The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Opera Student Showcase concert this Sunday afternoon will introduce David Ronis as the new director of University Opera and spotlight University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate soprano Shannon Prickett.

September 12, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a the press release for the University Opera’s Student Showcase that will take place this coming Sunday afternoon and will preview the talent and productions of the upcoming season:

“A concert of favorite melodies by Vincenzo Bellini, Giuseppe Verdi and others -– mostly operatic but one clearly comic -– will be presented by students from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music’s opera program.

The concert will take place this Sunday afternoon, September 14, at 3 p.m. in the First Unitarian Society of Madison’s Landmark Auditorium (below) at 900 University Bay Drive.

FUS1jake

Directing the concert and this year’s University Opera program will be David Ronis (below, in a photo by Luke DeLalio), currently on leave from the Aaron Copland School of Music at City University of New York, and Hofstra University. He is serving as the interim successor to longtime director William Farlow, who retired from the University of Wisconsin-Madison last spring. (At bottom is a YouTube video of the work that the versatile Ronis recently did at Queens College with an early music version of Luigi Rossi’s opera “Orfeo.”)

Here is a link to a press release, issued by the UW-Madison School of Music when David Ronis was chosen from a nationwide search last spring, with Ronis’ impressive background:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/2014/07/11/school-of-music-announces-david-ronis-as-visiting-director-of-opera/

David Ronis color CR  Luke DeLalio

Most of the singers will appear in this year’s productions of Benjamin Britten’s Albert Herring this fall and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Magic Flute in the spring.

Here is a link to information about the upcoming season of the University Opera:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/opera/

But one singer -– soprano Shannon Prickett (below top) – is an alumna returning from her current work as Resident Artist at the Minnesota Opera.

While in Madison from 2011 to 2013 and working on her Master’s of Music degree, Prickett performed lead parts in Puccini’s La Bohème, Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Luigi Cherubini’s Medea, Pietro Mascagni’s L’amico Fritz, and Verdi’s Requiem.

In the Showcase concert, she will sing arias from Verdi’s I Lombardi, Giacomo Puccini’s Manon Lescaut, and a dramatic duet from Verdi’s Aïda with new mezzo-soprano doctoral student Jessica Kasinski, below bottom. (The Ear has no word on specific works to be performed.)

Shannon Prickett head shot

Jessica Kasinski

Other singers will take on arias by Mozart, Donizetti, Bellini, Richard Strauss and even Flanders and Swann: That number requires good humor as well as pianistic skill from the accompanist, and will provide a treat for fans of the multi-talented and critically acclaimed Thomas Kasdorf (below), another graduate of the UW-Madison.

Thomas Kasdorf

The concert is a benefit for the University Opera that sponsored by Opera Props, which supports the University Opera. Admission is a contribution of $25 per person, $10 for students. A reception follows.


Classical music: Opera director David Ronis of CUNY is named to succeed William Farlow. University Opera’s production of Hector Berlioz’ charming “Beatrice et Benedict” is a fine and fitting tribute to the longtime tenure of retiring director William Farlow. The last performance is tonight at 7:30 p.m.

April 15, 2014
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EDITOR’S NOTE: Please note that some reviews of productions last weekend are being delayed to make room for previews of the many upcoming concerts and musical events this week.

NEWS:  David Ronis (below) of Queen’s College and the Aaron Copland School of Music at the City University of New York (CUNY) has just been named as the interim one-year visiting director of University Opera, to succeed William Farlow. Here is a link to the official press release with his impressive resume on the blog Fanfare:

http://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2014/04/14/ronis_press_release/

David Ronis BIG BW USE

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review 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

The University Opera at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has a long history of including rarities in its productions, rarities that audiences are not likely to see elsewhere.

For his farewell offering as he retires at the end of this academic year, director William Farlow (below, in a photo by Katherine Esposito) has put on a particularly enterprising novelty. That “Beatrice et Benedict: — is the last and most successful of the three operas by the early French Romantic composer Hector Berlioz.

William Farlow by Kathy Esposito

Berlioz (below) wrote the libretto as well as the music, freely adapting his stripped-down version from the play “Much Ado About Nothing by” Shakespeare — an author whose works he adored. Berlioz cast it in the form of the opéra comique, combining set-piece musical numbers with spoken dialogue. It was the same form used not only by Jacques Offenbach, but also by Georges Bizet for his “Carmen.” Nevertheless, Berlioz infused the form with his own individual wit, imagination, and personality. The score is full of absolutely beautiful music, with a dip into satire as well. (You can hear the opera’s Overture performed by Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields at Carnegie Hall in You Tube video at the bottom.)

berlioz

The UW Opera presented this opera before, in 1988, in the days of Karlos Moser, in a semi-staged concert performance. This time, Farlow has given it a complete staging, employing mostly exemplars of the gifted vocal talent the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music has been drawing lately.

(The last of three performances is tonight at 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall at the foot of Bascom Hill.)

In the performance I attended Sunday night, the feuding lovers, the two title characters, Shakespeare’s Beatrice and Benedick, were sung by the agile soprano Lindsay Metzger and high tenor Daniel López-Matthews. (Below right and left, respectively, in a photo by Max Wendt). The other pair of lovers, Hero and Claudio, were portrayed by the powerfully voiced soprano Anna Whiteway and tenor Jordan Wilson. The local commander, Don Pedro, was taken by bass Erik Larson.

berlioz UW Opera Beatrice et Benedict 2 CR Max Wendt

To these the cast added two veterans. Edgewood College teacher and mezzo-soprano Kathleen Otterson (below) is a long-standing veteran of UW Opera and Madison music-making, always welcome any time, in anything, including the role here of Ursula, Hero’s friend. And baritone Benjamin Schultz, a returned alumnus, sang the comic role that Berlioz invented, Somarone, as a caricature of the pompous rivals and academics who were the composer’s life-long opposition.

Kathleen Otterson 2

Following a frequent practice when this opera is presented outside of France, the vocal numbers were sung in the original French, while the revised dialogue was given in English. It’s a workable solution to a problem for singers who can sing in French, but really can’t speak it well. Fine as the singing was, it was clear that they were not uniformly comfortable singing French.

Still, many moments were truly gorgeous, notably the Hero-Ursula duet in Act I, and the ladies’ trio in Act II, as well as the offstage wedding chorus.

By and large, Farlow’s stage direction was careful: in the vocal set pieces often relatively static, though, that was certainly preferable to too much action. In the case of Somarone’s Act I scene, Schulz was made to go much too far beyond satire, into exaggerated silliness. And Beatrice’s over-acting in Act I really compromised the character’s self-assured sassiness before her “fall.”

Still, even with so much of the dueling wordplay of Shakespeare’s original removed, Metzger and López-Matthews engaged well as the couple who had to be tricked into discovering that their outward hostility covered a profound attraction.

A particular asset was the pit orchestra that conductor James Smith (below) was able to work up very successfully to Berlioz’s tricky requirements.

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

William Farlow departs leaving us with many debts to him, including this demonstration that Berlioz’s gem of a comic opera really deserves more regular presentation.

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Classical music: Retiring University Opera director William Farlow bids farewell to the University of Wisconsin-Madison with three performances of Hector Berlioz’s “Beatrice et Benedict” on this Friday night, Sunday afternoon and next Tuesday night.

April 10, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend’s performances by the University Opera of the charming Shakespeare-based operaBeatrice et Benedict” by the early and influential French Romantic composer Hector Berlioz (below top) are notable for several reasons.

Some of the rotating cast of student performers include (below bottom, in a photo by Max Wendt) Daniel López-Matthews as Bénédict; Lindsay Metzger as Béatrice, in purple; and Anna Whiteway as Hero, in red.

berlioz

berlioz UW Opera Beatrice et Benedict 2 CR Max Wendt

The new production is the final production by UW Opera director William Farlow (below, in a photo by Katherine Esposito) before he retires at the end of the semester.

NOTE: From what The Ear understands, the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music is currently looking to replace Farlow with an interim director for one year, and then next year the school will launch a national search for Farlow’s successor.

William Farlow by Kathy Esposito

Performances will be sung in French with English surtitles created by Christine Seitz. They will be held  in the Rennebohm Auditorium of Music Hall (below), at the foot of Bascom Hill, on this Friday at 7:30 p.m., this Sunday at 3 p.m. and next Tuesday, April 15, at 7:30 p.m.

MusicHall2

Tickets for general admission are $22; $18 for senior citizens and $10 for students. See below for more details.

I was hoping and planning to have a longer story about the production, but things just didn’t work out.

I did have a brief Q&A with Bill Farlow when he announced his retirement. Here is a link:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/09/05/classical-music-university-opera-director-wiiliam-farlow-talks-about-his-retirement-at-the-end-of-this-season-and-the-rewards-and-challenges-of-staging-opera-at-the-university-of-wisconsin-madison/

But then I thought: Why re-invent the wheel?

It turns out that two terrific sources -– the UW School of Music blog “Fanfare” and critic John W. Barker (below), who writes for Isthmus and for this blog — both had previews and interviews that provided excellent background for seeing and hearing this production.

John-Barker

So here they are, both forming a kind of primer on “Beatrice et Benedict” (below, in a another photo by Max Wendt), which features a lovely duet that you can hear at the bottom in a YouTube video:

UW Opera Beatrice and Benedict photo 1 Max Went

Here is a well done general appreciation by John W. Barker for Isthmus that appeared on that publication’s website The Daily Page:

http://www.thedailypage.com/isthmus/article.php?article=42432

And here is a link to details about tickets:

http://www.thedailypage.com/theguide/details.php?event=313813&name=University-Opera

Here is another story about the production, with details about the production staff as well as the music staff — including conductor and music director James Smith (below) with the UW Chamber Orchestra — on “Fanfare”:

http://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2014/04/01/farlow/

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

And here another story about Farlow’s tenure at the University Opera, with lots of photos,  which also appeared on the Fanfare blog:

http://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2014/04/01/farlow_beatrice/

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Classical music Q&A: University Opera director William Farlow talks about why he likes Mascagni’s rarely staged opera “L’Amico Fritz,” which will get three performances on Friday night, Sunday afternoon and Tuesday night. Plus, the acclaimed Wisconsin Brass Quintet marks 40 years with a LIVE-STREAMED concert on Friday night.

