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Opera Up Close: What You Missed!

If you weren’t at Opera Up Close yesterday, you missed some seriously nformative and entertaining commentary on The Threepenny Opera. Here’s our recap of the event:

Sadly, this was our departing general director Allan Naplan’s last Opera Up Close. The audience started by giving him a warm and well-deserved ovation for initiating this signature program in Madison. Allan then proceeded to give us an in-depth overview of Kurt Weill’s life and work. What stood out was Weill’s perpetual “outsider” status: as a Jew in Germany on the eve of the Nazi takeover, and as a German in Paris, and eventually New York. It also seems, though, that this gave him a flexibility and fluidity between styles that really shaped his distinct sound, which draws from jazz, cabaret, operetta, and classical music. It was also interesting to learn the details of the challenging first production of Threepenny in Berlin, which played to a skeptical opening night audience until the bawdy “Army Song” riled them up.
Up next, assistant director Frank Honts offered a special presentation on Marc Blitzstein, the composer and writer who adapted Brecht’s original lyrics to English for the popular 1954-61 off-Broadway production. Madison Opera is using the Blitzstein adaptation, and  as it turns out, the Blitzstein papers are archived right here in our city at the Wisconsin Historical Society. Having combed that trove of information, Frank talked about Blitzstein’s famous, pro-union piece Cradle Will Rock and his mentoring of Leonard Bernstein, who presented the first performance of his Threepenny adaptation at Brandeis University in 1952. It was also comical to hear that Blitzstein’s famous “Mack the Knife” translation–later used by Louis Armstrong and Bobby Darin–was originally just called “Moritat,” a nod to the original German title (rhyming to “Moritat” didn’t work as well as “Knife,” in the end.) Frank also discovered that Blitzstein had originally toyed with setting his adaptation in San Francisco and New York, before sticking to Victorian London.
Blitzstein was a communist and was always sympathetic to the message of Threepenny, but we learned yesterday that he originally was put-off by Weill’s music. Later on, though, it stuck in his head, and he began to toy with a translation. He called Weill at home in 1950, and sang his translation of “Pirate Jenny” to both Weill and Lotte Lenya over the phone. They both loved it, and encouraged him to translate the whole opera. Weill died just months later, but Lenya would appear in the New York production of Blitzstein’s translation.
After Frank, it was John DeMain and Dorothy Danner’s turn. Both have extensive experience crossing the opera and musical theater boundary, so there was a lively discussion about how we define both genres. John’s opinion was that if it’s majority sung, then it’s an opera, and since Threepenny is majority dialogue, it’s musical theater. He then shared a fantastic anecdote about a dinner with Stephen Sondheim, where he asked Sondheim whether he thought Sweeney Todd was a musical or an opera. Sondheim replied that it had entirely to do with venue, which shapes the audiences expectation (“It’s opera when an opera company does it, and musical theater when it’s on Broadway.”) John also talked about Weill’s philosophy that there’s no opera or musical theater, but just good music and bad music. Dorothy, a former Broadway actress/dancer, revealed that she fell into opera directing while hanging behind-the-scenes with her opera-singer husband. She also shared that she approaches opera and musical theater the same way, but whether you’re working at an opera company or a theater company really impacts what your expectations are on day one. The conversation was lively, and it was incredible to hear these two pros chat and reminisce about their experiences.
Finally, Jim DeVita (Macheath) and Alicia Berneche (Polly) took the stage to talk about their roles. Jim, a classical actor noted for his work at American Players Theatre, talked about overcoming his fear of singing and his recent coaching sessions with John DeMain. He also talked about making the role of Macheath his own, and the challenges of the opera process (he compared the transition between theater and opera to what it would be like for a pilot being asked to fly a space shuttle.) Alicia, an acclaimed soprano who has performed across the country, thought that she had a leg up in this repertoire versus the traditional opera singer because she started out in straight theater. She also cited Dorothy–whom she has collaborated with frequently–for teaching her how to be herself onstage, breaking down the facade that opera sometimes invites. It was a fascinating discussion, and we’re so thankful this thoughtful group of artists took time out of their day for our Opera Up Close audience!
As usual, Allan closed the event with a segment on opera in popular culture, this time with a look at “Mack the Knife” through the ages. (My favorite had to be this McDonald’s commercial.)
The next Opera Up Close will be for La Traviata, on Saturday, April 16th, from 1-3 PM in MMoCA’s lecture hall, hosted by yours truly.

