The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: John W. Barker recounts his Excellent Adventure about Richard Wagner’s stays in Venice during the opera composer’s bicentennial celebration year.

November 14, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger 

Here is a special posting, a commentary (with his own photos except for the Palazzo) 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 hosts 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.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

At the beginning of September, I had the honor of participating in a two-day conference in Venice, Italy, on that city’s image and traditions, on the strength of my two recent books on opera composer Richard Wagner’s connections with that city.  (Among other things, he died there.)

With a little time to myself, I undertook some quick re-visits to favorite sites in this city I love so much.

Wagner 166 Canal view

In particular, I sought Wagner sites. Wagner loved Venice. Taking advantage of new transportation opportunities developed in his lifetime, he travelled widely. Much was for professional reasons, but he came to enjoy travel, and foreign residences, for pleasure and recuperation.

All such travel was to Italy, and Venice emerged as his favorite city there. He visited it six times. During the first stay, in 1858-59, he composed Act II of “Tristan und Isolde” (see the YouTube video at the bottom) and the sixth, in 1882-83, ended with his death there.

In that final stay, Wagner and his family occupied some 27 rooms that he leased in the mezzanine of the Palazzo Vendramin-Calergi on the upper Grand Canal.

Palazzo Vendramin

That majestic building is now the Casino, Venice’s gambling palace.  But the Associazione Richard Wagner di Venezia, Italy’s primary institute for Wagner studies, has taken over several of the rooms that Wagner used and restored them in period style, complete with some displays of Wagneriana. Guided visits are allowed there, by application, on a very limited schedule. I had visited the rooms a few years ago, but the news that two more were added prompted my desire to return, and a visit was arranged for me and a colleague.

The exhibit rooms now consist of a straight-line string of four chambers, plus a small side cabinet. These had all been reserved for Wagner’s personal use. The photo taken on my last visit shows the second room, looking toward the first.

Wagner sofa

From written sources, I had understood that Wagner had used a single large room, with drapery partitions. This represented what he called his “Blue Grotto,” his personal hideaway for purposes of isolation and work, amid the lavish luxury of the precious fabrics and perfumes that he loved. But the surviving rooms–which I am assured have not been structurally altered–indicate they were separable by doors.

So I conclude that the first room was intended for reception of visitors, the second for his personal work, and the third as his bedchamber, where he had a huge ottoman created for his repose. To that his dying body was transferred on Tuesday afternoon, February 13, 1883, after he collapsed on a sofa, a recreation of which can been seen in that photo, or up close here.

Wagner 119 sofa

The original is now in Wahnfried, the Wagner family home in Bayreuth, Germany.

From the bedroom, the view now extends into the first of two added chambers.

Wagner 123 bedroom

The distant room to be seen (with his portrait on the wall) I take to be the location of his enormous wardrobe.

There have been no signs that Wagner’s ghost haunts these rooms, but for those who love his music there is something quite moving about visiting this place where the composer breathed his last. The ARWV deserves great praise for reviving this milieu for us.

Wagner’s death was unexpected. The fact that it happened in Venice served to complete a picture of the composer’s identification with that city. For, in his own way, Wagner now became assimilated into Venice’s rich traditions. As his music proceeded to acceptance in Italy, so his memory was assiduously cultivated by Venice.  Memorial concerts were held, the anniversary of his death commemorated for decades, and monuments and markers set up. No other foreigner has so many of the latter in Venice as does Wagner.

Among those was a marble bust of the composer, mounted in the Giardini Pubblici, or Public Gardens, at the eastern end of the city.  Unveiled on October 8, 1908, in the 25th anniversary year of Wagner’s death, the monument was largely financed by a wealthy Berlin admirer of the composer’s music, and supported by the resident foreign community of Venice.

Then, on April 24, 1908, adjacent to the Wagner bust, a marble counterpart representing Giuseppe Verdi was unveiled. This monument was apparently a civic commission, and presumably represented a nationalist riposte to the previous year’s attention to a foreign artist.

The two busts are located parallel to each other in a little alcove overlooking the waters of the Lagoon.

Wagner 145 Two Busts

They are so positioned that neither man looks at the other, as if to avoid any recognition of a rival.  Verdi’s expression is one of slight puzzlement, while Wagner gazes imperiously out over Venice’s Bacino, as if in command of it.

Whenever I am in Venice I try to visit this complex, but it had special meaning this time.  For I had heard that the two busts — Wagner is below top, Verdi below bottom — had recently been defaced. Sure enough, on each bust the nose has been smashed off.

Wagner 148 bust

Wagner 152 Verdi bust

Clearly, this was not random vandalism, but a deliberate and carefully executed act of parallel animosity. Just when these defacements occurred, and just who was responsible, I have yet to find out. It is not clear if and when the damages will be repaired–things like that take a long time in Italy.

There are ever so many reasons for one to visit Venice. But, for devout Wagnerians, reminders of the Master’s intense associations with that city are very much to be kept in mind.

They certainly are for me.


Classical music: SUNDAY afternoon Edgewood College mezzo-soprano Kathleen Otterson will perform a recital of songs by Schubert, Gustav and Alma Mahler, Berlioz, Rossini, Gershwin, Alec Wilder, Andre Previn and others. Plus, Ilona Kombrink memorial is set for Oct. 20.

September 10, 2013
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ALERT: Edgewood College teacher and mezzo-soprano Kathleen Otterson, a loyal reader and friend of The Ear, writes: “There will be a memorial concert for the UW-Madison soprano and voice professor Ilona Kombrink (below), who died last month and with whom I was privileged to study, on Sunday, October 20, at 3 p.m., at the Capitol Lakes Retirement Community’s Grand Hall. We are very early in the planning stages, but we hope that former students and colleagues will perform or speak on the program. More information will follow soon.”

Ilona Kombrink color

By Jacob Stockinger

Edgewood College mezzo-soprano and voice professor Kathleen Otterson will perform a song recital this coming Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive. Admission is $7 to benefit the music scholarship fund at Edgewood.

Otterson writes:

“I am dedicating this concert to my former teacher, the UW-Madison soprano Ilona Kombrink who died last month. But the program is a collage of things I performed on two concerts in Bayfield this summer — hence its title: “What I Did With My Summer Vacation.”

The pianist is Edgewood College coach and accompanist Susan Goeres (below top, on the right with Otterson on the left) . Flutist Elizabeth Marshall (below bottom), who performs in the Black Marigold wind quintet, teaches at Edgewood College, UW-Platteville and Madison Area Technical College and who is the second flute of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, will also participate.

Kathleen Otterson (l) and pianist Susan Goeres

Elizabeth Marshall flute

Describing the major works to be performed, Otterson continues: “Of particular interest, I think, is the Andre Previn piece: “Two Remembrances,” written for Sylvia McNair and first performed by her at the Tanglewood Festival in 1995. The intermingling of the alto flute and the voice is really remarkable, with the flute providing the second voice in the evocative dialogue. 

andre previn color

McNairSylvia2

“Ilona had a special fondness for the “Rueckert-lieder” of Gustav Mahler (below top), and I was fortunate to work on these wonderful songs with her for my graduate recital.

“The poems of Friedrich Rueckert held deep personal meaning for Mahler, and these songs are very much more intimate than the better-known “Wunderhorn Songs.””Ich atmet einen Lindenduft” is included in the program, paired with a song by Alma Schindler Mahler (below bottom) composed at around the same time: “Laue Sommernacht” (performed in a YouTube video at the bottom with some good listener comments.)

Gustav Mahler big

Alma Mahler

“Rossini’s song cycle “La Regatta Veneziana” tells the story of the historical Venetian Regatta, which takes place each year on the waters of the Grand Canal (below) at the beginning of September (this year it was on Sunday, September 1).

“Along with a spectacular procession of elaborately carved boats and costumed participants, there is a race – the subject of the song cycle, as the young girl Anzoletta watches anxiously for her lover Momolo, offering scorn if he fails to win and kisses if he succeeds.

Grand Canal, Venice

“Three songs from the beautiful “Nuits d’été” (Summer Nights) by Hector Berlioz (below) round out the program. They are not specifically about “summer” but instead seem to be summertime musings, both sweet and bitter, settings of texts by Théophile Gautier. Musically, they are everything from playful to melancholy in character.

berlioz

“Parking at Edgewood is free and the Chapel is accessible to all.”


Classical music: Wisconsin Public Radio’s weekly chamber music and recital series “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen” Museum starts its next season this coming Sunday from 12:30 to 2 p.m. with the early music group Eliza’s Toyes. As always it will be broadcast statewide and on WERN FM 88.7 in the Madison area.

September 6, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Sunday, Sept. 7, Wisconsin Public Radio will once again do live broadcasts of a new season of weekly chamber music and recital series from the Elvehjem Building of the Chazen Museum of Art on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. The concert take place from 12:30 to 2 p.m. In the Madison area, tune into WERN 88.7 FM.You can also hear it live-streamed at www.wpr.org

SAL3

Because of technical difficulties in redesigning its web page, WPR has not yet listed a calendar for the year or even the first semester. But once it is posted, I will tell you and provide a link.

In the meantime, here is a notice I got from Jerry Hui, a UW-Madison graduate and a Madison-based composer, conductor and performer.

Jerry Hui

Hui writes:

“Just want to send you a reminder that our early music group Eliza’s Toyes (below) will be the first concert of the season on Sunday Live From the Chazen this Sunday, 12:30-2 p.m.

Eliza's Toyes 2012 2

“We are performing our comedy show “Casino Royale” as a radio story, narrated by WPR host Lori Skelton (below).

Lori Skelton

The featured music is all from Venice around early 17th century, including works by Rossi, Monteverdi (below), Gabrieli, Baccusi, Uccellini, and Rigatti.”

Monteverdi 2

Below is the description and text from the Chazen website – www.chazen.wisc.edu — with links that should work soon. It has details about reserving seats, performance times and places, intermission interviews and podcasts.

There is also usually a small and informal cookies and coffee or tea reception (below) after the concert, so audience members can get to meet the musicians.

SAL snacks

SAL, as the series is known, is one of The Ear’s favorite events. It is free, and it reaches the biggest classical music audience in the state. It allows you to become acquainted with performers and repertoire you might not otherwise get to know. And it gives you the chance to hear live music while you also view the terrific permanent collection and touring art shows.

SALmicrophone sign

In short, “Sunday Afternoon Live” embodies the very kind of high-quality populism and accessibility that makes Madison and its cultural life so attractive.

Sunday Afternoon Live from the Chazen

Sunday Afternoon Live from the Chazen is a weekly chamber music concert performed in the museum’s Brittingham Gallery III on Sunday afternoons from September through mid-May. Performances begin at 12:30. The gallery seats approximately 100 people; admission is free and first-come, first-served. Please note that Gallery III and the adjacent Gallery II are closed on Sunday before the performances for setup and rehearsal.

Members of the Chazen Museum or Wisconsin Public Radio may reserve seats ahead of time. The concert series, which is co-sponsored by Wisconsin Public Radio and the Chazen Museum of Art with the collaboration of UW–Madison School of Music, features Wisconsin artists and is broadcast live throughout the state on public radio stations.

See our calendar or the WPR program page for concert listings.

Listen to concert intermission interview podcasts led by museum director Russell Panczenko.

To reserve your seats please fill out our seat reservation form and a staff member will contact you.

Here’s to enjoyable listening whether at the museum, in your home, your car or elsewhere.

It is the perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

SALProArteMay2010


Classical music: A vocal concert this Saturday night and Sunday afternoon by the early music group Eliza’s Toyes will explore the world of 17th century Venice. Plus, the Wisconsin Gazette compares the Madison Opera’s production of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” this weekend with “The Marriage of Figaro” in Milwaukee in May.

April 25, 2013
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ALERT: In the latest issue of Wisconsin Gazette, Madison arts writer Mike Muckian, with some help from The Ear, has written a contrast-and-compare story about two of Mozart’s finest operas:  “Don Giovanni” and “The Marriage of Figaro.” The first is being staged this weekend in Madison by the Madison Opera, and the second in May in Milwaukee by the Florentine Opera. Kathryn Smith, the general director of the Madison Opera, discusses her production of “Don Giovanni” — which she calls her favorite opera. (Below is a rehearsal photo by James Gill from a rehearsal of Madison Opera’s “Don Giovanni.”) Performances are this weekend in Overture Hall on Friday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. Here are links, first to the story and then to the Madison Opera’s website with information about the opera, the production and tickets:

http://www.wisconsingazette.com/music/dueling-mozartsbreaktwo-operas-show-contrasting-sides-of-the-master.html

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2012-2013/don_giovanni/

madison opera don giovanni 1 James Gill

By Jacob Stockinger 

Today’s posting is by guest blogger Jerry Hui (below).

Jerry Hui

Few young musicians in Madison, or anywhere for that matter, are as talented or as diverse in their interests as Jerry Hui. He directs and sings in an early music vocal group Eliza’s Toyes and also sings with the Madison Bach Musicians. He is a founding member and director of New MUSE (New Music Everywhere), a University of Wisconsin-Madison student group that performs and promotes new music and stages flash mobs. And he is a composer who wrote and produced an Internet opera, “Wired For Love,” as his doctoral thesis at the UW School of Music. He also incorporates the more modern aesthetic of using art to promote social progress.

For more information about Jerry Hui, visit: http://jerryhui.com

Jerry recently offered to write a preview of the concert by Eliza’s Toyes this weekend – an offer too good to refuse. Here is it, complete with links to YouTube videos so you can sample much of the repertoire:

By Jerry Hui

This weekend, the Madison-based early music group Eliza’s Toyes (below) will be presenting a new and ambitious early music concert that will showcase secular music by various composers from Venice of the early 17th century, all tied together in dance and semi-improvisatory comedy theater, in a program titled “Casino Royale: A Venetian Music-Comedy.”

Eliza's Toyes 2012 1

Two performances will take place on the same weekend: On this Saturday, April 27, at 7:30 p.m. at the historic Gates of Heaven Synagogue (below) in downtown Madison at James Madison Park, 302 East Gorham Street; tickets at the door are $15 for the public, $10 for students); and the on Sunday, April 28, at 4 p.m. at the Chocolaterian Café, 2004 Atwood Ave.; free admission, with donations accepted accepted).

Gates of Heaven

Venice (below, in a map from the 17th century) was a thriving city-state. Its unique geographical location in the Mediterranean guaranteed its success from maritime trade, and the wealth that was bestowed upon countless merchants.

Map of 17th century Venice

As the capital city of the Republic of Venice — a state so prosperous that it was known as La Serenissima (“the most serene”) — Venice was well-known for its treasures and splendors. Naturally, this city of riches would attract people from all walks of life: merchants, bankers, aristocrats, artists, craftsmen, thieves and gamblers.

Gambling is an ancient activity as old as human history. Some civilizations, like the Romans, permitted social gambling during holidays and festivities, and otherwise forbade it. But who was to forbid what many desired? More than a friendly diversion, it could be a shortcut to luxury, a chance to change, an opportunity to enter the highest of society. (Below is a painting by Caravaggio portraying a dishonest card game.)

Caravaggio Cardsharps

Venice, being the city of all things sumptuous, was among the first in Europe to be swept by the popularity of playing cards and lottery. Dice games were played on the squares, in street corners, in stores, and in private homes. Noblemen, even when gambling was explicitly banned, ran games in their private spaces, known as the “ridotti” (from ridurre, meaning to reduce, close or make private).

In 1638, after decades of inability to rein in the betting, the Venetian Great Council finally chose a creative solution. Not only would they legalize gambling, they would also open the Ridotto: the first legal, state-sanctioned public gambling house ever in Europe.

Our program draws its inspiration from the opening of Ridotto. All musical pieces were written by composers working in Venice in the first few decades of the 17th century, including: Ippolito Baccusi, Giovanni Gabrieli, Claudio Monteverdi, Giovanni Antonio Rigatti, Salamone Rossi and Marco Uccellini.

We are performing two pieces from Monteverdi’s Eighth Book of Madrigals, subtitled the “Madrigals of War and Love,” published in 1638:  “Non partir ritrosetta” (http://youtu.be/C31WBUOax3M) is a passionate trio, imploring a lover to stay. “Dolcissimo uscignolo” (http://youtu.be/njOBmL1DBCM), on the other hand, is an introspective lament of unrequited love.

Monteverdi 2

Giovanni Gabrieli (below), the composer and famous organist of San Marco, needs no introduction. However, our selection comes not from his more frequently performed sacred music. Instead, we chose his lesser-known secular madrigals. “Quand’io ego giovinetta” is a funny story about an old man’s misadventure in love. “O che felice giorno” (http://youtu.be/khXVHY7k3No?t=7m20s) depicts a celebratory wedding party, written with splendid double-choir counterpoint that is more common in his sacred music.

Giovanni Gabrieli

Many pieces in our program are by Salamone Rossi, a Jewish-Italian composer and violinist. (Below is a score by Rossi from Venice, the same city where Shakespeare set “The Merchant of Venice” with it theme of how Jews were treated in Renaissance Italy.) Whereas music history classes often bring up his unusual polyphonic setting of Song of Solomon in Hebrew, we will showcase many of his short madrigals written for 2-3 voices (such as “Volò ne tuoi begli’occhi” http://youtu.be/0MkUOVuWWvw). His instrumental pieces are playful and fiery; we’ll be playing many of his dances and sonatas, such as this “Gagliarda detta la Turca” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CrkWHxpvibw&feature=share&list=PL9CECBC6113A4F7F9), or “Sonata settima sopra ‘Aria di un Baletto” (http://youtu.be/3jpNlwJTb7M).

salomone rossi score

In addition, we are venturing into the uncharted area of comic theater: all the music is tied together in a skit, semi-improvised in the Italian street-performance tradition of commedia dell’arte (below).

commedia dell'arte cast

In this style, drama is driven by stock characters in masks: Pantalone the miser; Il Dottore the know-it-all; Harlequin the deviant servant; the young lovers and so on. Our scene takes place in one of the ridotti of Venice. Come to our concerts, and join them in their wild and funny adventures through music, comedy, and dance!

Eliza’s Toyes (below) is a small ensemble of singers and instrumentalists focusing on sharing the joy of early music in unusual and creative programs.

Eliza's Toyes 2012 2

Started as an ad-hoc group during Madison Early Music Festival (http://madisonearlymusic.org), Toyes has recently performed at Wisconsin Public Radio’s  “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen” series, and is now in its fifth season as a regular performance ensemble.

The musicians include: Deb Heilert (soprano); Chelsie Propst (soprano; as “Isabella” in this production); Sandy Erickson (alto, recorder); Peter Gruett (alto/tenor; as “Il Dottore”); Jerry Hui (director, tenor/bass, recorder; as “Ottavio”); Mark Werner (bass; as “Pantalone”); Melanie Kathan (recorder; as “Harlequin”); Doug Towne (lute/theorbo); and Eric Miller (viol).

For more information, visit: http://toyes.info


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