Monday, December 21, 2009

Word on the street is opera makes a great gift!

Local news outfits 77 Square, Madison Magazine, and The Well-Tempered Ear are all encouraging you to keep Madison Opera in mind this gift-giving season.

77 Square's holiday gift guide includes a section "For the opera lover," which recommends tickets to The Turn of the Screw paired with the Henry James novella, or tickets to The Flying Dutchman with the full score on the side (for the real aficionado). Jacob Stockinger of The Well-Tempered Ear seconds these recommendations, along with related DVDs.

Madison Magazine's article "Seize the City!" offers 62 things every Madisonian should try in the new year. At number 15 is The Flying Dutchman. They write, "Not only is it a story filled with stormy seas, a deal made with the devil and the promise of redemption through true love—it’s also the Madison Opera’s first staging of an opera by Richard Wagner."

If you already have tickets but are looking for a way to show your support this holiday season, we recommend making gifts to the Opera in honor of a friend or family member!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Casting for Miles and Flora draws on budding local talent

Madison Opera is excited to announce the casting of Alistair Sewell and Jennifer DeMain in the roles of Miles and Flora for Benjamin Britten's The Turn of the Screw. To classical music lovers in Madison, these are familiar names: Alistair is the son of Maestro Andrew Sewell, music director of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, and Jennifer is the daughter of Maestro John DeMain, Madison Opera's artistic director and the Madison Symphony Orchestra's music director.

Casting the children in The Turn of the Screw is notoriously difficult. The roles require exceptional vocal skill combined with adept musical and dramatic proficiency. After an extensive audition process, General Director Allan Naplan was thrilled to discover Mr. Sewell, 13, and Ms. DeMain, 17, were suited perfectly for the parts.

Boy soprano Alistair Sewell will be making his Madison Opera debut as Miles. A former member of the Madison Boy Choir, Alistair continues to sing regularly and last year appeared as soloist in Howard Blake’s The Snowman with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong. Alistair is currently a member of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony - Philharmonia Orchestra, as a cellist, and also participates in the chamber music program. He is the first trumpet in the 8th grade band and jazz band at Jefferson Middle School. Alistair has a keen interest in acting, movie making and composition, and has performed several of his own compositions locally. He works regularly as a model with the Rock Agency in Madison and has studied with acting coach John Kirby in Los Angeles. In 2009, Alistair appeared as Wally in the production of Thorton Wilder’s Our Town at the Masterworks Festival in Winona Lake, Indiana.

A performer of diverse talents, Jennifer DeMain is currently completing her senior year at Edgewood High School in Madison. At Edgewood, she has appeared as Juror #4 in Twelve Angry Jurors; Rosemary in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying; Minnie Fay in The Matchmaker; and Nicky Cricker in The Mystery of Edwin Drood. In addition to her work as a vocalist, Jennifer is principal cellist of the Edgewood High School String Orchestra, and pianist for the Edgewood High School Jazz Ensemble. She began on stage at the age of five as a super in Madison Opera's production of Help! Help! The Globolinks and later joined the Madison Opera Children's Chorus for productions of Carmen, La boheme, Turandot, and Il trovatore. Other credits include the children's chorus in Jake Heggie's Dead Man Walking with South Australian Opera and work locally with Children's Theater of Madison and Four Seasons Theater. Jennifer currently studies voice with Andrew Abrams.

Performances of The Turn of the Screw will take place in The Playhouse at Overture, January 28-31, 2010.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Holiday tradition gone bad. Really, really bad.

Here is a clip that has been making its way around the internet for a few years now but is always worth revisiting, especially in this season of many "Messiahs": it's what Alex Ross calls "the great 'Messiah' train wreck", aka "organist on crack" (click to listen to the .mp3). So spectacularly bad its good. One can't help but wonder what was going through the minds of those poor singers during the final chords.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Benjamin Britten: A Musical Life [Part 1]

Opera-goers tend to hold certain associations with the giants of opera composition. Apocryphal or not, they are the quick definitions that come to mind at the mention of a composer's name. One tends to think of Mozart as a child prodigy, a playful flirt, a tortured genius. Wagner? Gesamtkunstwerk visionary, megalomaniac, anti-Semite. Verdi? Political revolutionary. Rossini? Funny fat man. Bizet? French one-hit-wonder. Britten?...Bueller? Bueller? Anyone?

Though Benjamin Britten was the most prolific and successful opera composer of the mid-2oth century, though his works are already staples of the repertory at opera houses around the world, his name does not yet ring familiar for most people. Even the casual opera subscriber (in the U.S., that is) would likely be hard-pressed to name more than one Britten opera, let alone any information about the man beyond his nationality.

The Britten-Pears Foundation--our lead sponsor for The Turn of the Screw in January--has done an admirable job of combating this trend. Following the Foundation's example and utilizing the full resources of their brilliant website, we will be exploring Britten's life in a multi-part series on The MadOpera Blog in preparation for our new production The Turn of the Screw.


Benjamin Britten was born in Lowestoft, Suffolk, England on November 22, 1913. Lowestoft is about 3 hours northeast of London on the coast, and the sea will have deep personal and musical significance for Britten throughout his life. His childhood home in Lowestoft is now a bed and breakfast.