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Keely Futterer

Rosina, The Barber of Seville

Hometown: Dover, AR
Madison Opera Debut: Léontine, The Anonymous Lover (2024)

Recently: Musetta, La Bohème; Armida, Rinaldo; Charlene, Service Provider; Jazz Trio, Trouble in Tahiti (Minnesota Opera);
Armida, Rinaldo; Vanderdendur, Candide; Angostura, Tenor Overboard (Glimmerglass Festival);
Rodelinda, Rodelinda (Hudson Hall); Fiordiligi, Così fan tutte (Opera Memphis);
Marie, The Daughter of the Regiment (Opera Saratoga)

Upcoming: Anna Sørenson, Silent Night (Wolf Trap Opera); Marcellina, Leonora (Chicago Opera Theater);
Fiordiligi, Così fan tutte (Virginia Opera)


Weston Hurt

Baritone, Opera in the Park

Hometown: Spring, TX
Madison Opera Debut: Germont, La Traviata (2019)

Recently: Sharpless, Madama Butterfly (Houston Grand Opera, New Orleans Opera);
Britten's War Requiem (Opera Roanoke); Scarpia, Tosca (Arizona Opera);
Germont, La Traviata (Lyric Opera of Kansas City); Nabucco, Nabucco (Seattle Opera)

Upcoming: Rigoletto, Rigoletto (English National Opera)

Joshua Sanders

Tenor, Opera in the Park

Hometown: Plain, WI
Madison Opera Debut: Giuseppe, La Traviata (2011)
Also at MO: Tobias Ragg, Sweeney Todd; Inmate, Dead Man Walking; Ensemble, Acis and Galatea

Recently: Count Almaviva, The Barber of Seville; Romeo, Romeo and Juliet (Opera San José);
Tamino, The Magic Flute (Nashville Opera); Sam Clay, The Amazing Adventures of
Kavalier & Clay
workshop (Metropolitan Opera)

Upcoming:  Victorin, Die tote Stadt (Boston Symphony Orchestra)

Sachie Ueshima, wearing black in front of a stone staircase.
Sachie Ueshima

Zerlina, Don Giovanni

Hometown: Wakayama City, Japan
Madison Opera Debut
Former Madison Opera Studio Artist

Recently: Cio-Cio-San, Madama Butterfly (Virginia Opera); Violetta, La Traviata;
Krystyna Zywulska, Two Remain (UW-Madison)

Upcoming: Cio-Cio-San, Madama Butterfly (Kentucky Opera)


David Walton

Count Almaviva, The Barber of Seville

Hometown: Twin Cities, MN
Madison Opera Debut: Opera in the Park 2017
Also at MO: Belmonte, The Abduction from the Seraglio

Recently: Ferrando, Così fan tutte (Princeton Festival); Ramiro, La Cenerentola (Toledo Opera);
Count Almaviva, The Barber of Seville (North Carolina Opera);
Sullivan, The Pirates of Penzance (Opera San Antonio); Filippo, Deceit Outwitted (Sarasota Opera)

Upcoming: Count Almaviva, The Barber of Seville (Minnesota Opera); Candide, Candide (South Florida Symphony);
Don Ottavio, Don Giovanni (Livermore Valley Opera)

