The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Madison Opera offers preview events leading up to performances of “Cavalleria Rusticana” and “I Pagliacci” on Nov. 2 and 4

October 13, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following information to post:

The Madison Opera presents the classic double-bill of Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci, by Pietro Mascagni and Ruggero Leoncavallo respectively, on Friday, Nov. 2 ,at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 4, at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall.

“Cav and Pag” – as they are traditionally known because they are usually presented together — feature some of the most emotionally dramatic music in the repertoire, these two operas offer the ultimate portrayal of passion and jealousy on stage.

Both operas are set in rural Italy and follow characters whose human emotions lead to tragic endings. (The sets, below, used in Madison, come from the New Orleans Opera.)

Cavalleria Rusticana (“Rustic Chivalry”) tells the story of Turridu, who has abandoned his lover, Santuzza, to rekindle an affair with his now-married former girlfriend. As Easter Sunday unfolds, Santuzza and Turridu engage in a battle of emotions that will end with violent consequences.

I Pagliacci (“The Clowns”) tells of a small theatrical troupe arriving in a village for a performance.  Nedda, wife of the troupe’s leader Canio, agrees to run off with her lover, Silvio, that evening.  Another troupe member, Tonio, tells Canio, who responds violently.

But the show must go on, and as Nedda and Canio enact the play-within-a-play, reality bleeds over onstage and tragedy follows. (You can hear the famous aria “Vesti la giubba” sung by Luciano Pavarotti in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

“When people think of the phrase ‘Italian opera,’ it’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci that often come to mind,” says Kathryn Smith (below, in a  photo by James Gill), Madison Opera’s general director.  “The intense emotions of both the characters and the music they sing has never been equaled. I vividly remember the first time I saw Cavalleria and was overwhelmed by the power of it. I am so delighted to produce these operas in Madison for the first time in over 30 years, with this fantastic cast and production team.”

Cavalleria Rusticana by Pietro Mascagni (below) was written for a one-act opera competition in 1890. Based on a short story and play of the same name, it was an immediate smash hit, with 185 productions around the world within three years, making Mascagni an international icon of Italian music.

Ruggero Leoncavallo (below) wrote I Pagliacci two years later in direct response, hoping for a similar success with a one-act opera about real people caught up in an emotional web. Like Mascagni, he had an immediate success, and the two operas have been paired together intermittently for much of the 20th century.

Madison Opera’s cast features both returning artists and debuts.

Making her debut in the role of Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana is soprano Michelle Johnson, who has been praised for her “extraordinary breath control and flawless articulation.”

Also making her Madison Opera debut is soprano Talise Trevigne in the role of Nedda in Pagliacci; Trevigne has received acclaim for her “luxuriant vocalism [and] unwavering commitment to character.”

Returning to Madison Opera are tenor Scott Piper(below top) in the dual roles of Turridu/Canio and baritone Michael Mayes(below bttom) in the dual roles of Alfio/Tonio. Piper was last seen in Madison as Cavaradossi in the 2013 production of Puccini’s Tosca; Mayes returns to Madison after his electrifying performance as Joseph De Rocher in Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking in 2014.

Rounding out the Cavalleria Rusticana cast are Kirsten Larson as Lola and Danielle Wright as Mamma Lucia, both in their Madison Opera debuts.

Pagliacci will also feature baritone Benjamin Taylor in his Madison Opera debut as Silvio and Madison favorite Robert Goodrich as Beppe.

Kristine McIntyre (below) returns to direct, after her highly acclaimed production of Daniel Catan’s Florencia en el Amazonas last season.

Conducting this production will be Joseph Mechavich (below), who made his Madison Opera debut with Mozart’s Don Giovanni and most recently conducted Opera in the Park 2017. Says Mechavich, “Seeing Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci is the ultimate in an Italian operatic experience.  Audiences will have a visceral reaction to synthesis of music and drama.”

Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci both have magnificent choral writing, from the celebrated Easter Hymn in Cavalleria Rusticana to the Chorus of the Bells in Pagliacci, as well as sumptuous orchestral music.

Rounding out the musical forces are the Madison Opera Chorus, members of the Madison Youth Choirs, and the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

Events leading up to the opera can help the community learn more about Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci. Community preview will be offer an entertaining look at “reality opera” – the “verismo” school, which produced works like Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci.

