By Jacob Stockinger
The Opera Guy filed this review, with photos by Michael R. Anderson, for The Ear:
By Larry Wells
It was a completely satisfying theatrical experience of a complexly organized musical work.
The libretto is based on Henry James’ serial novella of the same name. Whereas the James work is an ambiguous, psychological tale, Britten’s opera is an eerie ghost story laden with suggestions of psychosexual mischief.
Musically the opera is based on a 12-tone theme with each of its scenes preceded by a variation of the theme. There are further structural complexities in this highly organized work, but the music is very accessible and was admirably performed by 13 musicians ably led by conductor Kyle Knox. Particular praise goes to the percussionist Garrett Mendlow.
The beautiful, minimalistic set and stunning lighting enhanced the creepiness of the tale.
As for the singing, the cast tackled the complex vocal lines with aplomb, and there were several exceptional performances.
Particular praise goes to Anna Polum for her outstanding portrayal of the ghostly Miss Jessell. She sang beautifully and acted convincingly. (Below, from left, are Katie Anderson as the Governess and Anna Polum as Miss Jessell.)
Likewise Emily Vandenberg as Flora was realistic in the role of a young girl. I have seen performances of this opera that were brought down by unconvincing portrayals of this difficult child role, but Vandenberg acted naturally and sang beautifully.
The other child role, Miles, was capably performed by Simon Johnson, a middle school student. Cayla Rosché adeptly performed Mrs. Grose, the enigmatic housekeeper. (Below are Amitabha Shatdal as Miles, Cayla Rosché as Mrs. Grose and Elisheva Pront as Flora.)
The two major roles are The Governess and the spectral Peter Quint. Erin Bryan was convincing as the increasingly confused and hysteric governess, and she played off Rosché’s Mrs. Grose to great effect. At one point I was thinking that these were two extremely flighty women. (Below, from left, are Cayla Rosché as Mrs. Grose; Elisheva Pront as Flora; Katie Anderson as the Governess; and Amitabha Shatdal as Miles.)
Alec Brown (below) as Quint had the unenviable task of following in the footsteps of singers like Peter Pears who made Quint an evil, threatening, nasty fellow. Brown’s Quint came off as slightly laid back, and his perfectly fine tenor voice was just not a Britten voice in the style of Pears, Philip Langridge or Ian Bostridge.
I had a couple of minor problems with the evening. First, I did not understand why the doors to Music Hall didn’t open until 7:20 for a 7:30 performance, which then actually started at 7:45. And, I was disappointed that the piano, which is a major contributor to the music’s sonority, was swapped for an electronic keyboard.
Yet I left feeling once again that Britten was a true musical genius of the 20th century and that I was eager to go to the 3 p.m. performance this afternoon to experience it all over again.
“The Turn of the Screw” will also be performed one last time on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.
For more information about the opera, including how to buy tickets — admission is $25 with $20 for seniors and $10 for students, go to:
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received the following notice to post:
Tickets are $15 (for students, $10) in advance; $20 ($12) at the door. Advance tickets are available from www.wisconsinchamberchoir.org, via Brown Paper Tickets, or at Orange Tree Imports and Willy Street Coop (East, West and North locations).
Explore the magic and mystery of the holiday season with the Wisconsin Chamber Choir, whose program highlights the beloved Latin chant ”O magnum mysterium” in musical settings by Tomas Luís de Victoria and Francis Poulenc. (You can hear Poulenc’s setting, conducted by the legendary Robert Shaw, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
Rounding out the performance are the remainder of Poulenc’s Four Christmas Motets along with seasonal works spanning five centuries by William Byrd, Heinrich Schütz, Johannes Brahms, Herbert Howells and Bob Chilcott, plus the world premiere of “Methinks I See a Heavenly Host” by Peter Bloesch (below).
The 50-voice choir will be joined by organist Mark Brampton Smith (below top) of Grace Episcopal Church, and Madison Symphony Orchestra trombonist and program annotator J. Michael Allsen (below bottom, in a photo by Katrin Talbot), who will accompany the Schütz selections on the sackbut, the Renaissance ancestor of the trombone.
Founded in 1998, the Madison-based Wisconsin Chamber Choir has established a reputation for excellence in the performance of oratorios by Bach, Mozart, and Brahms; a cappella masterworks from six centuries; and world premieres.
Robert Gehrenbeck (below), who heads the choral program at the UW-Whitewater, is the Wisconsin Chamber Choir’s artistic director.
ALERT: Students in the Composition Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music will present their new music in a FREE recital this Wednesday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall. The performances of original works feature UW-Madison music students and the composers themselves.
