The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: In Dvorak’s “Rusalka,” the Madison Opera demonstrated how beautiful music and convincing stagecraft can overcome a weak story

May 1, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Opera Guy for this blog – Larry Wells – took in last weekend’s production by the Madison Opera of “Rusalka” and filed the following review. Performance photos are by James Gill.

By Larry Wells

I thoroughly enjoyed attending the Sunday afternoon performance of Antonin Dvorak’s opera “Rusalka” presented by Madison Opera in Overture Hall. Until then I had only heard recordings of this lushly orchestrated work.

The opera is a fairy tale involving a rather dithering water sprite (below right) who does not follow her father’s wise advice not to pursue a mortal prince (below left) and to stick to her own kind. She ignores his advice, and this leads to her eventual unhappiness and to the death of her prince.

That she also becomes mute when in the presence of the prince adds to everyone’s woes, and it seems a peculiar device to have the lead soprano not be able to sing for most of the second act of the opera.

Her inability to communicate naturally leads to the prince’s frustration, and my companion suggested that she could simply have used paper and pencil to communicate. But since she had been brought up in a river, perhaps she never learned to read and write.

Nevertheless, common sense did not seem to inhabit either Rusalka or her prince. As my companion also pointed out, love isn’t always logical.

In any event, the production and the music made up for the libretto’s shortcomings.

The set featured beautiful projections, from the Minnesota Opera, of forest, water and woodlands during the first and third acts.

The second act took place at the prince’s palace. It appeared to be an International Style palace in the manner of architect Mies van de Rohe, which must have also been disconcerting for Rusalka. Nonetheless, the set was very striking and beautifully lit.

Tenor John Lindsey (below top) portrayed the prince and William Meinert (below bottom left, with Emily Birsan) was Rusalka’s father, a water goblin. Both sang well, although Lindsey had the distracting habit of casting his chin and eyes downward as he sang.


But the stage belonged to the women.

Emily Birsan (below) as Rusalka was a study in subtle shadings of her expressive soprano voice (below, singing the famous  aria “Song to the Moon”). She is a powerful singer and convincing actress who was engaging to watch and to hear.

Lindsay Ammann (below) as the sorceress Jezibaba was powerful in voice and in her command of the stage. Her third act aria was sensational, and her calling Rusalka a “empty little water bubble” was so apt it made the audience titter.

The villainous Foreign Princess portrayed by Karin Wolverton (below, standing over John Lindsey) seemed to be the only sensible character in the opera. She likewise commanded the stage and displayed a powerful voice with passionate commitment to her role.

Three water sprites – portrayed by Kirsten Larson, Saira Frank and Emily Secor (below, in order from left) – provided Rhine maiden-like commentary and gorgeous vocalizations despite having to wander around the stage at times seeming to be fascinated by twigs.

A shout-out goes to tenor Benjamin Liupaogo (below), still a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music, who only sang a couple of lines but sang them very beautifully. He is someone to watch!

The Madison Symphony Orchestra was conducted by John DeMain (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson). The strings and winds sounded particularly good that day, and DeMain brought out all of the interesting Bohemian folky gestures Dvorak included in the score. I found Dvorak’s orchestral score engaging throughout the performance. (You can hear the opening Overture in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Altogether it was charming afternoon of beautiful music, excellent singing and fetching staging of a strange tale.

Madison Opera has announced its upcoming season offerings, which are Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata” (Nov. 1 and 3), Gregory Spears’ “Fellow Travelers” (here Feb. 7 and 9, it has already hit Chicago and Minneapolis and is slated for Tucson next season as well), and Jacques Offenbach’s comic “Orpheus in the Underworld” (April 17 and 19).

It seems a very interesting season, and subscription tickets will go on sale in early May. For more information, go to: https://www.madisonopera.org


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Classical music: Recorder virtuoso Piers Adams solos in baroque and contemporary concertos this Friday night with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra

April 18, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

During his long and successful tenure with Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below), music director and conductor Andrew Sewell has established a reputation for championing unusual repertoire and booking young or relatively unknown soloists as well as for offering insightful interpretations of classic masterworks.

But Sewell (below) seems to be surpassing himself with the concert he will lead this Friday night, April 19, at 7:30 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

For one, the concert features the British recorder virtuoso Piers Adams (below), who established his own reputation as a part of the unusual baroque quartet Red Priest, the nickname for Antonio Vivaldi, who was indeed a priest in Venice with flaming red hair. (In the YouTube at the bottom, you can sample Adams’ virtuosity as he makes bird calls on the recorder while playing a section of “Spring” from Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.”)

You can also go to the following websites for more information about Piers Adams:

https://piersadams.com

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

The Ear can’t think of another time any major group in the area offered a soloist on the recorder – a baroque wooden flute-like instrument — except for the Madison Early Music Festival.

True to form, Adams will perform baroque music with the WCO – specifically, the Concerto for Recorder in C Major by Georg Philipp Telemann.

But to add to the more unusual aspects of the concert, Adams will also perform a contemporary work with the WCO – specifically, a 1994 recorder concerto by the English composer David Bedford (1937-2011, below) that was commissioned by Adams and has proven popular both on a recording and in concert.

For more information about Bedford, go to:

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

To round out the program, Sewell has programmed two other rarely heard works: the “Brook Green” Suite by Gustav Holst, best known for “The Planets”; and the Serenade in E-Flat Major, Op. 6, by the Czech composer Josef Suk (below), a very accomplished violinist and composer who studied with Antonin Dvorak and then became his son-in-law.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josef_Suk_(composer)

For more information about the concert, including tickets ($12-$80) and notes on the performers and the program, go to:

https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performances/masterworks-iv-4/


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Classical music: Accusations of sexual harassment, discrimination and abuse expand to classical music, and former Metropolitan Opera maestro James Levine has been suspended. On Tuesday night, a percussion concert spotlights UW composer Laura Schwendinger

December 4, 2017
3 Comments

ALERT: At 7:30 p.m. this Tuesday night in Mills Hall, the UW Western  Percussion Ensemble, under director Anthony Di Sanza, will perform a FREE concert. It will focus on a new work by the award-winning UW composer Laura Schwendinger along with other modern classics and new works. For more information about the group and the program, go to: http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/western-percussion-ensemble-4/ 

By Jacob Stockinger

It started in Hollywood, quickly spread to politics and Washington, D.C., as well as to journalism and to radio and television.

Now accusations of sexual harassment, sexual abuse and sexual discrimination are focusing on classical music.

Perhaps the most visible case so far is one that focuses on James Levine (below), the former longtime artistic director and conductor of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, who just this past weekend conducted a live broadcast performance of the Requiem by Verdi, which was dedicated to the recently deceased Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky.

Levine is accused of abusing an underage teenager while he was at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago, and the Met says it will investigate that allegation.

Through Google, you can find many reports about the situation.

Here is a link to a comprehensive story in The Washington Post:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/metropolitan-opera-to-investigate-james-levine-over-sexual-abuse-allegations/2017/12/03/e8820982-d842-11e7-a841-2066faf731ef_story.html?hpid=hp_hp-more-top-stories_met-misconduct-805am%3Ahomepage%2Fstory&utm_term=.3abb56afabc3

UPDATE: Amid more allegations of sexual abuse, James Levine, 74, has been suspended by the Metropolitan Opera. Here’s a link to a detailed story in The New York Times:

But Levine is not likely to be alone.

According to a new study in the United Kingdom, it now looks that many more individuals and groups will be involved since sexual harassment and sexual discrimination were found to be “rampant.”

Here is a link to the story in The Independent:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/sexual-harassment-classic-music-incorporate-society-of-musicians-west-end-bbc-radio-3-a8088591.html

What do you think about the many current scandals and wave of allegations as they pertain to classical music or to your own experience in the field of music, either performance or education?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra presents another FREE Farmer’s Market Organ Recital this Saturday at 11 a.m.

August 18, 2017
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

This Saturday at 11 a.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, the Madison Symphony Orchestra will offer another FREE Farmer’s Market Organ Recital.

The concert will last 45 minutes. No tickets or reservations are required. All ages are welcome to attend.

The organist this time is the prize-winning Simone Gheller.

Gheller (below) is an international organist from Padua, Italy. He has played concerts in prestigious locations in Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Brazil, and America among others. Gheller studied at Oberlin College in Ohio with Professor James David Christie and Olivier Latry, and currently serves as the Music Director and Organist at St. Jerome Catholic Church in Oconomowoc.

Gheller’s program will feature works by Liszt, Bossi, Thalben-Ball, Buck and Creston. Sorry, no word about specific works on the program. (You can hear Gheller playing a dramatic and animated work by Liszt in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

For more information about the performer, go to:

http://www.simonegheller.it/en/biography.html

For more information about the Farmer’s Market Organ Recitals, go to:

https://www.madisonsymphony.org/farmer


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