Cinematheque and Madison Opera will co-sponsor a showing of the 1928 silent film Laugh, Clown, Laugh on Oct. 22.  Opera Up Close provides an in-depth discussion of the operas, including a cast roundtable, on Oct. 28.

RELATED EVENTS

Laugh, Clown, Laugh (1928); Saturday, Oct. 20, 7 p.m.; UW Cinematheque, 4070 Vilas Hall (http://cinema.wisc.edu)

FREE and open to the public; doors open 30 minutes before showtime

Lon Chaney (below), the “Man of a Thousand Faces,” plays Tito, a smiling-on-the-outside circus clown heading for heartbreak after he becomes smitten with the fetching Simonetta (Loretta Young). This reworking of the Pagliacci story offers a great showcase for the two leads and talented director Herbert Brenon. The silent film will feature live piano accompaniment by David Drazin and will be preceded by Acrobatty Bunny (1946), starring Bugs Bunny.

Opera Up Close; Sunday, Oct. 28, 1-3 p.m.; the Margaret C. Winston Opera Center, 335 West Mifflin Street

$20 general admission; free for full-season subscribers; $10 for two-show subscribers

Join Madison Opera for a multimedia behind-the-scenes preview of Cavalleria Rusticana & Pagliacci.  General Director Kathryn Smith will discuss the composers and the history of these two pieces. Principal artists, stage director Kristine McIntyre and conductor Joseph Mechavich will participate in a roundtable discussion about Madison’s production and their own takes on these masterpieces.

Pre-Opera Talks: Friday, Nov. 2, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 4, at 1:30 p.m. in the Wisconsin Studio at Overture Center, free to ticket holders. Attend an entertaining half-hour introduction to “Cavalleria Rusticana” and “Pagliacci” one hour prior to curtain.

Post-Opera Q&A: Friday, Nov. 2, and Sunday, Nov. 4, following the performance in the Wisconsin Studio at Overture Center, free to ticket holders

You’ve seen the operas and loved them. But are you perhaps wondering about …?  Join General Director Kathryn Smith immediately after the performances to ask questions about what you have just seen.

More information — including a blog that has interviews with the cast members — is available at www.madisonopera.org


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Classical music: Here are the classical music nominations for the 2017 Grammy Awards. They make a great holiday gift list of gives and gets

December 10, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

This posting is both a news story and a holiday gift guide of classical recordings you might like to give or get.

It features the classical music nominations for the 59th annual Grammy Awards that were just announced this past week.

As you can see, several years ago, the recording industry decided that the Grammys should put more emphasis on new music and contemporary composers as well as on less famous performers and smaller labels as well as less well-known artists and works. You don’t see any music by Bach, Beethoven or Brahms this year, although you will find music by Mozart, Handel, Schumann and Dvorak. And clearly this is not a Mahler year

The winners will be announced on a live TV broadcast on Sunday night, Feb. 12, on CBS.

grammy award BIG

BEST ENGINEERED ALBUM, CLASSICAL

“Corigliano: The Ghosts of Versailles” — Mark Donahue & Fred Vogler, engineers (James Conlon, Guanqun Yu, Joshua Guerrero, Patricia Racette, Christopher Maltman, Lucy Schaufer, Lucas Meachem, LA Opera Chorus & Orchestra)

“Dutilleux: Sur Le Même Accord; Les Citations; Mystère De L’Instant & Timbres, Espace, Mouvement” — Alexander Lipay & Dmitriy Lipay, engineers (Ludovic Morlot, Augustin Hadelich & Seattle Symphony)

“Reflections” — Morten Lindberg, engineer (Øyvind Gimse, Geir Inge Lotsberg & Trondheimsolistene)

“Shadow of Sirius” — Silas Brown & David Frost, engineers; Silas Brown, mastering engineer (Jerry F. Junkin & the University Of Texas Wind Ensemble)

“Shostakovich: Under Stalin’s Shadow: Symphonies Nos. 5, 8 & 9” — Shawn Murphy & Nick Squire, engineers; Tim Martyn, mastering engineer (Andris Nelsons & Boston Symphony Orchestra)

dutilleux-sur-le-meme-accord-cd-cover

PRODUCER OF THE YEAR, CLASSICAL

Blanton Alspaugh

David Frost

Marina A. Ledin, Victor Ledin

Judith Sherman (pictured below with the Grammy Award she won last year. She came to Madison to record the double set of new commissions for the centennial of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet)

Robina G. Young

Judith Sherman 57th Grammy 2016

BEST ORCHESTRAL PERFORMANCE

“Bates: Works for Orchestra” — Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor (San Francisco Symphony). You can hear excerpts in the YouTube video at the bottom.

