The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Madison Opera performs Verdi’s popular “La Traviata” this Friday night and Sunday afternoon in Overture Hall

October 28, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend, the Madison Opera opens its 59th season with a traditional production of Verdi’s “La Traviata” (The Lost One), one of the most popular operas in history.

According to the website www.operasense.com — specifically at https://www.operasense.com/most-popular-operas/ — it has been the most performed opera in the world, beating out such perennial favorites as Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” Puccini’s “La Boheme” and “Madama Butterfly,” and Bizet’s “Carmen.” (Below are photos by Matthew Staver from the production by Opera Colorado in Denver, which features the same sets and costumes that will be used in the production by Madison Opera.)

Performances in Overture Hall are this Friday night, Nov. 1, at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon, Nov. 3 at 2:30 p.m. The opera will be sung in Italian with projected supertitles in English. The running time, with two intermissions, is 2 hours and 45 minutes.

PRE-OPERA TALKS are on Friday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 1:30 p.m. in the Wisconsin Studio of the Overture Center. One hour prior to performances, general director Kathryn Smith will give an entertaining and informative talk about “La Traviata.” The talks are free to ticket holders.

POST-OPERA Q&A’s are on Friday and Sunday and will also take place in the Wisconsin Studio of the Overture Center. Audience members can join general director Kathryn Smith immediately after the performance to ask questions about what they have just seen. The sessions are free to ticket holders.

Tickets are $18-$135 with student and group discounts available. For information about tickets, the production and the cast, go to: https://www.madisonopera.org

Set in mid-19th century Paris, “La Traviata” tells of Violetta, a courtesan who tries to follow her heart. But societal pressures force her to leave the man she loves, and an incurable illness takes care of the rest.

Glittering parties contrast with quiet desperation, and ravishing music underscores all-consuming emotions.

“Only a few operas ever achieve a truly beloved status — and “La Traviata” is one of them,” says Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill). For being over 150 years old, its story is quite modern: a young woman trying to overcome the limitations that society has placed on her because of her class and gender, searching for happiness yet willing to make sacrifices.

“Plus it is full of very famous music, from the ‘Brindisi’ to ‘Sempre Libera’ and more,” Smith adds. “It’s always a pleasure to have a new generation discover this work, and to share it with opera omnivores who know it well.” (You can hear Renée Fleming sing Violetta’s signature aria “Sempre libera” (Always Free) at the Royal Opera House in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

“La Traviata” is based on the play and novel “La Dame aux Camélias” (The Lady of the Camellias) by Alexandre Dumas the son (below top), which were in turn based on his real-life relationship with the courtesan Marie Duplessis (below bottom), who died in 1847 of consumption.

The play was an instant hit when it premiered in Paris in 1852, and Verdi (below) turned it into an opera the following year.

While the first production of the opera was not a success, due to the poor singing of two cast members and the physical unsuitability of one singer, its second production was acclaimed, and the opera swiftly became one of the most performed operas in the world, a status it has not lost.

Both the opera and the play have inspired countless films, including “Camille” (with Greta Garbo), “Pretty Woman” (with Julia Roberts) and “Moulin Rouge” (with Nicole Kidman).

Madison Opera’s artistic director John DeMain (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) says: “”La Traviata” has been a part of my artistic life since the very beginning of my career – it’s one of the reasons I so wanted to conduct opera. The heartfelt and tragic story of a love that was cut short by both health and cultural circumstances is still deeply moving today.

“The role of Violetta is a tour-de-force that ranges from high-flying coloratura to dramatic vocalism, with a strongly-etched character. I love this opera so deeply and look forward to conducting it for our audience.”

Returning to Madison Opera as Violetta is Cecilia Violetta Lopez (she played Carmen in Madison), whom The Washington Post reviewer called “as compelling a Violetta as I’ve seen.”

Mackenzie Whitney  (below, who appeared in “Florencia en el Amazonas” for the Madison Opera) returns as Alfredo, the young man for whom she sacrifices everything.

Weston Hurt (below) debuts with Madison Opera as Alfredo’s father Germont, whose disapproval of his son’s relationship with Violetta has tragic consequences.

Madison Opera’s Studio Artists are featured: Kirsten Larson as Flora, Emily Secor as Annina, Benjamin Hopkins as Gastone, and Stephen Hobe as the Marquis d’Obigny.

Rounding out the cast are Benjamin Sieverding (Romeo and Juliet) as Dr. Grenvil and Benjamin Major in his Madison Opera debut as Baron Douphol.

Fenton Lamb (below) directs this traditional production in her Madison Opera debut.

Maestro John DeMain conducts the singers, the Madison Opera Chorus and the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

The Madison Opera’s production of “La Traviata” is sponsored by the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation, Bert and Diane Adams, Carla and Fernando Alvarado, Chun Lin, Patricia and Stephen Lucas, Millie and Marshall Osborn, Kato and David Perlman, the Wallach Family, Helen Wineke, Capitol Lakes, and the Wisconsin Arts Board.


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Classical music: The Middleton Community Orchestra offers its sure-to-please holiday concert this Wednesday night with soprano soloist Emily Birsan.

December 17, 2012
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

If you are looking for a relaxing break from holiday shopping and holiday parties, you are in luck.

The Middleton Community Orchestra (below) will present its holiday concert on this Wednesday night, Dec. 19, at 7:30 p.m. at the very attractive and comfortable Middleton Performing Arts Center, attached to Middleton High School, at 2100 Bristol Street in Middleton.

Middleton Community Orchestra by William Ballhorn

The concert will feature guest soloist soprano Emily Birsan (below), who studied at the University of Wisconsin School of Music and who is completing the second of a three-year apprenticeship with the prestigious Lyric Opera in Chicago.

emilybirsancolor104

The MCO will play a selection of classical ethnic and well-known dances and accompany Birsan in some well-known opera arias.

Tickets are free to students. Tickets are available at Willy St. Coop West and at the door on the night of the show.  General admission is $10. Call 212-8690 for more information or visit our website:

www.middletoncommunityorchestra.org

Here’s what Emily Birsan will sing:

Musetta’s Waltz” from “La Boheme” by Giacomo Puccini (1858–1924); “Vilia” from “The Merry Widow” by Franz Lehár  (1870–1948); “Ach, Ich Liebte” from “The Abduction From the Seraglio” by W. A. Mozart (1756-1791); “Ah!  fors’ e lui … Sempre Libera” from “La Traviata” by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901).

Emily Birsan performing

Under the baton of congenial conductor Steve Kurr (below), the MCO will be perform dances by Brahms (Hungarian Dances Nos. 1 and 3), Dvorak (Slavonic Dance, Op. 46, No. 8), Strauss (“Blue Danube” Waltz” and “Persian March”) the “Bacchanale” from Saint-Saens’ “Samson and Delilah” and the Polonaise from Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Christmas Eve” Suite.

Middleton Community Orchestra Steve Kurr conducting

And if this concert is anything like the last one I attended, there will be some terrifically tasty holiday snacks to eat and drink as you mix with the musicians and other audience members at the post-concert reception (below).

Middleton Community Orchestra reception

Here is the very positive review I did of another MCO concert:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/06/04/classical-music-review-let-us-now-praise-amateur-music-makers-and-restoring-sociability-to-art-here-are-9-reasons-why-i-liked-and-you-should-attend-the-middleton-community-orchestra/

Also, if you are interested in joining the MCO or supporting it or seeing about its upcoming concerts – with violin and cello soloists — for the rest of the season, visit:

http://middletoncommunityorchestra.org/concert_information

Here is a video for the current season with the soundtrack from last season’s final concert the one I review, with Middleton resident and UW graduate pianist Thomas Kasdorf, playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488, with the MCO.


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