The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Madison Opera’s “Tales of Hoffmann” proved a musical and theatrical delight from beginning to end. Plus, the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble performs Saturday night

April 22, 2016
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ALERT: This Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. at the Gates of Heaven Synagogue, 300 East Gorham Street in James Madison Park, the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble will perform a concert of music by Claudio Monteverdi, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, Georg Philipp Telemann, Francois Couperin and others. Tickets at the door are $20 for the public, $10 for students. A free reception with the musicians follows at 2422 Kendall Avenue, second floor. For more information about the performers and the program, visit www.wisconsinbaroque.org

By Jacob Stockinger

Editor’s note: The Ear’s good friend and knowledgeable classical music fan Larry Wells offered the following review of last weekend’s production of Jacques Offenbach’s “The Tales of Hoffmann” by the Madison Opera. Production photos are by James Gill for the Madison Opera.

By Larry Wells

I had been looking forward to Madison Opera’s production of “The Tales of Hoffmann” by Jacques Offenbach (below) ever since it was announced.

Jacques Offenbach seated

The opera is a particular favorite of mine, and I’ve seen a number of productions in larger houses, most recently in Tokyo and most memorably a production at the San Francisco Opera 30 years ago with Placido Domingo and James Morris.

I was interested to see how Madison Opera would approach this somewhat theatrically difficult work, and Sunday’s performance was a delight from beginning to end.

First, the singing.

The cast was consistently strong, and each singer could be mentioned in a positive vein. So, I single out three who particularly stood out.

The star of the show, for me, was coloratura soprano Jeni Hauser (below, center, in white) as Olympia, the doll. Her vocal pyrotechnics were sensational. She would be a wonderful Zerbinetta, and I would enjoy seeing her tackle Baby Doe. She is a very funny physical comic actress, and she was simply wonderful.

Madison Opera Hoffmann Doll Olympia Jeni Hauser CR James Gill

Morgan Smith (below) as Hoffmann’s four nemeses was excellent possessing a strong, deep bass-baritone. As a side note, he is the second singer I’ve seen and heard recently in Wisconsin who will be featured in Tucson Opera’s upcoming premiere of “Riders of the Purple Sage,” the other being Keith Phares who was in Florentine Opera’s recent production of Jake Heggie’s “Three Decembers.” It will be conducted by Keitaro Harada, who is a talent to watch.

Madison Opera Hoffmann Morgan Smith CR James Gill

The third standout was mezzo-soprano Adriana Zabala (below) as Hoffmann’s Muse and attendant. She was outstanding vocally and fun to watch.

Madison Opera Hoffmann Adriana Zabala The Muse JAMES GILL

Hoffmann was sung by tenor Harold Meers (below right, in suit).  For an exhausting role, Meers toughed it out and, when singing full voice, was resonant and lyrical.

Madison Opera Hoffmann Harold Meers on right CR James Gill

The production was set in a well-stocked bar, and Hoffmann’s series of bad choices in love appeared fueled by alcohol.

Madison Opera Hoffmann set CR James Gill

The set, from the Virginia Opera, and costumes were dazzling, particularly in the Giulietta act, which in a departure from the productions I’ve seen, was the third act. I felt that the change of the order of the acts made a lot of sense dramatically.

And I loved the use by stage director Kristine McIntyre of the Roaring Twenties theme – flappers and Charlestons, along with gondolas, fog and a bit of German Expressionism. Total fun.

Madison Opera Hoffmann Gondola CR James Gill

Madison Opera Hoffmann Morgan Smith in cape CR James Gill

The Madison Symphony Orchestra was excellent throughout, and Maestro John DeMain is a treasure whom Madison is extremely fortunate to have. His sense of timing and dynamics is a wonder.

My favorite moment of the opera is the ensemble in the Giulietta scene “Hélas Mon Coeur,” and its performance Sunday nearly brought me to tears. In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear that music performed by Placido Domingo and the remarkable Agnes Baltsa.

So, bravo Madison Opera, for a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon at the opera. I heard several people say that it was a long one — three hours — but for me the time flew.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Since reviews are subjective, for purposes of comparison here is a link to John W. Barker’s rave review that just appeared in Isthmus:

http://isthmus.com/arts/stage/tales-of-hoffman-madison-opera/


Classical music: Today is Cyber Monday. Here are some gift guides and links to local music organizations if you want to buy tickets and look into performers, concerts and dates.

November 30, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Cyber Monday, which follows on the heels of Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Small Business Saturday.

Just look at those names of Institutionalized Shopping Days. Are we a consumer society or what?

All the news stories that the Ear hears and sees seem to agree: Online buying is by far the fastest growing segment of the holiday retail market.

In that spirit, here are two links to various gifts guides.

First, BBC Music Magazine and the Telegraph newspaper:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/11/27/classical-music-here-are-the-best-classical-music-cds-of-2015-according-to-the-bbc-music-magazine-and-the-telegraph-newspaper/

And The New York Times:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/11/28/classical-music-its-small-business-saturday-here-are-classical-music-gift-suggestions-from-the-critics-for-the-new-york-times/

But just as important are the local music makers and concert promoters. The Ear thinks that tickets to future concerts make a great gift – especially if you agree to accompany someone and provide companion or maybe even transportation is the person is older.

And you don’t have to buy today.

The important thing is to USE YOUR COMPUTER OR SMART PHONE to browse and shop, to assist you in shopping.

Computers

smart phone

Some of the local groups are even offering major and minor holiday discounts. Or the past several years, the Madison Symphony Orchestra has offered has reduced price tickets. (This year, the MSO tickets sale of seats for $20 or $48 takes place Dec. 12-24.) This year, the Wisconsin Union Theater is waiving handing fees (but not discounting tickets) for the month of December and through Jan. 2. And other deals are likely, given the competitive nature of the performing arts in Madison.

And if you don’t buy them today or the sales come later, at least you can do the research right now and find out what you might want to buy later.

In some cases, as with the FREE Friday Noon Musicales at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, performers and programs are not listed much in advance. And the terrific new ensemble Willy Street Chamber Players won’t announce its new dates and programs until the spring.

The Ear thinks that combining a ticket to a live performance with a recording of the music or a book about music makes a superb holiday gift. And you will be supporting local businesses and local musicians.

So here are some links. But please forgive The Ear if the list is not exhaustive. There are so many classical music groups now in Madison and the surrounding area, it is hard to keep up.

If you want to ask something, please put the name and a link in the COMMENT section. The Ear will be grateful, and so will other readers.

The Ear hopes you find it useful.

A drumroll, please!

University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music:

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

MAYCO in MIlls June 2015 JWB

Edgewood College:

http://www.edgewood.edu

Edgewood Chamber Orchestra poster Sept 12

Madison Symphony Orchestra:

https://www.madisonsymphony.org

MSO playing

Madison Opera (a scene from “La Boheme” in a photo by James Gill):

http://www.madisonopera.org

Boheme Madison Opera USE Mimi and Rodolfo GILL

Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra:

http://www.wcoconcerts.org

WCO lobby

Overture Center for the Arts:

http://www.overturecenter.org

OvertureExteior-DelBrown_jpg_595x325_crop_upscale_q85

Wisconsin Union Theater:

http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu

Shannon Hall UW-Madison

Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras:

https://www.wysomusic.org

WYSO Youth Orchestra

Oakwood Chamber Players:

http://www.oakwoodchamberplayers.com

Oakwood Chamber Players 2015-16

Madison Bach Musicians:

http://madisonbachmusicians.org

Kangwon KIm with Madison Bach Musicians

Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble:

http://www.wisconsinbaroque.org

Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble 2014

Middleton Community Orchestra:

http://middletoncommunityorchestra.org

Middleton Community Orchestra press photo1

Con Vivo:

http://www.convivomusicwithlife.org

Con Vivo group

Festival Choir of Madison:

http://festivalchoirmadison.org/seasons/events.html

Festival Choir of Madison at FUS

Madison Choral of Madison:

http://themcp.org/concerts/

Madison Choral Project color

Farley’s House of Pianos:

http://www.farleyspianos.com

Farley Daub plays

Fresco Opera Theatre:

http://www.frescooperatheatre.com

Fresco Opera Theatre cast for Opera SmackDown

Live From the Met in HD:

http://www.metopera.org/Season/In-Cinemas/

Met Live IlTrovatore poster


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