By Jacob Stockinger
It will be sung in French with English subtitles and will last about three hours with one intermission.
Tickets are $18-$130.
With soaring arias, impassioned scenes and plenty of sword fights, Gounod’s gorgeous opera brings the famous tragic tale of young love to vivid life.
Set in 14th century Verona, Italy, the opera follows the story of Shakespeare’s legendary star-crossed lovers. The Montague and Capulet families are caught in a centuries-old feud.
One evening, Romeo Montague and his friends attend a Capulet ball in disguise. The moment Romeo spots Juliet Capulet, he falls in love, and she returns his feelings. Believing they are meant for one another, they proclaim their love, setting in motion a chain of events that will change both their families.
“Romeo and Juliet is one of the most famous love stories in Western literature,” says Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill), the general director of Madison Opera. “Gounod’s operatic version of it is equally beloved, and it’s exciting to present an amazing cast that brings such vocal and dramatic depth to their story.
“I’m also delighted that we are performing the opera the same weekend that Shakespeare’s First Folio goes on display at the University of Wisconsin-Madison‘s Chazen Museum of Art, enabling our community to enjoy a very Shakespearean weekend.”
Gounod’s operatic adaption of the tragedy of “Romeo & Juliet” premiered in 1867 at the Théâtre Lyrique in Paris. While Gounod is now better known for “Faust,” “Romeo and Juliet” was a bigger success at its premiere, and has stayed in the repertoire for 150 years due to its beautiful music, genuine passion mingled with wit, and exciting fight scenes.
“Having conducted Gounod’s Faust so often, I’m thrilled to finally have the opportunity to conduct his romantic masterpiece,” says John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), the artistic director of Madison Opera who will conduct the two performances.
“The vocal and orchestral writing is lyrical and downright gorgeous,” DeMain adds. “We have a glorious cast, the Madison Opera Chorus and the Madison Symphony. What more could a conductor ask for!” (You can hear Anna Netrebko sing Juliet’s famous aria “Je veux vivre” — “I want to live” – in the popular YouTube video at the bottom.)
Madison Opera’s cast features both returning artists and debuts.
John Irvin (below top) and Emily Birsan (below bottom) return to sing the title roles of Romeo and Juliet. Irvin sang Count Almaviva in the 2015 production of The Barber of Seville, while Birsan returns from singing at Opera in the Park 2016 and Musetta in last season’s La Bohème.
Sidney Outlaw, who sang at this past summer’s Opera in the Park, makes his mainstage debut as Romeo’s friend, Mercutio. Liam Moran, who sang Colline in last season’s La Bohème, sings Frère Laurent, who unites the two lovers in the hope of uniting their families. Madisonian Allisanne Apple (below) returns as Gertrude, Juliet’s nurse.
Making their debuts are Stephanie Lauricella as Romeo’s page, Stephano; Chris Carr as Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin; Philip Skinner as Lord Capulet; and Benjamin Sieverding as the Duke of Verona. Former Madison Opera Studio Artist Nathaniel Hill returns as Gregorio, while current Studio Artist James Held sings the role of Paris.
Directing this traditional staging is Doug Scholz-Carlson (below), who directed Gioaccchino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville,” Aaron Copland’s “The Tender Land” and Benjamin Britten‘s “The Turn of the Screw” for Madison Opera. Scholz-Carlson is the artistic director of the Great River Shakespeare Festival and has directed the original “Romeo and Juliet,” among many Shakespeare plays.
He will discuss the differences between staging “Romeo and Juliet” as a play and as an opera in another posting tomorrow.
For more information about the production, the cast and tickets, 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.
By John W. Barker
On Friday evening, the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO, below in a photo by John W. Barker) gave, in the Atrium Auditorium at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, the concert that concluded its sixth season.
Founded in 2011, it has been a remarkable venture that has given student musicians of high-school level the chance to enjoy full-scale orchestral experience.
But the group’s founder and director, the versatile and multi-talented Madison native Mikko Rankin Utevsky (below), is apparently irreplaceable in this effort; and he has found that he must move on in his career. So, this latest and 10th concert was also the orchestra’s last.
To mark the occasion, Utevsky, who just graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, is an enthusiastic champion of new music, and the orchestra commissioned a new composition, which then received its world premiere on Friday night.
The composer is the 25-year-old, Minneapolis-based avant-garde musician Ben Davis (below) who created a work with the not very helpful title of “is a is a is b is.” (I’m not making that up!) It is scored for a full ensemble of strings, winds and percussion plus an electronic screeching machine.
It is, in truth, not a piece of music at all, but a 20-minute experiment in the kinds of unusual — and not particularly pleasant — sounds that a group of orchestral players can make with their instruments. There are passages of repeated unison notes (the same one over and over) at goodly volume. And the last three minutes or so is an unaccompanied solo for the screeching machine on a single, piercing tone.
Whether this made a worthy valedictory salute to MAYCO’s audience and supporters is, I suppose, a matter of taste.
Fortunately, this new work was cushioned on either side by much more familiar material.
Opening the program was the beloved Overture to the opera The Barber of Seville by Gioachino Rossini. This was brought off with full-steam-ahead momentum by the players under Utevsky’s enthusiastic leadership.
The players were clearly quite fired up at the chance to tackle this score and did themselves genuine credit. Utevsky provided fast and forceful leadership that stressed the dramatic power of this music—which was, in its day, as surprising and shocking as a lot of “new” music today, we must remember.
The audience shared with the performers a rousing experience.
Among his other functions, Utevsky also wrote admirably illuminating program notes for the Rossini and Beethoven works—contrasting with those contributed by Davis, which were as nose-thumbing as his composition.
It is sad to think that MAYCO is now a thing of the past. What a wonderful idea it has been, something that testifies to the remarkable quantity and quality of young musical talent here.
If his orchestra is now gone, we must certainly keep our eyes and ears open for what the gifted Utevsky moves on to next.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received the following note from Mikko Rankin Utevsky (below top), the founder and music director of the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (below) bottom, which plays its last concert this Friday night.
I have a major announcement to make to your readers:
The TIME and LOCATION for the final concert by MAYCO have been changed.
The concert is now in the Atrium Auditorium (below, in a photo by Zane Williams) of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, at 8 p.m. – NOT in Music Hall at 7:30 p.m., as previously announced.
For more details about the concert, visit the post that appeared here earlier this week. Here is a link:
And here are some brief remarks from Utevsky (below) about the concert’s program:
“Our first concert five years ago ended with Beethoven’s monumental Fifth Symphony, and to bring things full circle with our tenth and final performance, I decided it was only right to program the piece once more.
“We’re opening with a light appetizer, Rossini’s effervescent overture to his opera “The Barber of Seville,” which calls to mind Bugs Bunny as easily as Madison Opera‘s vivacious staging two seasons ago.
“In between, we have a complex, experimental new work exploring the psychology of performance and the physical act of playing an instrument – by far the most adventurous work we’ve ever commissioned or premiered.
“I hope the public will join us for the performance, and a small reception afterward celebrating ten wonderful concerts.”
ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, to be held from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the historic Landmark Auditorium of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Meeting House of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, will feature music for baroque and modern flute and strings with Iva Ugrcic, Thalia Combs, Biffa Kwok, Joshua Dierigner, Mikko Rankin Utevsky, Andrew Briggs and Satoko Hayami. They will play music by Georg Philipp Telemann, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach, Salvatore Sciarrino and Andre Jolivet.
By Jacob Stockinger
The production will be performed twice in Overture Hall of the Overture Center: on Friday at 8 p.m.; and on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. It will be sung in French with projected English translations
Tickets are $18-$129. Student and group discounts are available. Tickets can be purchased at the Overture Box Office, 201 State St., Madison, and by calling (608) 258-4141 or visiting www.madisonopera.org
For more information, here is a link to yesterday’s post with a plot synopsis and information about the cast:
Today, The Ear asked the same questions to the two main figures in the production: Artistic and music director John DeMain and guest stage director Kristine McIntyre.
Here are their answers:
JOHN DeMAIN (below)
“Tales of Hoffmann” has the reputation of being a “lighter” opera. How justified and accurate is that opinion in your view, and what do you think explains it?
Hoffmann is Offenbach’s grand opus. I’ve never thought of this work as a light opera. To me, light opera has spoken dialogue and the music is distinctly lighter in nature, like operetta.
Where the confusion lies here is, for me, no different than with George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. Both composers use popular resources, at times, to tell the story.
Hoffmann is a serious themed piece. Two people are literally murdered, and the mechanical doll is also destroyed. Hoffmann’s soul is condemned to hell, as his pursuit of love is rebuffed at every term. The devil is present throughout as well.
What Hoffmann is, however, is highly theatrical. Magic is present, as well as the supernatural. It is at times ghoulish and macabre, but always entertaining. The Olympia scene with party guests and a mechanical doll — at bottom in a YouTube video — is the lightest scene in nature, as Hoffmann is being duped at a social gathering.
Move into Antonia, and from the beginning the music is serious and profound with two thrilling trios. Giulietta, which has always been the sketchiest act, because of missing music and an incomplete libretto, nevertheless is thrillingly operatic in scope.
Hoffmann is very much like Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata in design, particularly in the progression of Hoffmann’s loves, as embodied in the sopranos who sings all four roles. Olympia is coloratura, just like Violetta in the first act singing “Sempre libera.” Antonia is lyric, corresponding to Violetta in the second act, and Giulietta is the most dramatic, just as in the third act of the Verdi.
The beautiful final ensemble at the end of the Epilogue is also not the stuff of light opera. Offenbach, as a composer, is true to his musical style, but achieves the greatest depth of his writing in this wonderful grand opera.
What would you like the public to know about the opera and about the musical aspects of the Madison Opera production including the singers, the orchestra and the score?
The orchestra highlights the drama at every given turn, literally changing tempos on a dime. Leitmotifs are used throughout the piece.
The music is wonderfully melodic, with the entire cast having beautiful arias, duets and trios. It has long been a favorite opera of mine because it so accurately portrays the story in vivid and unmistakable musical terms.
KRISTINE MCINTYRE (below)
Jacques Offenbach’s “Tales of Hoffmann” has the reputation of being a “lighter” opera? How justified and accurate is that opinion in your view, and what do you think explains it?
Well, “lighter” compared to what? Than Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking or Leos Janacek’s Jenufa, certainly. But it’s not a comedy either, and certainly any of the classic operatic comedies, such as Gioacchino Rossini‘s The Barber of Seville, feels perfectly frothy in comparison.
I think this is an easy opera to underestimate because the piece is so theatrical in its storytelling. But Offenbach (below) is actually exploring some very dark themes, as was E.T.A. Hoffmann before him.
E.T.A. Hoffmann’s original tales are fantastical and highly imaginative, but they are also vivid and insightful examinations of human psychology. He exposes our darkest fears and how that darkness intrudes into our everyday lives and our attempts to find love and happiness. I think E.T.A. Hoffmann is particularly insightful at revealing the fragility of his male protagonists and their insecurities where women and love are concerned.
The Olympia act, for instance, is really about a young man’s fear that he has been deceived, that he’s been made a fool of — that he can’t trust the girl he loves and doesn’t know what’s real or what’s not.
The story on which it is based, “The Sandman,” is even more horrifying than Offenbach’s setting: the young man simply can’t get over having fallen in love with the automaton, believes his very human fiancée is actually a machine, tries to kill her and eventually commits suicide by throwing himself from a balcony.
So one should not confuse creativity in storytelling with a lack of seriousness. There is a great tradition, stretching back to the early 19th century, of writers of fantastical literature and science fiction asking some of the hardest questions about human nature and providing some of the most compelling insights.
That tradition now extends to film and we’ve spent some time in rehearsal talking about how movies like Blade Runner and Ex Machina explore some of the same issues.
Offenbach is a man of the theater and gives us music that is just as compelling and theatrical as the tales themselves. This music is fun to stage and listen to, but while Offenbach is entertaining us with his delightful French melodies, his main character, Hoffmann, has his heart broken three times, causes the death of his fiancée, becomes an alcoholic, murders a rival and loses his soul. So the opera definitely has its tragic side.
And we shouldn’t forget that Offenbach balances the fantasy of the tales with the framework of the Prologue and Epilogue and the completely recognizable, human story of Hoffmann’s doomed relationship with his girlfriend Stella. They’ve had a fight and he’s terrified of losing her. In the tales, he is actually telling us Stella’s story over and over again as he tries to make sense of what has happened.
The opera could easily end in tragedy and despair, but instead Offenbach offers us a glass of champagne and a balm for the human condition. (Below is the Roaring 20s set.)
What would you like the public to know about the opera and about the theatrical aspects of the Madison Opera production including acting, costumes, sets, etc.?
Almost everyone in our cast is doing their roles for the first time, so we’re having a great time in rehearsal exploring every moment of the piece.
This will be a very high-energy, inventive and creative telling of the opera. The production is updated to the 1920s, which is great fun – beautiful costumes and lots of wonderful inspiration from art and cinema of the period.
For instance, we’ve been looking at the paintings of Otto Dix, which capture the élan and decadence of the 1920s, and classic horror films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu to find the darker side of things for the Antonia act. It’s a very rich period visually and offers us a great deal of style as well as the chance to make something that feels very alive and fresh.
I think it will be very entertaining and also very moving.
By Jacob Stockinger
The annual FREE concert of opera and Broadway favorites closes the company’s extraordinary 2014-15 season and provides an appetizing preview of the 2015-16 season that celebrates writers and their inspirations.
Typically, Opera in the Park attracts over 14,000 people every year.
This year, Opera in the Park stars soprano Eleni Calenos, contralto Meredith Arwady, tenor Harold Meers and local bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen, and features former Madison Opera Studio Artist Anna Laurenzo.
Here is a link to Kyle Ketelsen’s Q&A with The Ear:
Artistic Director John DeMain conducts the Madison Opera Chorus and Madison Symphony Orchestra. The evening will be hosted by Madison Opera’s General Director Kathryn Smith and by WKOW TV’s 27 News “Wake-Up Wisconsin” anchor Brandon Taylor.
“I love Opera in the Park,” says Smith, in a prepared statement. “It is by far the most important performance Madison Opera gives. The magic combination of thousands of people sitting under the summer night sky and our singers and orchestra performing beautiful music on stage creates something truly inspiring. It is a testament to Madison’s love of music – and love of being outdoors – that we have the highest per capita attendance of any such concert in the country.”
The program for Opera in the Park 2015 includes arias and ensembles from Giacomo Puccini’s “La Bohème,” which opens the 2015-16 season in November; Mark Adamo’s “Little Women,” which will be performed in February; and Jacques Offenbach’s “The Tales of Hoffmann,” which will be performed in April.
The concert will also offer arias and ensembles from such classic operas as Antonin Dvorak‘s “Rusalka,” Charles Gounod’s “Faust,” Arrigo Boito‘s “Mefistofele” and Georg Frideric Handel‘s “Semele.” Broadway hits from “The Music Man,” “Guys and Dolls,” “Kiss Me, Kate” and “Wonderful Town” will round out the evening of music, which always includes one number conducted by the audience with light sticks.
Garner Park is located at 333 South Rosa Road, at the intersection of Mineral Point Road, west of Whitney Way. Parking is available in the CUNA Mutual Group and University Research Park lots. Attendees are encouraged to bring picnics, blankets and chairs. Alcohol is permitted, but not sold in the park.
On the day of the concert, Garner Park will open at 7 a.m. Audience members are not allowed to leave items in the park prior to this time. The rain date for Opera in the Park is Sunday, July 26, at 8 p.m.
Here are two links to help you find information about Opera in the Park.
For general information, go to:
And for more information about the cast, go to:
For information about the next season, go to:
On the eve of the outdoor event, Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill) – who is the general director of the Madison Opera – agreed to revisit the past season and talk about the upcoming season with The Ear.