Britten was the youngest of four siblings. His father was a dentist, and his mother an amateur musician. The Britten-Pears Foundation reports that his mother encouraged all of the Britten children musically, though while South Lodge Preparatory School, young Benjamin developed a passion for sport as well, specifically tennis, swimming, and cricket.

Music ruled, though, and Britten first scribbled down notes at the age of 5. At the age of 7, piano lessons began and viola lessons followed shortly. By the time he was 14, he was studying composition with Frank Bridge, whose composition The Seas had "knocked him sideways."

To fully gauge the depth of young Britten's musicality, explore this timeline with audio samples of his earliest compositions. They range from jovial, childish ditties to more self-conscious imitations of classical forms, but all nonetheless plainly exhibit a burgeoning talent.

In September 1928, Britten began to board at Gresham's School in Norfolk. He enjoyed sports and music at school but was homesick, though this did not thwart his creativity. While at Gresham's, he began to set poetry to music, and at the age of 16 he won a scholarship to study at the Royal College of Music in London. He lived with his sister Beth and studied composition with John Ireland, who was known for a style branded "English impressionism," heavily influenced by Debussy and Ravel. But despite writing his official "Opus 1" (Sinfonietta) and developing his skills at RCM, Britten did not feel musically at home in the conservatory setting. With more time and freedom, Britten would begin to come into his own.

*Facts and photos via The Britten-Pears Foundation website.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Eye on the Cast: Caroline Worra

Madison Opera's casting high point promises to be the gifted Caroline Worra as the Governess in The Turn of the Screw...
Opera News, "Hot Tickets"
Soprano Caroline Worra has been hailed as "a new soprano powerhouse" by The New Yorker. In Time Out New York, the composer Mark Adamo had this to say: "Caroline's an immaculate musician and vocally complete, but that's only where a singer starts. Her sound is utterly her own--rich, bright, crackling with intensity--and every time I hear her, she's a bolder, more inventive actress." From January 28-31, you can hear her sing the role of The Governess in Madison Opera's production of The Turn of the Screw.

There's a reason our casting of Ms. Worra as The Governess caught the attention of Opera News magazine: she is known for excelling in contemporary repertoire. I first heard her as a stunning Eurydice in Philip Glass's Orphee at Glimmerglass Opera in 2007; with that same company, she earned a Grammy nomination for a recording of The Mines of Sulphur and high-praise for creating the title role in The Greater Good: The Passion of Boule de Suif. Earlier this season, she was Miss Rose in the world premiere of Stephen Schwartz's new work, Seance on a Wet Afternoon.

But to focus only on her work in contemporary opera would ignore her huge range. She's recently performed Marguerite in Faust with Opera Memphis, and this month, she is in Chicago at the Lyric Opera for Hanna in The Merry Widow. Perhaps these two videos of Caroline (Verdi's Il Corsaro and Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress) capture it best.

Rehearsals for The Turn of the Screw start January 11th, and we can't wait!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Click/Read/Watch/Listen: The Turn of the Screw

It's that time again. Notebook ready? Study up on Benjamin Britten's The Turn of the Screw with our guide to the best online resources available: Click/Read/Watch/Listen [pdf].

Explore the life of Benjamin Britten, from his early compositions to apotheosis as England's great composer of the 20th century. Watch video of his BBC broadcasts with tenor Peter Pears or a cheesy and controversial 1982 film version of the opera (dubbed with fantastic vocal performances, I might add). Read the full text of Henry James' original novella or a humourous abridged version of Myfanwy Piper's libretto. There is much to discover and the links await, so go click, read, watch and listen.

Turn of the Screw painting by Christian Andrew Grooms.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Funny and true: "Why Opera is a Manly Art" and "Bad Reasons to Hate Opera"

Two funny pieces about breaking down opera stereotypes recently came to my attention. The people over at The Guy's Manual, an online series sponsored by MSN and Grape Nuts cereal, have come up with a list called "Why Opera is a Manly Art." In Vancouver, a writer inspired by Vancouver Opera gives us "10 (Bad) Reasons to Hate Opera."

"Why Opera is a Manly Art" is great for its range and wackiness: they start with "Mozart lent his cool factor to the genre" and end with "it will deceive your woman into thinking you're sensitive." It's all lighthearted with a grain of truth. I particularly enjoyed this opening from writer Marc Freeman:
Do you remember that scene in "The Untouchables" when a weeping Al Capone attends the opera "Pagiliacci" while his henchman whacks Sean Connery's Jim Malone? No one called Capone a sissy then and no one will call you one now. After all, there's more to being a music man than playing "Guitar Hero." Here's why you can let your manly manliness emerge at the opera house.
In "10 (Bad) Reasons to Hate the Opera", David Tracey gives us the typical complaints from opera-haters and then shoots them down. For instance, the No. 3 bad reason is "It's expensive." Tracey writes that while some seats have to be expensive to cover the huge cost of putting on an opera, there are always cheap seats to be found. In Madison, that means $16 or $20, not bad considering an evening ticket at Sundance Cinemas can be $13. He also points out that for the unitiated looking to just hear what opera sounds like, you can tune into the free Met Opera radio broadcasts, which in our neck of the woods run on WPR 88.7, starting Dec. 12.

I also like bad reason No. 2, "It's boring":
If sex, murder, war, obsession, torture, love, politics and more murder don’t interest you... you might take a good look in the mirror. Maybe you’re the boring one?
Reason No. 7, "I don't own a tux/gown," has a Vancouver-centric response that easily translates to Madison:
This is Vancouver, where "elegant attire" means your fleece liner matches your raincoat.
Check them out, and let us know if you have anything to add to either list!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Happy Birthday, Benjamin Britten!

English composer, conductor, violist and pianist Benjamin Britten was born on November 22, 1913 in Lowestoft, Suffolk. We are a day late but his birthday is certainly worth a mention, as our new production of his 1954 opera The Turn of the Scew is fast approaching.

In the coming weeks, I'll be exploring Britten's life and works on this blog. He was a child prodigy who would go on to change the course of opera in the 20th century. Thankfully, there are rich resources available online--courtesy of the Britten-Pears Foundation, one of our underwriters for Turn--and I intend to take full advantage of them!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

What's your favorite opera?

As National Opera Week continues, we're posing a question to readers of The MadOpera Blog: what's your favorite opera? The conversation has already started on Facebook and Twitter (thanks to The Atlanta Opera), and now you can let us know in the comments section here.

I'd have to say that my favorite is Verdi's Otello--so many breathtaking moments, which is what it's all about in my book--but it could also easily be L'Orfeo (Monteverdi), Le Nozze di Figaro (Mozart), Parsifal (Wagner), Salome (Strauss), Nixon in China (John Adams), or Orphee (Philip Glass).

It's an impossible question, but your interest must be piqued now, so join the conversation in the spirit of Opera Week!

Monday, November 16, 2009

2009 NEA Opera Honors

Did you know this week is National Opera Week? Madisonians celebrated the power of opera with us at Carmen last weekend, and on Saturday the National Endowment for the Arts and Opera America officially kicked things off with the second annual Opera Honors:

In 2008, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) established the NEA Opera Honors to celebrate outstanding achievement and individual excellence. The awards are the highest honor the government bestows in opera, and this year they were presented on Saturday, November 14 at the Harman Center for the Arts in Washington, DC. OPERA America, the national nonprofit service organization, is the NEA partner in the Opera Honors program.

The 2009 awards were given in five categories: singer, composer, advocate, conductor and director. Combining power, flexibility and musicianship, Marilyn Horne expanded the repertoire for generations of mezzo-sopranos, and through the Marilyn Horne Foundation she has helped innumerable young singers as well as the future of the vocal recital. John Adams has rewoven the fabric of opera with works such as Nixon in China and Doctor Atomic. In his unique musical language, he confronts the moral complexities of our time, and dares audiences to do the same. Lotfi Mansouri was the innovative director of two major companies, the Canadian Opera and the San Francisco Opera, and revolutionized the art form through pioneering use of supertitles. Though he conducts throughout the world, Julius Rudel will be best remembered for taking a young company, the New York City Opera, and making it into a unique and international force. Since his first venture into opera—directing Susannah at the New York City Opera in 1958—Frank Corsaro has used his keen dramatic sensibilities to revivify the core repertoire and to create exciting productions of new and lesser-known works.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Listen to The Turn of the Screw

BBC radio is streaming a performance of The Turn of the Screw online until tomorrow at Noon. It's a broadcast from last weekend at the London Coliseum, with an estimable cast led by Maestro Charles Mackerras:

Prologue/Peter Quint ...... Michael Colvin (tenor)
Governess ...... Rebecca Evans (soprano)
Mrs Grose ...... Anne Murray (mezzo-soprano)
Miss Jessel ...... Cheryl Barker (soprano)
Miles ...... Charlie Manton (treble)
Flora ...... Nazan Fikret (soprano)
Members of the English National Opera Orchestra
Charles Mackerras (conductor).

Thursday, November 12, 2009

360 degrees of Overture Hall

Madison Opera's Carmen. Overture Hall, November 8, 2009. Panorama by Virtual Properties.

Check out more cool 360 views of the Overture Center for the Arts--Madison Opera's performance home--over at the Overture Blog.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Happy 40th, Sesame Street!

In honor of Sesame Street's 40th birthday, enjoy these two Carmen-inspired clips from the show, featuring the formidable Sam Ramey and Denyce Graves. A hearty thank you to the Sesame Street gang for keeping opera on your radar over the years!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Review roundup

The reviews are in for Carmen! Madison Opera fans may have been surprised not to find a review in print yesterday in the Wisconsin State Journal, but check for Lindsay Christians' piece in print today: "Catch this captivating 'Carmen' before she's gone" (it was of course online at starting yesterday morning).

Also online now:

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Blogger Night recap

Thank you to the adventurous group of writers who came out to Carmen last night for our first Blogger Night at the Opera. It was something of a marathon, with those intermission chimes looming like a school bell at the end of an assignment-packed study hall. But they did it, and here's some of what they had to say (click the links for full posts):

Is it hyperbolic to say that I'm sitting here at the intersection of New Media and Old Art?...A few passers-by have expressed amazement, amusement, or ouright disbelief that we're live-blogging, which I take as decisive victory...It's certainly a noisily appreciative audience-- a pleasure to note, since Madison audiences can be reticent with their applause and cheers...Second intermission. Katharine Goeldner's voice sounds like caramel and bonfires-- she sings warmly and brings a beautiful danger to the role. A co-worker of mine is in the chorus and it's great fun to track him in his various costumes. (Hi, Will!) I had no idea how many famous songs come from this opera. In the women's bathroom more than one woman was humming "Toreador" under her breath.
Emily Mills of The Lost Albatross:

So far so good. It's easy to forget (or just not know in the first place) that a lot of the music from "Carmen" has permeated our popular culture...And I had to laugh - Carmen is one of the girls who works at a cigarette factory and, naturally, almost all of them smoke. Very un-PC, all that puffing and tobacco enjoyment. Had this been written and produced in modern times, I suspect the cigarette factory might have been replaced by, say, a solar cell manufacturing plant. Hah! The bells are chiming, back to it...The main lesson I'm taking from this story is that women are tricksy, and men are easily duped fools. Basically, a tale as old as time. But told with such flare! And plenty of soaring lyrics, dance, and color. Can't complain, really. I do appreciate the high drama and production value, and frankly, there just isn't enough of this in mainstream culture these days. Unless you count "Glee," which I do, but it's only one show after all.

The audience applauds loudly at the end of the first Flamenco song and dance. The atmosphere is ripe with Spain. The music is infectious among the audience members, some in suits and expensive dresses, others dressed much more casually...Whether you look at the sets, costumes and lighting; listen to the singing and instrumental playing; or take caught up in the acting — this enjoyable production is thoroughly virtuosic. It has juice...Is there consistently high quality throughout the roles and the various scenes and acts? Yes, and it continues in a cast that is well matched and well balanced, and in a staging that is effective, unpredictable and at times even daring. It all makes for art that is entertaining, which is exactly what Bizet had in mind when he wrote the work as a comic opera.

Tonight's performance is sold out, and I think that's really cool. I've often thought about how great it would be if an arts event created as much anticipation and brought out as many die-hard fans as the sporting events that help create our city's reputation. So it's fun not only to watch what's happening tonight, but also to be a part of it...I liked the visual contrast between the soldiers, including Don Jose, in their sunflower gold jackets and the townspeople, whose clothes were as sun-bleached as the building walls of the setting. Like the soldiers, Carmen stood out from everyone else. While other woman working in the cigarette factory looked somewhat dull, she shined in a bright white top and raven hair. The soldiers weren't the only ones captivated by her. I don't know how anyone in the audience could keep their eyes off her languid movements and sultry singing....I must say, I'm surprised by how vibrant, physical and sensual this production has been. And I mean that in a good way. This has been different from any other opera I've seen.

Looking around a little more, I’m realizing that “fashion at the Madison Opera” is as diverse is it comes. There is glitter and there are floor length gowns…there are blazers, plaid shirts, argyle sweaters, jeans, slacks…everything! The theme here is ‘anything goes’—and I love it....It’s so fun to see all the components from my backstage tour actually on stage! The wigs were one of my favorite parts to see in action—they truly look like they’re made for the women (good work, Jan!)...The Spanish skirts are fantastic—very flowy, the kind of skirt you wear and just HAVE to dance in. Another note: many of the gypsy women are wearing peasant tops , very much like the one’s I’ve seen on the market today...I think my final verdict on this show is that it’s something everyone should experience at least once in their life. I, for one, hope to experience it more than once, as it was absolutely breathtaking. I don’t have the eloquent, perfect words to describe it like a true show reviewer (maybe someday…), but for now, I’ll just say: Wow.

First intermission and I have to say that I’m enjoying myself. It’s overwhelming to take in every little part of this massive production...I’ve decided that the character of Carmen (played by Katharine Goeldner in her Madison Opera debut) is my idol. 1. She’s sexy. You should see how the men swoon for her and the women (all but one, so far) follow her. 2. Outwardly, she’s sassy, brash, and appears onstage in Act I with a confident swagger—head held high. 3. She’s unapologetic. Takes no prisoners. Fights with the women…takes on the men. Basically, she rocks. And she can sing. What more can you want?...The curtain has drawn. Bows have been taken to a standing ovation. Patrons are streaming out of the packed house. We should be proud, as a community, that we have an opera company to call our own. I know I am...Final cough drop count: 11.

Opening night of Carmen "a resounding success"

The reviews are starting to come in, and 77 Square proclaims, "For Madison Opera, the production is a resounding success. Together, the music, story and talented cast of Carmen combine to create a world that, when it ends, we're not yet ready to leave." That should give you an idea of the excitement on stage. Here are some photos of the excitement off-stage at "A Night in Seville" and in the Overture Hall lobby, where Blogger Night and a performance by the Tania Tandias Flamenco and Spanish Dance Company got the evening started right:

Friday, November 6, 2009

A Carmen teaser...

Photos by James Gill.

Blog previews

There has been a lot of hype about Carmen in town this week. Tonight's performance is sold-out, tickets are popping up on Craigslist, and Madison media and bloggers have been generous in their coverage (this particular opera does that to people). Here are some of the previews that have been popping up on local blogs, and remember, these guys will also be reporting live tonight from Overture Hall as part of our first Blogger Night at the Opera!
To join the Twitter conversation about Carmen tonight, use #madopera. Note: Tweet from the lobby only!

Opera Up Close: Available online and on TV

Carmen open's tonight so it is more than a little crazy around here, but perhaps you have some time to enjoy Opera Up Close: The Carmen Preview? Watch online at the Madison City Channel website, or tune in to channel 994 tonight at 10 p.m. if you're not with us at Overture Hall!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Allan Naplan discusses Carmen on WKOW

General Director Allan Naplan was up bright and early this morning to talk to WKOW27 about Carmen.

Critical reaction to Carmen in 1875

Georges Bizet's Carmen premiered at the Opéra Comique in Paris on March 3, 1875. The Opéra Comique was undergoing great change at the time Carmen came to be. Once known as the hub of witty, comic, or satirical works defined by the inclusion of spoken dialogue, it had grown more conservative and family-friendly:
By the 1850s the opéra comique tradition had lost much of its satirical nature and was considered "family entertainment" with rather rigid conventions of its own. In general, opéras comiques avoided the overblown spectacle of French grand opera (which cultivated elaborate scenery, massive crowd scenes, and dramatic spectacle, and were heroic and tragic), favored choral writing to ballets, and employed lighter voices in the leading roles. Its plots were highly sentimental, unambiguously moral in character, and invariably ended happily. [Chadwick Jenkins]
Camille du Locle, the Artistic Director of the Opéra Comique, knew he was pushing the limits of his theater's conventions by inviting Bizet to adapt Prosper Mérimée's gritty, realistic, and sensual novella: he was in fact hoping to revamp the Comique with Carmen. However, critical reaction to the fierce Carmencita and the trail of sex and violence that follows her free spirit was perhaps more contemptuous than anyone expected. Here's what they were saying about Carmen in 1875:

M. Bizet, as is known, belongs to that new sect that believes in vaporizing musical ideas instead of enclosing them within definite bounds...Such a way of composing must inevitably produce works that are confused. It is melody that is the design of music. If one takes that away, only educated noise is left.... Orchestration plays an important role in Bizet's music. It is full of learned combinations, delicate embellishments, and rare and unexpected sonorities. But the excessive struggling of voices against instruments is one of the faults of the modern school. The role of Carmen is not a success for Mme Galli-Marié. She is trivial and brutal; she turns this feline girl into a cynical harlot. [Paul de Saint-Victor, in Le moniteur]
Sadly, what is dramatic in a novel is not always so in the theater. Certain types of character that are intriguing in a book are less appealing on the stage, where they take on a realistic nature that shocks even less timorous spirits...There is, nonetheless, huge talent in this musical score. The music follows the various twists of fortune of the drama with rare theatrical intelligence, and there are clever details of harmony and instrumentation in abundance. [Victorin Jonçières, in La liberté]

The stage [in general] is given over more and more to women of dubious morals. It is from this class that people like to recruit the heroines of our dramas, our comedies, and now even our comic operas. But once they have sunk to the sewers of society they have to do so again and again; it is from down there that they have to choose their models. ... They think they always have to "improve" on what has gone before. Marion Delorme, Manon Lescaut, Marguerite Gautier, steps along this sorry path, are now past and gone ... Carmen is the daughter [of these] in the most revolting sense of the word ... the veritable prostitute of the gutter and the street-corner. [Achille de Lauzières, in La Patrie]

I won't mince words. Your Carmen is a flop, a disaster! It will never play more than twenty times. The music goes on and on. It never stops. There's not even time to applaud. That's not music! And your play – – that's not a play! A man meets a woman. He finds her pretty. That's the first act. He loves her, she loves him. That's the second act. She doesn't love him anymore. That's the third act. He kills her. That's the fourth! And you call that a play? It's a crime, do you hear me, a crime. [Jean Henri Dupin to his friend, the librettist Meilhac]
Bizet died just 3 months after the work premiered, only knowing these criticisms of his last great work. He did not know that it would swiftly go on to great success in Vienna in the fall of 1875, New York, London and St. Petersburgh in 1878, and finally Paris in 1883. Friedrich Nietzsche became perhaps the most vocal proponent of Carmen, writing:
This music seems to me to be perfect...This music is wicked, subtle, and fatalistic ; it remains popular at the same time...It builds, it organises, it completes; it is thus the antithesis to the polypus in music, "infinite melody." Have more painful, tragic accents ever been heard on the stage? And how are they obtained? Without grimace! Without counterfeit coinage! Without the imposture of the grand style! Finally, this music takes the auditor for an intelligent being, even for a musician.
Many thanks to the New York City Opera Project / Columbia University for their expertly researched and highly accessible website on the history of Carmen.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Backstage at the opera

We're just back in the office from the Student Matinee this afternoon, which was predictably a great time. Gotta love the reactions of students (love scenes = hoots and whistles). Luckily Obama's visit to Madison didn't affect traffic patterns and everyone arrived nice and early...we had over 30 schools coming from around Wisconsin!

Hitting rewind to yesterday, Production Manager Ken Ferencek was kind enough to take me and bloggers Maddie Green and Mollie Shambeau on a backstage tour of Overture Hall and the Carmen set. The slideshow above recreates it a little bit, enjoy!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Blogger Night at the Opera: Carmen

When you enter the Overture Hall lobby for opening night of Carmen this Friday, check out the flamenco dancers...and the bloggers.

Madison Opera's first ever Blogger Night at the Opera will see five local writers armed with lap-tops reporting live from the Overture Center. Participating bloggers have been invited to set-up in the lobby and share their thoughts and observations on the entire opera experience, starting before the show and continuing during the two intermissions of Carmen. For some, Carmen might be old-hat, and for others, it will be their first experience with live opera, so things are sure to get interesting!

Here's the list of participating blogs:
  • The collaborative blog for Madison, WI (Blogger: Maddie Greene)
The aims of Blogger Night are pretty simple. We want to reach new audiences by bringing fresh voices into the conversation about opera. On the flip side, we want to bring new media outlets to the attention of our audience (hence the blogger station in the lobby). It should be a fun experience for everyone involved!

And of course, just because your name is not on the list above doesn't mean you can't blog about Carmen. If Twitter is your thing, join the conversation on opening night under #MadOpera.

Opera Up Close review & Carmen in the news

Yesterday was our first Opera Up Close of the year. A great crowd came out to MMoCA to hear General Director Allan Naplan talk about the music and history of Carmen. One of my favorite segments was a comparison of "Habanera" interpretations by the great African-American singers Shirley Verrett, Grace Bumbry, Leontyne Price, Jessye Norman, and Denyce Graves. The range of tempi in particular was striking.

Katharine Goeldner, Adam Diegel,Candace Evans, and John DeMain (see photo above) were also on hand for a lively discussion about interpreting this ever-popular and ever-present work. The presentation ended with a hilarious look at the music of Carmen in American popular culture. We even un-earthed John Corigliano's "Electric Rock Opera" version of the Bizet, called The Naked Carmen. Needless to say there's a reason you may not have heard of it.

Yesterday was also a great day for Madison Opera in the news:

Friday, October 30, 2009

Opera Up Close: TIME CHANGE!

Opera Up Close: The Carmen Preview will now take place from 12 - 2 p.m. this Sunday, Nov. 1 at MMoCA. The event was originally scheduled for 4 - 6 p.m. but has been changed due to a statewide conflict with the Packers v. Vikings game.

Be sure to join us as
General Director Allan Naplan leads an exciting and engaging multi-media exploration of Bizet's Carmen. He'll be joined by Maestro John DeMain, director Candace Evans, soprano Katharine Goeldner and tenor Adam Diegel for commentary on the Madison Opera production.

General Admission $20 / Students FREE with valid ID

More rehearsal pics

Adam Diegel (Don Jose) and Katharine Goeldner (Carmen)
rehearse a heated exchange in Act III

More rehearsal pictures are now posted in our photo gallery. Check them out!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Scenes from Carmen rehearsals

I've been taking some photos at this week's rehearsals for Carmen over at Promenade Hall. These should give you a sense of just how many people are involved in this production (actual total: 238). More to come after Thursday night!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Flamenco Fans at Kids in the Rotunda

On Saturday, Madison Opera partnered with Kids in the Rotunda and the Monroe Street Fine Arts Center on a community art project that had kids making Flamenco Fans to go on display in the Overture Hall lobby during Carmen. We all had a great time, enjoy the pictures!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Candace Evans in Madison Magazine

Director / choreographer Candace Evans is featured in this month's issue of Madison Magazine. Check it out! From the article...

"I adore Carmen," says Evans, who now lives in Dallas. "The core of the story is about love and passion and what you care about--and being honest about it."

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Madison Youth Choirs gets the opera treatment

Members of the Madison Youth Choirs and their families were treated to a special presentation by Madison Opera last night. General Director Allan Naplan offered a youth-friendly version of Opera Up Close: The Carmen Preview, featuring the music and history of Carmen and an often hilarious look at the many modern pop-incarnations of Bizet's famous music. Following the presentation, soprano Elizabeth Cabellero (Micaela) worked the crowd with "Quando me'n vò" from La Boheme. Tenor James Kryshak (Remendado) then sang "Ah! Mes amis" from La Fille du Regiment, wowing everyone with 10 high-C's and a high-D thrown in for good measure. To end the night, the artists spoke a bit about their lives as opera singers and answered questions from the young choristers, many of whom will be appearing in Carmen.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Education activities update

Carmen artists arrive on Sunday, with our first reherasals starting on Monday. Stay tuned for interviews, videos, and rehearsal photos once things get under way next week!

For now, let's take a look at what's coming up under our Creating OPERAtunities education initiative.
  • On Tuesday night, Oct. 20, General Director Allan Naplan and guest artists from Carmen will present a special Opera Up Close event for the Madison Youth Choirs.
  • Saturday, Oct. 24, bring the kids to the Overture Center Rotunda Lobby and join us in creating Flamenco Fans to put on display during Carmen! In partnership with the Monroe Street Fine Arts Center and Kids in the Rotunda, Madison Opera will have coloring and decorating stations set up in the lobby from 9 a.m. - 2 p.m. Stop by before or after Kids in the Rotunda performances by Wouli!
  • Notifications for the 2009-2010 High School Apprenticeship Program went out this morning, and we're excited for what looks like a fantastic group of young singers! Participants will go behind-the-scenes with Madison Opera for a year, starting with Carmen.
  • Opera Up Close: The Carmen Preview will take place on Sunday, Nov. 1, 4 - 6 p.m. at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art Lecture Hall (Gen. Admisison: $20, Students: FREE). Yes, we know there is some sort of football game going on at the same time, but don't worry, we'll keep all attendees posted of the score!
  • On Wednesday, Nov. 4, we'll hold our annual Student Matinee. This year's students are definitely in for a doesn't get more exciting than Carmen.
  • Pre-Opera Talks are offered by General Director Allan Naplan in the Wisconsin Studio (3rd floor of Overture) exactly 1 hour before every performance. This is your last chance to learn about the music and history of Carmen and the details of the Madison Opera production before you take your seat!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Met Opera National Council Auditions

