The Well-Tempered Ear

The Pro Arte Quartet plays the fourth installment of its FREE Beethoven string quartet cycle online TONIGHT at 7:30 CDT

October 23, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The historic Pro Arte Quartet, in residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music, will perform the fourth installment of its FREE Beethoven string quartet cycle TONIGHT — Friday, Oct. 23 — at 7:30 p.m. CDT. (It should be posted for about a day, but will not be archived due to copyright considerations.)

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the live concert will take place online and will be live-streamed without an audience from the Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall in the new Hamel Music Center.

You can stream it live from https://youtu.be/IhmNRNiI3RM

The whole series of concerts are part of the Pro Arte Quartet’s yearlong retrospective to celebrate the Beethoven Year. This December marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of the composer (below).

Members of the Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) are: David Perry and Suzanne Beia, violins; Sally Chisholm, viola; and Parry Karp, cello.

A pre-concert lecture by UW-Madison musicology Professor Charles Dill (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) starts at 7:30 p.m. CDT.

The program consists of one early and one late quartet: the string Quartet in C Minor, Op. 18 No. 4 (1798-1800), and you can hear the first movement played by the Dover Quartet in the YouTube video at the bottom; and the String Quartet in E-Flat Major, Op. 127 (1825).

The Pro Arte Quartet is one of the world’s most distinguished string quartets. Founded by conservatory students in Brussels in 1912, it became one of the most celebrated ensembles in Europe in the first half of the 20th century and was named Court Quartet to the Queen of Belgium.

Its world reputation blossomed in 1919 when the quartet (below, in 1928) began the first of many tours that enticed notable composers such as Bartok, Barber, Milhaud, Honegger, Martin and Casella to write new works for the ensemble.

The Pro Arte Quartet performs throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia and continues to champion both standard repertoire and new music.

Since being stranded in the U.S. when Belgium was invaded by Hitler and the Nazis in World War II, the group is an ensemble-in-residence at the Mead Witter School of Music and resident quartet of the Chazen Museum of Art.

The quartet, the longest active string quartet in the history of music, has performed at the White House and, during the centennial celebration, played for the King’s Counselor in Belgium.

Recent projects include the complete quartets of Bartok and Shostakovich and, in collaboration with the Orion and Emerson String Quartets, the complete quartets of Beethoven.

Regular chamber music collaborators that perform with Pro Arte include Samuel Rhodes and Nobuko Imai, viola; Bonnie Hampton, cello; and the late Leon Fleischer and Christopher Taylor, piano. 

Together since 1995, the quartet has recorded works of Mendelssohn, Dvorak, Rhodes, Shapey, Sessions, Fennelly, Diesendruck, Lehrdahl and the centennial commissions.

For more information and background, go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/pro-arte-quartet-beethoven-string-quartet-cycle-program-iv/

For more about the challenges and modifications – including wearing masks and social distancing — of doing the Beethoven cycle for the virtual online performances and about the other dates and programs in the cycle, go to: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2020/09/29/classical-music-uw-madisons-pro-arte-quartet-to-resume-its-free-beethoven-cycle-virtual-and-online-this-friday-night-with-two-other-programs-this-semester/

 


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Classical music: Meet Conor Nelson, the new flute professor at the UW-Madison

August 13, 2020
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PLEASE HELP THE EAR. IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event. And you might even attract new readers and subscribers to the blog.

By Jacob Stockinger

The UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music has a new flute professor who follows Timothy Hagen in taking the place of retired longtime predecessor Stephanie Jutt, who continues to perform locally with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society..

He is Conor Nelson (below) and he starts later this month at the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music.

Here is the biography — impressive for both his performing and his teaching –that the university released: 

“Praised for his “long-breathed phrases and luscious tone” by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Canadian flutist Conor Nelson is established as a leading flutist and pedagogue of his generation.

“Since his New York recital debut at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall, he has frequently appeared as soloist and recitalist throughout the United States and abroad.

“Solo engagements include concertos with the Minnesota Orchestra, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the Flint Symphony, and numerous other orchestras.