By Jacob Stockinger
University Opera will offer its first production of the season in three performances this weekend and early next week.
It is “Falstaff” by Giuseppe Verdi. The work is the composer’s last opera and is often considered to be his greatest masterpiece.
In his first production since becoming the full-time and permanent director of University Opera, former interim director David Ronis (below, in a photo by Luke Delalio) is re-imagining the opera as taking place in Hollywood of the 1930s, where Falstaff is a silent movie actor who is out of work with the advent of “talkies.”
“Falstaff” will be sung in Italian with English supertitles.
UW-Madison professor James Smith will conduct the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra. (You can hear the opera’s finale from a Metropolitan Opera‘s traditional production under James Levine in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
UW-Madison professor and baritone Paul Rowe (below) will sing the title role. But the production, including the cast, sets, costumes and lighting, involves more than 90 UW-Madison students.
Performances in Music Hall, at the bottom of Bascom Hill, are on Friday night at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. and next Tuesday night, Nov. 15, at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets are $25 for general admission, $20 for seniors; and $10 for UW-Madison students.
On Friday, there will also be a panel discussion at 6 p.m. before the performance.
For much more information about the production and the panel discussion, go to:
By Jacob Stockinger
Here is a special posting, a 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 for 12 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. He also provided the performance photos for this review.
By John W. Barker
The context of this year’s Token Creek Chamber Music Festival has been the reconstitution of a neglected trout stream on the property of John and Rose Mary Harbison, the festival directors.
With an overall festival title of “Water Music,” its final program is called “Water Colors,” and is devoted exclusively to music by this year’s featured composer, Franz Schubert (below).
This program, first performed on Friday evening, contained just two major works.
The first was Schubert’s song cycle, “Die schöne Müllerian (The Lovely Miller Maid).
Setting a cycle of 20 poems by Wilhelm Müller (almost a pun!), Schubert has us follow episodically the story of a mill worker who falls in love with his boss’s daughter. She first encourages him and then betrays him, abandoning him to a hopeless death. Through all this, his guide, sustainer and, finally, consoler, is the mill brook, itself effectively a character in the saga.
Occupying the first half of the concert, this cycle was sung from memory by the highly acclaimed tenor William Hite (below). His voice is somewhat more of a dramatic than a lyric tenor, and some of his delivery had a vehemence that was almost too big for the intimate setting of “the barn” on the Harbison estate.
But, in truth, Hite (below) could muster up delicacy and nuance as well as earthy strength. Above all, he became a story teller—at once narrator and protagonist—a singing actor who drew us into the tragic story.
He was also powerfully supported by pianist Kayo Iwama (below). Her playing was not subtle, but it struck just the right tone of assertiveness and caught the bucolic evocations.
As their performance proceeded, I found I was no longer in “the barn” but transported into the world of nature and hopeless love. The poignance and humanity of Schubert’s cycle was thus truly realized.
In the second half, another of Schubert’s “nature” evocations was fittingly offered: the beloved Quintet in A for piano and an adjusted string quartet (D.667). This bears the nickname of “the Trout,” because the fourth of its five movements is a set of variations on his own song, Die Forelle (The Trout). (You can hear that fourth movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
Performers (below) were Rose Mary Harbison, violin; Jennifer Paulson, viola; Karl Lavine; cello, and Ross Gilliland, bass; with pianist Molly Morkoski.
It was given a lively performance, and made me pay particular attention to the role of the piano in the scoring. Aside from the two piano trios, this is Schubert’s only full-scale chamber work in which he matches the piano with a string ensemble. It’s not a quasi-concerto, but there is a clear understanding of the sonic distinctions between the piano and the strings as they contrast and collaborate.
The piano’s role was indeed the backbone of this performance, thanks to the work of Morkoski (below), who again—as in the opening concert program last weekend—showed herself a born Schubert pianist of great flair.
NOTE: This program is to be repeated this afternoon at 4 p.m., and will conclude this year’s festival.
For more information, here is a link:
By Jacob Stockinger
You have to hand it to early music advocate, scholar, conductor and performer Grant Herreid (below), who once again was a major player in the 17th annual Madison Early Music Festival, which wrapped up this past Saturday night.
What could have been a scissors-and-paste job to wrap up the celebration of music in Shakespeare and Elizabethan England was turned by the creative Herreid into an event that was thoroughly enjoyable and thoroughly inventive.
What the final All-Festival Concert did was to bring together what seemed a very large number of students, faculty and guest performers.
Then what the combined forces did was offer a sampler of a typical Elizabethan day. That day included the usual routines from waking up, exercising and going to bed, but also included prayers, romance and entertainment.
It used snippets from plays by William Shakespeare (below) and snippets by many composers of the period including Thomas Tomkins, Anthony Holborne, Thomas Morley, Orlando Gibbons, Thomas Weelkes, John Bennet, John Coperario, Thomas Ravenscroft, John Dowland and Thomas Tallis as well an anonymous composers and reconstructions.
The formula must have appealed because it drew a large and enthusiastic audience.
Since it was such an ensemble effort, it is difficult to single out individuals for praise or criticism.
Instead, The Ear simply wants to mention a few of his favorite things with photos to illustrate them.
Here is what The Ear liked:
He liked that the entire 90-minute program of sacred and secular music was done without an intermission. Once you were in the zone, you didn’t have to leave it and then have to get back into it. Plus, the unity of the day was preserved.
He liked the diverse and always highly accomplished singing.
He liked seeing the unusual period string and wind instruments that are beautiful as well as useful.
He liked how the entire hall, not just the main stage, was used, including the balconies from which a fanfare opened the concert:
He liked the many “actors” who stepped to the edge of the Mills Hall stage and did an exceptional job reading the excerpts of Shakespeare that were kept short and to the point:
He liked the period and very energetic dancing with handkerchiefs and leg bells:
There was more. But you get the idea.
Once again, if you can’t make it to other concerts in the Madison Early Music Festival’s annual week-long schedule, try to make it to the impressive All-Festival Concert at the end.
In 17 years, it has never disappointed.
That is a record to be envied and praised.
By Jacob Stockinger
The theme this year focuses on music in the work of William Shakespeare and the Age of Queen Elizabeth I.
You can check out all the details of the festival at: http://www.madisonearlymusic.org
The co-directors of the festival – the wife-and-husband team of singers Cheryl Bensman Rowe and Paul Rowe (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot and signaled in the answers by the initials CBR and PR) took time out from the hectic preparations to answer an email Q&A with The Ear:
How successful is this year’s 17th annual weeklong festival (July 9-16) compared to others in terms of enrollment, budgets, performers, etc.? How well established is MEMF now nationally or even internationally?
CBR: Enrollment is up this year, with over 100 people enrolled in the workshop. Shakespeare (below) and the Elizabethan era is a great draw.
Other exciting news it that MEMF is one of five organizations that was chosen to be part of the “Shakespeare in Wisconsin” celebration, which includes the touring copy of the first Folio of Shakespeare’s plays from the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. It is The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare, and it will be at the Chazen Museum of Art this fall. https://shakespeare.library.wisc.edu/
MEMF is definitely on the map in the early music world due to our great faculty and our concert series that features musicians from all over the country, Canada and Europe.
We are also excited to be a part of the Arts Institute on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. The institute is bringing us into the modern world of Facebook, e-letters, Twitter and so much more. We also have a new program director, Sarah Marty, who is full of fresh ideas and has many new contacts in the UW and the Madison community.
What is new and what is the same in terms of format, students, faculty members and performers?
CBR: Our format has stayed the same because, after 17 seasons, it seems to be working. We are excited about everything that will be happening during the week. https://artsinstitute.wisc.edu/memf/concerts.htm
New to MEMF this year is the ensemble New York Polyphony (below). They will be performing their program “Tudor City,” featuring the music of the Church, including the sacred music of Thomas Tallis and William Byrd, Christopher Tye and Walter Lambe. Their recording of this program, Tudor City, spent three weeks in the Top 10 of the Billboard classical album chart. You can read more about them on their website: http://www.newyorkpolyphony.com/
To get a preview of what you will hear please visit: http://www.newyorkpolyphony.com/media2/
MEMF goes to the Movies! The Newberry Violin Band (below top) will be performing as a live accompaniment to the silent film, Elizabeth I, made in 1912. Sarah Bernhardt is the star, even though she was 68 years old when the movie was made. The music is a great sampler of many of the most famous Elizabethan composers. Ellen Hargis (below bottom) will also be singing some classic John Dowland songs. An early movie with early music! http://newberryconsort.org/watch-listen-2/
Also, we have several unique programs that have been created just for this 400th “deathaversary” year.
The Baltimore Consort (below) is returning to MEMF with a program created especially for this anniversary year, The Food of Love: Songs, Dances and Fancies for Shakespeare, which has musical selections chosen from the hundreds of references to music in the works of Shakespeare. Shakespeare had directions in his plays for incidental music used for dancing, interludes and ceremony.
Specific songs are included in the text of the plays, and these texts were set to the popular songs of the day. Very few of these were published, but there are some early survivors which were published and from manuscripts.