What kind of artistic and financial shape did the Madison Opera emerge from for the past season?
Our fiscal year doesn’t end until the end of August, but overall it has been a great year on all fronts. From the triumphant music of our first staged Fidelio (below, the prisoners’ chorus in a photo by James Gill) to the sold-out Sweeney Todd and the joyous The Barber of Seville, it was an immensely satisfying season.
Audience and critical response to each opera was strong, and often included some surprise that the individual enjoyed that particular show more than he or she had expected. It feels like we have proved in the past few seasons that we can produce consistently great opera across the spectrum. I am also encouraged by the new audiences we attract and the diversity of age range I see in our lobbies.
Can you rank each show in terms of popularity? Did you learn anything special from the season?
It’s difficult to rank this season’s shows, because we know they drew very different audiences. For example, the audience at Sweeney Todd was definitely younger than the audience at Fidelio — the non-subscription performance in particular seemed to have an average age of 30 — and a number of people brought their young children to The Barber of Seville for their first opera.
In absolute numbers, the order would be Barber (below, in a photo by James Gill), Sweeney Todd and Fidelio, but there was not a wide gap between them.
The main thing I’ve learned with each successive season is that we are doing the right thing by having such a mix of operas. Some of our patrons love Beethoven, some only like comedy, and some were only interested (or very much un-interested) in Sweeney Todd.
By doing such a range, we serve a much wider audience than if we focused on only one segment of our audience. Hopefully this adds to the growing understanding that opera is not a monolithic art form.
How and why did you choose the operas for next season? Why Puccini’s “La Boheme”? Why Offenbach’s “Tales of Hoffmann”? Does “Little Women” represent something of a departure for Madison Opera? Is there an umbrella concept or unifying theme to the season?
Choosing a season’s operas is a question of balancing the classic, the rare and the new; picking a range of composers and languages; and in general coming up with the “mix” that defines us.
We have not performed La Bohème in eight years, so it was time to bring back the greatest love story in opera. While some long-time opera-goers may have seen it many times, we also have many in our audience who have only come to opera recently, so this will be their first Bohème.
Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann is a brilliant piece that is both scarily large and immensely exciting to produce, packed with beautiful music and special effects. It happens to be a personal favorite opera not only for me, but also for John DeMain and Kristine McIntyre, our stage director. We look forward to sharing this literally fantastic work on the Overture Hall stage, as we have not performed it in 20 years.
Little Women came out of Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, to some extent. After the success of Dead Man Walking, many people — particularly those who were surprised by how much they enjoyed a 21st-century opera — asked me what we were doing next. I did not want another nine years to go by before we did another major American opera, but I also wanted a completely different story, so that it would not be a literal comparison.
Mark Adamo’s Little Women has been one of the most-performed American operas since its 1998 premiere; its basis in a story that has been beloved for generations makes it the perfect way to keep growing our American repertoire.
As is often the case, the season theme emerges after I’ve picked the operas. Next season turned out to be a season of writers: Rodolfo is a poet; so is Hoffmann. Jo March writes stories for magazines and is in fact the only writer we see succeeding in her craft during the opera.
That said, the unifying theme is the same one I strive for every season: Great operas that tell wonderful stories with enthralling music.
What role did the new Madison Opera Center play in the past season’s productions? Has it lived up to expectations?
Over the past two years, the Margaret C. Winston Madison Opera Center (below) has played a major role in defining who we are. On a basic level, it is where we rehearse, fit costumes and have our offices. It is also where the singers hang out, give press interviews, do their laundry, cook the occasional meal, work on music for their next gig and bump into our trustees in the common areas.
Having our own space has enabled us to add programs like the free Opera Novice series and hold more workshops with our high school apprentices.
On a financial level, revenue from the parking ramp in particular is an increasingly important part of our budget, as it is not dependent on donors or ticket sales. On a community level, having our rehearsal hall regularly used by groups such as CTM, Theatre Lila, and Capital City Theatre shows that we truly are part of the larger artistic fabric of Madison. The Center was designed to be a home on many levels, and we are well on the way to achieving that dream.
What else would you like to say or add about the past season, the next season and perhaps also the Opera in the Park?
I am always grateful for the enormous number of people who make Madison Opera possible. Opera has never been cost-effective, and our patrons, volunteers, artists, production teams, and staff are all committed to sharing this glorious art form with everyone from the 2,000 teenagers at our student matinees to the 15,000 people at Opera in the Park.
Our season ends with this summer’s Opera in the Park this Saturday, which is always the perfect way to finish the year. This summer is the concert’s 14th year – which means that 2016 will be the 15th year, a milestone that was perhaps unthinkable when we started in Garner Park in 2002.
We have the highest per capita attendance for such an event in the U.S., which is a strong testament to the greater Madison community’s love for what we do. I won’t reveal the repertoire for this summer’s concert yet, but we have four amazing soloists and plenty of light sticks (below), so I hope everyone has the date on their calendars.
ALERT: It is the first Sunday of the month. That means the Chazen Museum of Art will broadcast its own version of “Sunday Afternoon Live from the Chazen” — abandoned by Wisconsin Public Radio after 36 years — via live streaming as well as FREE and public attendance.
Today’s concert features chamber music starting at 12:30 p.m. with a link directly from the Chazen website. The artists are the UW-Madison’s popular Pro Arte Quartet performing the String Quartet in C Minor, Op. 18, No. 4, by Ludwig van Beethoven; the String Quartet in A Major, K. 414, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; and the String Quartet No. 3 by Belgian composer Benoit Mernier, which the Pro Arte (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) is about to record.
Here is a link to the Chazen for streaming the concert:
By Jacob Stockinger
British pianist, composer, painter, blogger and polymath Stephen Hough is one of the outstanding concert pianists on the scene today. He has performed several times in Madison, with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and at the Wisconsin Union Theater, giving master classes at the UW-Madison School of Music.
Known for both his outstanding technique and his deep musicality, Hough (below) has won numerous of awards and Hyperion will soon release three new CDs that each feature his own compositions as well as other standard repertoire.
So The Ear was pleased to read what Hough recently had to say about the neglected Piano Concerto by Antonin Dvorak (below top) whose Violin Concerto and Cello Concerto have fared much better, to say nothing of his symphonies and chamber music.
Wouldn’t it be fun to hear the Dvorak Piano Concerto performed live by some soloist – maybe Hough himself– and the Madison Symphony Orchestra in a future season? What a chance to resurrect the neglected past and to explore an unknown work by a very well known and beloved composer.
I tend to trust Hough’s judgment, although he is especially close to the work these days as he prepares to record it. After all, he has played and often recorded most of the standard piano concertos and quite a few of the more rarely heard Romantic concertos.
Here are his remarks:
And here is the famous performance by Sviatoslav Richter:
By Jacob Stockinger
Loyal readers of this blog know very well the name of Mikko Rankin Utevsky. The young violist, singer and conductor is a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin School of Music, where he studies with Pro Arte Quartet violist Sally Chisholm and plays in the UW Symphony Orchestra.
Utevsky, who has won awards and impressive reviews for his work in music education since his days at Madison’s East High School, is the founder and conductor of the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO), which will perform its fourth season this summer. He has been named the new Music Director of a local community orchestra, The Studio Orchestra. The ensemble has an out-of-date website here (www.disso.org).
You can check out his many honors and projects by typing his name into the search engine on this blog site.
The Ear immediately took him up on the offer. After all, he is a fine and perceptive writer who, you may recall, blogged for this post when he was on tour three summers ago with the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) tour to Vienna, Prague and Budapest.
Here is the review, with performance photo by James Gill, by Mikko Utevsky (below):
By Mikko Rankin Utevsky
Madison Opera’s production of Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” this Friday evening was delightful, entertaining, and well-sung throughout. The cast — mostly young — excelled in both their comic acting and singing, making for a performance that the company can be proud of.
As Count Almaviva (below top right and below bottom disguised as Don Basilio at the keyboard), John Irvin’s lush and youthful tenor shone throughout the evening, growing if anything more secure as the night went on. Emily Fons played a girlish and coy Rosina (below left) with impressive vocal flexibility and pure high notes.
Alan Dunbar was delightful as the imperious Doctor Bartolo; his aria “Un dottor della mia sorte” was both solidly sung and absolutely hilarious.
Soprano Chelsea Morris, a Madison Opera Studio Artist, made her company debut as the maid Berta. Her clear and focused tone rang effortlessly atop the ensemble writing, and her lone aria was morbidly funny.
Thomas Forde made for a hysterical Don Basilio from beginning to end, while Bryan Royston did the unbelievable — he stood out in a silent role as the servant Ambrogio with deft physical comedy throughout the night.
The star of the evening was the young baritone Will Liverman (below) in the title role of the barber Figaro. His voice has power and beauty throughout its impressive compass, including a ringing upper register to rival a tenor’s. Coupled with comic sensitivity and delightful physicality, Liverman must certainly be a singer to watch, and it is our fortune to hear him here. (You can hear his famous “Largo al factotum” aria sung by Thomas Hampson in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
Perhaps above all, director Doug Scholz-Carlson should be commended for an absolutely hilarious staging that managed to balance the schticky and slapstick with some truly clever opera in-jokes.
The fourth wall is occasionally shattered to tremendous effect, and every singer is in full command of their comic timing and physicality.
This staging does not put Rossini on a pedestal — it acknowledges that this music is, above all, riotously funny stuff, and it makes full use of the modern stage’s arsenal of gags and tricks to remind the audience of this fact. Judging by the response in the hall, most in attendance agreed.
John DeMain led members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra in a clean and capable pit ensemble, with pacing and ensemble mostly tight (though the first act Finale lacked momentum — difficult to bring to so much static music). Scott Gendel provided imaginative accompaniment from the harpsichord, including a few clever musical jokes.
A lovely and versatile set — created by Peter Dean Beck for Opera Carolina — provided an evocative setting, with lighting by Marcus Dilliard including a very nice storm.
You can see it for yourself this afternoon at 2:30 in Overture Hall — and you should, if only to hear Will Liverman before the big houses snap him up for good. It is a thoroughly entertaining way to pass a Sunday afternoon.
EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this post made the error of calling Will LIVERMAN by the wrong name of Livermore. I apologize for the inaccuracy.
By Jacob Stockinger
For the first time in 12 years and the first time in Overture Hall, the Madison Opera will present “The Barber of Seville” by Gioachino Rossini (below) at 8 p.m. on this Friday, April 24, and at 2:30 p.m. on this Sunday, April 26, in Overture Hall.
The opera will be sung in Italian with English surtitles.
Tickets are $18-$125. Student and group discounts are available. For tickets and more information, call the Overture Center box office at 201 State St., Madison, at (608) 258-4141 or go to www.madisonopera.org
One of the earliest romantic comedies, “The Barber of Seville” tells how Figaro, the title character, helps Count Almaviva and Rosina outwit the latter’s guardian, bringing about a wedding in the final scene.
Multiple disguises, love notes passed in secret, and even a music lesson are used to bring the young couple together. Since its first performance in 1816, Barber has been an international hit, with Figaro’s aria “Largo al factotum” becoming perhaps the most famous opera aria of all time.
“The Barber of Seville” was one of the first operas I fell in love with,” says Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill), general director of the Madison Opera. “Rossini’s musical brilliance is unique, and the way the music literally sparkles is one of its most enduring characteristics. It’s a genuine pleasure to share one of the all-time great operas with our community.”
This will be the first time John DeMain, the artistic director of the Madison Opera and music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, has conducted “The Barber of Seville” in Madison, and he considers it a perfect conclusion to the company’s 10th anniversary in Overture Hall.
“The effervescent strains of Rossini’s scintillating score should be especially vibrant in the glorious acoustics of Overture Hall,” says DeMain (below in a photo by Prasad). “It will be like drinking musical champagne.”
A dynamic young cast brings this witty comedy to life. Emily Fons, a Wisconsin native who debuted with Madison Opera at Opera in the Park 2012, returns for her first main stage role with the company. These will be her first performances of Rosina, a role she sings later this summer at Opera Theatre of St. Louis and next season at Pittsburgh Opera.
Making his debut opposite Fons is tenor John Irvin, a recent graduate of the Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago — which is now headed by former UW-Madison School of Music professor and professional soprano Julia Faulkner. Irwin also sang Count Almaviva for Lyric Opera’s family performance.
Another recent Ryan Opera Center graduate, baritone Will Liverman, makes his Madison Opera debut as the illustrious barber Figaro, a role he has previously sung at the Utah Opera and in Lyric Opera of Chicago’s family performance.
Two Madison Opera favorites return in key roles. Alan Dunbar, whose most recent appearances were in “Dead Man Walking” (below, third from right) and the Overture 10th Anniversary Celebration, sings Rosina’s guardian, Dr. Bartolo. Thomas Forde, who sang Judge Turpin in Madison Opera’s recent “Sweeney Todd,” sings Don Basilio, the music teacher and purveyor of gossip.
Madison Opera Studio Artist soprano Chelsea Morris (below) sings her first principal role as Berta, and baritone Trevor Martin makes his debut as Fiorello. Directing this traditional staging is Doug Scholz-Carlson, who directed “The Tender Land” and “The Turn of the Screw” for Madison Opera.
“I am thrilled with this cast,” says Smith. “Rossini requires a lot of vocal teamwork, and it’s exciting to produce the opera with singers who are perfectly matched to their roles and to each other.”
Will Liverman (below) recently agreed to a Q&A with The Ear:
Can you briefly introduce yourself to readers?
My name is Will Liverman, and I hail from beautiful Virginia Beach, Virginia. I graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois for my undergraduate degree and finished with a Master’s degree at the Juilliard School. I recently completed the Ryan Opera Center program at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Have you sung the role of Figaro before? How have you changed or developed it? If the role is new to you, what do you find most appealing and most challenging about it?
I have only sung this role twice before. The more that I sit with this role, the more that I think it’s imperative to show that Figaro is a man with a good heart. There’s more to Figaro than just wanting money from the Count Almaviva and only looking after himself. I think he really enjoys helping people and he takes pride in that.
Is it fun to play Figaro?
Figaro is a TON of fun. First of all, comedy is my favorite thing to do onstage and The Barber of Seville is the essence of an opera comedy. It’s fun because there are so many different comedic bits to play in each scene. The music is exciting to sing, and it’s a satisfying show to perform.
What do you think explains the popularity and longevity of Rossini’s opera ever since it was first performed in 1816 in Rome? Why should the public today go see and hear it?
Each production has the potential to be something completely different in terms of how it’s staged and who’s singing in the cast. That can be said about other operas as well but The Barber of Seville is essentially a showcase for singers and you get to laugh out of your chair while you’re at it! In addition to Barber being one of the most well-known operas to the general public, it has endless amounts of comedic moments that a director can use.
In your interpretation, what aspects of Figaro’s character do you emphasize and why?
Figaro is three steps ahead of everyone in this piece and in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro. It’s important that comes through in every way, because being a cunning man with a plan is simply what he does and how he is able to help everyone.
What would you like to say about the famous showstopping “Largo al factotum” aria in terms of singing it and its universal appeal? (NOTE: You can hear it sung by Dmitri Hvorostovsky with Charles Dutoit conducting the Montreal Symphony in a popular YouTube video at the bottom.)
There isn’t much to be said about it. The aria speaks for itself, and it’s the most famous aria tune out there. My job is to not mess it up and at the same time make it my own!
What else would you like to say about your role, about the opera or about this production?
This production is going to be fantastic! I say that because when you’re able to laugh a lot in rehearsal at how funny the staging is -– and you’re one of the folks performing –- you know the audience is going to enjoy it even more. At least, I hope they do!