March 14, 2013
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ALERT: The 40th Anniversary Season Finale Concert by the UW-Madison‘s Wisconsin Brass Quintet will take place Friday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall. Admission is FREE and open to the public. (Members of the Wisconsin Brass Quintet, shown below in a photo by Katrin Talbot, are, from left, Jessica Jensen on trumpet, Daniel Grabois on horn, John Stevens on tuba, John Aley on trumpet, and Mark Hetzler on trombone.) The program is a serious and challenging one. As trombonist Mark Hetzler told the Wisconsin State Journal, “This [brass] music, while it is virtuosic and exciting, is also quite intellectual and cerebral. Imagine modern music for string quartet. This kind of music branches into those deeper places like that sort of music would.” On the program are: “Gravikord,” written for the quintet’s 40th birthday by UW horn professor Daniel Grabois; “Magnum Mysterium,” by local celebrity composer John Harbison; “Suite of Madrigals,” by Carlo Gesualdo, arranged for brass quintet by Mark Hetzler; and “Adam’s Rib,” by James MacMillan. And here is another first: If you cannot attend in person, consider watching it LIVE on your computer via streaming! It starts at 8 p.m. CDT; subtract or add hours as your time zone requires.

Livestream webcast link

Read a story by Gayle Worland in last Sunday’s Wisconsin State Journal:

“A milestone of note for Wisconsin Brass Quintet”

Wisconsin Brass Quintet Cr Katrin Talbot

By Jacob Stockinger

William Farlow, the director of University Opera at the UW-Madison, has done it again: He is offering listeners the chance to see and hear a rarely staged opera.

This time it is “L’Amico Fritz” (My Friend Fritz) by Pietro Mascagni (below), best known for the popular “Cavalleria rusticana.”

Pietro Mascagni

The UW Symphony Orchestra will accompany the student singers and be conducted by James Smith.

The opera will be sung in Italian with English surtitles by Christine Seitz.

The opera, according to director Farlow, “is a vibrant, youthful love story.” The opera takes place in the idyllic pastoral setting of Alsace-Lorraine, and Farlow has elected to set it in 1891, the year the opera premiered. 

Three performances will be given in Music Hall (below): Friday night at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m.; and Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m.

MusicHall2

Farlow’s casts include undergraduate and graduate students from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Most roles are multiple cast for this opera. The title role of wealthy landowner Fritz will be shared by Alex Gmeinder (March 15 and 19) and Aldo Perelli (March 17). Cassie Glaeser (15) and Shannon Prickett (17 and 19) will sing opposite them as Suzel, the peasant girl Fritz comes to love. The rabbi David, Fritz’s matchmaking friend, will be sung by Jordan Wilson at all three performances. Bethany Hickman (15) and Lindsay Metzger (17 and 19) will share the role of Beppe, a gypsy. Erik Larson in the role of Hanezò, Josh Sanders as Federico, and Catie Leigh Laszewski as Catarina complete the cast. (Below is a photo by Brent nicastro of Shannon Prickett, Also Perelli and Lindsay Metzger.)

L'Amico Fritz 1 Brent Nicastro, back Lindsay Metzger; fore Shannon Prickett and Aldo Perrelli CR Brent Nicastro

Production staff includes costume designers Sydney Krieger and Hyewon Park, technical director/set designer Greg Silver, lighting designer Steven M. Peterson, scenic artist/set designer Liz Rathke, guest vocal coach Thomas Kasdorf and chorus master Susan Goeres. This production is made possible by a gift from an anonymous donor, as well as additional funding from Opera Props.

Single tickets are $22 general, $18 senior/student and $10 UW-Madison students. Tickets can be ordered at www.uniontheater.wisc.edu/boxoffice or by calling (608) 265-ARTS.

Director William Farlow recently gave an email Q&A to The Ear:

Farlowweb

Can you briefly tell us something about the origin and story of “L’amico Fritz” and why it is so rarely performed or heard?

It is based on the novel “L’ami Fritz” by Emile Erkmann and Alexandre Chatrian. I believe that most companies are reluctant to produce the opera because they feel, wrongly, that is must be coupled with another short opera.

Why did you pick it for the University Opera 

For the same reason I pick all my operas at UW –- to give my singers the best roles suited to their individual voices.

What do you think of Mascagni as a composer? How do you compare this music and libretto to his much more famous opera “Cavalleria rusticana”? 

Mascagni is an excellent composer.  As much as I love “Cavalleria,” “Fritz” shows many other dimensions of his talent -– lyricism and inventive orchestration.

Is the opera’s libretto metaphorically relevant to the world situation today? Or is it just a simple rustic love story?

Yes, a simple love story, but very relevant.  It concerns our response to feeling love for another person.

What else would you like to say or have the public know about either the opera or this production? 

Such a lovely, sadly neglected piece – with so much gorgeous music! (Listen to the YouTube video of the famous “Cherry Duet” with Luciano Pavarotti and Renee Fleming at the bottom.)


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