Emily Fons

Mezzo-soprano, Opera in the Park
Donna Elvira, Don Giovanni

Hometown: Milwaukee, WI
Madison Opera Debut: Opera in the Park 2012
Also at MO: Rosina, The Barber of Seville

Recently: Nicklausse, The Tales of Hoffmann (Palm Beach Opera);
Rosina, The Barber of Seville (Cincinnati Opera, Santa Fe Opera);
Woman, Ghosts (San Diego Opera); Cherubino, The Marriage of Figaro (Canadian Opera Company);
Hansel, Hansel and Gretel (New Orleans Opera)

Upcoming: Princess Irene, Tamerlano (Haymarket Opera)


Ryan Nash

Madison Opera Debut
Madison Opera Studio Artist
Recently: Gherardo, Gianni Schicchi (American Gothic Performing Arts Festival); Frederic, The Pirates of Penzance (Madison Savoyards);
Mercurio, La Calisto; Gastone, La Traviata; Albert Herring, Albert Herring (UW Madison Opera);
Rinuccio, Gianni Schicchi (La Musica Lirica USA); Alfred, Die Fledermaus; Monostatos, The Magic Flute (UMass Opera)

Upcoming: Tamino, The Magic Flute (Opera for the Young)


John DeMain

Conductor: Opera in the Park, The Barber of Seville, Don Giovanni

Hometown: Youngstown, OH
Madison Opera Debut: The Magic Flute (1995)
Recently at MO: Candide, Tosca, Trouble in Tahiti / The Seven Deadly Sins, Salome


Rebecca Herman

Stage Director, The Barber of Seville

Hometown: Austin, TX
Madison Opera Debut

Recently: Carmen (Austin Opera); Don Giovanni (Opera Colorado, Cincinnati Opera);
Un Cuento de Luces y Sonmbras
(LOLA); La Bohème (Glimmerglass Opera);
The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs (Utah Opera, Calgary Opera)

Upcoming: The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs (Washington National Opera)


Fenlon Lamb

Stage Director, Don Giovanni

Madison Opera Debut: La Traviata (2019)
Recently at MO: Lucia di Lammermoor

Recently: La Fanciulla del West (Central City Opera); The Elixir of Love, Così fan tutte (Palm Beach Opera);
The Marriage of Figaro
(Portland Opera); Carmen (Opera Santa Barbara);
Charlie Parker's Yardbird (Dayton Opera); La Bohème (New Orleans Opera); Mozart and Salieri (Opera San Jose)


Kamna Gupta

Conductor, María de Buenos Aires

Hometown: St. Genis-de-Puilly, France
Madison Opera Debut

Recently: The Pearl Fishers (Vancouver Opera); In Our Daughter's Eyes (LA Opera / BMP);
Number Our Days (Perelman Performing Arts Center); Glory Denied (Cleveland Institute of Music);
Rocking Horse Winner (Tapestry Opera); The Rip Van Winkles (Glimmerglass Festival)

Upcoming: Ruinous Gods (Spoleto Festival USA)


Frances Rabalais

Stage Director, María de Buenos Aires

Hometown: New Orleans, LA
Madison Opera Debut: Tosca (2023)

Recently: Macbeth (Resonance Works); Hansel and Gretel (Opera Birmingham);
The Magic Flute (North Carolina Opera); The Barber of Seville (Pensacola Opera)


Charles Eaton

Don Giovanni, Don Giovanni

Hometown: Storrs, CT
Madison Opera Debut: Moralès, Carmen (2017)
Recently at MO: Count Malcolm, A Little Night Music

Recently: Brother, The Seven Deadly Sins (Wolf Trap Opera); Schaunard, La Bohème;
Sam, Trouble in Tahiti; Masetto, Don Giovanni; Argante, Rinaldo (Minnesota Opera);
Fedorov, The Christmas Spider (Opéra Louisiane, Marble City Opera);
English Ambassador, The Ghosts of Versailles (Royal Opera Versailles);
Marcello, La Bohème (Imperial Symphony Orchestra)

Upcoming: Ponchel, Silent Night (Wolf Trap Opera); Mercutio, Romeo & Juliet (Minnesota Opera);
Silvio, Pagliacci (Pensacola Opera)


Jeremiah Sanders

Leporello, Don Giovanni

Hometown: Marian, IN
Madison Opera Debut

Recently: Marcello, La Bohème; Beau, Service Provider; Jazz Trio, Trouble in Tahiti;
Hortensius, The Daughter of the Regiment; Mago, Rinaldo;
Abilenes's Father / Bryce's Father, Edward Tulane (Minnesota Opera);
Colline, La Bohème (Lyric Opera of the North); Lackey, Ariadne auf Naxos (Lakes Area Music Festival);
Charlie, Three Decembers (South Bend Lyric Opera); The Villains, The Tales of Hoffmann (Union Avenue Opera)


Ashraf Sewailam

The Commendatore, Don Giovanni

Hometown: Cairo, Egypt / San Francisco, CA
Madison Opera Debut:
Captain, Florencia en el Amazonas (2018)

Recently: Dr. Bartolo, The Barber of Seville (Des Moines Metro Opera, Seattle Opera);
Dr. Bartolo, The Marriage of Figaro (New Orleans Opera); Sparafucile, Rigoletto (Opera San Jose);
Giove, La Calisto (Opera Memphis)

Upcoming: Dr. Bartolo, The Barber of Seville (Lyric Opera of Kansas City);
Dulcamara, The Elixir of Love (New Orleans Opera)


Andrew Stenson

Don Ottavio, Don Giovanni

Hometown: Rochester, MN
Madison Opera Debut: Opera in the Park 2021

Recently: Pong, Turandot (Metropolitan Opera); Bill, Flight; The Steersman, The Flying Dutchman (Dallas Opera);
Pang, Turandot (Houston Grand Opera); Don Ottavio, Don Giovanni (Seattle Opera);
Nemorino, The Elixir of Love (Seattle Opera, Minnesota Opera, Florentine Opera);
Count Almaviva, The Barber of Seville (Opera Colorado, Garsington Opera);
Nikolaus Sprink, Silent Night; Tamino, The Magic Flute (Utah Opera);
Fadinard, The Italian Straw Hat (Minnesota Opera); Danny Chen, An American Soldier (Opera Theatre of St. Louis)

Headshot of Hailey Cohen
Hailey Cohen

Berta, The Barber of Seville

Hometown: Edgemont, NY
Madison Opera Debut: Dorothée, The Anonymous Lover (2024)
Also with MO: Paquette, Candide
Madison Opera Studio Artist

Recently: Zita, Gianni Schicchi (Finger Lakes Opera); Hattie, American Gothical (Cedar Rapids Opera);
Sally, The Boy Who Wanted to be a Robot; K., Would You Eat Me? (Thompson Street Opera)


Lifan Deng

Fiorello, The Barber of Seville
Masetto, Don Giovanni

Hometown: Shenzen, China
Madison Opera Debut
Madison Opera Studio Artist

Recently: Voce 2, Il Nostro Posto nel Mondo (Thompson Street Opera Company);
The Police Agent / Mr. Kofner, The Consul (Third Eye Ensemble);
Don Alfonso, Così fan tutte; Kaiser Overall, Der Kaiser von Atlantis (Northwestern Opera Theater);
Old Adam Goodheart, Ruddigore; Carpenter's Mate, H.M.S. Pinafore (The Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company);
Olin Brett, The Music Man (Metropolis Performing Arts Centre)

Upcoming: Papageno, The Magic Flute (Opera for the Young)


Laureano Quant

El Payador, María de Buenos Aires

Hometown: Barranquilla, Colombia
Madison Opera Debut

Recently: Schaunard, La Bohème (Wolf Trap Opera); Foreman, Jenufa; Dancaïre, Carmen;
Count of Lerma, Don Carlo (Lyric Opera of Chicago); Escamillo, Le tragedie de Carmen;
Guglielmo, Così fan tutte (The Opera Next Door); Betto, Gianni Schicchi (Ópera de Colombia);
Demetrius, A Midsummer Night's Dream; Captain / Ragotsky, Candide (Orquestra Filarmónica de Bogotà)

Upcoming: Belcore, The Elixir of Love (New Orleans Opera);
Bill, Aufsteig und Fall der Stadt Mahgonny (Staatsoper Stuttgart)


Kelly Guerra

María, María de Buenos Aires

Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
Madison Opera Debut

Recently: María, María de Buenos Aires (Kentucky Opera); Lupita, Cruzar la Cara de la Luna;
Carlotta de Obragón, Zorro (Opera Santa Barbara); Renata, Cruzar la Cara de la Luna (West Edge Opera);
Rosina, The Barber of Seville (Princeton Festival); Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Scalia/Ginsburg (Chautauqua Opera);
Luisa Fernanda, Luisa Fernanda (Opera Hispánica, Opera Williamsburg)

Upcoming: Una Niña, Ainadamar (Metropolitan Opera); Jo, Little Women (Fort Worth Opera);
Isabella, L'Italiana in Algeri (Opera in the Heights); Mrs. Fox, Fantastic Mr. Fox (Opera Omaha)


Alex Taylor

Don Basilio, The Barber of Seville

Hometown: Beloit, WI
Madison Opera Debut: Mother, The Seven Deadly Sins (2023)

Recently: Green Shirt Guy, Mel Rides the Bus Alone (Pittsburgh Opera);
Sarastro, The Magic Flute; Dr. Bartolo, The Marriage of Figaro (Carnegie Mellon University)


Levi Hernandez

Dr. Bartolo, The Barber of Seville

Hometown: El Paso, TX
Madison Opera Debut: Papageno, The Magic Flute (2006)
Recent at MO: Alvaro, Florencia en el Amazonas; Opera in the Park 2018

Recently: Diego Rivera, El Último Sueño de Frida y Diego (Opera Omaha);
Tonio, Pagliacci (Hawaii Opera Theatre); Dandini, La Cenerentola (Boston Lyric Opera);
Peter, Hansel and Gretel (Opera San Antonio); Lescaut, Manon Lescaut (North Carolina Opera)

Upcoming: Benoit/Alcindoro, La Bohème (Lyric Opera of Chicago);
Alvaro, Florencia en el Amazonas (North Carolina Opera)


Benjamin Taylor

Figaro, The Barber of Seville

Madison Opera Debut: Silvio, Pagliacci (2018)

Recently: Bello, La Fanciulla del West (Bayerische Staatsoper); Moralès, Carmen (Metropolitan Opera);
Guglielmo, Così fan tutte (Princeton Symphony); Jan Nyman, Breaking the Waves (Detroit Opera);
Silvio, Pagliacci (Austin Opera)

Upcoming: Marcello, La Bohème (Arizona Opera); Jake, Porgy and Bess (Washington National Opera);
Schaunard, La Bohème (Charleston Opera Theatre)


Katerina Burton

Soprano, Opera in the Park
Donna Anna, Don Giovanni

Hometown: Ocean City, MD
Madison Opera Debut

Recently: Mimì, La Bohème (Opera Theatre of Saint Louis); JFK: The Last Speech
(National Symphony Orchestra); Britten’s War Requiem (Strathmore Music Center);
Russian Chamber Art Society; Postclassical Ensemble Concert (The Kennedy Center); Girlfriend 2, Blue;
Micaëla, Carmen (Washington National Opera); Alice Ford, Falstaff (Aspen Music Festival);
Verna/Young Lovely/Evelyn, Fire Shut Up in My Bones (Opera Theatre of Saint Louis)