The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Madison Opera stages its first-ever production of Dvorak’s fairy tale opera “Rusalka” next Friday night and Sunday afternoon. A preview roundtable is this Sunday afternoon

April 20, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Opera will stage its production of Antonin Dvorak’s luxurious masterpiece Rusalka on Friday night, April 26, at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon, April 28, at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall at the Overture Center, 201 State Street.

Running time is 3 hours with two intermissions, and will feature projected supertitles with English translations of the original Czech that will be sung.

Tickets are $18-$131 with discounts available for students and groups. Go to: https://www.madisonopera.org/tickets/

Inspired by the classic fairy tale The Little Mermaid, the story travels from a mythical forest to a palace and back again. Its lush score includes the famous “Song to the Moon.” (You can hear Renée Fleming sing”Song to the Moon” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Set in a mythical realm, Rusalka is about a water nymph who falls in love with a human prince. She tells her father Vodnik that she wishes to become human and live with the Prince on land. Horrified, Vodnik tells her that humans are full of sin, but reluctantly suggests she enlist the help of Jezibaba, a witch. Jezibaba agrees to make her human, but cautions that Rusalka will lose her power of speech. Further, if the Prince betrays her, she will be cursed forever.

The Prince falls in love with Rusalka and plans to marry her, but her silence unnerves him, and a Foreign Princess interrupts the wedding festivities with evil intent. Rusalka returns to the lake as a spirit that lures men to their death – and the Prince follows her.

Rusalka is one of the most gorgeous operas in the repertoire,” says Kathryn Smith, Madison Opera’s general director (below, in a photo by James Gill). “I fell in love with it when I first saw it over 20 years ago, and listening to the score is a pure pleasure. I am so delighted to share this opera with Madison, so that everyone can learn how brilliant an operatic composer Dvorak was, and experience an opera that is justifiably popular around the world.”

Rusalka’s story was inspired by multiple sources, including Slavic mythology and the fairy tales of Karel Jaromir Erben, Hans Christian Andersen, and Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué.

The opera premiered on March 31, 1901 in Prague and quickly became a massive success, hailed as Dvorak’s masterpiece.

But it was not initially widely performed outside of Czech territories; the first U.S. performance was in 1975. But in recent decades, the opera by Dvorak (below) has become a regular part of the opera repertoire, due to its beautiful music and lovely story.

This production is not only a Madison Opera premiere, but also the company’s first-ever opera in Czech.

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

Soprano Emily Birsan (below) returns to Madison Opera in the title role, following successes here as Gounod’s Juliet and Musetta in Puccini’s La Bohème. Last month, she sang Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. The Chicago Tribune has praised her singing for her “amazing clarity of diction, accuracy of intonation and fineness of expression.”

Tenor John Lindsey (below) returns to Madison Opera as The Prince, after singing in last summer’s Opera in the Park.

Making their debuts with Madison Opera are soprano Karin Wolverton as the Foreign Princess, contralto Lindsay Amman as the witch Jezibaba and bass William Meinert as Rusalka’s father, Vodnik. Emily SecorSaira Frank and Kirsten Larson play the three wood sprites; Benjamin Liupaogo sings the Hunter.

The Madison Opera Chorus and Madison Symphony Orchestra round out the musical forces, all under the baton of John DeMain (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson), Madison Opera’s artistic director.

Keturah Stickann (below) directs her first opera for Madison Opera; she has directed both traditional and contemporary repertoire across all of the U.S., most recently for San Francisco Opera and Washington National Opera.

This production originated at Minnesota Opera and features projections (below) by Wendall K. Harrington, who has been described as “the godmother of modern projection design.”

In reviewing the Minnesota production, theTwin Cities Arts Reader praised “the stunning visuals on display, which only serve to enhance and elaborate on the action and the music.”

Madison Opera’s production of “Rusalka” is sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, Kay & Martin Barrett, Millie & Marshall Osborn, Sally & Mike Miley, Kato Perlman, Charles & Martha Casey, John Lemke & Pam Oliver, and The Ann Stanke Fund.

RELATED EVENTS

You can learn more about “Rusalka” at the events leading up to the performances.

