Monday, September 27, 2010

Spotlight on Constanze Weber: Mozart's Wife

With only six weeks remaining until our production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, we turn the spotlight to someone who often doesn’t receive much attention: Mozart’s wife, Constanze Weber. Their courtship was scandalous and their married life tragic, but there is no denying the impact she had on Mozart’s life.

A trained musician herself, Contanze originally met Mozart when he fell in love with her older sister, Aloysia. Aloysia rejected Mozart and married someone else, but four years later Mozart ended up boarding in the Weber home. When it became clear that Mozart was pursuing Constanze, now 19, the Weber’s asked him to leave. The romance continued despite opposition from Mozart’s father, Leopold. Without Leopold’s permission to marry, the two lived together without a wedding. On July 31, 1782, Mozart wrote the following to his father:

“All the good and well-intentioned advice you have sent fails to address the case of a man who has already gone so far with a maiden.”

Some historians believe that Constanze’s mother threatened to call the police if they did not remedy this situation, and the two were married on August 4th, 1782.

In the nine years that the couple was married, Constanze delivered 6 children, only two of whom reached their first birthday. The tragedies they dealt with are thought to have a put a strain on their marriage and some believed that Constanze began a long term affair. This is disputed by others; the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians claims that assertion to be unfair:

"Early 20th-century scholarship severely criticized her as unintelligent, unmusical and even unfaithful, and as a neglectful and unworthy wife to Mozart. Such assessments were based on no good evidence."

What can be known for certain is that Constanze was only 29 when Mozart died in 1791, deeply in debt and with two small children. Constanze built a life for herself by organizing memorial concerts and publishing her husband’s works, eventually doing quite well for herself financially. She remarried in 1809 to a Danish diplomat and writer, who worked with her on Mozart’s biography before his death in 1826. Constanze lived as a widow for another 18 years. She was 80 years old.

We will be digging deeper into Constanze's life in the Madison Opera Book Club with our first book of the season, Marrying Mozart by Stephanie Cowell. Be sure to join us when we meet on October 30th!
 -Laura, Marketing/Development Associate

Friday, September 24, 2010

Figaro Casting Update

Figaro approaches, and we have some news in the casting department: recently added to the cast are  Emily Lorini as Cherubino, Melissa Parks as Marcellina, and Michael Gallup as Dr. Bartolo. Locally based talents Emily Birsan, James Doing, and Justin Niehoff Smith will round out the ensemble as Barbarina, Don Basilio, and Antonio.

Our website now features lots of good stuff on Figaro, including artist bios and headshots, as well as enhanced "Discover" pages for the opera where you can read a synopsis, listen to audio samples, view production photos, and read our educational guide.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Cabaret Italiano: Good food, good music, good times to benefit Madison Opera

We're kicking off our 50th Anniversary Season on October 24th with Cabaret Italiano, a casual evening of food, music, and wine to benefit Madison Opera. Delicious Italian classics, cabaret and Broadway entertainment with the cast of The Marriage of Figaro, a special performance by Allan Naplan and John DeMain, plus a silent auction full of great gifts for the holidays, will all make for an exciting night. Embrace la dolce vita and reserve your seats now for this unique event!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

UT season opens with premiere of Across A Distance

University Theatre opens its new season with the world premiere of "Across A Distance", a multimedia bilingual performance piece for soprano and deaf actor (Mitchell Theater, Sept. 17 - 25). The creative team for this exciting new work includes playwright Nick Lantz and performer Robert Schleifer, and a trio well known at Madison Opera: soprano Julia Faulkner (recently heard in The Turn of the Screw and The Flying Dutchman), director Kelly Bremner (a regular assistant director for Madison Opera), and composer Scott Gendel (staff accompanist for Madison Opera). In development for over five years, "Across A Distance" unites Deaf performance and opera through an allegorical tale about Man, a storyteller, and Woman, a scientist, who live on separate islands, longing to connect. 

We caught up with Scott to learn more about his new piece.

MadOpera: How would you describe your music for "Across a Distance"?

Scott: The music for "Across a Distance” is really written around the sounds of Julia Faulkner’s voice and Nick Lantz’s poetry.

Nick’s words don’t shy away from complexity, but are also written in simple, plain language. To pick up on that style, my music for this show is based on the richness of Romantic and early 20th century opera, but has elements of musical theatre and folk song woven in. In this way, the songs bridge the gap between a dense operatic language and a simpler “pop music” sensibility.

Julia’s voice is so luscious; she has an amazing way with legato lines, and a deep understanding of Romantic gesture from all her work on the operas of Richard Strauss. But not everyone knows that she has a strong musical theatre background, which lends her a wonderful ability to deliver a sung line simply, as if it were speech. So her voice is really perfectly matched to Nick’s poems; her basic sound is lush and full of color, but she can also sing in a more direct vernacular style.

My music, then, is operatic in most ways: grand gestures, long legato phrases, lush harmonies that recall Romantic and 20th century operas, and a real focus on the beautiful sound of the voice. But the songs also incorporate aspects of musical theatre and folk song traditions, so that when the poetry takes on a simpler, more direct tone, the music reflects that by moving into more speech-like modes of expression, influenced by popular music.

MadOpera: How has your work as accompanist for Madison Opera informed how you write for the voice?

Scott: My job as accompanist for Madison Opera (and for other vocal performances) has been a huge help in composing music for the voice! By coaching such accomplished singers, I get the privilege to hear what kinds of phrases a professional singer loves to sing, what music causes them the biggest headaches, how to best set up a singer for success on high notes, how a performer’s voice changes over the course of a 3-hour opera, and countless other observations that have been invaluable in my composing career. And of course, getting to completely immerse myself in operatic masterworks for weeks at a time is a wonderful luxury that I count as one of the great joys of my chosen profession. There is no better way to learn about opera than to lose oneself in it! Through such intensive score study, I learn how to effectively support a singer with instrumental accompaniment, how to create character development through musical gestures, and so much more.

"Across a Distance" opens tomorrow night. Bringing Scott's music to life in the pit is the Solo Nero Duo: Jessica Johnson, piano, and Tony Di Sanza, percussion.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Season Preview

Watch our 2010-11 season preview video to get a taste of our upcoming productions, and of course save the dates (or purchase tickets now, why don't you?).

^A tip: change the video settings to 480p for the best quality.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Fifty Years of Madison Opera: A New Series (Part 1)

Today is Madison Opera founder Maestro Roland Johnson's 90th birthday, and it is with our sincerest gratitude that we wish him a very happy day! We are using this special occasion to start a season long blog series documenting Madison Opera's 50 year history, which is inextricably tied to the passion and hard work of Maestro Johnson,  the company's artistic leader for 32 years.

Roland Johnson was born in Johnson City, Tennessee in 1920. A trained violinist, he received a scholarship to the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. As a young man, he enlisted in the Navy during World War II, and following the war, he pursued graduate studies in violin and composition at the Juilliard School and Tanglewood. In 1948, Johnson took over as conductor of the CCM orchestra, and in 1952-53, he received a Fleischmann Fellowship and spent a year in Europe as an assistant conductor to Hermann Scherchen.

Upon his return from Europe, Johnson was appointed to the University of Alabama as a teacher of violin and voice, in addition to a position leading the university orchestra and chorus. It was at the University of Alabama that Johnson met his wife, Arline Hanke, a singer and the director of the school's opera program.

Roland and Arline Johnson arrived in Madison in 1961, where Roland was to be the new Music Director of the Madison Civic Music Association. At the time, no formal opera organization was associated with MCMA. However, upon their arrival, the Johnsons were approached by a group of Civic Chorus members led by Lois Dick, Robert Tottingham, Warren Crandall and Joanna Overn, about creating a formal opera company.

The immediate result was the Madison Civic Opera Workshop (above), which debuted in May of 1962 at a pops concert titled "A Night in Vienna." Held in the Youth Building (now the Alliant Energy Center), the ensemble performed Act II of Strauss's Die Fledermaus. Later the same month they performed Act II of The Marriage of Figaro in Scanlan Hall of Central High School, making that opera a fitting start to Madison Opera's 50th season.

Monday, September 13, 2010

We have a winner!

Our Facebook Fan Drive closed at Midnight on Friday, bringing in 185 new Facebook fans for Madison Opera over the course of ten days. Without further ado, the winner of two tickets to The Marriage of Figaro is...

Congratulations to Nadine and Izzy the intern for bringing in 30 fans, we hope you enjoy the show! Runners up were The Jewelers Workshop and Lavonne Dettmers, with 23 and 22 recruits respectively.

A big thank you to all who participated. Stay tuned for more fun Facebook contests and we'll see you at the opera!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Single tickets on sale Sept. 11th

Single tickets for Madison Opera's 2010-2011 Season: Celebrating Fifty Years, go on sale tomorrow morning, September 11th at 8 a.m., through the Overture Center Box Office (201 State St.). Those in line at the Box Office tomorrow morning will be able to enjoy free Starbucks coffee and treats!

Ticket purchases by phone and online start at 10 a.m. on September 11th. To order by phone, call (608) 258-4141. To purchase online, follow the links below:

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Win tickets through our Facebok Fan Drive!

As we gear up for the new season and single ticket sales, we decided to have some fun with a Facebook Fan Drive! We're asking YOU to recruit your friends to become Madison Opera fans. The person who gets the most new people to "like" our page on Facebook between now and the start of single ticket sales on Sept. 11th will win two orchestra-level seats to The Marriage of Figaro in November (a $156 value!). When encouraging your friends to "like" Madison Opera on Facebook, be sure to ask them to post your full name on our wall so we know who sent them! The winner will be announced on Monday morning, September 13th.