparts mad op

The Madison Symphony Orchestra‘s first two concerts of the new season have effectively demonstrated the power of that ensemble, and the ability of maestro John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) to draw out first-rate playing from an orchestra still on the rise 20 years into his tenure. In the pit (trimmed down slightly) they were no less impressive, with subtle colors and a lush, full-bodied sound. While the orchestra in Puccini is seldom in the spotlight, they certainly deserve to be.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

The focus in this opera is naturally all on the singers, and the cast did not disappoint.

Baritone Nmon Ford (below in the back, in a photo by James Gill) gave a menacing and sharp-edged performance as the police chief, Baron Scarpia.

His malevolent presence in the overpowering Te Deum (at bottom from “Opera in the Park” in a YouTube video) of Act I lent power to one of the strongest scenes the Overture Hall stage has seen in years, and his rapacious desire in Act II was compelling both in the singing and raw physicality, revealing the true fire behind the imposing facade he displays in the first act. Vocally, he brought a little more edge and a little less bottom to the role than ordinarily heard, but it was compelling all the same.

scarpia and tosca mad opera

Tenor Scott Piper was slow to warm to his role as the painter Cavaradossi (below, with Tosca, in a photo by James Gill), though warm he did. Particularly in the first act his upper register felt forced, with tension and volume substituting for a clear and refined tone, and his acting was somewhat wooden (though the third act was a marked improvement).

However, Piper brought considerable power to the role, and earned the applause he got for “E lucevan le stelle” as he awaits his execution.

tosca and cavaradossi mad op james gill

The true star of the evening, in the title role, was soprano Melody Moore as Tosca (below right in a photo by James Gill). Madison audiences may remember her as the excellent Countess from 2010’s “Le Nozze di Figaro,” but her performance here is on a completely different level.

From her stunning high notes to her impressive acting to her show-stopping rendition of Act II’s “Vissi d’arte” — rewarded with a thunderous ovation Friday night, which only stopped when maestro DeMain brought the orchestra back in —  Moore is the real deal.

Her characterization of Tosca as youthfully, playfully capricious (rather than as the self-absorbed diva she so often becomes) goes a long way toward explaining her behavior in the opera, and allowed her a great deal of freedom onstage.

tosca and cavaradossi

Director A. Scott Parry shaped the stage business of “Tosca” with intelligence and the attention to detail we have come to expect from him. The second act was particularly powerful (though the massive “Te Deum” from Act I cannot be forgotten), brought off with aplomb by Ford and Moore.

Completing the picture, magnificent sets (below) from the Seattle Opera laid out a majestic cathedral from inside and out in the first and third acts, the latter with a delightfully sensitive sunrise from lighting designer John Frautschy, and the singers were costumed in similarly appealing ensembles, also from Seattle (Scarpia’s stark black-and-white apparel was particularly effective).

tosca set 1 mad op

All in all, this is a “Tosca” not to be forgotten — or missed in its second and final performance on today, Sunday afternoon, Nov. 3, at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center.  (It runs 2 hours 45 minutes, with two intermissions, and it is sung in Italian with projected English supertitles.)

For information about tickets plus a plot synopsis and a complete cast list, visit:

Classical music and Opera Q&A: Conductor Gary Thor Wedow talks about the artists and music in Madison’s Opera’s FREE “Opera in the Park” concert this Saturday night.

July 17, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

This Saturday night, July 21, at 8 p.m. in Garner Park on Madison’s far west side – the rain date is Sunday – the Madison Opera will again offer its FREE summer outdoor preview of its next season by presenting “Opera in the Park.”

In recent years, the community event has drawn up to 15,000 people. Garner Park opens at 7 a.m. the day of the concert. Blankets, chairs, food and beverages are allowed. 

For more information about the 11th annual “Opera in  the Park,” including photos of past events and a list of the music to be performed, including both opera and Broadway musicals, t visit:

This time the conductor of the guest singers, the Madison Opera Chorus and the Madison Symphony Orchestra players is Gary Thor Wedow, who has a lot of experience in conducting opera and who has taught at the famed Juilliard School of Music in New York City since 1994.

Wedow (below) recently gave The Ear an email Q&A about this year’s Opera in the Park:

Can you briefly introduce yourself to the readers and audience?

I’m a mid-Westerner from Indiana, a Hoosier. I studied at Indiana University as a pianist with virtuoso Jorge Bolet, who loved opera and singers – and I’ve been hooked ever since.

Years ago I turned from the piano to conducting and love the grandeur of opera — the most extraordinary and complete art form. Though I’ve been lucky to conduct a lot of the Baroque repertoire, the opera I’ve conducted most is still “Carmen” and I’ve been through the gamut of the repertoire at New York City Opera, Seattle Opera (where the photo by Chris Bennion below shows him working the orchestra pit), Canadian Opera Company and other great opera companies around the country.

What are the special challenges and special rewards of performing outdoors? How do you feel about the experience?

At the beginning of my career, I was chorus master at Santa Fe Opera and I think I’ve experienced about every challenge: rain, wind, cold, rattlesnakes and amorous skunks (don’t ask). Of course, now that I’ve said I’ve experienced every challenge, maybe in Madison I’ll find another surprise.

But the rewards are terrific: the ambience, the sky, the whole experience of a picnic with friends and family and truly great music — it’s a memory for a lifetime. My grandfather played in town bands and as a teenager one of my happiest memories was being in the high school band for football games and summer parks concerts; I’m afraid it’s in my DNA.

Can you walk us through the performers and make some brief comments?

The soloists are all internationally recognized American artists.

Caitlin Lynch (below) is a radiant soprano whom I just saw in the disturbing but mesmerizing world premiere of “Dark Sisters. She performs Donna Elvira in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” this coming season, she’ll be doing an aria from that role in the park.

Matt Boehler (below), our dynamite bass, will join Lynch in the production of “Don Giovanni” next year. He is performing throughout Europe and is based in Switzerland now, but is a pal of mine from his days at Juilliard, where I’m on the faculty.

Russell Thomas (below) is a tenor without peer and has a truly magnificent voice. He will sing two big excerpts from Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera” (A Masked Ball) (Madison’s Opera’s fall production). It is one of Verdi’s greatest works.

Emily Fons (below) is a Wisconsin native who just had a triumph in Great Britain at the Garsington Festival and is going to sing some gorgeous Offenbach with us.

Another Wisconsin artist is the soprano Caitlin Cisler (below) will perform the role of Oscar in the “Ballo” and sings Oscar’s sparkling first act aria.

Can you walk us through the program and repertoire, and make some comments?

Well, could you tell that I’m excited about the “Ballo” and the “Don Giovanni” excerpts — this is opera at its greatest. But I’m over the moon that we will begin the program with the seldom performed “Hymn to the Sun” from Mascagni’s “Iris.”  It has breathtakingly beautiful orchestral colors and features your terrific chorus.

Other favorites will include selections from Verdi’s “Rigoletto”; but also some wonderful operetta. Matt will patter his way through the Modern Major General form Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Pirates of Penzance.” We will have some great American musical comedy classics: “Be My Love” — immortalized by Mario Lanza, but gloriously realized in Madison by Russell and Emily and Caitlin will charm us with “Show Boat” (borrowing from Maestro DeMain’s repertoire) and “Ice Cream” from “She Loves Me” — one of my personal favorites.

Are you familiar with the Madison Opera and Madison Symphony Orchestra or with maestro John DeMain? Do you have any comments or reactions about coming to Madison?

I’ve known John (below, in a photo by James Gill) much of my professional life. He is a superb musician and a first-class human being — he is an incredibly generous colleague, rarer than you might imagine. He has invited me to Madison several times before but it never quite fit, so I’m overjoyed that this summer it has worked out.

I am also a huge fan of the Madison Early Music Festival. What a rich cultural life you have there, so I am honored and overjoyed at working with the opera and symphony.

What else would you like to say about anything — the Opera in the Park concert or yourself as a performer and teacher or Madison?

I’m so excited to be coming to Madison. I’ve got dear friends there and know I will leave with more friends — performing this great music with a world-class orchestra and chorus and terrific colleagues in a park!

So, pack the picnic basket, wrap up the blanket and get a light stick (below) to join in the conducting. I’m looking forward to having a great evening — the more, the merrier.

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