The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Madison Opera stages its first-ever production of Dvorak’s fairy tale opera “Rusalka” next Friday night and Sunday afternoon. A preview roundtable is this Sunday afternoon

April 20, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Opera will stage its production of Antonin Dvorak’s luxurious masterpiece Rusalka on Friday night, April 26, at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon, April 28, at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall at the Overture Center, 201 State Street.

Running time is 3 hours with two intermissions, and will feature projected supertitles with English translations of the original Czech that will be sung.

Tickets are $18-$131 with discounts available for students and groups. Go to: https://www.madisonopera.org/tickets/

Inspired by the classic fairy tale The Little Mermaid, the story travels from a mythical forest to a palace and back again. Its lush score includes the famous “Song to the Moon.” (You can hear Renée Fleming sing”Song to the Moon” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Set in a mythical realm, Rusalka is about a water nymph who falls in love with a human prince. She tells her father Vodnik that she wishes to become human and live with the Prince on land. Horrified, Vodnik tells her that humans are full of sin, but reluctantly suggests she enlist the help of Jezibaba, a witch. Jezibaba agrees to make her human, but cautions that Rusalka will lose her power of speech. Further, if the Prince betrays her, she will be cursed forever.

The Prince falls in love with Rusalka and plans to marry her, but her silence unnerves him, and a Foreign Princess interrupts the wedding festivities with evil intent. Rusalka returns to the lake as a spirit that lures men to their death – and the Prince follows her.

Rusalka is one of the most gorgeous operas in the repertoire,” says Kathryn Smith, Madison Opera’s general director (below, in a photo by James Gill). “I fell in love with it when I first saw it over 20 years ago, and listening to the score is a pure pleasure. I am so delighted to share this opera with Madison, so that everyone can learn how brilliant an operatic composer Dvorak was, and experience an opera that is justifiably popular around the world.”

Rusalka’s story was inspired by multiple sources, including Slavic mythology and the fairy tales of Karel Jaromir Erben, Hans Christian Andersen, and Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué.

The opera premiered on March 31, 1901 in Prague and quickly became a massive success, hailed as Dvorak’s masterpiece.

But it was not initially widely performed outside of Czech territories; the first U.S. performance was in 1975. But in recent decades, the opera by Dvorak (below) has become a regular part of the opera repertoire, due to its beautiful music and lovely story.

This production is not only a Madison Opera premiere, but also the company’s first-ever opera in Czech.

Madison Opera’s cast features both returning artists and debuts.

Soprano Emily Birsan (below) returns to Madison Opera in the title role, following successes here as Gounod’s Juliet and Musetta in Puccini’s La Bohème. Last month, she sang Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. The Chicago Tribune has praised her singing for her “amazing clarity of diction, accuracy of intonation and fineness of expression.”

Tenor John Lindsey (below) returns to Madison Opera as The Prince, after singing in last summer’s Opera in the Park.

Making their debuts with Madison Opera are soprano Karin Wolverton as the Foreign Princess, contralto Lindsay Amman as the witch Jezibaba and bass William Meinert as Rusalka’s father, Vodnik. Emily SecorSaira Frank and Kirsten Larson play the three wood sprites; Benjamin Liupaogo sings the Hunter.

The Madison Opera Chorus and Madison Symphony Orchestra round out the musical forces, all under the baton of John DeMain (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson), Madison Opera’s artistic director.

Keturah Stickann (below) directs her first opera for Madison Opera; she has directed both traditional and contemporary repertoire across all of the U.S., most recently for San Francisco Opera and Washington National Opera.

This production originated at Minnesota Opera and features projections (below) by Wendall K. Harrington, who has been described as “the godmother of modern projection design.”

In reviewing the Minnesota production, theTwin Cities Arts Reader praised “the stunning visuals on display, which only serve to enhance and elaborate on the action and the music.”

Madison Opera’s production of “Rusalka” is sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, Kay & Martin Barrett, Millie & Marshall Osborn, Sally & Mike Miley, Kato Perlman, Charles & Martha Casey, John Lemke & Pam Oliver, and The Ann Stanke Fund.

RELATED EVENTS

You can learn more about “Rusalka” at the events leading up to the performances.

Opera Up Close will take place this Sunday, April 21, 1-3 p.m. at the Margaret C. Winston Opera Center (below) 335 West Mifflin Street, $20 general admission; free for full-season subscribers; $10 for two-show subscribers.

This event features a multimedia behind-the-scenes preview of Rusalka. General director Kathryn Smith will discuss Antonin Dvorak and the history of his fairy-tale opera. Principal artists, stage director Keturah Stickann and conductor John DeMain will participate in a roundtable discussion about Madison’s production and their own takes on this masterpiece.

