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!

Friday, September 5, 2008

L'opera Imaginaire

In the spirit of our first production of the 2008-09 season, I thought I'd post this beautiful animation by Jonathan Hills set to Felicia Weathers singing "Un Bel Di Vedremo" from Madama Butterfly.

Here is a description of the L'opera Imaginaire series from IMDB:

Like Fantasia (1940) or Allegro Non Troppo (1977), L'Opéra Imaginaire (1993) is an assembly of animated short films based on classic music greats. Directed by some of the best European animators and artists, L'Opéra Imaginaire takes us through dance, theater, music and painting masterpieces. It uses several animation techniques, like stop-motion clay animation or CG characters.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Willkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome!

The Madison Opera blog is now officially up and running, and we're glad you've found your way here. My name is Brian and I'm the new Manager of Communications and Community Outreach at Madison Opera. I'll be writing most of the entries at The MadOpera Blog, but stay tuned for posts from our guest artists and General Director Allan E. Naplan. Along the way there will also be interviews with opera stars and conductors, stage managers and designers, staff and volunteers. We're hoping this will be a place where you can learn all about what goes on behind the scenes at Madison Opera, from both artistic and administrative viewpoints. In addition to this lofty pursuit (perhaps even complementing it), The MadOpera Blog will inevitably host an amalgam of obscure opera clips from YouTube, musicological tangents, the occasional press release, and accounts of life in the Monroe Street office. That said, we'll do our best to make this a fun blog to visit, a blog where even the seemingly most random post is somehow traceable back to our simple love of opera and core belief that more people can (and should) share this love.