Opera Up Close will take place this Sunday, April 21, 1-3 p.m. at the Margaret C. Winston Opera Center (below) 335 West Mifflin Street, $20 general admission; free for full-season subscribers; $10 for two-show subscribers.

This event features a multimedia behind-the-scenes preview of Rusalka. General director Kathryn Smith will discuss Antonin Dvorak and the history of his fairy-tale opera. Principal artists, stage director Keturah Stickann and conductor John DeMain will participate in a roundtable discussion about Madison’s production and their own takes on this masterpiece.

Pre-Show Talks by Kathryn Smith take place on Friday, April 26, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, April 28, at 1:30 p.m. at Wisconsin Studio at Overture Center, and are free to ticket holders.

Post-Opera Q&A’s are on Friday, April 26, and Sunday, April 28, immediately following the opera in the Wisconsin Studio at Overture Center, and are free to ticket holders.

More information — including cast biographies and a blog with Q&A interviews with some cast members — is available at https://www.madisonopera.org and https://www.madisonopera.org/2018-2019-season/rusalka/.


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Classical music: Today is the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. The murdered civil rights leader has become a character in opera, oratorios and musicals as well as popular songs

January 15, 2018
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the holiday to celebrate the 89th birthday of Martin Luther King (below), the American civil rights pioneer who was born on this day in 1929, won the Nobel Peace Prize and was assassinated in 1968, when he was 39.

For more biographical information, here is the Wikipedia entry:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther_King_Jr.

There will be many celebrations, including the 38th annual one at noon in the State Capitol of Wisconsin in Madison, which will be broadcast live and recorded by Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) and Wisconsin Public Television (WPT).

Music is always an important art of honoring King. There will be spirituals and gospel choirs.

But King himself has become a musical, and dramatic, figure.

Maybe you knew that.

The Ear didn’t.

So here are some links to sample from YouTube, which has many of King’s speeches and much of the music done to honor King over the years.

MLK is a character is the opera by Philip Glass called “Appomattox,” which deals with civil rights from The Civil War onwards and was commissioned and performed by the Washington National Opera.

Here is part of it in rehearsal:

And in performance:

And here is the one-hour video called “I Have a Dream”:

Do you know of any other musical works in which Martin Luther King Jr. actually figures and plays a role?

What piece of classical music would you choose to honor King?- Perhaps the poignant aria “Give Me Freedom” from Handel’s opera “Rinaldo” (performed in the YouTube video at the bottom) or Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with its “Ode to Joy” finale about universal brotherhood.

Let us know in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The Madison Opera stages Bizet’s “Carmen” this Friday night and Sunday afternoon

October 31, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Opera will perform Georges Bizet’s “Carmen” this Friday night, Nov. 3, at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon, Nov. 5, at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall at the Overture Center, 201 State Street. (Below is the set from the Lyric Opera of Kansas City that is being used for the production.)

Tickets are $18-$130. (See below for details.)

With some of the most famous music in opera, Bizet’s passionate work is a vivid story of love, jealousy and betrayal.

Set in 19th-century Seville, Spain, the opera follows a gypsy determined to live life on her own terms – whatever her fate may be.

On a break from her shift at the cigarette factory, Carmen tosses a flower at a corporal named Don José, who ignores her advances. Only after Carmen is arrested and placed in José’s custody does he begin to fall for her, breaking the law and abandoning his hometown sweetheart.

What follows is a torrid love affair of passion, agonizing rage, and fanatical desire that will change their lives forever.

“Carmen is the reason I run an opera company,” says Kathryn Smith, Madison Opera’s general director (below, in a photo by James Gill).  “I fell in love with opera as a teenager in the children’s chorus of a ‘Carmen’ production, as its incredible score and intense story hooked me immediately – not to mention the sheer excitement of having principal artists, chorus, children’s chorus, dancers, and orchestra all come together to create this astonishing world.  I am so delighted to produce ‘Carmen’ in Madison, with this spectacular cast and production team.”