Pre-Show Talks by Kathryn Smith take place on Friday, April 26, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, April 28, at 1:30 p.m. at Wisconsin Studio at Overture Center, and are free to ticket holders.

Post-Opera Q&A’s are on Friday, April 26, and Sunday, April 28, immediately following the opera in the Wisconsin Studio at Overture Center, and are free to ticket holders.

More information — including cast biographies and a blog with Q&A interviews with some cast members — is available at https://www.madisonopera.org and https://www.madisonopera.org/2018-2019-season/rusalka/.


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Classical music: Today is the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. The murdered civil rights leader has become a character in opera, oratorios and musicals as well as popular songs

January 15, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the holiday to celebrate the 89th birthday of Martin Luther King (below), the American civil rights pioneer who was born on this day in 1929, won the Nobel Peace Prize and was assassinated in 1968, when he was 39.

For more biographical information, here is the Wikipedia entry:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther_King_Jr.

There will be many celebrations, including the 38th annual one at noon in the State Capitol of Wisconsin in Madison, which will be broadcast live and recorded by Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) and Wisconsin Public Television (WPT).

Music is always an important art of honoring King. There will be spirituals and gospel choirs.

But King himself has become a musical, and dramatic, figure.

Maybe you knew that.

The Ear didn’t.

So here are some links to sample from YouTube, which has many of King’s speeches and much of the music done to honor King over the years.

MLK is a character is the opera by Philip Glass called “Appomattox,” which deals with civil rights from The Civil War onwards and was commissioned and performed by the Washington National Opera.

Here is part of it in rehearsal:

And in performance:

And here is the one-hour video called “I Have a Dream”:

Do you know of any other musical works in which Martin Luther King Jr. actually figures and plays a role?

What piece of classical music would you choose to honor King?- Perhaps the poignant aria “Give Me Freedom” from Handel’s opera “Rinaldo” (performed in the YouTube video at the bottom) or Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with its “Ode to Joy” finale about universal brotherhood.

Let us know in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Former UW pianist Catherine Kautsky will talk, play music and sign copies of her book “Debussy’s Paris: Piano Portraits of the Belle Epoque” this Thursday night at the Mystery to Me bookstore in Madison

October 17, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Some of you may recall the pianist Catherine Kautsky (below). She came from the Lawrence University Conservatory of Music in Appleton, Wis., to the UW-Madison where she performed many memorable concerts.

Then, after about five years, she returned to Lawrence as the head of the piano department.

Kautsky always showed an affinity for French music — she has recorded both books of Debussy‘s Preludes for piano — and now she has transformed her francophilia into a book: “Debussy’s Paris: Piano Portraits of the Belle Epoque” ($38, below).

Kautsky will be in Madison this Thursday night from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Mystery to Me bookstore, 1863 Monroe Street, next to Neuhauser Pharmacy and across from Trader Joe’s.

A terrific explainer, Kautsky will talk about her book and sign copies. A keyboard will also be available for Kautsky to play some of the music she talks and writes about. (You can hear Kautsky playing and discussing the great last Sonata in B-Flat Major, D. 960, by Franz Schubert in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here is a description of the book with biographical information:

“Debussy’s Paris: Piano Portraits of the Belle Époque takes readers on a tour of Paris through detailed descriptions of the city’s diversions and the music Debussy wrote reflecting them.

“Catherine Kautsky explores how key works reveal not only the most appealing aspects of Paris, but also the more disquieting attitudes of the time. In contrast to the childlike innocence of fairy tales, minstrel shows had racist overtones, colonization entailed domination, and the brooding nationalism of the era was rife with hostility.

“Debussy (below) left no avenue unexplored, and his piano works present a sweeping overview of the passions, vices, and obsessions of the era’s Parisians.

“When played today, Debussy’s music breathes the story of one the world’s most fascinating cities. Kautsky reveals little known elements of Parisian life during the Belle Époque and weaves the music, the man, the city, and the era into an indissoluble whole.

“Her portrait will delight anyone who has ever been entranced by Debussy’s music or the 
city (below) that inspired it.”

Catherine Kautsky is chair of keyboard at Lawrence University and has been lauded by the New York Times as “a pianist who can play Mozart and Schubert as though their sentiments and habits of speech coincided exactly with hers…” She has concertized widely, performing in major halls in New York, Chicago, Washington, and Boston, soloing with the St. Louis Symphony and other orchestras and appearing frequently on public radio.

Here is a link with more information, including praise from pianist Richard Goode who will perform in Madison at the Wisconsin Union Theater at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 4.

