The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Madison Opera’s “Florencia en el Amazonas” took listeners on an enchanting and moving voyage into love and fine singing of Puccini-like lyricism

May 1, 2018
Leave a Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Larry Wells – who is The Opera Guy for The Well-Tempered Ear blog – went to the recent production of the Madison Opera and filed this review, with photos by James Gill:

By Larry Wells

I looked forward enough to Madison Opera’s premiere production of Daniel Catán’s Spanish-languageFlorencia en el Amazonas” that I attended both performances at Overture Hall this past weekend.

Based on repeated hearings of the recording and numerous favorable reviews of other productions, I was fairly certain that I would be in for a treat. I was not disappointed.

The action takes place on a boat on the Amazon heading for Manaus where the title character Florenica (below), an opera singer of high repute, is to perform.

Other passengers (below), unaware of her presence onboard, also have the opera house as their destination in order to hear her sing.

Rosalba, her unauthorized biographer, and Paula and Alvaro, a bickering older couple, are joined onboard by the Captain, his nephew Arcadio, and a Puckish character Riolobo, who acts as narrator and supervises the magic in this tale of magical realism.

Below, starting at the top and moving clockwise, are: Kanopy Dancers, Ashraf Sewailam (The Captain), Mackenzie Whitney (Arcadio), Rachel Sterrenberg (Rosalba), Elizabeth Caballero (Florencia Grimaldi), Adriana Zabala (Paula), Levi Hernandez (Alvaro) and Nmon Ford (Riolobo)

The boat (our life) floats along the Amazon (life itself) in this parable of longing, regret, the fickleness of love, love lost and regained, and transformation.

Aiding in the unfolding of the tale are water sprites, referred to at times as Amazons. Six willowy dancers from the Kanopy troupe did not seem particularly Amazonian, but their waving of billowy fabric evoked the river and their retrieving twice from the water careless Rosalba’s precious manuscript added to the magic.

Riolobo and the sprites also bring Alvaro back to life after he appears to drown during a storm.  (We should be attentive to water sprites since Dvorak’s “Rusalka,” which also features these denizens, is on the schedule for next year’s season.)

And, in the end, just when you think that all conflicts have been resolved and love is at hand, the boat reaches Manaus only to find it impossible to make landfall due not only to cholera but also to rabies, scurvy, leprosy and beriberi. Florencia’s transformation into a butterfly (below) ends the voyage.

This odd but magical plot is a vehicle for lush, rhapsodic music by a Mexican composer whose life ended too soon. The orchestral and vocal writing featured soaring melodies, which at times reminded me of Puccini had his life extended further into the 20th century. The orchestral writing continually evokes the river and flowing water, reminding me of music of the Impressionists.

John DeMain ably led the wonderfully sounding Madison Symphony Orchestra.  He once again proved himself to be a master of pacing, tempo and dynamics.

The opera was very evenly cast. Nmon Ford (below top on right), as Riolobo, had a rich baritone voice and an impressive physicality. His transformation at the end of the first act into a feather-clad river spirit (below bottom) was hypnotic.

As Rosalba, Rachel Sterrenberg (below, top right), who made a memorable appearance last season as the wife Chan in “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird,” was a soprano of great flexibility who rendered her character’s opulent melodic lines with mounting ecstasy. Hers was a thrilling performance.

Her foil, full-voiced tenor Mackenzie Whitney (below, bottom left) as Arcadio, produced some of the most Puccini-like moments of sheer soaring lyricism.

Their duets, including a rather dark anti-love duet, were  highlights of the work. Catán’s writing for mixed voices is inspired, and all of the ensemble numbers – duets, a quintet, a septet – are entrancing.

Baritone Levi Hernandez as Alvaro and mezzo-soprano Adriana Zabala as his wife, Paula, had moments of bickering and moments of tenderness. His robust vocalization perfectly complemented the creamy richness of hers. Zabala’s second act lament was very touching.

Bass Ashraf Sewailam, in his debut appearance with Madison Opera, produced some of the best singing of the show. He was both profound and lyrical with a total lack of affectation. His acting was subtle, and his outstanding performance demands his return.

Elizabeth Caballero as the diva Florencia Grimaldi was impassioned, focused yet fluid, sumptuous and rapturous. Her ravishing singing, particularly during her metamorphosis — heard in another production in the YouTube video at the bottom — was truly moving.

The set, lighting, projections and costumes were all understated and perfectly blended. The only false step was what appeared to be coffins flying through the air out of Manaus. It took me a moment to realize they were intended to be floating in the river.

The audience seemed enchanted and moved by the opera. I was, too. Let’s have more works like this.

Advertisements

Posted in Classical music
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Chamber music: The Oakwood Chamber Players wraps up its current season on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon with a concert that explores musical scores and the composers’ intentions

May 9, 2017
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Oakwood Chamber Players (below) wraps up its 2016-17 season series “Perspective” with a concert titled “Looking Closely at the Score” on this coming Saturday night,  May 13, at 7 p.m. and Sunday afternoon, May 14, at 2 p.m.

Both concerts will be held at the Oakwood Center for Arts and Education, 6209 Mineral Point Road, on Madison’s far west side near West Towne.

Looking Closely at the Score considers composers and influences on their scoring.

The concert includes an array of guest artists, with the Oakwood Chamber Players partnering with musical colleagues from the woodwind quintet Black Marigold (below) to expand their programmatic possibilities.

Tickets can be purchased with cash or personal checks at the door: $20 for general admission, $15 for seniors and $5 for students.

French composer Vincent D’Indy (below, in 1911) wrote Chanson et Danses (Song and Dances) for woodwind septet in 1898. He was greatly influenced by Cesar Franck who was his composition teacher and by a personal enthusiasm for the music of Richard Wagner.

This piece has a subtle feel of the pastoral quality of Siegfried’s Idyll and takes the listener from a sweetly stated Chanson through increasing animation of the Danses and a serene return to the song theme at its conclusion.

A student of Ralph Vaughan Williams, admired Irish composer, renowned pianist and fourth-generation newspaper editor, Joan Trimble (below) led a life full of creativity. Her Phantasy Trio for violin, cello and piano won a major compositional award from the Royal College of Music in 1940.

This piece highlights warm and expressive lines that she felt important to provide for musicians and ably reflects her personal view that “performers had to be considered and allowed to play with their individual qualities in mind. How else were they to communicate and have a response from listeners?”

Luise Adolpha Le Beau was a German composer, piano soloist and student of Clara Schumann. Performing in chamber music was of particular interest to her and she wrote many of her compositions for this musical genre.

The Oakwood Chamber Players will perform Allegro con Fuoco from her Piano Trio in d minor. The movement alternates rhythmic motifs with sweetly expressive melodic lines. (You can hear the lovely slow movement from the same piano trio in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Romantic Swiss-German composer Joachim Raff was influential in the European scene and considered an inspired musician by 19th-century luminaries such as Schumann, Mendelssohn and Liszt and interest in his work was revived by notable 20th-century conductor and composer Bernard Hermann, who was noted for his scores to flms by Alfred Hitchcock.

Raff (below) coined the term Sinfonietta for his piece that combines two woodwind quintets to convey a buoyant and transparent approach in contrast to a more prescribed symphonic approach to scoring. This delightful four movement work has abundant soaring melodic lines, a true understanding of the characteristics of the woodwind family of instruments and a dazzling conclusion.

The Oakwood Chamber Players will be joined by guests J. Elizabeth Marshall, flute; Jennifer Morgan, oboe; Bethany Schultz, clarinet; Juliana Mesa-Jaramillo, bassoon; and Dafyyd Bevil and Kia Karlen, horns.

The Oakwood Chamber Players is a group of Madison-area professional musicians who have rehearsed and performed at Oakwood Village for over 30 years. Visit www.oakwoodchamberplayers.com for more information.

The Oakwood Chamber Players is a professional music ensemble proudly supported by Oakwood Lutheran Senior Ministries and the Oakwood Foundation.


Classical music survey: What was the first piece of chamber music that you loved? And what is your favorite piece of chamber music now?

January 28, 2017
19 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The weekend always seems like a good time for a reader survey or poll.

So this week, here is what The Ear wants to know:

What was the first piece of chamber music that you loved and that really hooked you on chamber music?

And what is your favorite piece of chamber music now? (Below is the UW-Madison‘s Pro Arte Quartet.)

ProArte 2010 1

There are so many pieces to choose from in such a rich repertoire that covers all instruments and the human voice as well.

There are sonatas and duos for violin and cello with piano, for example, and songs for voice and piano or other accompaniment, There are piano trios and string trios. There are string quartets and piano quartets. There are wind quintets, string quintets and brass quintets as well as piano quintets. And there are even wonderful sextets, septets and octets. (Below are UW faculty members pianist Christopher Taylor and violinist Soh-Hyun Park Altino.)

soh-hyun-park-altino-and-christopher-taylor

So what pieces or performers or qualities hooked you on chamber music?

And what pieces or performers or qualities keep you listening?

The “Trout” Quintet or the string quartets or the piano trios by Franz Schubert? For The Ear it was a magical and entrancing performance of the beautiful Piano Trio No. 1 in B-flat Major by Schubert, performed outdoors. (You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Was it the Baroque trio sonatas  by Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel? Or various Classical-era sonatas and string quartets by Franz Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart or Ludwig van Beethoven? Maybe more Romantic string quartets by Antonin Dvorak and Johannes Brahms. Or more modern ones by Sergei Prokofiev or Dmitri Shostakovich? Perhaps even contemporary string quartets by Philip Glass? (Below are the Willy Street Chamber Players, who regularly program new music.)

Willy Street Chamber Players 2016 outdoors

Leave word in the COMMENT section with link to a YouTube performance if possible.

Maybe your choices will even help win over new converts to chamber music.

And be sure to tell us what appeals to you about chamber music versus other music genres such as operas and orchestral works.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: David Ronis is the new opera director at UW-Madison. Con Vivo concludes its 14th season this Saturday night with septets and quintets by Beethoven, Dvorak, Max Reger and Carl Nielsen.

May 17, 2016
Leave a Comment

NEWS ALERT: David Ronis (below, in a photo by Luke Delalio) — who has been an interim director for two years — is the new director of University Opera. He was chosen from a nationwide search, and has posted the following news on his Facebook page:

“For some reason, I’ve been resisting posting my big news, now a couple of months old. But perhaps it’s time. I’ve been appointed the inaugural Karen K. Bishop Director of Opera at University of Wisconsin-Madison! It’s truly humbling to be going into an endowed chair established in memory of such a dear, wonderful, talented, and dedicated soul. This endowment will enable us to continue to develop the exemplary opera program at UW-Madison in all kinds of directions. Stay tuned!”

David Ronis color CR Luke DeLalio

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following note to pass along:

Con Vivo!…music with life (below) presents a chamber music concert entitled “Five by Seven” on this Saturday, May 21, at 7:30 p.m. in the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Ave., across from Camp Randall.

Con Vivo 2016

Tickets can be purchased at the door for $18 for adults and $15 for seniors and students.

Con Vivo!’s spring concert “Five by Seven” features septets and quintets for winds, strings and organ.

The program includes the Septet, Op. 20, by Ludwig van Beethoven, and the folk-like Bagatelles, Op. 47, for strings and organ by Antonin Dvorak. (You can sample Dvorak’s tuneful Bagatelles in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Additional pieces include the story of a lover’s unrequited love in the quintet “Serenata in vano” by Danish composer Carl Nielsen below top) and the miniature “Lyrical Andante” by the German composer Max Reger (below bottom), whose centennial was just marked.

Carl Nielsen at piano

Max Reger

Audience members are invited to join Con Vivo! musicians after the concert for a free reception to discuss the music.

Artistic Director Robert Taylor said: “With Con Vivo!’s spring concert, we conclude our 14th season with exceptional music that combines the wonderful sounds of winds, strings and organ. Our Madison audience will be able to hear our musicians up close and personal playing music of extreme delight and depth.”

Con Vivo! is a professional chamber music ensemble comprised of Madison area musicians assembled from the ranks of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and various other performing groups familiar to Madison audiences.


Classical music: The Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society gets its 24th three-week summer season underway this coming weekend. This year’s theme is “Guilty as Charged.” Here is part 2 of 2 with weeks 2 and 3.

June 9, 2015
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Our friends at the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society – which The Ear named Musician of the Year two seasons ago – will begin their new summer season this weekend.

The season features six concert programs performed over three weekends in three different venues and cities.

Here is the second part of two postings based on the BDDS press release. Part 1 ran yesterday. Here is a link:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/06/08/classical-music-the-madison-based-bach-dancing-and-dynamite-society-gets-its-24th-three-week-summer-season-the-theme-is-guilty-as-charged-underway-this-coming-weekend/

The second week of “Guilty as Charged” features “Honor Among Thieves” and “Breaking and Entering.”

In “Honor Among Thieves,” we feature composers who stole from others or themselves, but always in an effort to elevate what they stole and bring it to wider circulation.

John Harbison (below) “stole” familiar American songs in “Songs America Loves to Sing,” arranging them to show what incredible beauty lies in these everyday tunes and honoring the folk traditions of America.

JohnHarbisonatpiano

Ludwig van Beethoven stole from himself to create his Piano Trio, Op. 38. Beethoven’s Septet was a wildly popular work, and many dishonorable publishers created bad arrangements of the work to capitalize on that popularity. Beethoven stopped them short by creating his own masterful arrangement of the Septet; giving the work the honor it was due.

Both programs feature the incredible clarinetist Alan Kay (below top), familiar to our audiences from his stunning performances last year, and the San Francisco Piano Trio (below bottom), with violinist Axel Strauss, cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau and pianist Jeffrey Sykes.

“Honor Among Thieves” will be performed at the Stoughton Opera House on Friday, June 19, at 7:30 p.m.; and in Spring Green at the Hillside Theater, on Sunday, June 21, at 2:30 p.m.

Alan Kay 1 BDDS 2014

BDDS 2014 San Francisco Trio

Composers often have to break the rules in order to achieve their expressive ends. “Breaking and Entering” features composers who did precisely that: breaking with tradition and entering a new world of expression.

“Country Fiddle Pieces” by Paul Schoenfield were among the very first classical “crossover” works. Combining traditional fiddling, jazz, Latin, and pop influences together with a strong classical sense of phrasing and structure, Schoenfield (below) almost single-handedly created a whole new musical style.

Paul Schoenfield

The great Piano Trio in B Major, Op. 8, was the first masterpiece by Johannes Brahms (below), a work that boldly broke with the past and ushered in an era of chamber music of symphonic scope.

“Honor Among Thieves” concerts will be performed at The Playhouse, Overture Center for the Arts on Saturday, June 20, at 7:30 p.m.; and in Spring Green at the Hillside Theater on Sunday, June 21, at 6:30 p.m.

brahmsBW

Our biggest and final week includes Crooked Business and “Highway Robbery.”

The world of classical music is not as pure and pristine as it sometimes seems. From unscrupulous managers falsifying box office receipts to dishonest publishers pirating successful compositions, classical music can be a “Crooked Business.“

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart exhausted himself arranging performances of his piano concertos—and he watched most of his profits get swallowed up by greedy impresarios.

Johannes Brahms was strongly encouraged to destroy the original chamber version of his Serenade in D Major and rewrite it as an orchestral composition simply because it would bring greater profit to him and his managers. We’re featuring the work in a reconstruction of its original form as a nonet.

“Crooked Business” concerts will be performed at the Stoughton Opera House on Friday, June 26, at 7:30 p.m., and in Spring Green at the Hillside Theater on Sunday, June 28, at 2:30 p.m.

A career in classical music—even a successful one—is not a quick road to power, influence, and wealth. And virtually every musician walking that road has been subject to “Highway Robbery” at one point or another.

Throughout his short life, Franz Schubert (below) was taken advantage of by “friends,” publishers, and promoters. He wrote his great Octet for performance in the home of the Archduke Rudolph (Beethoven’s patron) and received not one cent for his efforts.

Franz Schubert big

And we at BDDS have been guilty of highway robbery of a sort ourselves. In 2010 we commissioned American composer Kevin Puts—an extraordinarily talented, successful, but nonetheless struggling composer—for a work for our 25th season next summer. We agreed to a fee we thought was fair to him and comfortable for us.

In 2012 Kevin Puts (below) won the Pulitzer Prize for music. Thank goodness we signed the contract in 2010, because now it’s likely his talents would be out of our financial reach! It feels like we’re the perps in a highway robbery!

This seasons we’re featuring Kevin Puts’ “Seven Seascapes,” a beautiful piece based on poems about the sea. (You can hear the first one of Kevin Puts’ “Seven Seascapes” in YouTube video at the bottom.)

Kevin Puts pulitzer

Both programs feature extraordinary musicians: powerhouse violinists Carmit Lori (below) and Hye-Jin Kim, violist Ara Gregorian, and newcomers Katja Linfield, cello, and Zachary Cohen, double bass. They are joined by the great young clarinetist Romie de Guise-Langlois and veteran French horn player Richard Todd.

Enjoy a BDDS concert and stay for the fireworks downtown! Free reserved parking will be available for the first 100 cars, with reservations.

“Highway Robbery” concerts will be performed in The Playhouse in the Overture Center, Madison, on Saturday, June 27, at 7:30 p.m.; and in Spring Green at the Hillside Theater on Sunday, June 28, at 6:30 p.m.

Carmit Zori

For the fourth year, BDDS will also perform one free family concert, “What’s So Great About Bach?” an interactive event that will be great for all ages. Together with the audience, BDDS will explore interwoven layers of melody. Everyone will be up on their feet helping to compose for the musicians on stage.

This event takes place 11–11:45 a.m. on this Saturday, June 13, in The Playhouse at the overture Center. This is a performance for families with children of all ages and seating will be first come first served.

CUNA Mutual Group, Pat Powers and Thomas Wolfe, and Overture Center generously underwrite this performance.

Dianne Soffa and Tom Kovacich, artists-in-residence at Safi Studios in Milwaukee, will create a stage setting for each concert in The Playhouse. All concerts at The Playhouse will be followed by a meet-the-artists opportunity.

BDDS Locations are: the Stoughton Opera House (381 East Main Street); the Overture Center in Madison (201 State Street); and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin Hillside Theater (County Highway 23 in Spring Green).

Single general admission tickets are $40. Student tickets are always $5.

Various ticket packages are also available starting at a series of three for $114. First-time subscriptions are half-off.

For tickets and information visit www.bachdancinganddynamite.org or call (608) 255-9866.

Single tickets for Overture Center concerts can also be purchased at the Overture Center for the Arts box office, (608) 258-4141, or at overturecenter.com. Additional fees apply.

Hillside Theater tickets can be purchased from the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor’s Center on County Highway C, (608) 588-7900.  Tickets are available at the door at all locations.

 

 


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

    Join 1,166 other followers

    Blog Stats

    • 1,952,179 hits
    December 2018
    M T W T F S S
    « Nov    
     12
    3456789
    10111213141516
    17181920212223
    24252627282930
    31  
%d bloggers like this: