The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Carnegie Hall of Madison — the renovated Wisconsin Union Theater on the University of Wisconsin campus — will reopen next fall with a gala concert by cellist Yo-Yo Ma and other classical stars.

March 30, 2014
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear likes to call the Wisconsin Union Theater (below) “The Carnegie Hall of Madison.”

The reason is simple. Ever since the historic WUT opened, that is where the really great classical music talents of the 20th century performed, especially long before there was a Madison Civic Center or an Overture Center.

WUT from stage 1

Two seasons ago, the Wisconsin Union Theater closed for repairs and started holding concerts in Mills Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

But the renovations are almost completed. For more information about the two-year renovation, visit:

http://unionreinvestment.wisc.edu

So the Wisconsin Union Theater has announced a gala and celebratory 2014-2015 Concert Series in the renovated theater.

The press release reads: “The Wisconsin Union Theater is proud to announce its 2014-2015 Concert Series. Reopening for its 75th anniversary (and the Concert Series’ 95th anniversary) after a two-year renovation, the theater offers a magnificent series, which includes:

Yo-Yo Ma, cello, with pianist Kathryn Stott, piano on Saturday, October 18, 2014. (At the bottom, you can hear the duo perform the “Meditation” from the opera “Thais” by Jules Massenet in a YouTube video that has more than 1 million hits.)

yo-yo ma and kathryn stott

Valentina Lisitsa, piano, who has been an Internet sensation and procured a contract with Decca Records from her millions of followers on YouTube, on Thursday, November 20, 2014.

Lisitsa_Valentina_2

Chanticleer singers on Saturday, February 21, 2015.

Chanticleer_Formal2

Takacs String Quartet on Saturday, February 28, 2015, for the Fan Taylor Memorial Concert.

takacs quartet

Sharon Isbin, guitar, and Isabel Leonard, mezzo-soprano, on Saturday, March 21, 2015. Presented with the Madison Opera.

Sharon Isbin

Isabel Leonard mezzo

“As was promised when the theater closed for renovations, past and current subscribers are given first priority to place an order for the series and request their preferred seating area. Others can subscribe later and single tickets will be available in August.

“This is just the beginning, says WUT officials. Details of the theater’s complete season will be released at a later date and will include many additional superb artists and performances.

“The season is presented by Wisconsin Union Directorate’s Performing Arts Committee.

Single ticket prices range from $25 t0 $125 for the Yo-Yo Ma concert. The others generally run from $12 to $45 or $50.

Brochures will be mailed in mid-June.

For more information visit:

http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu

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Classical music: University Opera director Wiiliam Farlow talks about his retirement at the end of this season, and the rewards and challenges of staging opera at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

September 5, 2013
7 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

University Opera director William Farlow has announced that he will retire at the end of the current season, after spending 15 years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

During his tenure, attendance has grown and the productions have received critical acclaim. (Below is soprano Emily Birsan, who went on to the Lyric Opera of Chicago, in the University Opera’s production of Jules Massenet‘s rarely heard opera “Thais.”)

Thais Birsan

The Ear knows Farlow as an amiable man who is always willing to help the local music scene and to promote his own vocal and instrumental students, a number of whom have gone on to important careers.

His productions at the UW-Madison are staged at Music Hall (below) at the foot of Bascom Hill.

MusicHall2

Farlow’s repertoire choices have ranged from such standards as Giacomo Puccini’s “La Boheme” (below) and Franz Lehar‘s “The Merry Widow,” in a YouTube video at the bottom) to rarities and out-of-the-way works that he felt would be good for students to do. He has used both traditional and updated stagings.

University Opera La Boheme Photo 2

Here is a link to the University Opera home website that incudes productions, dates and times, and other information:

http://music.wisc.edu/opera

And here is a link to Opera Props, the support group that helps University Opera:

http://cpanel101.mulehill.com/~uwoperap/

Farlow (seen below in a photo by Kathy Esposito, the new concert manager and director of public relations at the UW School of Music) recently gave an email interview to The Ear.

William Farlow by Kathy Esposito

Can you give us some brief personal and professional background including when and why you came to the UW and why you are retiring? 

I came to the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the fall of 1998 after teaching at University of Arkansas-Fayetteville for five years. I came here because I felt I needed a new challenge -– which it certainly turned out to be!

I am retiring because I have spent the last 50 years of my life doing opera. It started when I was 15 and played in the second violin section for a production of Verdi’s “Aida.” I have continued into my mid-60s and feel it’s time to move on to the next chapter of my life. (Below is a photo of William Farlow in a rehearsal.)

Farlowrehearsing Cosi2004

Will you stay in Madison after you retire?

I have no immediate plans to move.

What are your plans for after retirement? Do you have special hobbies or activities you want to pursue? Will you continue to freelance as an opera director?

I will continue as Artistic Advisor to Fresco Opera Theatre and Operations Consultant to the Des Moines Metro Opera as well as continue to judge voice competitions –- I’ve been a judge for the Metropolitan Opera’s National Council Auditions for 30 years –- and to give master classes.

I do not plan on directing in the future and have turned down all offers for 2014, one of which was a complete “Ring” cycle of Wagner.

I can’t wait to cook more and read.

William Farlow witn roses

What are you most proud of during your tenure at the UW?

The huge variety of repertoire and quality productions we have been able to offer, and the phenomenal younger singers and instrumentalists.

What makes doing opera at a university school of music special or distinctive in your view, and what advice would you pass along to your successor?

There are so many more repertoire choices for university opera than for many professional companies. My advice is “Good luck” and “Leave no stone unturned.”

What was the best part of directing at the UW? The most frustrating part?

The best part was working with the opera’s music director and conductor James Smith (below top), who is such an extraordinary musician and colleague, and with soprano and associate director of University Opera Mimmi Fulmer (below bottom), who is the best everything.

The most frustrating part? FUNDING!!

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

Mimmi Fulmer

How healthy is the opera program now at the UW-Madison? What challenges do you see in the future?

The program is in good shape for now, but the challenges will continue to be recruitment and funding.

Why did you choose operas by  George Frideric Handel (“Ariodante” on Pct. 25, 27 and 29) and Hector Berlioz (“Beatrice and Benedict” on April 13, 15 and 19) for your farewell season?

My choices for this season are the same as they always have been — operas that give the most opportunities to the most singers.

Handel etching

berlioz

Is there anything else you would like to say? 

The last 15 years have been the most challenging and rewarding of my career. I have had the great honor of directing so many great works that I wouldn’t have dreamed would be possible at this point in my career.


Classical Music: Meditate on this — NPR asks if French opera composer Jules Massenet be rediscovered, revived and performed for more than his famous “Meditation”?

September 16, 2012
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

These days, about the only piece by the 19th century French composer Jules Massenet (below, in a photo from Getty Images) you hear often is the lovely “Meditation” from the opera ‘Thais,” usually scored for violin and orchestra or violin and piano but also available in transcriptions.

But recently the director of NPR’s “Deceptive Cadence” classical music blog Tom Huizenga (below) made the case for rediscovering and reviving Jules Massenet. The occasion was the centennial of Massenet’s birth and the issuing of a 23-CD box set by Decca, from which he took  samples. He also cited some interesting statistics about the popularity of performances of Massenet’s usually sentimental works.

True, Massenet was an unabashed sentimentalist, but he certainly had an undeniable great gift for melody and harmony. He knew how to write a line that sings and music that pleases.

Huizenga’s essay is even filled with several audio snippets to help make his case and to help you decide or reach a verdict.

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/08/14/158750921/making-a-case-for-massenet-the-misunderstood-sentimentalist

Maybe it is just more proof that the great rediscoveries made in the 17th and 18th centuries, in the Baroque and Classical periods, that took place over the past several decades with early music and period instrument groups are now reaching into the 19th and early 20th centuries.

We will see.

Let’s think about it. Let’s meditate on it.

And while we do, here is the popular, famous and beautiful – though some would even say banal or trite – “Meditation” from “Thais,” first from superstar violinist Itzhak Perlman with an orchestra, then from superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma with pianist Kathryn Stott. You can decide which version you like more,  and then let us know in the COMMENT section along with what you think of Massenet:


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