On Friday night we have a very unique program, Sonnets 400, a program that actor Peter Hamilton Dyer, from the Globe Theatre, conceived to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the publication of Shakespeare’s sonnets.
The program is a pairing of Shakespeare’s words with Anthony Holborne’s music. Holborne was one of the most respected lutenists of his and Shakespeare’s time. Madison actor Michael Herold (below) will be reciting the narrative arc of the selected sonnets, and the music of Holborne will be played as interludes, or softly under the narration.
Recorder player and MEMF favorite, Priscilla Herreid, brought this program to our attention. Several years ago she performed with Peter in the Broadway production of “Twelfth Night,” and he told her about this pairing of music and sonnets from the Elizabethan era. Lutenists Grant Herreid and Charles Weaver will be joining Priscilla on Friday, July 15, at 7:30 p.m. The pre-concert lecture –“Repackaging Shakespeare’s Sonnets” — will be given by UW-Madison Professor of English Joshua Calhoun.
Tomorrow: Part 2 of 2 — What makes Elizabethan English music special and what will the All-Festival wrap-up concert include?
By Jacob Stockinger
Here is a special posting, a 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 for 12 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.
By John W. Barker
For eight years, the Madison Summer Choir (below) has been giving an annual concert. This year’s, on Saturday night, under founder and conductor Ben Luedcke, was built around the theme “This is My Song! – Music in the Struggle for Peace and Justice.”
And, indeed, Luedcke (below) introduced most of the selections with pointed remarks, addressing issues faced today, and the need for making ours a better world.
The first part of the program began with the “big tune” from Jean Sibelius’ Finlandia, set to English words. This was sung a cappella, while the four short items that followed had piano accompaniment.
Two of those pieces—by composers Stephen Chatman and Sven Lekberg—carried poems by Walt Whitman, while another, by Joan Szymko, set a text by Wendell Berry. But the gem of the set was a short partsong, An die Heimat (To my Homeland), by that truly great choral master, Johannes Brahms.
After the intermission, the chorus of 66 voices was joined by an orchestra (below) of 32, for the musical plateau.
Felix Mendelssohn is one of the handful of supreme choral composers (think of his oratorio Elijah!). As a warmer-upper, we were given his brief setting of Martin Luther’s translation of the Latin Dona nobis pacem as Verleih uns Frieden (Grant us Peace). (You can hear Mendelssohn’s beautiful “Verleih uns Frieden” in a YouTube video at the bottom)
But the true main event was a rousing performance of Mendelssohn’s unfairly neglected cantata, Die erste Walpurgisnacht (The First Walpurgis Night). This sets a ballad by Goethe portraying a band of Druids arranging to celebrate a holy solstice rite in the face of newly triumphant Christian intolerance. By making an unholy racket, they drive away their persecutors and launch the myth of St. Walburga’s Night (Walpurgisnacht, on April 30) as an occasion of Satanic rumpus (think Goethe’s and Gounod’s Faust).
The work calls for three solo singers (below), this time contralto Jessica Timman Schwefel, tenor Dan O’Dea, and baritone Ben Li (of whom the tenor was the most impressive). This score is one of striking dramatic effect and musical force, but it is too brief to find a place in most concert repertoire.
Singers and players threw themselves into it with wonderful gusto under propulsive direction. We must thank Luedcke for giving us a rare chance to enjoy it.
The final piece was a movement from a choral symphony by Srul Irving Glick: making a truly splendid choral sound that, however, quite obliterated the uplifting words.
Overall, the program showed that Luedcke had nurtured, in a short time, a choir of nicely balanced and blended voices. With the best of their material, they made a wonderfully glowing sound.
One more example, then, of the quite stunning riches of Madison’s summer musical life!
By Jacob Stockinger
Today at 5:34 p.m. the Summer Solstice will happen. Summer officially arrives, and the days will start getting shorter while the nights will get longer.
Can that really be happening already?
Locally, the Summer Solstice will be marked TOMORROW, Tuesday, June 21, by the third annual Make Music Madison celebration.
The city-wide event features more than 400 FREE performances in over 100 venues. It relies on volunteers and costs about $55,000 – a lot less than the cost of one new traffic light, according to the website.
Both amateurs and professionals, both adults and young students, will perform.
And all different kinds of music will be played: classical, swing, pop, rock, bluegrass, country, folk, jazz, soul, blues, reggae, world – you name it.
Want to know more?
For general background, including how to support the events, who are its major sponsors and to see photos of past events, go to:
For a map and a listing of events and artists taking place tomorrow:
To find out by location, go to:
The web site also has search engines that allow you to find specific artists and venues.