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/debussys-paris-with-author-pianist-catherine-kautsky-tickets-37666427298?aff=eivtefrnd?utm_source=eb_email&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=evitefrnd&utm_term=eventimage


Classical music: The second annual Madison New Music Festival will take place this Thursday through Sunday

August 9, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The summer classical season in Madison just keeps getting busier and more interesting.

The Ear has received the following announcement from Zachary Green (below), a native Madisonian and composer who graduated from Oregon High School and the Juilliard School, which awarded him a grant to start the first Madison New Music Festival last year. He now directs the event:

Dear friends, family, colleagues, and mentors,

I am extremely pleased to invite you to the second season of the Madison New Music Festival, taking place this Thursday-Saturday, Aug. 10-12.

The Madison New Music Festival is an annual weekend-long concert series dedicated to strengthening Madison’s cultural vitality through the celebration of fresh classical music from our lifetimes.

The festival strives to affordably and accessibly share music by the world’s leading living composers with the Madison community, with special emphasis placed on Wisconsin-based composers and performers.

This year, over the course of four concerts, we will be featuring 30 performers playing the music of over 20 composers— including the music of a different living Wisconsin composer at every concert.

The concerts will take place Thursday at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (8 p.m.), Friday at Bethel Lutheran Church (8 p.m.), and Saturday at the Memorial Union Terrace (3 p.m.) and Robinia Courtyard (7:30 p.m.).

PROGRAM AND TICKET INFORMATION:

Thursday, Aug. 10, at 8 p.m., Madison Museum of Contemporary Art in the Overture Center. (Below is a photo at MMoCA from last year’s festival)

After an incredibly successful launch in 2016, the Madison New Music Festival is set to return to MMoCA for a concert combining contemporary visual art and new music.

The festival presents brand new pieces by emerging composers, underplayed classics of the contemporary repertoire, and shines a spotlight on new music created here in Wisconsin.

The concert at MMoCA features music with thematic ties to MMoCA’s current exhibitions, including politically charged works such as “But I Still Believe” by composer Zachary Green and inspired by Hillary Clinton’s concession speech, and “Drums of Winter” from Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and environmentalist John Luther Adams (below). You can hear “Drums of Winter” in the YouTube video at the bottom.

There will be a cash bar and opportunities to walk around the exhibits. Tickets are $10, $5 for students and FREE for MMoCA members.

Tickets: https://www.artful.ly/madison-new-music-festival/store/events/13011

Friday, Aug. 11, at 8 p.m. in Bethel Lutheran Church, 312 Wisconsin Avenue

The festival’s second night features an eclectic range of music, from the inventive, folk-inspired music of Romanian composer Doina Rotaru (below top) to the improvisatory soundscapes of recently departed legend Pauline Oliveros (below bottom).

Also featured is local composer Scott Gendel (below top) , who will present a set of his own music with frequent Madison Opera guest soprano Emily Birsan (below middle). Both are graduates of the UW-Madison.

Other performers include Chicago-based new music ensemble Chartreuse (below top), local flutist Iva Ugrcic (below middle) and local violinist Lydia Sewell (below bottom).  Tickets are $10, $5 for students.

Tickets: https://www.artful.ly/madison-new-music-festival/store/events/13028

Saturday, Aug. 12, at 3 p.m., Memorial Union Terrace

Local new music wind quintet Black Marigold (below top) will perform “Beer Music” by Brian DuFord (below bottom), inspired by different kinds of beer– and you can sip as you listen!

But first, get your groove on with rhythmic works by emerging composer Andy Akiho (below top), Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche, and local percussionist Dave Alcorn (below bottom) of Clocks in Motion — interspersed with interactive interpretations of Renaissance motets and an electroacoustic work for vibraphone. Featured musicians include percussionist Garrett Mendelow and Chicago-based new music ensemble Chartreuse.  Admission is FREE.

Saturday, Aug. 12, at 7:30 PM, Robinia Courtyard (Jardin Restaurant) at 827 East Washington Avenue. 

Join us at Jardin Restaurant, part of the newly redeveloped Robinia Courtyard to hear local ensemble Mr. Chair (below) present an eclectic, head-banging set ranging from original compositions to versions of Erik Satie, Olivier Messiaen and Igor Stravinsky.

Also featured are the genre-bending Echelon String Quartet(below) and a mesmerizing solo bass piece performed by Grant Blaschka.  Cash bar.  ($10/$5 student)

Tickets: https://www.artful.ly/madison-new-music-festival/store/events/13029


Classical music: Mozart’s music requires the rhythms of both speech and dance, says maestro Gary Thor Wedow, who will also restore lost libretto text when he conducts two performances of “The Magic Flute” this weekend for the Madison Opera. Here is Part 2 of his interview with The Ear.

