By Jacob Stockinger
The Opera Guy filed this review, with photos by Michael R. Anderson, for The Ear:
By Larry Wells
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.)
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.)
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.)
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.
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:
ALERT: The FREE Friday Noon Musicales at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, resume this week after a break for Christmas, New Year’s and other holidays. This Friday, from 12:15 to 1 p.m., pianist Olivia Musat will perform music by Olivier Messiaen, Isaac Albeniz and Paul Constantinesco.
By Jacob Stockinger
It seems a tradition throughout the media to offer a roundup of the Year’s Best with a local slant.
The Ear already offered a national and international roundup. Here is a link to that, especially to the surprisingly rich roundup that he unexpectedly found on Wikipedia:
For a more local perspective, The Ear trusts and generally agrees with critic John W. Barker (below), who writes frequently for this blog and more often for Isthmus.
Here is a link to Barker’s list of memorable concerts in the Madison area, Because Isthmus mixes classical with other genres like pop, folk and jazz, you have to scroll down to “Classical cornucopia”:
Although I agree with all the concerts that Barker mentions, he left out some that The Ear really loved. One was the absolutely riveting and moving performance in November by the Madison Symphony Orchestra under John DeMain of the momentous Fifth Symphony by Dmitri Shostakovich.
For example just about everything that the Pro Arte Quartet does at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music is first-rate and memorable, whether they play in Mills Hall or on “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen Museum of Art.”
But this past fall, a free noontime concert by the Pro Arte with legendary pianist Leon Fleisher especially stood out. Together (below), they performed the Piano Quintet in F Minor by Johannes Brahms – an unquestionable masterpiece in an unforgettable performance.
The Ear would also add two events, both violin recitals, at the Wisconsin Union Theater.
Last spring Hilary Hahn (below top, in a photo by Peter Miller) turned in a stunningly superb recital. Then this fall, superstar Joshua Bell (below bottom) did the same. Both artists displayed terrific musicality combined with terrific virtuosity in generous and first-rate, ambitious programs.
He would add several summer concerts by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, especially the sizzling dueling violin concert (below) where the BDDS interspersed “The Four Seasons” buy Antonio Vivaldi with “The Four Seasons in Buenos Aires” by Astor Piazzolla.
The Ear would also add an experimental concert at which UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor (below) unveiled his reworked two-keyboard “Hyperpiano.” While the concert, which featured the “Goldberg” Variations by Johann Sebastian Bach, wasn’t successful musically, it certainly was intriguing, unusual and highly memorable, even with imperfect digital technology.
And The Ear also recalls a fine concert by the Rhapsodie Quartet (below) of the Madison Symphony Orchestra at the Overture Center.
And let’s not forget the University Opera’s production of “Falstaff” by Giuseppe Verdi that was impressively and successfully updated to Hollywood by director David Ronis.
The Ear is sure there are more memorable concerts that escape him right now. Madison just features so much wonderful music-making in the course of a year.
Moreover, The Ear is also sure you have your favorites – whether they are individual plays; small chamber music groups such as duos, string quartets and piano trios; larger ensembles like the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Union Theater; or entire events like the UW Brass Festival.
I am sure that fans of the innovative percussion group Clocks in Motion and the acclaimed Madison Choral Project have a concert or two to nominate.
So please use the COMMENT section to tell us what were your most memorable classical concerts in Madison during 2016.
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
By Larry Wells
In the past few years I’ve seen Verdi’s “La Forza del Destino” set in the Spanish Civil War, Wagner’s Ring cycle re-imagined as the history of cinema, and Puccini’s “Turandot” presented as a performance by a traveling circus.
Thus, Verdi’s ‘Falstaff’ set in 1930’s Hollywood seemed a reasonable reinterpretation, and so it proved at its final performance Tuesday evening by University Opera.
“Falstaff,” drawn from three plays by Shakespeare, is Verdi’s final opera and a rare comedy. More importantly, gone are his familiar forms of a recitative followed by an aria with lots of oom-pa-pa orchestral accompaniment, now replaced with a conversational style that to me shows Wagner’s influence. It just doesn’t sound like Verdi, but it certainly sounds good.
I felt that the whole evening was a triumph.
The sets were beautifully dressed, the costumes were excellent and the lighting was effective.
The UW Symphony Orchestra, conducted by James Smith, played wonderfully, although from where I sat the sound was occasionally muffled.
Thank goodness a new music building is being built, and I trust that there will be a theater within it that will accommodate operatic performances. The current Music Hall has its limitations, one being that much of the orchestra was playing underneath the stage and another being that for some reason the theater’s temperature cannot be controlled. It was stiflingly hot during the performance.
As for the singing and acting, the cast I saw was uniformly strong. Falstaff, performed by UW-Madison faculty member Paul Rowe (below), was very robust and was particularly affecting during his act III soliloquy. The Ear mentioned to me his Oliver Hardy mannerisms, and once I noticed that I was constantly amused.
Yanzelmalee Rivera as Alice was hilarious in her seduction scene and really came alive in Act III. Courtney Kayser as Meg was a compelling comic actress. Rebecca Buechel’s Mistress Quickly was an equally adept comic actress and had an excellent voice. Emily Weaver as Nannetta was a beautiful singer who shone in her third act moments as Queen of the Fairies. These four women had some outstanding ensemble moments, and I was constantly diverted by their antics as they outwitted the men.
Among the hapless male characters, Brian Schneider was a standout as Ford and the deep voice of Benjamin Schultz (below left, with Paul Rowe and Jiabao Zhang) made the minor character Pistola noticeable whenever he was on stage.
But the voice of the evening belonged to tenor José Daniel Muñiz (below right) as Fenton. He excelled not only in his solo moments but blended extremely well with his paramour Nannetta (Claire Powling, below left).
The outstanding ensemble work exhibited throughout the opera culminated in the grand fugue at the end of the opera, and the nearly full-house audience was blown away by those final moments. (You can hear the fugal finale, conducted by Sir George Solti, in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
The 1930’s Hollywood concept worked well. It seemed completely fitting and was undoubtedly more amusing than it would have been had the opera been set in the time of Henry IV.
“Well done” to the University Opera’s new full-time director David Ronis (below center) for his imagination and direction. I look forward to his production of Benjamin Britten’s “Turn of the Screw” in early March.
And since this University Opera production and other events are being presented to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and the exhibition of a First Folio at the Chazen Museum of Art, I want to put in a plug for Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Sir John in Love” which has almost exactly the same plot as “Falstaff” and is woefully underperformed.
I also want to draw your attention the FREE Opera Scenes concert by University Opera that will be presented this Tuesday night, Nov. 22, at 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall. Featured are singers, with piano accompaniment, in scenes from: Charles Gounod’s “Faust”; Claudio Monteverdi’s “The Coronation of Poppea“; Giacomo Puccini‘s “La Rondine”; Leonard Bernstein‘s “Trouble in Tahiti”; Gioacchino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville”; Dominick Argento’s “Postcard From Morocco”; and Marc Blitzstein’s”Regina.”
ALERT: Students in the Composition Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music will present their new music in a FREE recital this Wednesday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall. The performances of original works feature UW-Madison music students and the composers themselves.
By Jacob Stockinger
University Opera will offer its first production of the season in three performances this weekend and early next week.
It is “Falstaff” by Giuseppe Verdi. The work is the composer’s last opera and is often considered to be his greatest masterpiece.
In his first production since becoming the full-time and permanent director of University Opera, former interim director David Ronis (below, in a photo by Luke Delalio) is re-imagining the opera as taking place in Hollywood of the 1930s, where Falstaff is a silent movie actor who is out of work with the advent of “talkies.”
“Falstaff” will be sung in Italian with English supertitles.
UW-Madison professor James Smith will conduct the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra. (You can hear the opera’s finale from a Metropolitan Opera‘s traditional production under James Levine in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
UW-Madison professor and baritone Paul Rowe (below) will sing the title role. But the production, including the cast, sets, costumes and lighting, involves more than 90 UW-Madison students.
Performances in Music Hall, at the bottom of Bascom Hill, are on Friday night at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. and next Tuesday night, Nov. 15, at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets are $25 for general admission, $20 for seniors; and $10 for UW-Madison students.
On Friday, there will also be a panel discussion at 6 p.m. before the performance.
For much more information about the production and the panel discussion, go to:
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received the following announcement from UW Opera Props, the support organization for University Opera at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.
We invite you to attend a benefit concert showcasing the University of Wisconsin-Madison opera program’s talented students, along with special guest artist, distinguished alumna and mezzo-soprano, Lindsay Metzger (below top) who will be accompanied by pianist Daniel Fung (below bottom).
Please join us for a program of songs and arias, followed by a reception. Enjoy conversation with the singers, faculty and other musical friends, along with light refreshments including artisanal cheeses, fruit, wine, juices and chocolatier Gail Ambrosius’s delicious creations.
The concert is this Sunday, Sept. 18, at 3 p.m. followed by light refreshments and conversation. Sorry, no word about the composers or works to be sung.
The concert will take place in the Landmark Auditorium at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed First Unitarian Society of Madison Meeting House, 900 University Bay Drive, Madison
Admission is a contribution of $25 in advance ($30 at the door), and $10 for students. All proceeds go to UW Opera student scholarships.
For more information, visit:
Lindsay Metzger (below) hails from Mundelein, Illinois. She spent two summers as an apprentice artist with Des Moines Metro Opera and was a studio artist in 2014-15 with Milwaukee’s Florentine Opera (Gannett in Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore).
Among her other recent portrayals have been Daphne/Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s La descente d’Orphée aux enfers (Chicago’s Haymarket Opera Company), Cherubino in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (La Musica Lirica in Novafeltria, Italy), Nella in Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi (DuPage Opera Theatre), the title role in Handel’s Ariodante, Béatrice in Berlioz’ Béatrice et Bénédict, and Beppe in Mascagni’s L’amico Fritz (all at the University of Wisconsin-Madison).
With Lyric Unlimited’s community-engagement program “Opera in the Neighborhoods,” Metzger was heard in the title role in Rossini’s La Cenerentola.
A soloist featured frequently in numerous Chicago-area venues, Metzger debuted with the Grant Park Symphony singing the soprano solo in Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem.
She was awarded the Paul Collins Fellowship from University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Virginia Cooper Meier Award from the Musicians’ Club of Women, and an Encouragement Award from the Metropolitan Opera National Council District Auditions.
Metzger is an alumna of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and DePaul University. Last season at Lyric she was featured in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (debut) and Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier. In the 2016-17 season the mezzo-soprano will perform in Massenet’s Don Quichotte and Bizet’s Carmen.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear notes with sadness the passing of a fine and inspiring institution that has fostered music education.
It is the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (below), also known as MAYCO, and this Friday night it will give its 10th – and final – performance.
The concert is this Friday night at 8 p.m. (NOT 7:30 p.m. as originally announced) in the Artrium auditorium of the First Unitarian Society of Madison (NOT Music Hall). Admission is $10 for the public, with students getting in for a free-will donation.
Much about the final concert follows a familiar pattern.
For one, old classics will be mixed with new music.
In this case, the old classics are the Overture to the operas “The Barber of Seville” by Giachino Rossini and the famously forceful Fifth Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven. (You can get a taste of both the symphony and MAYCO in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
The new work is the world premiere of “is a is a is b is” by Ben Davis (below), a graduate of the UW-Madison.
Also in keeping with MAYCO’S past, it will conducted by its founder and music director Mikko Rankin Utevsky (below), who founded it while he was still a student at East High School in Madison.
Since then Utevsky graduated this past May from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, where he majored in viola, conducting and singing, even appearing in baritone roles in several University Opera productions and giving a lieder recital.
All that plus he proved a talented reviewer and writer for this blog, especially when he chronicled tour of Vienna, Prague and Budapest by the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) several years ago. You can read his writing by using the search engine in this blog. Just type in his name.
Why is MAYCO coming to an end?
Utevsky says simply and without bitterness that it is time for him to move on. He is taking off a year before pursuing graduate studies.
You can see what an achievement MAYCO provided – with lists of repertoire, composers and performers –by going to its home website:
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.
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:
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.)
NEWS ALERT: David Ronis (below, in a photo by Luke Delalio) — who has been an interim director for two years — is the new director of University Opera. He was chosen from a nationwide search, and has posted the following news on his Facebook page:
“For some reason, I’ve been resisting posting my big news, now a couple of months old. But perhaps it’s time. I’ve been appointed the inaugural Karen K. Bishop Director of Opera at University of Wisconsin-Madison! It’s truly humbling to be going into an endowed chair established in memory of such a dear, wonderful, talented, and dedicated soul. This endowment will enable us to continue to develop the exemplary opera program at UW-Madison in all kinds of directions. Stay tuned!”
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received the following note to pass along:
Con Vivo!…music with life (below) presents a chamber music concert entitled “Five by Seven” on this Saturday, May 21, at 7:30 p.m. in the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Ave., across from Camp Randall.
Tickets can be purchased at the door for $18 for adults and $15 for seniors and students.
Con Vivo!’s spring concert “Five by Seven” features septets and quintets for winds, strings and organ.
The program includes the Septet, Op. 20, by Ludwig van Beethoven, and the folk-like Bagatelles, Op. 47, for strings and organ by Antonin Dvorak. (You can sample Dvorak’s tuneful Bagatelles in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
Additional pieces include the story of a lover’s unrequited love in the quintet “Serenata in vano” by Danish composer Carl Nielsen below top) and the miniature “Lyrical Andante” by the German composer Max Reger (below bottom), whose centennial was just marked.
Audience members are invited to join Con Vivo! musicians after the concert for a free reception to discuss the music.
Artistic Director Robert Taylor said: “With Con Vivo!’s spring concert, we conclude our 14th season with exceptional music that combines the wonderful sounds of winds, strings and organ. Our Madison audience will be able to hear our musicians up close and personal playing music of extreme delight and depth.”
Con Vivo! is a professional chamber music ensemble comprised of Madison area musicians assembled from the ranks of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and various other performing groups familiar to Madison audiences.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear received the following note from Edgewood College faculty singer Kathleen Otterson and thought it worth passing along because of its timeliness and local interest:
I’d like to share a little information about the final Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison on this Friday, May 13.
I’m sorry that I don’t have a photo of pianist Jamie Schmidt and me together, but I’ve included a photo of myself and a collage of some of our printed programs (below) from over the years.
Here is our background:
Mezzo-soprano Kathleen Otterson and pianist Jamie Schmidt met while students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, and gave their first collaborative concert in 1996 at UW-Oshkosh, where Otterson was a member of the voice faculty.
Kathleen Otterson (below) has been a member of the Edgewood College faculty since 1999, and Music Director at Christ Presbyterian Church since 2001.
Jamie Schmidt (below) has been touring all over the country, along with his wife and two young children, with “The Lion King,” which arrived in Madison on May 9 for a lengthy run at the Overture Center.
The two musicians will reunite to present the final Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society, 900 University Bay Drive, on Friday, May 13.
The program includes favorites from the years of their concertizing together: German Lieder, or art songs, by Franz Schubert, Johannes Brahms and Gustav Mahler; and American songs by Ned Rorem, Samuel Barber, Chris DeBlasio, Dominick Argento and others.
A very special part of the program is an excerpt from the song cycle “No Place, No Time,” composed by University Opera founder and UW-Madison Professor Emeritus Karlos Moser (below left, with his wife Melinda Moser), to texts of the Persian poet Rumi. Otterson and Schmidt commissioned this work from their teacher and mentor, which also features bassist, Ben Ferris.
The Friday Noon Musicales run from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium, 900 University Bay Drive, and are open to the public, FREE of charge.