“In addition to being the only wind player to win the Grand Prize at the WAMSO (Minnesota Orchestra) Young Artist Competition, he won first prize at the William C. Byrd Young Artist Competition. He also received top prizes at the New York Flute Club Young Artist Competition, the Haynes International Flute Competition as well as the Fischoff, Coleman and Yellow Springs chamber music competitions. (Editor’s note: In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear Conor Nelson perform the second and third movements of the Flute Sonata by French composer Francis Poulenc.)

“With percussionist Ayano Kataoka (below left, with Nelson), he performed at Merkin Concert Hall, Tokyo Bunka Kaikan Hall and Izumi Hall. A recital at the Tokyo Opera City Hall received numerous broadcasts on NHK Television. Their CD entitled, “Breaking Training” was released on New Focus Recordings (NYC). His second CD, “Nataraja,” with pianist Thomas Rosenkranz, is also available on New Focus.

“He has collaborated with pianist Claude Frank on the Schneider concert series in New York City and appeared at numerous chamber music festivals across the country including the OK Mozart, Bennington, Skaneateles, Yellow Barn, Cooperstown, Salt Bay, Look and Listen (NYC), Norfolk (Yale), Green Mountain, Chesapeake, and the Chamber Music Quad Cities series.

“He is the Principal Flutist of the New Orchestra of Washington in Washington, D.C., and has performed with the Detroit, Toledo and Tulsa Symphony Orchestras. He also performed as guest principal with A Far Cry, Orquesta Filarmónica de Jalisco, and the Conceirtos de la Villa de Santo Domingo.

“A respected pedagogue, Dr. Nelson has given master classes at over 100 colleges, universities and conservatories.

“Prior to his appointment at UW-Madison, he served as the flute professor at Bowling Green State University for nine years and as the Assistant Professor of Flute at Oklahoma State University from 2007-2011.

“His recent residencies include Yonsei University in Seoul, Korea; the Sichuan Conservatory in Chengdu, China; the Conservatorio de Musica de Puerto Rico; and the Associacao Brasileira de Flautistas in Sao Paulo.

“He is also a regular guest of the Texas Summer Flute Symposium and has been the featured guest artist for 11 flute associations across the country. His former students can be found performing in orchestras, as well as teaching at colleges, universities and public schools nationwide. They have also amassed over 60 prizes in young artist competitions, concerto competitions and flute association competitions.

“Nelson received degrees from the Manhattan School of Music, Yale University and Stony Brook University where he was the winner of the school-wide concerto competitions at all three institutions. He is also a recipient of the Thomas Nyfenger Prize, the Samuel Baron Prize and the Presser Award.

“His principal teachers include Carol Wincenc, Ransom Wilson, Linda Chesis, Susan Hoeppner and Amy Hamilton. Nelson is a Powell Flutes artist and is the Assistant Professor of Flute at UW-Madison where he performs with the Wingra Wind Quintet.”

 


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Classical music: Moscow and Paris meet through cello and piano music at the Wisconsin Union Theater this Saturday night at 7:30

December 4, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

What was the musical relationship between Paris and Moscow, especially after the Russian Revolution?

You can find out, and hear examples, this Saturday night, Dec. 8, at 7:30 p.m. in Shannon Hall (below) at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

Pianist Lise de la Salle and cellist Christian-Pierre La Marca (below right and left, respectively) will explore the musical relationship between Moscow and Paris through works by Gabriel Fauré (you can hear them play his Elegy in the YouTube video at the bottom), Camille Saint-Saëns, Jules Massenet, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Sergei Prokofiev, Igor Stravinsky and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. It is the subject of their latest recording from Sony Classical.

For the full program plus biographies and videos of the performers and information about obtaining tickets ($25-$42 for the general adult public, $20 for young people, $10 for UW students), go to: https://union.wisc.edu/events-and-activities/event-calendar/event/lise-de-la-salle-and-christian-pierre-la-marca/

Lise de la Salle made her debut at age 13 in a performance at the Louvre. According to Le Monde, she “possesses a youthful single-minded spirit and the courage of conviction seldom expected of such a young artist.”

Now 29, de la Salle has established a reputation as one of today’s most exciting young artists and as a musician of uncommon sensibility and maturity. Her playing inspired a Washington Post critic to write, “For much of the concert, the audience had to remember to breathe … the exhilaration didn’t let up for a second until her hands came off the keyboard.”

She specializes in Russian composers and has played with symphony orchestras in London, Paris, Munich, Tokyo, Baltimore, Detroit and Quebec. Says Bryce Morrison of Gramophone magazine,“Lise de la Salle is a talent in a million.”

In just a few years, through his international concert appearances, the young cellist Christian-Pierre La Marca already ranks among the masters of the cello. He has performed in concert halls such as the Louvre, the Philharmonie of Berlin, the 92nd Street Y in New York City, and Izumi Hall in Osaka, among others.

La Marca has appeared as a soloist with many leading orchestras and is also highly sought after in chamber music. He plays a unique golden period Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume cello (1856) and the Vocation Foundation has provided him a rare Jacob Eury cello bow (1825). An exclusive Sony Classical artist, La Marca has already released three albums unanimously praised by international press and international critics.

Before the performance, enjoy a lecture by Kyle Johnson (below) at 6 p.m. Check Today in the Union for room location. Johnson is a pianist who recently received his Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the UW-Madison.

His performing experience ranges from solo and festival appearances throughout the U.S. and U.K., co-founding the Madison-based contemporary ensemble Sound Out Loud, and as a performance fellow in the Longitude Contemporary Ensemble in Boston, Mass.

His research interests strongly correlate with his interest in 20th-century piano repertoire, of which he produces a podcast series around (Art Music Perspectives). For more information, visit www.kyledjohnson.com.

This performance is presented by the Wisconsin Union Theater’s Performing Arts Committee. This project was supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts. WORT-FM 89.9 is the media sponsor.


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Classical music: TONIGHT at 7:30 p.m., guest artist Clive Greensmith of the Tokyo String Quartet and USC will give a FREE cello recital at the UW-Madison

October 28, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

If you like cello music – which to some ears sounds especially appropriate in autumn – you might be interested in an event tonight.

One of the most distinguished chamber music cellists in the world has been at the University of Wisconsin’s Mead Witter School of Music over the weekend for a three-day residency involving UW string and piano students and members of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO).

He is Clive Greensmith (below) who played with the acclaimed Tokyo String Quartet from 1999 until it disbanded in 2013 and who now teaches at the Colburn School of Music at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

Greensmith’s residency of lectures, demonstrations and master classes culminates TONIGHT at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall with a FREE recital that also features UW piano professor Christopher Taylor, UW cello professor Uri Vardi and the UW Cello Choir.

The appealing program includes the Sonata for Two Cellos by Luigi Boccherini; “Silent Woods” by Antonin Dvorak and the Sonata No. 2 in F Major, Op. 99, by Johannes Brahms. (You can hear the slow movement of the Brahms sonata, played by the late cellist Jacqueline du Pré and pianist Daniel Barenboim, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

For more information about Greensmith, his UW residency, his teaching and the concert tonight, go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/guest-artist-recital-clive-greensmith-cello/

To to learn much more about Greensmith, including his recordings and latest projects, go to his homepage web site at: http://www.clivegreensmith.com


Classical music: This weekend the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Grammy-winning guitarist Sharon Isbin will perform Spanish music and a new concerto by Chris Brubeck

November 13, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend, the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO), with music director John DeMain conducting, will present the third concert of its 92nd season.

“Troubadour: Two Faces of the Classical Guitar” features Grammy-winning guitar virtuoso Sharon Isbin (below) playing two works: one written for Isbin by American composer Chris Brubeck; and the other by the Spaniard Joaquin Rodrigo. (Isbin will also give a FREE and PUBLIC master class on Thursday from 10 a.m. to noon in Morphy Recital Hall on the UW-Madison campus in the Humanities Building on North Park Street.)

In addition the MSO will perform two 20th-century ballet suites — The Three-Cornered Hat by Spanish composer Manuel De Falla and Billy the Kid by American composer Aaron Copland.

The concerts (below, in a photo by Peter Rodgers) are in Overture Hall at the Overture Center, 201 State Street on Friday, Nov. 17, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 18, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Nov. 19, at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets are $18-$90. Details are below.

Invoking a sense of the American heartland, Billy the Kid was written by Copland (below) as a ballet following the life of the infamous outlaw. This piece is most well-known for the memorable “cowboy” tunes and American folk songs that paint a vivid picture of the Wild West.

The virtuosity and versatility of multiple Grammy Award-winner Sharon Isbin is on display in this program of contrasts: the jazz idioms of the American composer Chris Brubeck’s “Affinity: Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra,” written for Sharon Isbin, alongside the lush romanticism of the Spaniard Joaquin Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez.” (You can hear Sharon Isbin play the beautiful slow movement of the Rodrigo concerto in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The piece by Brubeck (below) contains strong hints of the jazz influence of his father, noted pianist and composer Dave Brubeck. Inspired by the gardens at Palacio Real de Aranjuez, Rodrigo’s composition attempts to transport the listener to another place and time through the evocation of the sounds of nature.

Isbin’s performances of Chris Brubeck’s “Affinity: Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra” have received wide acclaim: “The concerto takes off with Isbin delivering rapid-fire virtuosity with infectious themes. The slow middle is a tender jazz-based tribute to Dave Brubeck, and Isbin played with heartfelt warmth and tenderness. The finale was an infectious rhythmically driven journey through myriad styles. It was as intriguing as it was moving … Isbin is much more than a virtuoso; she is an artist of depth.”

The Three-Cornered Hat by De Falla (below) is based on a story written by Pedro de Alarcón about a Corregidor (magistrate) who tries, without success, to seduce the pretty wife of the local miller.

One hour before each performance, Michael Allsen (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot), professor at UW-Whitewater, MSO trombonist and writer of MSO’s program notes, will lead a 30-minute Prelude Discussion in Overture Hall to enhance concertgoers’ understanding and listening experience.

For more background on the music, please read Allsen’s Program Notes at: http://www.allsenmusic.com/NOTES/1718/3.Nov17.html.

The Symphony recommends concert attendees arrive early for each performance to make sure they have time to pass through Overture Center’s security stations, and so they can experience the pre-concert talk (free for all ticket-holders).

Single Tickets are $18-$90 each and are on sale now at https://www.madisonsymphony.org/singletickets, through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street, or by calling the Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

Groups of 15 or more can save 25% by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734. For more information, go to: https://www.madisonsymphony.org/groups

Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $12 or $18 tickets. More information is at: https://www.madisonsymphony.org/studentrush

Seniors age 62 and up receive 20% savings on advance and day-of-concert ticket purchases in select areas of the hall.

Discounted seats are subject to availability, and discounts may not be combined.

ABOUT SHARON ISBIN

Acclaimed for her extraordinary lyricism, technique, and versatility, Sharon Isbin has been hailed as “the pre-eminent guitarist of our time.” Recipient of numerous prestigious awards, her debut concert with the MSO comes after over 170 solo performances with orchestras including the New York Philharmonic, National Symphony, London Symphony, Baltimore Symphony, Orchestre National de France, and the Tokyo Symphony.

Isbin is the subject of a one-hour documentary presented by American Public Television. Seen by millions on over 200 PBS stations throughout the US, it is also available on DVD/Blu-ray and won the 2015 ASCAP Television Broadcast Award. “Sharon Isbin: Troubadour” paints the portrait of a trailblazing performer and teacher who over the course of her career has broken through numerous barriers to rise to the top of a traditionally male-dominated field.

The following is a dedicated website where you can view the trailer, read rave reviews, and see detailed broadcast dates: www.SharonIsbinTroubadour.com

Major funding for the September concerts is provided by: NBC-15, the Madison Symphony Orchestra League, and Elaine and Nicholas Mischler. Additional funding provided by Scott and Janet Cabot, John DeLamater and Janet Hyde, Steven Weber, and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.


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Classical music: This Friday night at 6 the Willy Street Chamber Players open their new summer season with music by Brahms, Wolf and Higdon

July 5, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Over the past two years, the Willy Street Chamber Players have sure caught on.

That’s little wonder because they consistently turn in must-hear, top-quality performances with accessible but innovative programs that mix old and new works in a shorter-than-usual format. For all those reasons, The Ear named them Musicians of the Year for 2016.

This season The Willys have already performed a preview winter concert and a spring community concert at Warner Park. Then earlier this spring and summer, they warmed up, so to speak, by opening the Rural Musicians Forum season in Spring Green and then also played at the Marquette Waterfront Festival.

This Friday at 6 p.m. the Willys will open the three-concert regular summer season of 2017.

Here is an announcement:

“The Willy Street Chamber Players will begin their third annual Summer Series this Friday night, July 7, at 6 p.m. Join these energetic young chamber musicians for an exciting concert that has something for everyone.

“The concert will begin with two short works: “Amazing Grace” by contemporary American composer, and Pulitzer Prize winner, Jennifer Higdon (below) and the delightful “Italian Serenade” by Hugo Wolf.

The special guest will be violinist Suzanne Beia – who performs with the UW-Madison Pro Arte Quartet and is also concertmaster of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and assistant concertmaster with the Madison Symphony Orchestra. Beia (below) will join the group in a performance of the gorgeous String Sextet No. 2 in G major by Johannes Brahms. (You can hear the Shanghai Quartet, performing live in Tokyo, play the second and third movements in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

“All this will take place in the beautiful sanctuary (below) of Immanuel Lutheran Church, on Lake Monona at 1021 Spaight Street.

“The concert will run about 80 minutes.

“It will be followed by a reception where guests can meet the musicians and share snacks provided by Festival Foods Madison and Let It Ride Cold Brew Coffee.

“Tickets are $15 and additional information about the group and its upcoming performances — including reviews and a schedule of the Community Connect series as well as a concert at Allen Centennial Gardens — can be found at www.willystreetchamberplayers.org.”

And here is a post with more details about this summer’s concerts:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/05/23/classical-music-the-willy-street-chamber-players-announces-its-expanded-summer-season-and-its-another-appetizing-winner/


Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra presents two organ concerts this week – this season’s final organ recital TONIGHT at 7:30 p.m. and this season’s final FREE community hymn sing on Saturday at 11 a.m.

March 7, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following information to post about two performances, put on by the Madison Symphony Orchestra, in Overture Hall this week. The first is the season’s final organ recital and the second is the  season’s final hymn sing:

ORGAN RECITAL

The Madison Symphony Orchestra welcomes acclaimed organist Erik Wm. Suter in recital, TONIGHT, March 7, at 7:30 p.m. in Overture Hall, 201 State Street.

Suter will perform works by Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Maurice Duruflé and William Bolcom, among others. For the specific works on the program, go to: http://madisonsymphony.org/suter

A native of Chicago, Suter (below) enjoys an international career from Tokyo to Toronto and from Massachusetts to Madison. For 10 years he served as organist at the Washington National Cathedral.

Additionally, he has won five first place awards in numerous organ competitions around the world.

His performances of the complete organ works of Maurice Duruflé have garnered high praise: “Suter’s impeccable organ playing and musicianship were certainly the highlight of the evening.” (You can sample Suter’s Duruflé project, performed at the National Cathedral, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

HYMN SING

On Saturday, March 11, at 11 a.m., the MSO invites the entire community to sing together with the Overture Concert Organ at a free Hymn Sing in Overture Hall, 201 State Street.

All ages are welcome and no registration or tickets are required.

The Hymn Sing will feature classic hymns and spirituals such as Rock of Ages, Were You There, and I Know That My Redeemer Lives as well as solo organ works by Johann Sebastian Bach, Douglas Bristol and Louis Vierne.

Gary Lewis (below), organist at Bethel Lutheran Church in Madison, will lead the hymn singing, which will last approximately one hour.

TICKETS

General Admission for each Overture Concert Organ performance is $20. Tickets can be purchased at madisonsymphony.org/suter, (608) 258-4141 or the Overture Center Box Office.

Student Rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $10 tickets.

The Erik Wm. Suter performance is sponsored by Mike and Beth Hamerlik.

Support for all Overture Concert Organ programs is provided by the Diane Endres Ballweg Fund. With a gift from Pleasant T. Rowland, the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) commissioned the Overture Concert Organ, which is the backdrop of all MSO concerts.


Classical music: Madison Opera’s production of “Romeo and Juliet” excelled in singing, orchestral playing, drama and other aspects that redeemed a largely unmemorable work. Plus, what is good music for Veterans Day?

November 11, 2016
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ALERT: Today is Veterans Day. What piece of classical music should be played to mark the event? The Ear suggests the War Requiem by Benjamin Britten. Leave your choice in the COMMENT section.

By Jacob Stockinger

Today’s post features a guest review of Madison Opera’s “Romeo and Juliet” by Larry Wells. Wells has been enjoying opera since he was a youngster. He subscribed to the San Francisco Opera for nearly 20 years, where he last saw “Romeo and Juliet,” sung by Alfredo Kraus and Ruth Ann Swenson

More recently he lived in Tokyo and attended many memorable performances there over nearly 20 years. These included Richard Strauss rarities such as “Die Ägyptische Helena” and “Die Liebe der Danae” as well as the world’s strangest Ring Cycle by Richard Wagner and a space-age production of Puccini’s “Turandot,” featuring Alessandra Marc singing “In questa reggia” while encased in an inverted cone.

By Larry Wells

Last Sunday’s matinee performance of Charles Gounod’s “Romeo and Juliet” by Madison Opera at the Overture Center was a feast for the eyes. The costumes, sets, lighting and staging were consistently arresting. (Performance photos are by James Gill.)

But we go to the opera for music and drama.

The tragedy of Romeo and Juliet is well known. Gounod’s opera substitutes the tragedy with melodrama, and therein lies one of the work’s flaws. Despite sword fights, posturings and threats as well as one of opera’s lengthiest death scenes, one leaves the theater thinking that a vast amount of theatrical resources have been squandered on something insubstantial.

madison-opera-romeo-and-juliet-sword-fight

However, despite its dramatic flaws, the opera’s music has somehow endured. And Sunday’s performance milked the most out of the music that could have been expected.

The star of the show was the Madison Symphony Orchestra under the expert direction of Maestro John DeMain (below). He knows how to pace a performance, how to build an exciting climax and how to highlight a solo instrument.

He is an incredibly intelligent conductor, and we are fortunate to have him in Madison. I want to make special mention of the beautiful harp playing, which, according to the program, was accomplished by Jenny DeRoche.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

The second star on the stage was the Madison Opera Chorus (below). The chorus plays a significant part in many of the opera’s scenes, and the singing was stirring when it needed to be and tender when it was called for.

madison-opera-romeo-and-juliet-chrous-and-set

As for the soloists, highest praise must go to UW-Madison alumna soprano Emily Birsan (below right) for her portrayal of Juliet. Her solo arias, particularly her big number in the first act as well as her subsequent lament, were stunning.

Her Romeo, tenor John Irvin (below left), sounded a little forced during his forte moments, but he sang magnificently in his quiet farewell to Juliet after their balcony scene. (You can hear the famous balcony scene, sung by Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

madison-opera-romeo-and-juliet-john-irvin-and-emily-birsan

Their voices blended beautifully in the opera’s multiple duets. And the wedding quartet, where they were joined by Allisanne Apple’s nurse (below, rear right) and Liam Moran’s Friar Lawrence (below, middle center), was a highlight of the performance.

madison-opera-romoeo-and-juliet-friar-and-nurse

The opera abounds with minor characters, all of which were ably portrayed. Special mention should be made of Stephanie Lauricella (below, far right) for her fantastic moments as Romeo’s page; Madison’s Allisanne Apple for her amusing portrayal of Juliet’s nurse Gertrude; Sidney Outlaw (below, second from left) as a robust Mercutio; and Philip Skinner as a powerful Lord Capulet.

madison-opera-romeo-and-juliet-sidnay-outlaw-left-and-page-right

I have wondered why this opera is still performed. Its music is lovely but unmemorable, and its dramatic impact is tenuous.

I left the performance thinking that it had been a good afternoon at the theater – certainly more interesting than the Packers’ game – but wishing that one of a couple dozen more meaty operas had been performed in its place.

Since we are celebrating the 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare, how much more interesting would have been Benjamin Britten’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream”? 


Classical music: Madison Opera’s “Tales of Hoffmann” proved a musical and theatrical delight from beginning to end. Plus, the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble performs Saturday night

April 22, 2016
2 Comments

ALERT: This Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. at the Gates of Heaven Synagogue, 300 East Gorham Street in James Madison Park, the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble will perform a concert of music by Claudio Monteverdi, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, Georg Philipp Telemann, Francois Couperin and others. Tickets at the door are $20 for the public, $10 for students. A free reception with the musicians follows at 2422 Kendall Avenue, second floor. For more information about the performers and the program, visit www.wisconsinbaroque.org

By Jacob Stockinger

Editor’s note: The Ear’s good friend and knowledgeable classical music fan Larry Wells offered the following review of last weekend’s production of Jacques Offenbach’s “The Tales of Hoffmann” by the Madison Opera. Production photos are by James Gill for the Madison Opera.

By Larry Wells

I had been looking forward to Madison Opera’s production of “The Tales of Hoffmann” by Jacques Offenbach (below) ever since it was announced.

Jacques Offenbach seated

The opera is a particular favorite of mine, and I’ve seen a number of productions in larger houses, most recently in Tokyo and most memorably a production at the San Francisco Opera 30 years ago with Placido Domingo and James Morris.

I was interested to see how Madison Opera would approach this somewhat theatrically difficult work, and Sunday’s performance was a delight from beginning to end.

First, the singing.

The cast was consistently strong, and each singer could be mentioned in a positive vein. So, I single out three who particularly stood out.

The star of the show, for me, was coloratura soprano Jeni Hauser (below, center, in white) as Olympia, the doll. Her vocal pyrotechnics were sensational. She would be a wonderful Zerbinetta, and I would enjoy seeing her tackle Baby Doe. She is a very funny physical comic actress, and she was simply wonderful.

Madison Opera Hoffmann Doll Olympia Jeni Hauser CR James Gill

Morgan Smith (below) as Hoffmann’s four nemeses was excellent possessing a strong, deep bass-baritone. As a side note, he is the second singer I’ve seen and heard recently in Wisconsin who will be featured in Tucson Opera’s upcoming premiere of “Riders of the Purple Sage,” the other being Keith Phares who was in Florentine Opera’s recent production of Jake Heggie’s “Three Decembers.” It will be conducted by Keitaro Harada, who is a talent to watch.

Madison Opera Hoffmann Morgan Smith CR James Gill

The third standout was mezzo-soprano Adriana Zabala (below) as Hoffmann’s Muse and attendant. She was outstanding vocally and fun to watch.

Madison Opera Hoffmann Adriana Zabala The Muse JAMES GILL

Hoffmann was sung by tenor Harold Meers (below right, in suit).  For an exhausting role, Meers toughed it out and, when singing full voice, was resonant and lyrical.

Madison Opera Hoffmann Harold Meers on right CR James Gill

The production was set in a well-stocked bar, and Hoffmann’s series of bad choices in love appeared fueled by alcohol.

Madison Opera Hoffmann set CR James Gill

The set, from the Virginia Opera, and costumes were dazzling, particularly in the Giulietta act, which in a departure from the productions I’ve seen, was the third act. I felt that the change of the order of the acts made a lot of sense dramatically.

And I loved the use by stage director Kristine McIntyre of the Roaring Twenties theme – flappers and Charlestons, along with gondolas, fog and a bit of German Expressionism. Total fun.

Madison Opera Hoffmann Gondola CR James Gill

Madison Opera Hoffmann Morgan Smith in cape CR James Gill

The Madison Symphony Orchestra was excellent throughout, and Maestro John DeMain is a treasure whom Madison is extremely fortunate to have. His sense of timing and dynamics is a wonder.

My favorite moment of the opera is the ensemble in the Giulietta scene “Hélas Mon Coeur,” and its performance Sunday nearly brought me to tears. In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear that music performed by Placido Domingo and the remarkable Agnes Baltsa.

So, bravo Madison Opera, for a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon at the opera. I heard several people say that it was a long one — three hours — but for me the time flew.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Since reviews are subjective, for purposes of comparison here is a link to John W. Barker’s rave review that just appeared in Isthmus:

http://isthmus.com/arts/stage/tales-of-hoffman-madison-opera/


Classical music: Are arts audiences and presenters in Madison rude or inconsiderate? One loyal patron thinks so.

October 24, 2015
9 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Arts patron Larry Wells wrote to The Ear to get something off his chest that might also pertain to other audience members, including you. Here is what he said:

I moved to Madison a little over a year ago after spending the last 40 years in San Francisco, Moscow and Tokyo, all of which had vibrant offerings for symphonic music, ballet and opera as well as great performance venues.

I have been very pleased to find that Madison offers the same. I can think of four different symphony orchestras I’ve heard in Madison this past year as well as opera and ballet performances. (Below is Overture Hall.)

Overture Hall

The difference has been the audiences.

I do not believe I have been to a single performance this year where there hasn’t been someone who has decided to unwrap a cough drop. This usually happens during a quiet passage, and often the culprit realizes that he or she is making a noise, so decides that the solution is to unwrap the cellophane more slowly, thus lengthening my agony.

In San Francisco, someone at the symphony came up with the solution to supply cough drops with silent wrappers in bowls at each door to the hall. Problem solved.

cough drops

Another source of noise in the audience is whispering. Usually when someone starts speaking to his neighbor, annoyed audience members glare at the culprit, and then he starts to whisper. I assume that the underlying belief is that when you whisper, you cannot be heard. That is, of course, incorrect. You can still be heard, just not as clearly. In Japan, no one would dream of speaking during a performance.

Woman whispering in man's ear, close-up (B&W)

Woman whispering in man’s ear

I was at the ballet the other night at the Capitol Theater for which I had bought the priciest ticket in the center orchestra. There were five middle school girls seated directly behind me. Each had a plastic cup filled with a drink and crushed ice. Throughout the first act I kept hearing the ice being sloshed around in the plastic cups as every last drop of icy goodness was being extracted.

I asked an usher during the intermission about this, and she said that it was each ensemble’s choice as to whether drinks were allowed in the theater or not. For example, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra does not allow drinks but the Madison Ballet does.

This is the first time I have heard of drinks being allowed into a ballet — they certainly weren’t allowed at the Bolshoi where they had very stern ushers, I can tell you — and I wonder if popcorn and hot dogs will be next. Perhaps it has to do with the prevailing current American fear of becoming dehydrated, although I think most people can endure 40 minutes without dessicating.

soda in a plastic cup

The Ear believes that I am a curmudgeon, and I halfway believe it myself. But when my enjoyment of a concert is jeopardized by inconsiderate audience behavior, then I believe I have a right to be miffed.

Curiously, I have not been to a single performance of anything this past year that hasn’t ended with a standing ovation. Now, I understand that the audience is just trying to be nice. But shouldn’t standing ovations be reserved for truly sensational once-in-a-lifetime experiences? Otherwise, the whole idea is cheapened, and Madisonians end up coming across as provincial.

BDDS standing ovation

I will end this diatribe with one more aspersion to be cast, but this time toward the ticket office at the Overture Center.

Last weekend, I was at the Madison Symphony Orchestra and had a spare ticket that I was trying to give away when I was yelled at by a box office clerk who said: “That’s illegal here!” Thinking that she thought I was trying to scalp a ticket to the symphony — probably not a major problem in Madison — I told her that I was merely trying to give the ticket away. She repeated, “That’s illegal here.”

I was very embarrassed. I seriously doubt that there is a city ordinance against giving away concert tickets, and if I want to give away a $75 ticket as a good deed, I think that should be my prerogative.

MSO ticket

With declining attendance at arts events, I feel that the Overture Center should have its patrons’ good will in mind instead of demonizing them for doing a good deed.

 


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