April 19, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Opera will stage Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Magic Flute this Friday night, April 21, at 8 p.m. and this Sunday afternoon, April 23, at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center. (Production photos are courtesy of the Arizona Opera from which the Madison Opera got the sets and costumes for its production.)

Yesterday’s post was the first of two parts. It has a plot synopsis and links to more information about the cast and production.

Here is a link to Part 1:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/04/18/classical-music-mozart-masterfully-melds-the-sensual-and-the-cerebral-says-maestro-gary-thor-wedow-who-will-conduct-two-performances-of-the-magic-flute-this-weekend-for-the-madiso/

The opera runs about 2 hours and 45 minutes with one intermission.

Tickets are $18 to $130.

“The Magic Flute” will be sung in German with English supertitles.

For more about the production and cast, go to:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2016-2017/the-magic-flute/

And also go to:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2016-2017/the-magic-flute/cast/

Here is Part 2 of The Ear’s recent email interview with conductor Gary Thor Wedow (below, conducting in an orchestra pit):

Are there certain “tricks” or “secrets” that you try to bring to conducting Mozart? Have you conducted “The Magic Flute” before? Do Mozart’s operas in general and this opera in specific present challenges? Where do you place the opera musically, both compared to other operas in general and in regard to its place in Mozart’s work?

I feel keenly that Mozart and all 18th-century music (probably continuing to this day) is either based on a rhetorical idea or a dance form; that music is either speaking or dancing. This style of music is “pre-French Revolution,” so No Two Notes are Created Equally! The lilt of language or the buoyancy of the dance has to infuse every moment; hierarchy and shape prevail.

I’ve been fortunate to have conducted The Magic Flute frequently, in many varied productions; it’s always been a part of my musical life. Because it’s a fairy tale, it lends itself to inventive and imaginative productions. Stage director Dan Rigazzi’s production (below) for Madison Opera is a whimsical one, influenced by the surrealist painter Magritte, steampunk and more, all rolled into one beautiful show.

Mozart was fascinated with German Singspiel, as it was opera in the language of the people. The Magic Flute is his masterpiece in this genre, though there are earlier works. There is the early Zaide – incomplete, but filled with gorgeous, innovative music –and also the more mature, sumptuous and comic The Abduction from the Seraglio; they are both rich and entertaining pieces.

The Magic Flute, I feel, has a special place in the opera repertoire for several reasons: its Masonic connections that were very important to Mozart, the drama, and its central themes that trace themselves back to ancient Egypt.

It also is a brilliant combination of comedy and deep spiritual drama in the guise of a heroic rescue tale. It uses an incredibly wide range of the most beautiful music written in every major genre: sacred music, opera seria, bel canto, folk song and complex Baroque counterpoint.

What would you like listeners to pay special attention to in the music of “The Magic Flute”?

I would say “Hang on!” Whatever style of music we are in, we are going to switch gears in a fairly short time. It’s a roller coaster, an Ed Sullivan Show, American Idol, and the Barnum and Bailey Circus all rolled into one.

This is your third time conducting at Madison Opera. Do you have an opinion about Madison musicians and audiences?

My previous two experiences in Madison have been the Opera in the Park concerts in 2012 and 2016 (below). These have been among the most sublimely satisfying moments of my musical life: a cornucopia of music played by this brilliant symphony orchestra with great singers.

The audiences have been magically focused and involved; the players are magnificent, dedicated musicians, and the community is very supportive of Madison Opera. It’s electric.

Is there anything else you would like to say about the music or this performance?

Magic Flute devotees might be startled to hear some new text in these performances, particularly in Tamino, Pamina and Sarastro’s arias and the duet with Pamina and Papageno. “Bei Männern” is now “Der Liebe.” (You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Let me explain by telling you a mystery story. After Mozart died, Constanze was desperate for money. Mozart’s Flute manuscript conducting score belonged to Schikaneder, the librettist and producer, but it seems that Constanze had another original score: the first original manuscript, which she then sold to a nobleman who eventually allowed it to be published.

This must have been a “composing score” that Mozart wrote first, before making the conducting score with the help of his assistant. The text deviates in several sections in notable ways. Probably Schikaneder, perhaps assisted by his Masonic brothers, “improved” the text, but Mozart had already shaped his music to the first text.

In most sections the differences are minimal and the new text was indeed an improvement. But in some cases I feel the original text was what inspired Mozart to write and orchestrate the way he did. Our marvelous singers have generously agreed to make the changes and I think we will all see how it fits the music so much better.

Sadly, Constanze’s manuscript was lost in the wars, but many scholars had already seen it and considered it to be genuine. I love how it shows how fluid the creative process is and how it spurs us to look anew at Mozart’s creative process.

On with the show!


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