At the premiere of “Carmen” in Paris on March 3, 1875, audiences were shocked at its characters’ apparent lack of morality and virtue, and critics derided Bizet’s music. (You can hear the ever-popular Toreador Song in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Three months after the opera’s premiere, Bizet died of heart disease. He was only 36 years old and would never know that his “flop” of an opera would become a global sensation over the next two centuries.

“Carmen was the first opera I saw as a young teenager,” remembers Madison Opera’s artistic director John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad). “It should be everyone’s first opera. It is the perfect blend of musical theater and grand opera, with thrilling choruses, great tunes from start to finish, and a compelling story of ill-fated love. And then there is Carmen herself, one of the most alluring characters of all time. I love conducting this great opera, which is so gorgeously orchestrated.”

Madison Opera’s cast features both returning artists and debuts. Making her debut in the title role is Aleks Romano (below), a rising young singer whom Opera News recently praised for her “attractively smoky mezzo-soprano.”

Acclaimed tenor Sean Panikkar (below) makes his role debut as Don José. He debuted with Madison Opera at Opera in the Park 2014, but this is his first mainstage appearance with the company.Also returning to Madison Opera are Cecilia Violetta López (below top) as José’s hometown sweetheart Micaëla and Corey Crider (below bottom) as the toreador Escamillo. López debuted at this past summer’s Opera in the Park; Crider sang the title role in “Sweeney Todd” with Madison Opera in 2015.

Thomas Forde (below), who most recently sang Luther/Crespel in Madison Opera’s “The Tales of Hoffman,” returns to play José’s commanding officer, Zuniga.

Studio artists Anna Polum and Megan Le Romero play Carmen’s friends Frasquita and Mercedes. Studio Artist Benjamin Liupaogo and Wisconsin native Erik Earl Larson play the smugglers, Remendado and Dancaïre. Rounding out the cast is Charles Eaton in his debut as Morales. (Many have ties to the opera program at the UW-Madison.)

Directing this traditional staging is E. Loren Meeker (below) in her first production for Madison Opera. Meeker has directed at opera companies around the United States, including Lyric Opera of Chicago, Washington National Opera, the Glimmerglass Festival and Wolf Trap Opera.

“A piece like Carmen captures our imagination and begs to be re-told over the centuries because the characters speak to the deepest and most honest parts of human nature,” says Meeker.  “Today we grapple with love, lust, jealousy, morality, honor, and freedom just as much as people did when this opera premiered in 1875.

“At Madison Opera we have a brilliant cast who is willing to unravel the mystery of these characters with me scene by scene – making each choice onstage new, fresh, and true to the characters and arch of the story.

“Bringing this vivid world to life set to some of the most rich and well known music in the operatic canon, plus the fun of working with dancers, a fight director, the Madison Youth Choir, and a large adult chorus challenges me and inspires me all at the same time. The energy created in the performance, the brilliant music sung by such amazing artists, makes this classic opera worth seeing again and again and again.”

Carmen is a truly grand opera and features the Madison Opera Chorus, led by chorusmaster Anthony Cao (below); members of the Madison Youth Choirs; the Madison Symphony Orchestra; and dancers from Tania Tandias Flamenco and Spanish Dance.

For more information about the cast, go to:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2017-2018/carmen/cast/

For informative and entertaining Q&As with the cast members, go to the Madison Opera’s Blogspot:

http://madisonopera.blogspot.com

For tickets, call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141 or go to:

http://www.overture.org/events/madison-opera


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Classical music: Is it piano neglect? The University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music should take better care of the piano used for student concerts. Plus, Madison Symphony Orchestra maestro John DeMain gets raves for conducting an opera in Washington, D.C.

February 21, 2016
7 Comments

ALERT: Did you wonder what Madison Symphony Orchestra maestro John DeMain was up to since the MSO concerts last weekend used a guest conductor?

Well, the hometown maestro was guest conducting a week-long production of Kurt Weill‘s opera “Lost in the Stars” for the Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

A number of  critics didn’t particularly like the opera itself, which is based on the famous anti-apartheid novel “Cry, the Beloved County” by Alan Paton, and some criticized the theatrical aspects of the production.

But music director and conductor DeMain received praise for his part.

Here are links to various reviews:

http://dcmetrotheaterarts.com/2016/02/15/review-lost-in-the-stars-at-wno-2/

http://dctheatrescene.com/2016/02/15/lost-in-the-stars-from-washington-national-opera-review/

There is more praise in a mention on Page 2:

http://www.broadwayworld.com/bwwopera/article/BWW-Review-Washington-National-Opera-Takes-On-A-Bit-of-Broadway-With-LOST-IN-THE-STARS-20160215

https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/music/lost-stars-on-stage-for-washington-national-opera/2016/02/13/308dea84-d219-11e5-88cd-753e80cd29ad_story.html?tid=a_inl

By Jacob Stockinger

Calling it piano abuse it would be a stretch. That sounds too accusatory and too sensational.

But calling it piano neglect certainly seems justified and fair.

When The Ear attended some recent student recitals, he noticed the unfortunate treatment of a concert grand piano in Morphy Recital Hall, on which many students perform their degree recitals.

From a distance, and under the glare of stage lighting, the piano (below) seemed more or less OK.

Morphy piano 1

But when he went up close, The Ear saw just how chewed up the wood was in so many places.

Morphy piano 4

Now some wear-and-tear seems normal, especially for a piano that gets so much use for solo recitals and chamber music. And truth be told, it probably plays pretty well and is maintained in good shape internally.

But the outer condition of this piano nonetheless seemed as if it had indeed been neglected over the years — though maybe there are other reasons.

There were eye-catching scrapes and gouges that just look junky.

Now The Ear knows that the talented piano technician at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music is very busy. After all, there are a lot of pianos to tune and regulate.

And The Ear also knows that budget cuts are presenting challenges to the School of Music and its staff.

But that seems all the more reason to take care of the pianos the school has. The likelihood of replacing it with a new one seems little to none.

After all, these days a Steinway concert grand Model D sells for pretty close to $125,000.

If you had a car worth that much, you would surely not neglect its maintenance and upkeep. So why would you do it to a piano, especially one that gets so much use and is in the public eye so frequently?

So on the eve of more student degree recitals, which will only increase as the end of the spring semester draws closer, here is The Ear’s plea:

Please use the padded covering that can protect the piano when it gets moved, and try to be careful about bumping or scraping into things that can cause permanent damage.

Also, if there are times that the piano’s finish gets marred, please use that specially made piano dye to restore the ebony finish and please repair any chipped keys, which are plastic not ivory, by the way.

The Ear doubts other instruments — strings, brass, woodwinds — would be allowed by their owners to fall into such a state.

If you doubt all this or think it is overstating the case, here are some close-up photos that The Ear took.

It hurts The Ear to see such a fine instrument neglected and deteriorate. He assumes that the students who use it feel the same way – and he hopes the public does too. Owning such a fine musical instrument imposes a certain responsibility on the owner, and it should be repaired.

Morphy Piano 2

Morphy piano 3

Morphy piano 5

Morphy piano 6

Morphy piano 7

Is The Ear being too hard or fussy?

He would like to know what students who play the piano and what other audience members think.

Use the COMMENT section to let him know.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra celebrates Valentine’s Day this weekend with a varied program about love and the superb Russian violinist Alina Ibragimova playing Beethoven

February 8, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

ALERT: TUESDAY is the last day for the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s special sale — two tickets for the price of one — for its Valentine’s Day concerts coming up this weekend. Read more about the players and program below.

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following press release from the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below). To be honest, he cares less about the Valentine’s Day tie-ins – some of which seem tenuous – than about hearing the Russian violinist Alina Ibragimova in the Violin Concerto by Ludwig van Beethoven.

The Ear had heard all the of the Beethoven sonatas for violin and piano played by Ibragimova, with Belgian pianist Cedric Tiberghien, and thinks they rank right at the top of recorded versions. Plus, they are live!

She is clearly something very special, so The Ear says: Don’t miss her. (You can hear Alina Ibragimova and her forceful but subtle style — perfectly suited to Beethoven — in the first movement of Beethoven’s famous “Kreutzer” Sonata in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

Now on to the overview, written under the headline:

“Music, the food of love” permeates Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Valentine’s Weekend Concerts on Feb. 12, 13 and 14

Cupid

Love’s attractions and dilemmas infuse the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Valentine’s weekend concerts Feb. 12, 13 and 14. They feature the Madison debut of Russian violinist Alina Ibragimova in Overture Hall.

Guest conductor Daniel Hege will lead the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) and substitute for music director John DeMain. (NOTE: John DeMain is in Washington, D.C., conducting a production of Kurt Weill‘s “Lost in the Stars” for the Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. It opens next week.)

Shakespeare’s tale of star-crossed lovers takes musical form in Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s instantly recognizable Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture.

Next, Maurice Ravel’s lush Daphnis and Chloe Suite No. 2 depicts lovers Daphnis and Chloe reuniting at daybreak. That is followed by a Bacchanalian dance.

Ludwig van Beethoven’s hugely influential Romantic-era Violin Concerto brings the concert to a thrilling close with technical fireworks.

The concerts are in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, 201 State St., on this Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Born in Russia, the young violinist Alina Ibragimova (below) rapidly established herself as a first-rate soloist and chamber musician with the world’s foremost ensembles. Britain’s The Guardian newspaper called her “one of the most technically gifted and charismatic instrumentalists of the age.” A highly flexible and adaptable musician, Ibragimova is equally at home on modern and baroque period instruments, and frequently tours as both soloist and director. She was awarded the Royal Philharmonic Society Young Artist Award in 2010.

alina ibragimova

The concerts cover three different periods of music.

The program begins with the late Romantic period with the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (below). The work taps into the great Shakespearean play, contrasting the rivalry between the Capulet and Montague families, with the passionate music of the second theme clearly expressing the feelings of the two young lovers.

Tchaikovsky 1

The Impressionistic period is represented the sensuous Daphnis and Chloe Suite No. 2 by Maurice Ravel (below). It recounts the stirring fifth-century BCE Greek story of Daphnis and Chloe, who were abandoned as children and brought up by shepherds. The two fall in love, but Chloe is abducted by pirates. After Daphnis rescues Chloe, the couple pantomimes the tale of Pan wooing the nymph Syrinx as the sun rises. Ravel’s score originally accompanied a ballet premiered by the Ballets Russes in Paris in 1912.

ravel

Finally, the early Romantic period is featured with the technically challenging Violin Concerto by Ludwig van Beethoven (below top) which premiered in 1806. A work of beauty, the concerto did not become popular until several decades later, thanks to the advocacy of the legendary violinist Joseph Joachim (below bottom). Beethoven’s only violin concerto, this work paved the way for the great 19th-century German violin concertos by Felix Mendelssohn, Max Bruch and Johannes Brahms.

Beethoven big

Joseph Joachim

Known for his novel interpretations of standard repertoire, Colorado native Daniel Hege (below) is Music Director and Conductor of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra and a frequent guest conductor of orchestras throughout the United States including the Houston, Detroit, Seattle and Indianapolis symphonies.

Syracuse Symphony Orchestra

One hour before each performance, Randal Swiggum (below), artistic director of the Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra, will lead a FREE 30-minute Prelude Discussion in Overture Hall to enhance concertgoers’ understanding and listening experience.

Randal Swiggum conducting BW

More background on the music can also be found in the Program Notes by MSO trombonist Michael Allsen at: http://www.madisonsymphony.org/ibragimova

Single Tickets are $16 to $85 each, available at http://www.madisonsymphony.org/ibragimova and through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street or call 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 visit, www.madisonsymphony.org/groups

Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $12 or $15 tickets. More information is at: www.madisonsymphony.org/studentrush. Students can receive 20% savings on seats in select areas of the hall on advance ticket purchases.

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.

Major funding for the February concerts is provided by Irving and Dorothy Levy Family Foundation, Inc., Johnson Bank, and Cyrena and Lee Pondrom. Additional funding is provided by John A. Johnson Foundation, a component fund of the Madison Community Foundation, Gary and Lynn Mecklenburg, and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).


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