Tomorrow at 10 a.m., head to the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts in Brookfield to hear opera's rising stars audition in the Wisconsin district of the nation's most prestigious vocal competition. General Director Allan Naplan will award special talent with a future Madison Opera role. Two of last year's winners of the Wisconsin district can be seen in our upcoming Carmen: mezzo-soprano Jamie Van Eyck as Mercedes, and tenor James Kryshak as Remendado. Tenor Gregory Schmidt, who performs Prologue/Peter Quint in The Turn of the Screw with Madison Opera in January, is also a past winner. It's sure to be exciting!

Monday, October 5, 2009


The Habanera. You know it, even if you don’t, and now it just may be your ticket to free tickets.

Madison Opera is excited to announce its first ever YouTube video contest: Show Us Your Habanera! The Habanera is a famous aria from Georges Bizet’s popular opera Carmen. It originated on the opera stage but has since infiltrated our popular culture, appearing on your TV daily in commercials for everything from Doritos to Pepsi.

THE TASK: Create and upload YOUR version of the Habanera to YouTube. The most creative video--be it funny, beautiful, whatever--wins! Videos should be between 1 and 4 minutes long.*

THE PRIZE: A pair of tickets to Madison Opera’s opening night performance of Carmen in Overture Hall on Friday, November 6 at 8 p.m.

TO ENTER: Upload your video to YouTube and tag it “habanera contest.” Then, link the video to our Facebook page or in the comments section of this blog. You can also e-mail it to

DEADLINE: Friday, October 23, 2009.

*Stuck for ideas? Try writing new lyrics, lip syncing, singing along (in English OR French, if you're fancy), choreographing, animating or otherwise dramatically reworking the Habanera. Surprise us!

Don’t miss your shot at YouTube glory and the chance to win the hottest tickets in town!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Escamillo, your time is up?

In his always interesting "Abroad" column, Michael Kimmelman reports on the "Twilight of the Matadors" in Northeast Spain. Hopefully this doesn't affect Escamillo's job safety in Seville.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

2008-2009 Annual Report

Today is the first board meeting of the 2009-2010 Season, so it is the perfect time to officially wrap up last year.

The 2008-2009 Annual Report [PDF/4 mb] is now available and the news is good. For the fourth consecutive season, Madison Opera ended its fiscal year "in the black" with a positive net income. Despite a historically-challenging economic climate, we produced an artistically exceptional season and saw an increase in donated revenue. Our community education initiative Creating OPERAtunities was launched with new programs such as the High School Apprenticeship Program and Madison Opera Book Club along with continuing programs including the Student Matinee, A Night at the Opera, and Opera Up Close. Madison Opera remained committed to its mission to engage, inspire and enrich the community while advancing appreciation for the operatic art form and awakening new audiences to the excitement of opera. From a personal standpoint, I can say we all had a lot of fun along the way, too.

At the year end meeting of the Board of Trustees in August, new members were appointed and governing officers elected. We are happy to announce that Carla Alvarado, Laura J. Berhahn, MD, Catherine Furay and Patti Lucas are the newest members of the Madison Opera team. The new officers are Fran Klos (President), Stephen Hurley and Peter Lundberg (Vice Presidents), Martin Barret (Treasurer) and Jan Von Haden (Secretary).

Thank you to our board, patrons and donors for a fantastic year! We look forward to sharing the new season with you all.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Carmen: Click/Read/Watch/Listen

The rehearsal schedule for Carmen landed in my inbox yesterday, a definitive sign that opening night is not that far off. The artists arrive in 3 weeks, and come Nov. 6 the curtain goes up on the 2009/2010 Season.

So, how to prepare for Georges Bizet's ever-popular Carmen? Maybe you've seen it five times, maybe this will be your first. Either way, I hope you'll enjoy the Carmen edition of Click/Read/Watch/Listen [PDF, 192k]. For newbies, these links should help you get familiar with the story, music, and background of the opera. And if you're an experienced Bizet-nut, perhaps you haven't researched Merimee's novella "Carmen" or mined YouTube for a Lego-version of the opera. Happy clicking!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Overture's 5th Anniversary

The Overture Center for the Arts is celebrating 5 years of magic in Madison this Saturday with an open-house featuring free showcase performances, ticket giveaways, kids activities, birthday cake and a red wine tasting. Take a VIP backstage tour and explore all the nooks and crannies of the beautiful complex, including the rarely opened Audubon Room; listen to stories of the Overture Center's architects and experts; and enjoy hearing both the concert organ in Overture Hall and the Barton Organ in the Capitol Theater. Browse a full schedule of events and plan to stop by, Madison Opera will be there!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Opening night at the Met

Last night was the opening night of the Metropolitan Opera's 2009-2010 Season. Puccini's Tosca was the vehicle for star-soprano Karita Matilla and visionary director Luc Bondy. In just one night, the Met's stark, edgy new interpretation of this repertory classic has caused a sensation in the world of opera, begging the question over at Aria Serious: is opera for the present? The answer is of course yes, but directors updating or riffing on a composer's original intentions must always walk a fine line.

So the press hoopla today is revolving primarily around the fact that there were hearty boos last night for the production team (not the singers). As writer/composer Galen Brown wrote on Twitter this morning: "Didn't see Met's Tosca, so no opinion on specific case, but love that booing is part of opera culture--audience opinion counts." Ann Midgette of The Washington Post then responded with this: "On booing: Lukas Foss, when his Beethoven symphony performance was booed in Munich: 'At last, someone understands my music!'" In similar fashion to Foss, Bondy responded after the performance of Tosca last night, "If people were happy after Tosca, then I would be upset."

I agree with Brown that any paying audience has the right to voice their opinion, positive or negative. That booing is so entrentched in opera culture only confirms what we already know: opera fans have an usual passion for the art form. On the flipside, it is a little bit heartbreaking to see so many hours of hard work and comitted artistry dismissed in the heat of the moment, without allowing time for the interpretation to properly digest. Bondy seems to understand this last part though, and so he remains calm: his comment suggests a feeling that in time people will come around to his interpretation. Maybe so, as some already feel his work was quite powerful: as Opera Chic writes, "
Stripped of sentimentality, this was a thinking man's Tosca. And we were illuminated."

But I digress. The original intention of this post was to bring attention to David Pittsinger, our Mephistopheles in Faust this past May, who was hailed for a "stirring performance" as Angelotti in Tosca last night by the New York Times. And of course, soprano Danielle de Niese, who sang at the Union Theater in February, will be at the Met tonight as Susanna in Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro (she too seems to have infatuated someone over at the Times). Toi toi toi!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Congrats to Maestro Kelly Kuo!

Congratulations are in order for Maestro Kelly Kuo! Kelly was our conductor for Cosi fan Tutte last March and he has just been awarded a prestigious Career Assistance Award from The Solti Foundation US. Madison Opera is always proud to support exciting young talent. Judging the response Mr. Kuo received in Madison and this remarkable vote of confidence from the Solti Foundation, he is certainly someone to watch!

From Kelly's bio:

An accomplished young conductor and pianist, Kelly Kuo has had tremendous success working with both singers and instrumentalists in the United States and abroad in an astonishingly broad spectrum of repertoire. Currently Assistant Conductor of the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, Kelly Kuo made conducting debuts last season with the Lyric Opera of Chicago Porgy and Bess and Madison Opera Così fan tutte, returned to Lyric Opera San Diego to lead Trial by Jury and the world premiere of Rumpelstiltskin by Nicholas Reveles and conducts numerous performances of Porgy and Bess at the Hamburg Staatsoper.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Pre-season survey

Madison Opera would love to know more about its wonderful audience. In anticipation of the new opera season, would you mind helping us by completing this brief online survey? You'll have the chance to tell us things like where you get your news and why you attend the opera. The whole thing should take less than five minutes to finish. Thank you in advance for your time and help!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Single tickets now on sale

It's official: tickets are now on sale for Madison Opera's 2009/2010 Season performances! Get your seats here online, or call the Overture Center Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

Happy opera shopping!

UPDATE: Check out this post about Madison Opera's new season on the Inside Overture blog.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Season preview with Allan Naplan

Get excited for the 2009/2010 Season with this new YouTube preview, featuring the sights and sounds of our productions of Carmen, The Turn of the Screw and The Flying Dutchman. Check it out (click HQ for high quality version after it starts playing):

Also visit our new and improved YouTube page at

Single tickets go on sale Monday, September 14th at 11 a.m. through the Overture Center Box Office.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

What's been going on

It has been a busy few weeks in the office as we continue to wrap up our fiscal year and buckle down for single ticket sales (NEXT MONDAY!!) and Carmen. In addition, we've spent some time completely rearranging the front of our headquarters here at 3414 Monroe Street in preparation for the arrival of our new marketing and development associate Laura Albrecht. Laura started last week and we're thrilled to have her! Coming from Texas where she worked at Austin Lyric Opera, Laura is just starting her MBA in arts administration at UW-Madison's Bolz Center.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

We met the challenge!

Madison Opera is thrilled to announce that, thanks to the tremendous support of the community, our $100,000 Opera in the Park Challenge was a huge success! We raised over $50,000, which was then matched by a special friend of the Opera for a total campaign revenue of $101,396. This campaign attracted the largest community response we have ever experienced and helped to make Opera in the Park 2009 not only an artistic success, but a financial one as well. Thank you!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Michael Kaiser's "Arts in Crisis" Tour at Overture

Yesterday, arts professionals from around Wisconsin gathered in the Capitol Theater at the Overture Center for the Arts to listen to Michael Kaiser, the so-called "turnaround king" and president of the Kennedy Center for the Arts. Many from the Madison Opera staff and board of trustees were in attendance. In a conversation moderated by Andrew Taylor, Kaiser touched on the key points from his book, "The Art of the Turnaround," encouraging us all to think big, plan ahead, and commit to a rigorous regime of institutional marketing. Most importantly, Kaiser reminded us that the the art we produce must be exciting and that in times of economic uncertainty, we must not flinch and cut programming, but rather devote ourselves even more aggressively to the production of beautiful, challenging art. That is always our mission, but it is also our surest stream of revenue which is often forgotten! To say the least, his talk has sent a positive jolt through the Wisconsin arts community. Here's some press on the event: