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: