The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: University Opera’s “Turn of the Screw” is a completely satisfying production of a complex modern masterpiece by Benjamin Britten

March 5, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Opera Guy filed this review, with photos by Michael R. Anderson, for The Ear:

By Larry Wells

I attended the opening performance of Benjamin Britten’s 1954 chamber opera “The Turn of the Screw” that was presented by University Opera and directed by David Ronis.

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.)

Dress Rehearsal for "Turn of the Screw"

Dress Rehearsal for “Turn of the Screw”

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.)

Dress Rehearsal for "Turn of the Screw"

Dress Rehearsal for “Turn of the Screw”

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.)

Dress Rehearsal for "Turn of the Screw"

Dress Rehearsal for “Turn of the Screw”

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.

Dress Rehearsal for "Turn of the Screw"

Dress Rehearsal for “Turn of the Screw”

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:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/2017/01/31/university-opera-presents-benjamin-brittens-the-turn-of-the-screw/


Classical music: Award-winning University Opera performs Benjamin Britten’s “The Turn of the Screw” this Friday night, Sunday afternoon and next Tuesday night

February 28, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The black-and-white poster (below) looks fittingly eerie, spooky and creepy for one of the most famous ghost stories ever written. Look carefully at the blurry outlines of people – or are they spirits? The ambiguity is deliberate.

uw-turn-of-screw-posyter-2017

The poster advertises the opera “The Turn of the Screw,” which was written in 1954 by British composer Benjamin Britten (below, in a 1968 publicity photo by Decca Records taken by Hans Wild) and is based on a famous gothic novella by the 19th-century American writer Henry James. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear an excerpt from the production at the 2007 Glyndebourne Festival.)

benjamin-britten-london-records-1968-hans-wild

The production of Britten’s last chamber opera promises to be exciting, engaging and innovative. That is thanks to the University Opera’s new permanent artistic director David Ronis (below, in a photo by Luke DeLalio), a transplanted New Yorker who recently won national awards for two earlier productions at the UW-Madison when he was the opera company’s guest interim director for two seasons.

Below is a link to the complete story, with links to the awards story and other aspects. It also contains information about the cast and about tickets ($25 for adults, $20 for seniors and $10 for students).

The Ear wants to point out just a few important highlights:

Performances are in Music Hall, at the foot of Bascom Hill, on this Friday at 7:30 p.m., this Sunday at 3 p.m. and next Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m.

After each performance, a talk-back for the audience to ask questions of the cast and the artistic staff will be held.

The running time is two hours with intermission.

The opera will be sung in English, but will also feature supertitles so the audience can easily understand the poetic libretto and follow the story.

The talented and experienced UW-Madison graduate student Kyle Knox (below) will conduct members of the UW Symphony Orchestra. Knox has conducted the UW Symphony and the University Opera many times before, and has also conducted for the Madison Opera and the Middleton Community Orchestra. Some mention him as a serious candidate to succeed his retiring and acclaimed teacher, Professor James Smith.

Kyle Knox 2

Here is the link to the full story, with many more details including cast members, on the UW-Madison Mead Witter School of Music’s website:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/2017/01/31/university-opera-presents-benjamin-brittens-the-turn-of-the-screw/


Classical music: The University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music has posted online an impressive list of concerts for the 2016-17 season. Plus, the Willy Street Chamber Players promise to make it easy for their listeners tonight to also get over to the Handel Aria Competition.

July 8, 2016
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ALERT: The Ear likes to see cooperation and collegiality, especially as the classical music scene in Madison gets busier and more competitive. And cooperation is exactly what he heard this week on Wisconsin Public Radio‘s noon-time show “The Midday” with Norman Gilliland

Members of the Willy Street Chamber Players and the Handel Aria Competition, which both take place tonight, appeared back-to-back on the show and behaved as true colleagues.

The Willy Street Chamber Players said their program of Tchaikovsky s “Souvenir of Florence” and “Entr’acte” by Caroline Shaw should run about an hour — from 6 to 7 p.m. — and that they would do everything possible (less talking perhaps?) to make sure audience members could also attend the fourth annual Handel Aria Competition, which starts at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, and is held in conjunction with the Madison Early Music Festival, which takes place this week. 

Here is a link with more details about the Willy Street Chamber Players:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/07/03/classical-music-next-friday-night-starts-the-second-season-of-the-acclaimed-willy-street-chamber-players/

And here is a link to the Handel Aria Competition.

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/07/01/classical-music-handel-aria-competition-announces-2016-finalists-to-sing-next-thursday-night/

By Jacob Stockinger

Get out your datebooks.

Most of the major classical music organizations and presenters in town – the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Madison Opera, the Wisconsin Union Theater to name a few — have already announced their new seasons for 2016-27.

And now the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music has posted its calendar of concerts for the new season, most of which take place in Mills Hall (below) on its website.

MIllsHall2

To be clear, there are few specific programs listed with composers and works. Sometimes that happens because the programs just aren’t decided yet. And sometimes they aren’t decided because the makeup of some groups – like the UW Symphony Orchestra and the UW Chamber Orchestra – aren’t known until school begins in September.

Nonetheless, it is an impressive list that runs into the hundreds when you include student recitals.

Some of the higher profile concerts are ticketed, but most remain FREE to the public.

And you can find out a lot from the calendar, even if it is incomplete and subject to change.

You can see the operas that will be staged by the University Opera – namely Giuseppe Verdi’s “Falstaff” and Benjamin Britten’s “The Turn of the Screw.”

You can find out about the UW Choral Union (below), which will perform works by Johannes Brahms, Ludwig van Beethoven and Leonard Bernstein as well as a rarely performed worked based on Walt Whitman by Paul Hindemith.

UW Choral Union 11-2013 Vaughan Williams soloists

You can see the groups that will participate in the third annual Brass Fest, including the Stockholm Chamber Brass on its first tour of the U.S.

You can see when virtuoso pianist Christopher Taylor (below) will perform as well as when his fellow faculty members will play recitals.

Christopher Taylor new profile

Ditto for the renowned Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer), the Wingra Woodwind Quintet and the Wisconsin Brass Quintet.

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

And same goes for the 38th annual Karp Family Labor Day concert on Sept. 5, which officially opens the news season.

There is just so much to choose from!

Happy hunting!

Here is a link:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/


Classical music: It’s now official – David Ronis is the new director of University Opera at the UW-Madison. And here are the two operas he will stage for next season.

June 8, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

With the long-awaited publication of a press release, it is finally official: Guest interim director David Ronis (below, in a photo by Luke Delalio) has been named the permanent director of the University Opera at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

David Ronis color CR Luke DeLalio

Initially, frustrated with the slow pace of the final paperwork announcing a decision that was made in March, Ronis announced his own appointment in an informal posting on Facebook in mid-May.

Here was The Ear’s post about that:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/05/17/classical-music-con-vivo-concludes-its-14th-season-this-saturday-night-with-septets-and-quintets-by-beethoven-dvorak-max-reger-and-carl-nielsen/

But now comes the full UW-Madison press release with lots of background about Ronis, who hails from New York City and was chosen after a nationwide search:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/2016/05/26/david-ronis-appointed-as-university-operas-permanent-director/

The Ear has also learned the first two productions that Ronis will stage during the 2016-17 season:

In honor of the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, the University Opera will stage “Falstaff” by Giuseppe Verdi on Nov. 11, 13 and 15. (That is also the focus of this year’s Madison Early Music Festival in July; and the Chazen Museum of Art will host a touring copy of the First Folio in the fall.) 

Then on April 3, 5 and 7 the University Opera will stage “The Turn of the Screw,” by Benjamin Britten, based on the ghost story-like  novella by Henry James.


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