The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: “Into the Woods” proved a complete, first-rate theatrical experience

February 26, 2019
Leave a Comment

IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event.

By Jacob Stockinger

Larry Wells – the very experienced Opera Guy for The Well-Tempered Ear blog  – attended two performances of “Into the Woods” at the Wisconsin Union Theater, and filed this review. (Photos are by Beau Meyer for the UW-Madison Department of Theatre and Drama.)

By Larry Wells

The University Theatre and University Opera’s recent joint production of “Into the Woods” was a feast for fans of Stephen Sondheim (below). It was a complete theatrical experience with excellent singing, a nuanced orchestral accompaniment, skilled acting and enchanting staging.

The nearly three-hour work is an amalgamation of several well-known fairy tales exploring themes such as parent-child relationships, loss of innocence, self-discovery, the consequences of wishes being fulfilled, and death – but all in an amusing, literate, fast-paced kaleidoscope of witty dialogue, catchy music and sophisticated lyrics.

The production employed an attractive, ever-changing set, designed by John Drescher, that was vaguely reminiscent of Maurice Sendak.

Stage director David Ronis (below, in a photo by Luke DeLalio) utilized the large cast and what had to be an equally large number of backstage crew members in a captivating succession of ensemble pieces and solo numbers. I was never aware of the passing of time. Not looking at my watch is my acid test of a production’s success.

Among the many standout performances, Bryanna Plaisir (below) as the Witch was comical in her delivery and quite amazing in the physicality of her performance. There were a number of times when she flew, and each time I was taken by surprise at her effortlessness. Her initial song, accompanied mostly by percussion, was mesmerizing.

There were two roles that were double cast: Elisheva Pront and Miranda Kettlewell (below) as the Cinderellas; and Meghan Stecker and Zoe Bockhorst as the two Little Red Riding Hoods.

Both Pront and Kettlewell possess excellent voices.

Stecker was the more girlish of the two Red Riding Hoods, whereas Bockhorst (below left) portrayed a slightly more canny character.  Both were very funny in their encounter with Cobi Tappa’s Wolf (below right).

Tappa is a physical actor whose tall lankiness conveyed the Wolf’s lupine nature flawlessly. He also portrayed the Steward, and I was completely captivated by his performance, as was the appreciative audience.

Joshua Kelly (below) was the narrator and also played the baker’s father.  His was a professional quality performance from beginning to end – enunciating so clearly that he was completely understandable throughout.

Jack was played by Christian Michael Brenny. His portrayal of a simple-minded boy was touching, and his singing was outstanding.

Emily Vandenberg (below left) as the wife of the baker (played by Michael Kelley, below right) was another outstanding performer – an excellent comic actress and an accomplished vocalist.

Mention must also be made of Rapunzel and Cinderella’s princes, Tanner Zocher  and Jacob Eliot Elfner. Their two duets, “Agony” and “Agony Reprise,” were enthusiastically received by the audience not only for their delivery but also for such lyrics as “…you know nothing of madness ‘til you’re climbing her hair…”.

Sondheim’s way with words continues to amaze me. In describing a decrepit cow, Jack’s mother gets to sing “…while her withers wither with her…”.  The Wolf gets to sing the line “…there’s no possible way to describe what you feel when you’re talking to your meal…”

Chad Hutchinson (below) conducted the orchestra in a finely shaded performance – never overpowering and always supportive.

There were many other excellent performances and memorable moments. Suffice it to say that altogether cast, crew, artistic and production staff created a show that I enjoyed on two consecutive evenings. In fact I was completely entranced both times.

Postscript: The first evening I sat in front of a person who coughed more or less continually the entire first act.  Mercifully she left at the intermission. Next to me was a woman who alternated between audibly clearing her throat and blowing her nose — when she wasn’t applying moisturizer to her hands — throughout the entire show. Stay home if you’re sick. And remember that you are not at home watching your television.  You are in a theater.


Posted in Classical music
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Classical music: Middleton Community Orchestra and UW-Madison cellist Andrew Briggs perform music by Mendelssohn, Rossini and Dvorak this Wednesday night. Also, University Opera’s David Ronis discusses Benjamin Britten’s “The Turn of the Screw” at noon on Wisconsin Public Radio

February 27, 2017
Leave a Comment

ALERT: Today at noon on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “The Midday,” host Norman Gilliland will interview artistic director David Ronis about the University Opera’s production of Benjamin Britten’s “The Turn of the Screw,” which will be performed this Friday night, Sunday afternoon and next Tuesday night.

By Jacob Stockinger

The mostly amateur Middleton Community Orchestra (below, in a photo by William Balhorn), under the baton of Steve Kurr, will perform the winter concert of its seventh season on this Wednesday night, March 1, at the Middleton Performing Arts Center at 7:30 p.m.

Middleton Community Orchestra by William Ballhorn

The Middleton PAC is attached to Middleton High School and is attached to Middleton High School.

Middleton PAC2

Middleton Community Orchestra CR Brian Ruppert

General admission is $15.  Students are admitted free of charge. The box office opens at 6:30 p.m. and the auditorium doors open at 7 p.m.

The program includes the “Turk in Italy” Overture by Gioachino Rossini; “Silent Woods” and Rondo in G minor, two rarely performed cello pieces by Antonin Dvorak; and the Symphony No. 5 (“Reformation”) by Felix Mendelssohn. (You can hear Dvorak’s “Silent Woods,” with cellist Yo-Yo Ma and Seiji Ozawa conducting the Boston Symphony, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)  

Cello soloist Andrew Briggs (below), is returning to perform with the MCO for a second time. 

You can hear last season’s performance of the Dvorak cello concerto by Briggs with the MCO here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3wc1WLWhtb4

Briggs (below) is completing his doctorate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison this spring, so this may be your last chance to hear him in Madison.

Andrew Briggs

SOMETHING NEW

This concert will open with a special guest, Middleton Tribune writer, Matt Geiger who will read two short stories from his new book (below).

Here is a sample from the cover of this book collection: “His little sister joins the circus. His parents buy a nerdy horse. He’s surrounded by hundreds of men dressed up as Ernest Hemingway. He tries to order a monkey through the mail. And now his baby is eating dog food.”

GC-BookCoverFinal

Matt Geiger’s award-winning stories reveal the sublime in the mundane and the comical in the banal. There is existential dread. There is festivity amid detritus. There are moments of genuine introspection on what it means to be human. And it’s all laugh-out-loud funny when told by a humorist who is determined to live an examined life, even if he’s not always entirely sure what he’s looking at.

Matt Geiger (below) was born in Brunswick, Maine, in 1979. He studied philosophy and religion at Flagler College and went on to write for newspapers and magazines in Florida, Wisconsin and the United Kingdom. He is the winner of numerous journalism awards. He currently lives in Wisconsin with his wife, his daughter, two dogs, a cat and a flock of chickens.

Matt Geiger oif Middleton

As always, there will be a FREE reception for the musicians and the audience after the concert.

MCO June 2014 reception

For more information about the Middleton Community Orchestra, including its upcoming concerts and review as well as how to join it and support it, go to: http://middletoncommunityorchestra.org

mco-march-2017-poster


Classical music: A gem-like short song by Felix Mendelssohn is rediscovered and recorded for the BBC after 132 years. Here is the story on NPR.

May 10, 2014
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

In 1842, five years before his death at 38, the early Romantic composer Felix Mendelssohn (below, in an etching from the Hulton Archive/Getty Images), who lived from 1809 to 1847 and is known for his charming and accessible works, wrote a short song of just 29 measures for a friend in Berlin.

mendelssohn_300

Twice the unpublished song manuscript changed hands, being auctioned off in 1862 and 1872.

And then it went missing for a long time.

Until it mysteriously resurfaced in the U.S. this year.

The title is suggestive and intriguing. The song is called “The Heart is Like a Mine” and takes it text from a poem by Friedrich Rückert (below, 1788-1866), a master of 30 languages whose own prolific poetry was used by other major composers including Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann, Johannes Brahms, Bela Bartok, Paul Hindemith, Richard Strauss, Hugo Wolf and Gustav Mahler.

friedrich ruckert

Sounds as if the song could be pretty bleak and dire, if you are thinking coal mine.

Or bright and hopeful, if you are thinking about a diamond or gold mine.

You can decide for yourself.

After the manuscript of the song resurfaced, the BBC had it recorded by a singer and a pianist, who do a fine job with it.

You can use the link below to the feature on NPR and its outstanding classical music blog  — “Deceptive Cadence” — to listen to the song, plus get the background about its history and its upcoming auction at Christie’s. And you can find the recording of the lovely 1-1/2 minute song at the bottom in YouTube video.)

The Ear hopes the autographed manuscript ends up in a public museum and not again in a private collection, which is how it went missing for so long. But we will soon see.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/05/06/310089313/midspring-surprise-lost-mendelssohn-song-found

 

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

Classical music Q&A: The Annals of Accompanying, Part 2 of 2. The Ear talks with baritone Paul Rowe and pianist Martha Fischer, both of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, about the challenges of accompanying in their joint FREE performance this Wednesday night of Hugo Wolf’s complete “Italian Songbook.”

March 25, 2014
Leave a Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Baritone Paul Rowe and pianist Martha Fischer have been performing songs and song cycles together for almost two decades at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Some performances, like Schubert’s “Winterreise,” have even been published and recorded in book-and-CD format that features moody song-related, black-and-white photographs by the Madison-based photographer and violist Katrin Talbot.

Winterreise UW Press

Fischer, who teaches Collaborative Piano at the UW-Madison, has also accompanied countless instrumentalists.

This Wednesday night, March 26, Rowe and Fischer will give a FREE performance of Hugo Wolf’s complete “Italian Songbook” at 7:3 p.m. in Mills Hall on the UW-Madison campus.

To The Ear, it seemed like the perfect occasion to explore the complexities of accompanying and musical collaboration. The two musicians (below with UW alumna Julia Foster, who teaches voice at Rollins College and who will join in the singing) generously agreed to respond to the same questions. Those questions and their answers have been featured yesterday and today on this blog.

Here is a link to yesterday’s posting of Part 1:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/03/24/classical-music-qa-the-annals-of-accompanying-part-1-of-2-the-ear-talks-with-baritone-paul-rowe-and-pianist-martha-fischer-both-of-the-university-of-wisconsin-madison-school-of-music-about-t/

 

Paul Rowe, Martha Fischer and Julia Foster 2

What qualities make for a great accompanist or collaborator?

PAUL ROWE: The first requirement is to be a great pianist and musician. Then, I think, especially if one is going to work with singers, the pianist needs to be interested in the poetry and the smaller format of the song. It is very important to have a working relationship where the leading role is constantly switching back and forth. To be able to exchange ideas and interpretations is also crucial to a rewarding working arrangement.

MARTHA FISCHER: Great artist-accompanists are able to both be supremely flexible and yet maintain a true artistic profile. Great accompanists bring a point of view to the table and play their parts with the same artistic integrity that one would bring to any solo work. They are able to meld with their partners to create a single artistic statement.  And they usually need to be nice people!

accompanying singer and piano

What are the most rewarding and most challenging parts of working together? Technical matters? Psychological and emotional aspects? How does each of you affect the other one? Does a collaboration develop and deepen over time and as you get to know each other in other collaborative projects?

PR: Martha and I have done many performances together of a variety of different types of music. We have, from the first, been able to hear and see things in similar ways. In many cases, we don’t need much rehearsal at all.

The most challenging thing has been finding time to work on things in a relaxed way, when we have time to discuss the pieces and the best ways to present them. Often, we are both running from lessons or meetings and trying to squeeze in some quality time.

It helps that we share a great love for this repertoire. We even team taught a special literature class a couple of years ago which was lots of fun to share our feelings and knowledge of the music with a group of students.

MF: For me, encountering the vast and amazing art song repertoire is, in itself, the most rewarding part of collaborating with singers.  And then when you are able to create this music with a sympathetic partner who already shares your values, it is one of the greatest experiences a pianist can have.

The challenges these days are mostly logistic — not enough time to practice and prepare on your own as well as together. Paul and I have been working together now for about 17 years. I knew when I first played for him that we were a good musical partnership. We rarely have musical disagreements — we are both flexible and open to each other’s ideas and we both listen to each other — musically and verbally.

And yes, our artistic collaborations (below, in Schubert’s “Winterreise” at the First Unitarian Society of Madison), like many others that I have enjoyed over the years, do develop and deepen over time, just like any important relationship in life. You come to trust one another and we definitely have a special connection.

Winterreise applause

Is it easier to do some kinds of music (vocal versus instrumental) or composers and styles (Baroque versus Romantic or Modern) than others? Which ones?

PR: We have had the easiest time with the famous works of Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms, Gustav Mahler and Hugo Wolf. Some of the more rewarding performances have been of the works of some lesser-known composers or of works by famous people that are not heard as often. Some example are the William Blake songs of Benjamin Britten, the Francois Villon songs of Claude Debussy, some works of Francis Poulenc and Georges Enescu, Ivor Gurney and even Louis Coerne, Louis Spohr, Franz Schreker and Carl Loewe.

MF: There are different challenges in vocal and instrumental accompanying.  In vocal accompanying, you have to deal with and understand the words, poetry, languages, diction and style as well as the technical challenges presented.  The pieces tend to be shorter, but in recital that presents a challenge in itself because each new song is its own universe and there is often no time to gradually arrive there. You will find the same technical and musical challenges that you find in the solo piano repertoire.  Debussy is Debussy.  Brahms is Brahms.

Instrumental music is generally closer to solo piano music in that you don’t have the issues listed above (texts, languages, etc.) and you often have the challenge of playing longer forms such as sonatas — of planning and pacing a performance over a longer trajectory. But again, the challenges depend quite a bit on the composer and the piece and each experience is unique.

piano and violin accompanying

What would you each like to say about what has gone into your upcoming performance of Hugo Wolf’s “Italian Song Book”? What are the challenges for each you in relating to each other and best serving the music?

PR: I think we have had a great time getting to know these songs. The level of detail on which Hugo Wolf (below, in a photograph from 1902) works is astonishing. The quick transitions from humorous to serious moods, the sarcastic, snide commentary that is sometimes explicit and sometimes obscure, the quick dynamic and tempo changes as well as the sometime dicey harmonies are what make these songs such a delight.

The technical demands on both singers and pianist are extreme but they are never random. The “Italienisches Liederbuch” is probably the most entertaining and demanding of all the Wolf collections. Luckily for us, it is also the most rewarding for performers and audience.

Hugo Wolf 1902 photo

MF:  Wolf’s “Italian Songbook” encompasses every aspect of human relationships and emotion. It is so incredibly rich on every level. Pianistically, the intense chromaticism presents its own problems –- it is hard to keep track of what key you are in and which accidentals carry through the measure — and there are very, very wide stretches in both hands that have to be either placed between the hands or played as rolled chords.

Most of the songs are quite short (2-3 pages each) and go by so fast that it can be like an emotional roller coaster. Of course, that’s the fun of it as well. There is a lot of humor and reverence and love in these songs, and they certainly are some of the best that the German Lied, or art song, has to offer. It is a privilege beyond words for me to play these pieces with both Julia and Paul, and it has been a complete joy to do so.

What else would you like to say or add from your specific point of view?

PR: I realize that this is a very specialized repertoire that may be intimidating to many concertgoers. Even the title is somewhat confusing. Why are these Italian songs in German? How can this music be relevant for a modern audience? I would encourage anyone who does not know the music of Hugo Wolf to give this music a chance. There is so much beauty, humor and variety that it is worth the time and effort to experience it. (At bottom is a Hugo Wolf sampler in a YouTube video that includes a dozen songs from the “Italian Songbook” sung by baritone Hermann Prey and accompanied by pianist Daniel Barenboim.) 

MF: For the listeners who might come to hear the “Italian Songbook,” I would urge them to really pay attention to the piano parts. Just about every nuance of emotion in the text is presented in the piano writing through tiny harmonic shifts and stunning, sometimes sudden dynamic changes.

Also, I’m playing every piece on the program -– a total of 46 songs — where Paul and Julia get to share the stage (equally divided between them).  It’s a bigger job for me than anyone else!  And … lucky me!

Enhanced by Zemanta

    Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,203 other followers

    Blog Stats

    • 2,077,618 hits
    September 2019
    M T W T F S S
    « Aug    
     1
    2345678
    9101112131415
    16171819202122
    23242526272829
    30  
%d bloggers like this: