Month: September 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!

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 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!

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).

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.”