Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Madison native joins "Cosi" cast

Soprano Mary Elizabeth Mackenzie will sing Despina in Madison Opera's 2008/2009 Season production of Cosi fan Tutte, March 13 and 15 in The Capitol Theater. Ms. Mackenzie replaces the previously announced Jamie Rose Guarrine in the role.

The performances will be something of a homecoming for Mary, who grew up in Madison, where she studied with voice professors at UW-Madison and performed with Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras. She received her BM from the Cleveland Institute of Music and recently completed her master's in music at the Manhattan School of Music. Click here to visit her website, where you can read her complete bio and listen to audio samples.

Required reading

Michael Kaiser, President of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, has written an important editorial in The Wahsington Post. Click here to read "No Bailout for the Arts?".

Monday, December 29, 2008

Madison Opera in local "best of" lists

Lucia di Lammermoor (2007/08 Season) was number three on the Wisconsin State Journal's top ten list of outstanding live shows or events in 2008. And in his year-end round up, classical music critic for The Isthmus John Barker says "Madison Opera had a particularly venturesome year," covering everything from "the novel and intimate...Tender Land" to "the demanding warhorse Lucia" and a "brave" production of Madama Butterfly.

It has indeed been an exciting year for Madison Opera; here's to an equally "venturesome" and successful 2009!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Happy Birthday, Giacomo!

Puccini turns 150 today, so we'll join the chorus in saying Tanti auguri di buon compleanno!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

"Cosi" the movie

Cosi is the title of a very funny 1996 Australian film. A first-time director takes a job at a mental hospital, thinking he is organizing a variety show for the patients. Instead, they demand to do Cosi fan Tutte, and the mayhem that ensues is both touching and hilarious. The plot of the opera has been debated for centuries, and the same debate makes its way into the film: some characters see a true, human lesson on love unfolding, while others dismiss it as mysoginistic, dated, and ridiculous. Perhaps its both? Either way, the issues addressed in the opera inevitably begin to reveal themselves in the characters' real lives, and the culminating production is highly entertaining. A young Toni Collette and Rachel Griffiths are the stars you're likely to recognize, though I found the quirkier patients most amusing. Definitely worth a viewing! Click to find the DVD on Amazon.

Friday, December 12, 2008

How about some Melba toast?

A fascinating story comes via The Times: "Phantoms of opera Nellie Melba and Enrico Caruso break 100-year silence."

100 years ago at the Palais Garnier Opera House in Paris, 24 gramophone records were buried with the intention of teaching the world "[100 years from now] about the state of our talking machines and the voices of the principal singers of our times." Adding to the mystique of the "buried voices" project, The Phantom of the Opera (in original novel form) begins and ends in the vault in which the records were left.

The result of the 1907 project comes to a head now as the records have been unearthed and fully digitized online for all of us to enjoy. Click here for the French website that now hosts all of these files. Click here for the audio page where you can listen to Nellie Melba (of melba toast and peach melba fame), Enrico Caruso, and other opera stars of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Truly amazing.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Met Opera Broadcasts

Just in case you weren't aware, the Metropolitan Opera in New York broadcasts performances live on the radio around the world every Saturday afternoon. I've tuned in the last two weekends to WERN 88.7, which carries the broadcasts locally, to hear La damnation de Faust and Tristan und Isolde, and this weekend will feature Tchaikovsky's The Queen of Spades conducted by Seiji Ozawa and starring Ben Heppner and Maria Guleghina (starting 11:30 a.m.). The broadcasts have been a tradition since 1931, though we almost lost them in 2004 when Texaco ended its 64 year stint of underwriting the program. Luckily Toll Brothers has picked up the slack!

Click here for more information on the broadcasts.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Capitol Theater

Our venue for Cosi fan Tutte is the gorgeous Capitol Theater. Now a significant part of the Overture Center for the Arts, the theater was built in 1928 and was last known as the Oscar Meyer Theater (Madison Opera's mainstage before Overture Hall opened in 2004). It's a gorgeous space, the perfect size and with ambience well matched to Mozart's music. To read about the renovations the Capitol recently underwent as part of the Overture Project, click here. Enjoy the pictures, the plush red velvet seats may just inspire you to hurry for your Cosi tickets!

(c) Eric Plautz

(c) Eric Oxendorf

The Grand Barton Organ still alive and well in the Capitol Theater.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Frank Lloyd Wright

Problems with the restoration of Wisconsin native Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin estate made the cover of the Wisconsin State Journal this Sunday, but more relevant to Madison Opera, check out this fascinating January 2008 article from Opera magazine on Wright's plans for an opera house in Baghdad. We even get a nod in the first paragraph! (See: "And though few architects actually make it into an opera, that happened in 1993 when Daron Hagen's Shining Brow (premiered by Madison Opera and since revived in several places) revisited the personal turmoil of an earlier phase in Wright's life...").

UPDATE 12/9: The second link in the original post above was accidentally set to the State Journal; it is now repaired and links to the Frank Lloyd Wright article in Opera magazine. Or just click here to get to that piece.

Friday, December 5, 2008

An eye on the Cosi cast

For the next few months I'll be keeping an eye on the activities of our cast for Cosi fan Tutte before they arrive in Madison.

Mezzo-soprano Michèle Losier, our Dorabella in Cosi, just finished up a run of Offenbach's Les Contes D'Hoffmann with Boston Lyric Opera, where she's garnered some really wonderful reviews for her portrayal of La Muse and Nicklausse:
Michèle Losier impressed with her consistently warm and lustrous tone as La Muse and Nicklausse. -The Boston Globe

...mezzo Michèle Losier nearly steals the show... -The Boston Herald
Up next for Michèle is a concert in Belgium and then Beethoven's 9th with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, followed by her run here in Madison!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

DeMain at the Lyric

Butterfly has come and gone, and now it's time to start thinking of Cosi fan Tutte, our next production on March 13 & 15. In the meantime, I thought I should take a minute to point out the rave reviews Madison Opera's Artistic Director John DeMain has been getting for his Lyric Opera of Chicago debut with Porgy and Bess. The Chicago Tribune critic John von Rhein raves:
Not the least of the show's strengths is the conducting of John DeMain. His easy authority tells in every bluesy turn of phrase, in the smooth melding of stage and pit. What a luxury it is to hear George Gershwin's great score so sumptuously played by full orchestra.
Read more reviews here:
Congratulations are due to Maestro DeMain, "the definitive 'Porgy and Bess' maestro." Performances run until December 19; more information can be found on the Lyric website.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

In a nutshell...

Maria Kanyova as Cio-Cio-San. (Credit: Jamie Young)

...the wonder and simple beauty of Jun Kaneko's production of Madama Butterfly. I'll be posting more next week, but in the meantime, you should take a look at these photos of the production by Joyce DiDonato.

Scenes from Sunday

A crowd gathers to watch the koto player Satoko Someya before Sunday's performance of Madama Butterfly.

The crowds turned up at the box-office on Sunday, including many students, who made up 12% of the weekend's audience.

After the performance was "A Taste of Puccini" on the Capitol Theater stage, a celebration of our opening weekend, Puccini's 150th birthday, and our guest of honor Dr. James F. Crow.

Happy Birthday, Giacomo!

Roth Judd, President of the Board of Trustees, welcomes guests to "A Taste of Puccini" (in Japanese and Italian).

Monday, November 24, 2008

Scenes from Friday

Madama Butterfly designer and renowned artist Jun Kaneko speaks to art students at Madison West High School

Koto player Satoko Someya performs in the Overture Center lobby before the opera against a backdrop of butterflies created by local children for the Community Butterfly Drive

Lobby at intermission

Post-opera party and reception; General Director Allan Naplan calls up the cast

Mezzo-soprano Jamie Van Eyck (Kate Pinkerton), mezzo-soprano Heather Johnson (Suzuki), Maestro Leonardo Vordoni, pianist Yasuko Oura, and Maestro Vordoni's wife, mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, at the post-opera reception

Madison Opera administrative staff at the reception

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A thrilling opening

Wow...what a night! Madama Butterfly opened last night at Overture Hall to a capacity crowd that simply loved it. The audience was with Butterfly for every note, every joy, and every heartache, and the spontaneous and prolonged ovation that came with Maria Kanyova's bow only confirmed this. Jun Kaneko's designs drew "oohs" and "ahhs" throughout the night and set the stage for truly magical music making.

Don't just take my word for it. The reviews are in, and here's what the critics are saying:

"This story lives and dies in the body of Cio-Cio-San, played marvelously by soprano Maria Kanyova."

"Kaneko's costume and set design is unavoidably stunning...At times seeing the set change is like watching an abstract painting being made."

"...there is no doubt Rawls has the tenor chops for the role [of Pinkerton]. Even while carrying Kanyova, he hits massive high notes that spin and soar into the hall."

"Baritone Grant Youngblood is a fine Sharpless, Pinkerton's older and wiser friend, infusing the role with believability and gravitas. As Suzuki, mezzo-soprano Heather Johnson is also a pleasure, notably in her gorgeous second act duet with Kanyova."

"Maestro Leonardo Vordoni's conducting is expressive and responsive..."

"Leslie Swackhamer's direction creates an image of the East that is no longer exoticized, but instead, a kind of imagined place where moons drip blood and silent, black-clad dancers move in stylized patterns across the stage."

-Lindsay Christians, The Capital Times

"Friday night's Madison Opera performance in Overture Hall had that outstanding singer--and actress--in Maria Kanyova...Her "Un bel di" was striking."

"...the gorgeously colored, geometrically inspired, minimalist set had a striking impact, as did the colorful costuming and computerized special effects...The set design by Jun Kaneko...was beautiful."

"...Arnold Rawls was consistently strong, with a sure, strong top of the range."

"Grant Youngblood's Sharpless...had vocal warmth."

"Heather Johnson was fine as Suzuki..."

"...musicians of the Madison Symphony Orchestra were nearly faultless."

-John Aehl, Wisconsin State Journal

There's only one more performance of Madison Opera's Madama Butterfly: tomorrow, Nov. 23 at 2:30 pm!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

More press

Madison is eagerly awaiting Madison Opera's opening weekend! Here are two more previews of Madama Butterfly printed today:

Sandy Rucker-Tabachnick, The Isthmus, "Tragedy Looms in Madison Opera's Madama Butterfly"

Victoria Pietrus, The Badger Herald, "Madama Butterfly to Spread its Wings at Overture"

Opera Up Close, now online!

Click here to watch General Director Allan Naplan's Madama Butterfly preview, filmed at Opera Up Close on Nov. 16 in the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. (Scroll down the linked page to find the video). This is a great way to enhance your operatic experience, with fascinating history on Puccini's life and works, hints on what to listen for in the opera, a detailed exploration of designer Jun Kaneko's aesthetic, and discussions with our conductor Leonardo Vordoni and director Leslie Swackhamer. You can also watch Opera Up Close on Madison City Channel 12 (analog basic channel 98 and digital channel 994) the following dates and times:
  • Sunday, Nov. 23 at 10 pm
  • Wednesday, Dec. 3 at 2 pm
  • Friday, December 5 at 8 pm
Opera Up Close: The Cosi fan Tutte Preview will take place on Sunday, March 1, 2009 from 4-6 p.m. in the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Butterfly speaks!

Soprano Maria Kanyova is singing Cio-Cio-San in the Madison Opera production of Madama Butterfly this weekend. I caught up with her before last night's rehearsal to hear what she thinks of the opera, the role, and what it means to her now that real-life daughter Elisabeth Kania is playing Cio-Cio-San's son in Friday night's performance.

A Conversation with Butterfly from Madison Opera on Vimeo.

Some props

Parasols, Jun Kaneko style

Carafes for Pinkerton's whiskey, amongst other servant/cook platters

This is a really cool looking book that I'm sure there is a story behind. It's used in the wedding scene. (Apologies the photo isn't rotated, Blogger won't let it!)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Soprano featured in State Journal

Soprano Maria Kanyova, Madison Opera's Cio-Cio-San in Madama Butterfly next weekend, is featured in an article by Gayle Worland in today's Wisconsin State Journal. Click to read!

New behind-the-scenes video!

A few of our guest artists sat down with me yesterday to discuss their roles in Madama Butterfly. Watch the video to hear them explain why this production is unique and what makes Butterfly a great first opera. Be warned: you may also have a few laughs along the way!

Madama Butterfly: Behind the Scenes from Madison Opera on Vimeo.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

77 Square: "Japanese sculptor reimagines Madama Butterfly"

Madison Opera's production of Madama Butterfly is featured in today's 77 Square, the arts weekly in the Wisconsin State Journal: click to read! The article includes an extensive interview with our stage and costume designer Jun Kaneko.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Week 2 of Butterfly

Our 3-week rehearsal period for Madama Butterfly is fairly short, though by industry standards it's about normal. So what exactly is happening at this point, half-way through those precious 3 weeks? Well, in a nutshell, the singers, dancers, and chorus members are finishing up their staging rehearsals with director Leslie Swackhamer, and starting tomorrow they'll be running different sections. Tonight is also the first time the orchestra meets with Maestro Vordoni for a reading. This Saturday is the sitzprobe, which is a fancy German way of saying "let's all sit down and sing with the orchestra." It's the first rehearsal where the singers and orchestra get to work together, and it's a crucial period for pinpointing timing issues and making interpretive decisions.

That's the rehearsal report for now, but on another note, don't forget that this Sunday is OPERA UP CLOSE: The Madama Butterfly Preview, 4-6 p.m. in the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Don't miss Allan Naplan's engaging, multimdeia presentation on the opera with special guests Leslie Swackhamer and Leonardo Vordoni. Tickets are $20; call the office at 238-8085 for reservations.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Oprah Endorses Puccini

With weightier endorsements behind her, Oprah has now voiced her support for Puccini. In the December 2008 issue of O: The Oprah Magazine, the "The O List" of must-haves includes a new release of Puccini's Complete Operas, a 20 disc set that's going for just $79 on Amazon.com. The magazine says, "Puccini's music can break hearts and stun with its sheer drama. Mark the composer's 150th birthday with a gift of the complete operas...". Oprah also endorses polka-dot piggy banks, pomegranate vinegar, and monorgrammed soap this month.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Butterfly Rehearsals, Day 4

Last night was the first meeting of the Madison Opera High School Apprenticeship Program. The apprentices were treated to a rehearsal of the opening section of Madama Butterfly:

Three of Madison Opera's High School Apprentices at rehearsal

Goro (Jason Ferrante) presents the maid Suzuki (Heather Johnson), a cook, and a servant to Lt. Pinkerton to go along with the house he will rent in Nagasaki

These dancer/actors practice the Suzuki method in preparation for their job as "kurogo" in Madama Butterfly. In traditional Japaense Kabuki theater, "kurogo" means "onstage assistant." Click here for a more detailed explanation.

Madison Opera on the radio

Listen to Outside the Box with Mitch Henck this morning at 10 a.m. on WIBA-AM 1310 News/Talk radio for a discussion of our upcoming production with General Director Allan Naplan and Maestro Leonardo Vordoni!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Sorrow gets fitted

Sorrow, Cio-Cio-San's son in Madama Butterfly (sometimes called Trouble), will be played by Simon Jenks in our upcoming production, and he had his costume fitting Tuesday night. The pictures will give you an idea of Jun Kaneko's whimsical costumes, and they're really cute to boot!

Simon, in Sorrow's Act II costume

Simon with tenor Arnold Rawls (Lt. Pinkerton, Sorrow's father)

Getting fitted for the Act III costume

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Butterfly Rehearsals, Day 2

The artists are here! Rehearsals for Madama Butterfly got underway yesterday, and I swung by day 2 this morning. The principal singers were reading through the score with conductor Leonardo Vordoni and pianist Yasuko Oura. Though many of our guest artists know each other and have worked together before, this is the first time they really get a sense of the conductor's interpretation of the score and how they will need to work to blend their voices. Here are some photos:

L-R: Jason Ferrante (Goro), Grant Youngblood (Sharpless), Arnold Rawls (Pinkerton), Maria Kanyova (Cio-Cio-San), and Heather Johnson (Suzuki)

General Director Allan Naplan, Stage Manager Jill Krynicki, and Maestro Leonardo Vordoni all wrapped up in the score

Arnold belting it out

Maria's first notes

Monday, November 3, 2008

Butterfly Drive a Success!

Everyone involved with the Community Butterfly Drive at Kids in the Rotunda on Saturday had a great time! We collected well over 200 butterflies to go on display in the Overture Center lobby during performances of Madama Butterfly, and it was a ton of fun to see all of the kids in costume stopping to make art with Madison Opera. A big thank you is due to the Monroe Street Fine Arts Center, our co-sponsor for the event, and to the Overture Center staff as well for being so accommodating and getting out those few stray scribbles left on the wall (sorry about that!). For now, I'll let the pictures do the talking:

Friday, October 31, 2008

NEA Opera Honors

The National Endowment for the Arts has announced the winners of the first annual Opera Honors. Congratulations to Carlisle Floyd, James Levine, Richard Gaddes, and Leontyne Price!

Community Butterfly Drive Tomorrow!

Happy Halloween! If you have kids or find yourself strolling down State Street after the Farmers' Market tomorrow, stop on by the COMMUNITY BUTTERFLY DRIVE, a cooperative arts project in celebration of Madison Opera's Madama Butterfly. In partnership with the Monroe Street Fine Arts Center and Kids in the Rotunda, we're inviting children from the community to decorate butterflies to go on display in an aerial collage in the Overture Center lobby during performances on Nov. 21 and 23.

The info:
  • Nov. 1, 9 a.m. - 2 p.m., decorate butterflies in the Overture Center lobby, 201 State Street
  • Kids in the Rotunda on Nov. 1 is offering a rock'n'roll costume party, featuring performances by The Madgadders at 9:30 a.m., 11 a.m., and 1 p.m.
  • Everything is FREE!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Heating up

It may have snowed yesterday in Madison, but in the office things are just beginning to heat up. Artists begin arriving next week, text and art for the Butterfly program are due Thursday, ads are popping up everywhere...this all has meant a slight deficit in blogging, but stay tuned for all sorts of multimedia behind-the-scenes action when rehearsals get started next week!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Butterfly Conductor Earns Praise in Wexford

Italian Maestro Leonardo Vordoni makes his US debut in Madison Opera's Madama Butterfly next month, and if his debut at Wexford Festival Opera in Ireland is any indication, we're all in for a treat. Helming the renowned festival's production of Perdotti's Tutti in Maschera, The Stage (UK) says, "Leonardo Vordoni conducts a spirited account of the score. An unmissable delight." Kudos!

UPDATE 10/22: "Conductor Leonardo Vordoni delivers all the zest and exuberance in the score and the opera is exceptionally well cast." -Irish Independent (Dublin)

UPDATE 10/27: "Conductor Leonardo Vordoni draws a scintillating performance from the orchestra, keeping the textures crisp, even in the beguiling Act III duet between Vittoria and Emilio..." -The Independent (UK)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Madison Opera Singer Fares Well at Met Opera Auditons

The Metropolitan Opera's National Council Auditions for Wisconsin were held in Milwaukee on Saturday. Mezz-soprano Jamie Van Eyck (pictured left), who plays Kate Pinkerton in our upcoming production of Madama Butterfly, was one of the co-winners to advance to the regional finals in Minneapolis. Read the whole story here!

Ms. Van Eyck, a native of Wausau, WI, is currently studying at UW-Madison with Julia Faulkner, the 1985 winner of the National Council Auditions and Madison Opera star of The Tender Land (2008). She has performed with Santa Fe Opera, Utah Opera, Opera Boston, and The Wolf Trap Opera Company in addition to the National Symphony Orchestra, Bostony Symphony Orchestra, Utah Symphony, and L.A. Philharmonic. At the Tanglewood Music Center's Festival of Contemporary Music, she performed the role of Mama in the highly acclaimed North American premiere of Elliott Carter's opera What Next? under the baton of James Levine. Madison Opera couldn't be more excited to have Ms. Van Eyck back in Wisconsin and performing with us!

Friday, October 17, 2008

A Lucky Find

I was greeted with a nice surprise yesterday after picking my wife up at the University Library on the way home from work: the library was selling old classical music records for $1, and she had found a Madama Butterfly recording for me. It features the great Italians Toti Dal Monte and Beniamino Gigli as Cio-Cio San and Pinkerton at the Rome Opera House in 1939. This is, allegedly, the first professional recording of the opera ever made, and it is very cool to think that these were first-generation Puccini interpreters. While it certainly has its flaws (many of the supporting cast sound quite tinny and off pitch, and the characterizations of the Japanese characters are over the top even on record), the orchestra plays blazingly fast and furious, with a sharp, crisp interpretation that doesn't much wallow in the lushness of the score the way we expect Puccini to sound today. Dal Monte and Gigli both have voices that immediately date them, but there is also a timeless quality to both. The recording I have is an old RCA Victor, but Naxos has also released it on CD as part of their "Great Opera Recordings" series. See the YouTube clips below for soundbytes of Toti Dal Monte and Beniamino Gigli:

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Madison Opera in the Community

The start of the 2008-2009 season is approaching, and as Madison Opera has expanded to present three full productions, our community outreach efforts have expanded as well. Here is a rundown of our current offerings:
  • HIGH SCHOOL APPRENTICESHIP PROGRAM: This new program will give six juniors from local high schools the opportunity to attend Madison Opera rehearsals and productions, shadow guest artists, participate in coaching sessions with guest artists, and prepare a recital in our effort to provide talented students early exposure to opera and careers in the performing arts. The application period is ending this week; contact the office for any last minute inquiries!
  • A NIGHT AT THE OPERA: General Director Allan Naplan started A Night at the Opera in 2006 in partnership with Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Dane County. The program brings local youth to the final dress rehearsal of our fall production and includes a pre-opera dinner and educational session. Rigoletto was such a big hit with the kids that this year for Butterfly we've aligned with the Goodman Atwood Community Center and the Boys and Girls Club in addition to Big Brothers/Big Sisters in an effort to expand our reach. Other local youth groups are welcome to join us for the Nov. 19 event, just give a me a call or e-mail in the office to receive an invitation and further details (that's Brian at 238-8085 or hinrichs@madisonopera.org).
  • COMMUNITY BUTTERFLY DRIVE: We're calling upon local centers of arts and education for the young to create butterflies to go on display in the Overture Center lobby during our opening weekend, Nov. 21-23. The idea is to engage diverse communities in Madison in a collective, creative project for all to share pride in. Again, interested schools and groups are welcome to contact me in the office if we haven't already contacted you, and we'll get you the Butterfly templates needed!
And don't forget these ongoing and future community outreach events at Madison Opera:
  • OPERA UP CLOSE: For each season production, Allan Naplan hosts this two hour event at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art to offer an engaging behind-the-scenes look at the opera. The series is exciting and informative for both the opera beginner and weathered fan. For Madama Butterfly, Sunday, Nov. 16 is the date, from 4-6 pm. Be sure to get your tickets in advance by calling the office at 238-8085 and speaking with Natalie.
  • PRE-OPERA TALKS: One hour before every performance, hear Allan Naplan discuss the production for free! The perfect way to kick off an evening or afternoon of opera.
  • STUDENT MATINEE: May 13, 2009, schools from around Wisconsin will come to Madison for the final dress rehearsal of Gounod's Faust. The Badger High School music department in Lake Geneva says of the program, "Once again, Madison Opera has done a sparkling job of bringing our young people and the world of opera together. As we headed home, many students wanted to sign up for next year."

Thursday, October 9, 2008

What people will do to get their hands on opera in Madison when it's really as easy as calling the Overture Center Box Office at (608) 258-4141...

Laptop opera music leads to wild chase

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 8, 2008, 11:04 a.m.
By Linda Spice

A Madison burglary that began with opera music playing on a laptop computer ended with a police officer being assaulted and a citizen using a wrestling hold to pin the suspect for police.

The Madison man, 34, was arrested on Monday on possible charges of residential burglary, battery to a law enforcement officer, resisting a law enforcement officer and a parole hold, according to police.

The victim, a 26-year-old man, told police he had been listening to opera music on his laptop computer which was on top of a table near a window. He heard some rustling at the window and stood up in time to see a man reach through the freshly cut window screen and grab his computer.

The victim and others chased the suspect down. The man got his laptop back about the time that the chase caught the attention of a Madison police officer who was parked at James Madison Park to type up reports.

It was about 5:40 p.m. when the officer heard citizens shouting about a suspect on the run with a stolen laptop computer.

The officer spotted a foot chase nearby and drove - red lights and siren on - in the direction of the pursuit. A witness told the officer the suspect was running toward Lake Mendota, where the officer drove and spotted the suspect. The officer's subsequent foot chase ended when the suspect encountered a six-foot chain link fence.

The man attempted to climb the fence but the officer grabbed his jacket and pants and pulled him down. After a struggle, the suspect broke free when he elbowed the officer in the chest.

The suspect next encountered another citizen, a former wrestler with 13 years of grappling experience, who tackled the suspect.

"The citizen later told officers he knew if he put an elbow near the side of the suspect's face that the suspect would be pinned and unable to move," according to a police report.

A backup officer arrived and the former wrestler stepped back.

The suspect continued to struggle until he was shocked with a Taser, according to police.

Police later found $500 stuffed in the suspect's socks.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

View From the Desk: Part 1

Single tickets went on sale yesterday and Madama Butterfly is just around the corner. Still, rehearsals haven't started and the artists are not yet here, so the bulk of Madison Opera activity right now is confined to our Monroe Street office. We promised behind-the-scenes access from both "administrative and artistic perspectives," so here goes with the view from the desks of a few Madison Opera staffers at this point in the pre-season:
  • Lauren, our Office Manager, says it perfectly: "This is definitely the calm before the storm, and I use the term 'calm' very loosely." Right now, she's busy issuing and mailing contracts to artistic and production personell and making travel arrangements for those same people. She's also compiling Madison Opera Chorus information for the upcoming season, preparing a mailing for our Student Matinee (which isn't until May!), and getting a contact list together for an upcoming community project we're going to host (stay tuned for more on this, it involves origami!). On top of these big tasks, some of Lauren's day to day activities include press clippings, archiving files, and answering all inquiries to the office by phone or mail. She's also our Office Depot liason.
  • Natalie is our Patron Services Manager, which essentially translates into tickets, tickets, tickets. She's just completed the massive task of mailing out around 650 ticket orders at the close of our season subscription period, which lasted from April until now. In the weeks to come she'll be handling group sales, complimentary tickets, gift certificates, and any other non-single ticket type of purchase. Our tickets are physically printed at the Overture Center, so she checks in there pretty regularly. With the subscription period over, she says she'll also be helping out the development dept. with organzing our opening weekend celebration.
  • As for me, well, I'm writing this blog for one thing, and also managing our new Facebook and MySpace pages while communicating with our website monitor regularly on various updates to make. September was a busy month, with four press releases going out and planning the season's marketing campaigns, which has entailed meeting with various ad reps around town and mapping out placement schedules. I also sent out my first E-blast through Patronmail last week, a program that was time consuming to figure out the first time around, and I've been working with Gen. Dir. Allan Naplan on launching our High School Apprenticeship Program. This past week I've been firming up the details of our "A Night at the Opera" event and publicizing that to local community groups. The weeks to come will involve quite a bit of correspondence with our ad designer and local ad reps, ensuring Butterfly is getting proper attention in the local media, reviewing HS apprentice applications, and organizing and editing all of the content for our Butterfly program.
The expanded season and growing number of outreach initiatives and special events surrounding Butterfly are all cause for great excitement, and it's been great to come into this new position with so much to do. It only gets busier from here, as this is the not-so-calm "calm before the storm!"

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Single tickets on sale Oct. 6!

Save the date, spread the word, share the link! Single tickets go on sale Monday, October 6, 11 a.m. at the Overture Center Box Office (608-258-4141). Subscriptions are already up 10% this year, so it's time to think ahead and reserve those seats early!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Where are they now?

As November and Puccini rehearsals near, I'll be checking in on our guest artists and designers to figure out what they're doing before it's time they head to Madison.

Jun Kaneko is the set and costume designer for our Madama Butterfly, a production that premiered at Opera Omaha in 2006. (Kaneko is originally from Japan, though he spent his youth in California and his studio has been in Omaha since 1986). He's an internationally renowned ceramic artist, and this Butterfly was his first design for the stage. Kaneko is presently getting a second crack at in Pennsylvania, where he's designing Beethoven's Fidelio for the Opera Company of Philadelphia. The production runs from October 10 to 24.

If you happen to be in New York before October 31st, be sure to take a stroll along Park Avenue between 52nd and 54th Streets. Here you'll find massive heads sculpted by Kaneko, one of his trademarks. A 2007 feature in the New York Times on Kaneko's work, titled "Giants of the Heartland" by Michael Kimmelman, is also a good preview of what's to come!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Monday news (not the blues!)

Okay, I may have a penchant for post titles that either rhyme or alliterate. Here are some Monday morning news bites of relevance to Madison Opera patrons:
  • Tickets for season subscribers will be mailed the first week of October.
  • As you may have heard, our home, the Overture Center, has liquidated the trust fund used to sustain its construction debt in the face of the recent economic turmoil on Wall Street. Day-to-day operations will not be directly affected, nor will any season programming. Though the move is serious, Madison Opera patrons will most certainly be able to take in all the arias they desire unphased. Director of the Arts Administration MBA program at UW Andrew Taylor offers a clear-sighted take on the situation, for those interested.
  • Needing an operatic uplift to fight the Monday morning blues? Read this post by superstar mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato (wife of our wonderful Butterfly conductor Leonardo Vordoni) on getting through her recent recital at Wigmore Hall and debut as Donna Elvira with the Royal Opera in London. Truly extraordinary stuff!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Not what Tommasini had in mind

Last night I came across this topical piece in the NY Times by chief classical music and opera critic Anthony Tommasini. The subject is nudity in opera: when is it necessary and relevant, and how does it compare to nudity on stage and film? Tommasini's "Take it Off, Brunnhilde" was interesting to consider in light of the recent bout of nudity on stage in Madison theaters, which 77 Square journalist and On the Aisle blogger Lindsay Christians recntly explored. The subject gets a different spin in this new post by OperaChic, the Milan-based, Juan Diego Florez-loving blogger known for her often hilarious coverage of opera gossip and events at La Scala and elsewhere. Apparently Playboy Magazine has discovered classical music is full of "babes," and Danielle de Niese--pictured left and coming to the Wisconsin Union Theater in February--is at the top of their list. I think the Union Theater just found its marketing campaign for the Langdon Steet demographic...

For more substantial recent reading, you might want to take a peek at Tommasini's review of the San Francisco Opera premiere of The Bonesetter's Daughter, by Stewart Wallace with a libretto by Amy Tan. Mark Swed at the LA Times offers his take on the work too, along with Joshua Kosman at the San Francisco Chronicle. This sounds like it was the West-coast operatic event of the season (though Woody Allen's Gianni Schicchi and the North American premiere of Howard Shore's The Fly can't be far behind).

Monday, September 15, 2008

Opera Audiences of the Past: A Rowdier Bunch

Here is an an amusing excerpt on Paris Opera attendees before the French Revolution, taken from James Johnson's "Listening in Paris" (as quoted in Alex Ross's latest piece in the New Yorker):
While most were in their places by the end of the first act, the continuous movement and low din of conversation never really stopped. Lackeys and young bachelors milled about in the crowded and often boisterous parterre, the floor-level pit to which only men were admitted. Princes of the blood and dukes visited among themselves in the highly visible first-row boxes. Worldly abbés chatted happily with ladies in jewels on the second level, occasionally earning indecent shouts from the parterre when their conversation turned too cordial. And lovers sought the dim heights of the third balcony—the paradise—away from the probing lorgnettes.
A century later, were the Italians any more well-behaved? Perhaps the balcony canoodling had subsided, but audiences were ever vocal with their opinions:
The audience of the time had little concern for a performance's dramatic continuity, and it was not uncommon to hear importunate cries of "bis" (again!) from the auditorium after a well-received aria or duet, whereupon the action of the drama would stop and the orchestra and singer would simply repeat the entire number to the delight of those in attendance. There were even times when entire acts were repeated upon demand! However, when the audience was not so well disposed toward a piece or the opera as a whole, these cries of "bis" could turn sarcastic. Should the work fail to please, the auditorium would resound with jeers, whistles, catcalls and various admonishments from enraged individuals. A successful opera was an event of great importance in Italian society; an unsuccessful opera, at times, could be of even greater moment.
This quote comes from Chadwick Jenkins' consideration of Puccini's audience on a helpful website run by Columbia University and New York City Opera. If you read more of Jenkins' assessment, you might be surprised to learn that the Madama Butterfly premiere of February 17, 1904 at La Scala was one of those unfortunate "greater moments." It was a true fiasco, according to a March 1904 edition of Musice e Musicisti:

Growls, shouts, groans, laughter, giggling, the usual single cries of "bis," designed to excite the public still more; that sums up the reception which the public of La Scala accorded the new work by Maestro Giacomo Puccini . . . The spectacle given in the auditorium seemed as well organized as that on the stage since it began precisely with the beginning of the opera.

That one of the most popular operas in the repertoire was received with such hostility is amusing to us now, though for Puccini the reception was demoralizing. Beyond the basic catcalls, the audience accusingly shouted "Boheme! Boheme!" when a Butterfly melody resembled one from the composer's earlier work. Jenkins also reports that when soprano Rosina Storchio's Cio-Cio San costume inadvertently billowed, giving the appearance of a pregnant belly, audience members shouted "Butterfly is pregnant!" and more crudely, "Ah, the little Toscanini!" in reference to Storchio's infamous affair with the conductor Arturo Toscanini. One can certainly empathize with Puccini's devastation, and the whole incident shows how easily the work could have slipped into oblivion; luckily it did not!

Though most patrons now reserve their harshest judgments for intermission chatter, opera audiences remain more vocal than others, especially with their enthusiasm. That said, unless Madisonians prove me wrong, I would have to guess that Italians still take the cake for being the most outspoken: at a 2005 performance of Verdi's Nabucco in Verona, I witnessed the audience demand and receive a mid-performance encore of the Act III "Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves."

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


It's too early in this blog's life to expect any success in polling readers, but I'll give it a shot: has anyone out there read Jan van Rij's Madame Butterfly: Japonisme, Puccini, and the Search for the Real Cho-Cho San? If so, feel free to leave your impressions in a comment below. I hadn't heard of the text until today but it looks fascinating. Van Rij sets out to explore the various sources of the Puccini opera, and while "the search for the real Cho-Cho San" makes it sound like it has National Enquirer potential, apparently the results are not only legitimate but legitimately shocking. I'd also be curious to pick it up because van Rij looks at how Butterfly is received in Japan, an issue well worth pondering. For a summary of the opera's literary precedents, check out this link.

UPDATE (9/16/08): General Director and new father (congrats!) Allan Naplan has lent me his copy of the van Rij book; I'm glad to have come across it and will offer some feedback once I'm a little further along.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Waiting for Kanyova

Maria Kanyova will be here soon, performing as Cio Cio San in Puccini's Madama Butterfly on November 21 and 23 at Overture Hall. A Chicago resident, Kanyova has starred at Lyric Opera, L.A. Opera, and New York City Opera, and now she's coming to Madison.

Simply put, we cannot wait. To get a sense of why we're so excited, listen to this interview she gave at Opera Colorado discussing the role of Butterfly. And here's an exerpt from a feature on Kanyova in Opera News (Nov. 2006, Vol. 71, No. 5, by William R. Braun):

The night before we spoke one morning last August, Maria Kanyova was onstage at Glimmerglass Opera as Janácek's Jenufa. She spent the summer playing a harrowing scene in which the body of Jenufa's baby boy, frozen under the river ice for months, turns up with the little red cap his mother made for him. Kanyova has also sung Cio-Cio-San, who sends her child out of the house so that he won't see her kill herself, and Suor Angelica, a woman locked in a convent, who is coldly told that the child she never knew is dead. Kanyova is the mother of a four-year-old boy and a three-year-old girl. I ask the soprano if she has ever simply fallen apart in any of these roles. The answer is immediate, and a bit surprising.

"Yes," she says quickly. "But, I do it in rehearsal, and I allow myself to do it several times. It's something of thinking about the children and going that far that allows me in performance to monitor those feelings. Even so, last night it caught me just a little bit off guard, I got a little bit of it. Usually, because I've already gone that far, I can pull it back and still have the intensity of the scene." At Central City Opera in 2005, Kanyova did a run of Butterflys under the direction of Catherine Malfitano, a mother herself. "She allowed me to experiment with finding those emotions. I did allow myself to go that far in rehearsal, but even in performance, there's a certain point after which you know you don't have to sing anymore, that you can't help it, you pretty much have to go there, and I did every show with mascara running down my face for the bow. And even in Suor Angelica, I think I did. But with Jenufa there's more to do. It's heart-wrenching."

Later in the piece, Braun concludes:

The sense of equilibrium Kanyova exudes does not stem merely from the way she combines the children, from whom she's never been apart, with the full-time career. There's also the package of fiery acting (it's more than the fact that she's a tiny slip of a thing that makes critics compare her to Teresa Stratas) added to some real vocal beauty.

Get excited, Madison, this will be a performance to remember!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Dane County Farmer's Market: A Symbol of Madison

I had been in Madison just six days before my first trip to the Dane County Farmers' Market. Madison had already shown itself to be an idyllic setting, with the imposing dome of the capitol building looming large over the city of pristine parks and sparkling lakes. However it was at the market that I began to realize why everyone I had met before and after arriving sang Madison's praises almost to hyperbole (or so it seemed): this is a capital city with a small town feel, a tight-knit community where neighbors still believe in friendliness and "getting to know you." Granted I'm coming from New York and more recently, Bangkok, much larger and arguably less-friendly towns. Still, there is a certain something about Madison that makes it special, and that something is most tangible at the Dane County Farmers' Market.

This past Saturday I returned to the market with my Madison Opera shirt on and brochures in tow, ready to work our information booth with volunteer extraordinaire Hannah. It was great to talk about opera, Madison, and more with the local farmers, students, and curious passersby who stopped to say hello. One woman Hannah and I met turned out to be the cousin of Regina Resnik, the great mezzo-soprano! It was a lovely morning, and there seems to be real buzz about our new season. The gorgeous pictures we have of Jun Kaneko's sets for Madama Butterfly are certainly helping, and it looks like the Overture Center box-office could be dealing with a lengthy line come October 6 when single tickets go on sale!