“Ibert: Orchestral Works” — Neeme Järvi, conductor (Orchestre De La Suisse Romande)

“Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5 In B-Flat Major, Op. 100” — Mariss Jansons, conductor (Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra)

“Rouse: Odna Zhizn; Symphonies 3 & 4; Prospero’s Rooms” — Alan Gilbert, conductor (New York Philharmonic)

“Shostakovich: Under Stalin’s Shadow – Symphonies Nos. 5, 8 & 9” (below) — Andris Nelsons, conductor (Boston Symphony Orchestra)

nelsons-shostakovich-5-cd-cover

BEST OPERA RECORDING

“Corigliano: The Ghosts of Versailles” (below) — James Conlon, conductor; Joshua Guerrero, Christopher Maltman, Lucas Meachem, Patricia Racette, Lucy Schaufer & Guanqun Yu; Blanton Alspaugh, producer (LA Opera Orchestra; LA Opera Chorus)

“Handel: Giulio Cesare” — Giovanni Antonini, conductor; Cecilia Bartoli, Philippe Jaroussky, Andreas Scholl & Anne-Sofie von Otter; Samuel Theis, producer (Il Giardino Armonico)

“Higdon: Cold Mountain” — Miguel Harth-Bedoya, conductor; Emily Fons, Nathan Gunn, Isabel Leonard & Jay Hunter Morris; Elizabeth Ostrow, producer (The Santa Fe Opera Orchestra; Santa Fe Opera Apprentice Program for Singers)

“Mozart: Le Nozze Di Figaro” — Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor; Thomas Hampson, Christiane Karg, Luca Pisaroni & Sonya Yoncheva; Daniel Zalay, producer (Chamber Orchestra of Europe; Vocalensemble Rastatt)

“Szymanowski: Król Roger” — Antonio Pappano, conductor; Georgia Jarman, Mariusz Kwiecień & Saimir Pirgu; Jonathan Allen, producer (Orchestra of the Royal Opera House; Royal Opera Chorus)

ghosts-of-versailles-cd-cover

BEST CHORAL PERFORMANCE

“Himmelrand” — Elisabeth Holte, conductor (Marianne Reidarsdatter Eriksen, Ragnfrid Lie & Matilda Sterby; Inger-Lise Ulsrud; Uranienborg Vokalensemble)

“Janáček: Glagolitic Mass” — Edward Gardner, conductor; Håkon Matti Skrede, chorus master (Susan Bickley, Gábor Bretz, Sara Jakubiak & Stuart Skelton; Thomas Trotter; Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra; Bergen Cathedral Choir, Bergen Philharmonic Choir, Choir of Collegium Musicum & Edvard Grieg Kor)

“Lloyd: Bonhoeffer” — Donald Nally, conductor (Malavika Godbole, John Grecia, Rebecca Harris & Thomas Mesa; the Crossing; below)

“Penderecki Conducts Penderecki, Volume 1” — Krzysztof Penderecki, conductor; Henryk Wojnarowski, choir director (Nikolay Didenko, Agnieszka Rehlis & Johanna Rusanen; Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra; Warsaw Philharmonic Choir)

“Steinberg: Passion Week” — Steven Fox, conductor (The Clarion Choir)

lloyd-bonhoefffer-cd-cover

BEST CHAMBER MUSIC/SMALL ENSEMBLE PERFORMANCE

“Fitelberg: Chamber Works” — ARC Ensemble

“Reflections” — Øyvind Gimse, Geir Inge Lotsberg & Trondheimsolistene

“Serious Business” — Spektral Quartet

Steve Reich” — Third Coast Percussion (below)

“Trios From Our Homelands” — Lincoln Trio

reich-third-coast-percussion-cd-cover

BEST CLASSICAL INSTRUMENTAL SOLO

“Adams, J.: Scheherazade.2” — Leila Josefowicz; David Robertson, conductor (Chester Englander; St. Louis Symphony)

“Daugherty: Tales of Hemingway” — Zuill Bailey; Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor (Nashville Symphony)

“Dvořák: Violin Concerto & Romance; Suk: Fantasy” — Christian Tetzlaff; John Storgårds, conductor (Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra)

“Mozart: Keyboard Music, Vols. 8 & 9” – Kristian Bezuidenhout

“1930’s Violin Concertos, Vol. 2” – Gil Shaham; Stéphane Denève, conductor (The Knights & Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra)

john-adams-scheherazade2-cd-cover

BEST CLASSICAL SOLO VOCAL ALBUM

“Monteverdi” — Magdalena Kožená; Andrea Marcon, conductor (David Feldman, Michael Feyfar, Jakob Pilgram & Luca Tittoto; La Cetra Barockorchester Basel)

“Mozart: The Weber Sisters” — Sabine Devieilhe; Raphaël Pichon, conductor (Pygmalion)

“Schumann & Berg” — Dorothea Röschmann; Mitsuko Uchida, accompanist

“Shakespeare Songs” — Ian Bostridge; Antonio Pappano, accompanist (Michael Collins, Elizabeth Kenny, Lawrence Power & Adam Walker)

“Verismo” — Anna Netrebko; Antonio Pappano, conductor (Yusif Eyvazov; Coro Dell’Accademia Nazionale Di Santa Cecilia; Orchestra Dell’Accademia Nazionale Di Santa Cecilia)

bostridge-shakespeare-songs-cd-cover

BEST CLASSICAL COMPENDIUM

“Daugherty: Tales of Hemingway; American Gothic; Once Upon A Castle” — Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor; Tim Handley, producer

“Gesualdo” — Tõnu Kaljuste, conductor; Manfred Eicher, producer

“Vaughan Williams: Discoveries” — Martyn Brabbins, conductor; Andrew Walton, producer

“Wolfgang: Passing Through” — Judith Farmer & Gernot Wolfgang, producers; (Various Artists)

“Zappa: 200 Motels – The Suites” — Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor; Frank Filipetti & Gail Zappa, producers

tales-of-hemingway-cd-cover

BEST CONTEMPORARY CLASSICAL COMPOSITION

“Bates: Anthology of Fantastic Zoology” — Mason Bates, composer (Riccardo Muti & Chicago Symphony Orchestra)

“Daugherty: Tales of Hemingway” — Michael Daugherty, composer (Zuill Bailey, Giancarlo Guerrero & Nashville Symphony)

“Higdon: Cold Mountain” — Jennifer Higdon, composer; Gene Scheer, librettist (Miguel Harth-Bedoya, Jay Hunter Morris, Emily Fons, Isabel Leonard, Nathan Gunn & the Santa Fe Opera)

“Theofanidis: Bassoon Concerto” — Christopher Theofanidis, composer (Martin Kuuskmann, Barry Jekowsky & Northwest Sinfonia)

“Winger: Conversations With Nijinsky” — C. F. Kip Winger, composer (Martin West & San Francisco Ballet Orchestra)

higdon-cold-mountain-cd-cover


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Classical music: Puccini makes us all bohemians. Madison Opera scores a big heart-rending success with “La Bohème.” The final performance is this afternoon.

November 15, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Loyal readers of this blog know very well the name of Mikko Rankin Utevsky. The young violist, baritone and conductor is a senior at the University of Wisconsin School of Music, where he studies with Pro Arte Quartet violist Sally Chisholm, plays in the UW Symphony Orchestra, and sings with the University Opera.

Utevsky, who has won awards and impressive reviews for his work in music education since his days at Madison’s East High School, is the founder and conductor of the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO – www.MAYCO.org), which will perform its sixth season this summer. He also directs a local community orchestra, The Studio Orchestra (www.disso.org).

You can check out his many honors and projects by typing his name into the search engine on this blog site.

Utevsky offered The Ear a guest preview review of this past weekend’s performance of “La Bohème” by the Madison Opera.

I immediately took him up on the offer. After all, he is a fine and perceptive writer who, you may recall, has done other opera reviews and who blogged for this post when he was on tour with the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) tour to Vienna, Prague and Budapest.

Here is the review by Mikko Utevsky (below):

new Mikko Utevsky baton profile USE

By Mikko Rankin Utevsky

Giacomo Puccini’s “La Bohème” is perhaps the most beloved of all operas, adored by newcomers and veterans alike for its richly Romantic melodies, subtly shaded score and sheer vocal magnetism. (Performance photos are by James Gill for the Madison Opera.)

This weekend’s production anchors Madison Opera’s writer-themed season, which continues with Mark Adamo‘s “Little Women” in February and Jacques Offenbach’s “Les Contes d’Hoffman” (The Tales of Hoffmann) in April.

The famous numbers in “La Boheme” — the first-act arias “Che gelida manina” by the poet Rodolfo (Mackenzie Whitney) and “Si, mi chiamano Mimi” by Mimi (Eleni Calanos), and the following duet “O soave fanciulla” in particular — are familiar showstoppers, and were well sung Friday night. (You can hear Jussi Bjorling and Renata Tebaldi sing the arias and duets in the YouTube video at the bottom. Can you not be moved?)

Boheme Madison Opera USE Mimi and Rodolfo GILL

But the indisputable star of this production was Maestro John DeMain (below in a photo by Prasad), whose flexible leadership in conducting united a remarkably even cast and the Madison Symphony Orchestra, whose lush, supple sound filled Overture Hall to the rafters with a powerful reading of Puccini’s rich and colorful score.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

One was struck by the tightness of composition. For a composer often accused of pandering to popular tastes, sacrificing musical integrity for cheap emotional tricks, the score to “La Bohème” is densely motivic and self-referential.

As in Mozart or Verdi, the orchestra often represents the subtext or the emotional undercurrents of the scene, with snatches of remembered melody drifting throughout the drama. The only complaint must be that we sometimes heard a bit too much of this lovely orchestra, to the detriment of balance with the singers.

Among the cast, the sense of camaraderie between the members of the male quartet — Marcello, Rodolfo, Colline and Schaunard — was palpable, by turns rowdy and rambunctious and in the fourth act deeply moving.

Madison Opera Boheme cafe sceneJames Gill

Whether this was the result of some special chemistry between the singers (Dan Kempson, Mackenzie Whitney, Liam Moran, and Alan Dunbar) or something drawn out by director David Lefkowich (below), it brought the ensemble scenes to life marvelously, and drew the audience into the lives of the four friends quite powerfully.

David Lefkowich 2013

Dan Kempson (below) deserves special praise as the painter Marcello, a somewhat unsympathetic role, both for humanizing the jealous lover and for his rich and warm singing throughout the evening.

Madison Opera boheme Rodolfo GILL

Tenor Mackenzie Whitney brought a clear and smooth tone to the role of Rodolfo, shining brightest in ensemble singing.

Evan Ross, in the buffo roles of Benoit and Alcindoro, brought humor, but not enough sound to be consistently heard over the orchestra, leaving the audience chuckling at his mannerisms and the supertitles rather than what he actually sang.

Soprano Emily Birsan (below), a favorite of local audiences and a UW-Madison graduate, who recently graduated out of the Ryan Center at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, made an excellent showing as the flirtatious Musetta, whose gentle side in the fourth act was extraordinarily poignant.

Emily Birsan MSO 2014

And Eleni Calenos’ Mimi (below, second from right) was both credibly fragile and vocally excellent, with warmth to spare and the ability to draw the audience into the intimate final moments of her life.

Madison Opera Boheme death scene

Sets from the Lyric Opera of Kansas City made subtle but evocative use of perspective, drawing the eye where it needed to be without drawing attention away from the action. (I was particularly fond of the Cafe Momus.)

Madison Opera Boheme outdoor scene GILL

The city beyond the garret was subtly shaded by Connie Yun’s lighting design. And Anthony Cao’s chorus, together with the Madison Youth Choirs, brought the necessary sense of spectacle to the outdoor scenes in Act II.

Madison Opera Boheme outdoor 2 parade GILL

All in all, despite some balance issues early on, the gorgeous playing of the orchestra alone makes this a production worth hearing, and the largely young cast brings Puccini’s “verismo” (realistic) masterpiece vividly to life.

It’s another feather in the caps of artistic director John DeMain and general director Kathryn Smith of the Madison Opera.

It is sung in Italian with projected English supertitles. The final performance, with two intermissions, will be this afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center.


Classical music: Puccini’s gift for heart-touching melody allows both beginners and veterans to connect with his timeless operas in a way that has been largely lost in contemporary music, says John DeMain. He will conduct the Madison Opera’s production of La Bohème this Friday night and Sunday afternoon.

November 12, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

On this Friday night, Nov. 13, at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon, Nov. 15, at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center for the Arts, the Madison Opera will perform its production of Giacomo Puccini’s evergreen “La Bohème.”

The opera will be sung in Italian with English surtitles.

Tickets are $18 to $129 and are available from the Overture Center Box Office (608) 258-4141 or from www.madisonopera.org. Student and group discounts are available.

Puccini’s classic opera tells of the lives, loves and losses of a group of young artists in a bohemian quarter of Paris.

La Bohème has been an audience favorite since its first performance on Feb. 1, 1896 ( below is the original poster from 1896 by Adolfo Hohenstein) at the Teatro Regio in Turin, Italy, and is performed by opera companies around the world.

Its popularity over the past century is undiminished and its ravishing score has inspired generations of artists, including the composer Jonathan Larson, who used it as the basis for his award-winning 1996 musical “Rent,” and Baz Lurhmann, director of the 2001 movie “Moulin Rouge.” It also played a pivotal role in the movie “Moonstruck” with Cher and Nicholas Cage.

La Boheme 1896 poster by Adolfo Hohenstein

For more information about the Madison Opera’s production and cast, read the Q&A that The Ear did with Kathryn Smith, the general director of the Madison Opera. Here is a link:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/11/09/classical-music-puccini-was-a-master-crafter-of-drama-says-kathryn-smith-the-madison-operas-stages-its-production-of-la-boheme-this-friday-night-and-sunday-afternoon/

By The Ear’s reckoning, John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), has spent close to 50 years in opera. He is the artistic director of the Madison Opera and music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, and will conduct the singers, orchestra and choruses for the two performances of “La Bohème.”

He graciously agreed to share his experience and knowledge in an email Q&A with The Ear:

John DeMain full face by Prasad

What about the story makes “La Bohème” such an enduring classic for both first-timers and veterans?

First of all, it’s a love story involving young adults trying to make it through their young years living from hand to mouth. They are college or post-college age, and are living life on the edge, enjoying great camaraderie, as college roommates enjoy to this day.

We have all lived through the tragedy of disease or plagues affecting various parts of the world in our own time. Mimi has tuberculosis, and we have seen how HIV/AIDS, SARS and Ebola have taken young lives in our own time, robbing people of the chance to live out their lives and loves. So, there is always some part of a story like this for people, both old and young, to connect with.

And what about the same aspect in the music?

Once we enter into the world of Italian “verismo,”or realism, we basically have music that is timeless. The music vividly underscores the action of the drama in great detail from moment to moment.

The interplay of the various leitmotifs manipulates our emotions, leading us to enjoy a good laugh at the interplay of the guys, or Musetta’s outrageous carrying on to make her “ex” jealous and win Marcello back. Then the music engages us in the great sadness of losing Mimi to her disease and robbing Rodolfo of his loved one ( in the final scene below from a production by the Houston Grand Opera, which John DeMain used to head before coming to Madison).

Our great film composers and composers of musical theater all learned from Puccini how to connect the emotions of the drama to the music and vice-versa.

HGO La Boheme

HGO La Boheme

Is Puccini’s reputation as a serious and innovative opera composer, not just a popular one, being reexamined and revised upward in recent years?

Puccini’s output as a composer was limited both in scope and in number. He focused primarily on opera and gave us 12 works in that form. To this day, La Bohème, Madama Butterfly, Turandot and Tosca remain in the top echelon of opera’s most popular works.

Puccini (below) labored over each of his operas for long periods of time, rewriting to get these pieces as close as possible to perfection, creating librettos and music that soars emotionally, melodically and harmonically. His Fanciulla del West (The Girl of the Golden West), Turandot and even parts of Butterfly are great examples of Italian Impressionism.

But while Bohème has a few touches of impressionistic harmony, most of the opera stays within a late Romantic harmonic vocabulary.

I think we appreciate more than ever Puccini’s capacity to write unforgettable melody that goes to the very core of our being. Indeed, we lament that most contemporary scores can’t achieve that, and therefore, they don’t have the same relationship with our audiences today. (You can hear that in the arias sung by Luciano Pavarotti and Fiamma Izzo in a YouTube video at the bottom. Listen for when the audience applauds Pavarotti singing a high C.)

puccini at piano

Are there special things you would like the public to know about this particular production? Do you have comments about the concept and cast, sets and costumes?

I would like to encourage people who have never been to an opera to come and see La Bohème. There are still people out there who don’t know that we have English titles over the stage that simultaneously translate the opera into English.

The acts are not long, the drama flows at almost the same rate of time as it would if it were just spoken without music. And the young stunning cast we have assembled will thrill young and old alike.

This, like Carmen or Madama Butterfly, is the perfect opera for a first-timer. For the rest of us, it is a chance to thrill once again to one of the most beautiful scores ever composed for the operatic stage.

 


Classical music: How hard is it to sing nine high C’s? Tenor Javier Abreu talks about the feat he will perform in the Madison Opera’s premiere production of Donizetti’s “La Fille du Regiment” this weekend.

February 3, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Friday night and Sunday afternoon, the Madison Opera performs its premiere production of Gaetano Donizetti’s “The Daughter of the Regiment” in the Capitol Theater at the Overture Center for the Arts.

Performances are at 8 p.m. on Friday and 2:30 p.m. on Sunday. The opera will be sung in the original French with English surtitles. The sets come from an acclaimed production by the Virginia Opera (below):

Madison Opera Daughter of the Regiment Virginia Opera song of the regiment

Tickets are $25-$107 with student and group discounts available. They are available at the Overture Center box office, 201 State St., Madison, WI; by calling (608) 258-4141; and by visiting http://www.madisonopera.org

As a Madison Opera press release says: “ “The Daughter of the Regiment” is a sweet romantic comedy, with vocal pyrotechnics and beautiful melodies interlaced with charm and humor.

“The plot is simple: Marie, an orphan who was raised by the 21st Regiment, is in love with Tonio, who joins the army so he can marry her. When Marie’s new-found aunt takes her away from her beloved regiment, she despairs. Fortunately, all ends happily ever after.

“I adore this opera,” says Kathryn Smith (below), Madison Opera’s general director. “Sometimes all we want from a night at the opera is entertainment, and  ‘Daughter’ delivers. I fell in love with the show’s music years ago, and it’s a pure delight to bring this work to Madison Opera for the first time in the company’s 53-year history. It’s a perfect show for everyone, from opera novices to opera omnivores, from 8-year-olds to 88-year-olds.”

Kathryn Smith Fly Rail Vertical Madison Opera

“At last we are bringing Donizetti’s comic masterpiece to our audience, with its scintillating score and adorably zany plot,” says John DeMain (below in a photo by Prasad), Madison Opera’s artistic director who will conduct the performances. “I’ve so loved my encounters with this opera in the past and so look forward to Madison’s first outing with such a marvelous cast, the Madison Opera chorus, and the Madison Symphony Orchestra. This is the way to  escape from any winter doldrums.”

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Appleton native Caitlin Cisler, who charmed audiences as the page Oscar in A Masked Ball and at Opera in the Park last season, returns to Madison Opera as Marie.

Tenor Javier Abreu, described by Opera News as “a natural Rossini singer,” makes his local debut as the high-C-prone Tonio. Nathan Stark, who was a chilling Commendatore in “Don Giovanni” last season, displays his comic side as Sulpice, one of Marie’s many “fathers.”

Local favorite Allisanne Apple (below) returns as The Marquise of Berkenfield. She is joined by Douglas Swenson as Hortensius. Christopher Apfelbach plays a Corporal, Katrina Brunner is The Duchess of Krakenthorp, and Robert Goderich is a Peasant.

Alisanne Apple BW mug

David Lefkowich (below), who directed Handel’s “Acis and Galatea” here in 2013, directs this traditional staging, set in the Tyrol around 1820.

David Lefkowich 2013

The opera is also one which many tenor careers – occluding those of Luciano Pavarotti and Juan Diego Florez — have been built because of the nine high C the tenor must sing.

To find out more about such athletic singing, The Ear used an email interview to talk about it with tenor Javier Abreu (below):

Javier Abreu color mug 1

Can you briefly introduce yourself and your career? When did you start music lessons and how did you get into opera?

I started singing when I was a child in Catholic school. My parents were involved in church choir, and I started picking it up then. As I started getting into my teen years, and my voice started changing, my mom decided to let me take some voice lessons, to make the transition a little easier. I was interested in singing pop at that point, but my voice teacher made sure I know how to breathe, and not to push my voice to its limits.

I didn’t get into opera until I was a sophomore in college. I was in the university choir, and a lot of my friends were doing it. I wanted to see what it was all about. I had a fantastic voice teacher during my undergrad years, and some really talented coaches. I feel very fortunate to have had the formative years that I had.

La Fille du Regiment” is famous as a career-building opera for tenors, thanks to the 9 high C’s in “Ah, mes amis.” Luciano Pavarotti (below top) and Juan Diego Florez (below bottom) whose exciting show-stopping performance can be heard in a YouTube video at the bottom) come immediately to mind. How hard is do you find to sing those high notes and how successful have you been with the aria?

I started working on the aria at the age of 22. I knew it was something I wanted to sing at some point, but I decided to not take it lightly. The great thing about this role is that can be sung by many types of tenor. Everyone has their own strength to showcase.

That said, having the C’s in the aria is always essential.  I find that I need to treat this aria like any other piece. It’s just one more aria with a few high notes.  Giving too much importance to the fact that it’s high puts too much pressure on the moment.  It is, after all, only 60 seconds of a 2-1/2 hour show. There’s plenty of show left after that.

Luciano Pavarotti

Juan Diego Florez 2

What makes singing the high C’s so hard – the pitch, the length of the notes and breathing, whatever?

Tessitura certainly plays a big role in making this aria one of the most challenging in the repertoire. There is a certain finesse that bel canto requires, which takes plenty of effort. Add to that the fact that most roles don’t demand such fireworks from the tenor in such a short period of time.

The tenor in a Rossini opera will be required to sing plenty of C’s, but they are spread out through the show. The mere fact that it happens in such a short period of time requires from the tenor a certain stamina and control, making this sort of a specialized role.

What are the challenges of Donizetti’s “bel canto” style, versus say Baroque or Verismo opera, for you as a tenor and for the whole cast?

It is hard to compare all of these styles, because they are so different, though one is informed by the other. If we go chronologically, baroque certainly informed the bel canto style.  The beauty of lines, and the exposed vocal fireworks transitioned from the baroque into the bel canto style very smoothly. Verismo came later, as an answer to what had come before.

The focus in bel canto – of “beautiful singing” — is the beauty of line, and the finesse from passage to passage. It’s the great combination of vocal prowess, and story telling.  As a singer, I get to showcase what I do best, and cadenzas tend to be tailored to the specific abilities of the singer.

That is one of my favorite things about bel canto. It’s a great collaboration between, singer, stage director, maestro, and orchestra.  It can be some of the most thrilling theater-music combination there is.

What makes this opera popular with audiences in general? The happy endings? The characters? The plot? The impressive and accessible lightness of the bel canto style? Some other element?

People like light stories.  Add to that the fact that Donizetti was a masterful composer, and chose librettos that appealed to the masses. Who does not want to see the “good ol’ boy” get the girl?

There is a complexity to the show that is present in the great masterpieces by Donizetti (below). There are very light moments, in which you feel like you are in an operetta, in juxtaposition with moments of great sadness that are reminiscent of his great serious works. This show brings a lot of the elements that made Donizetti a master of his time.

donizetti

How would you compare your role and this particular interpretation of it to other roles and to what other tenors have done with yours?

What I love about live theater and opera is the fact that every person interpreting a role is going to bring something different to it. To me, comparing two tenors singing the same role is like comparing two different beers. While they have many of the same kind of qualities, they will never be the same.

That’s what makes it interesting to me. Every interpretation is informed by the single individual who gets to perform it at any given time.

What us your sense of the ensemble spirit in the cast and production so far? Is there anything you s want to say about the Madison Opera and this production? (Below is a set from the Virginia Opera’s production that will be used.)

One of the best things about this show is the fact that it has a small cast. That allows us to really get to work with each other in a more intimate way, and form bonds that make the show more interesting.

This production is a lot of fun, and each of the cast members has their own quirky take on their role.  That has made it more exciting, and hopefully it will translate as more fun for the audience.

As an audience member, I always enjoy a show in which the filial love of the cast is palpable. It makes a comedy really shine. Our director and conductor have done a great job at trying to use our individual strengths, and showcase them through out the show. It is full of tender moments, and I’m so excited to be a part of it. I think Madison will really like this beloved classic of the opera repertoire.

Madison Opera Daughter of the Regiment Virginia Opera singing lesson image 2

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