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University Opera presents Verdi’s Falstaff, re-envisioned in Hollywood, 1930

As part of the worldwide commemoration of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, University Opera will present Verdi’s final masterpiece, Falstaff.  Based on material from The Merry Wives of Windsor, Henry IV, and Henry V, Falstaff is a wild, comic romp.  In the UW-Madison production, updated to Hollywood in 1930, Falstaff is a has-been silent movie actor, out of work with the advent of the “talkies,” holding onto his former glory and living beyond his means at the Chateau Marmont.  Now a petty criminal, Falstaff puts the make on Alice Ford and Meg Page in an effort to bilk their husbands of money.  The ladies, incensed at his audacity, hatch a plot to give Falstaff his comeuppance.  But not before Mr. Ford, (a movie studio executive in the UW production) acting on his own ill-founded suspicions, gets involved and complicates matters.  At the end, all are reconciled as both men are taught their respective lessons.


Falstaff will be presented in Italian with English supertitles for three performances, November 11 at 7:30 pm, November 13 at 3:00 pm, and November 15 at 7:30 pm in Music Hall on the UW-Madison campus.  Directed by David Ronis with James Smith conducting the UW Symphony Orchestra, the production will involve over 90 UW singers, instrumentalists, and stage crew.  This production opens just one week after the national traveling exhibit of Shakespeare’s First Folio arrives at the Chazen Museum of Art.

Buy tickets here.

Following the success of the panel discussion before University Opera’s production of Transformations last spring, Ronis will again be assembling a panel of colleagues to discuss Falstaff on Friday, November 11 at 6:00pm in the Music Hall, admission free.  Featured panelists include:

Joshua Calhoun, Assistant Professor of English, UW-Madison

Cabell Gathman, Lecturer, Dept. of Gender and Women’s Studies, UW-Madison

Steffen Silvis, Dramaturg and Doctoral Candidate in Interdisciplinary Theatre Studies, UW-Madison

David Ronis, Karen K. Bishop Director of University Opera, UW-Madison

Susan Cook, Pamela O. Hamel/Music Board of Advisors Director of the Mead Witter School of Music, Moderator

Paul Rowe, Professor of Voice at UW-Madison, will sing the title role amidst a cast featuring current students and a couple of guest alums.  The principal ladies’ roles will be filled by Yanzelmalee Rivera and Sarah Kendall (Alice Ford), Courtney Kayser and Talia Engstrom (Meg Page), Emily Weaver and Claire Powling (Nannetta), Rebecca Buechel and Jessica Kasinski (Quickly).  The men in the cast will be alum Brian Schnieder and guest artist Richard Schonberg (Ford), José Muñiz (Fenton), Wesley Dunnagan (Dr. Caius), Jiabao Zhang (Bardolfo) and alum Benjamin Schultz (Pistola).  Assisting Maestro Smith will be Kyle Knox, assistant conductor, with musical preparation by new professor of opera and vocal coaching, Dr. Daniel Fung, Chan Mi Jean, and chorus master, Christopher Boveroux.

The physical production will be designed by Greg Silver.  Costume design is by Sydney Krieger, and Hyewon Park, lighting design by Kenneth Ferencek, props design by David Heuer, and the production stage manager will be Alec Brown.  The production staff include Erin Bryan, operations manager for University Opera; Jimmy Dewhurst and Daniel Lewis, master electricians; and Ethan White, lighting board operator.

Tickets are $25.00 for the general public, $20.00 for senior citizens and $10.00 for UW-Madison students, available in advance through the Campus Arts Ticketing office at (608) 265-ARTS and online at http://www.arts.wisc.edu/ (click “box office”). Tickets may also be purchased in person at the Wisconsin Union Theater Box Office Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. and Saturdays, 12:00-5:00 p.m. and the Vilas Hall Box Office, Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., and after 5:30 p.m. on University Theatre performance evenings.  Because shows often sell out, advance purchase is recommended. If unsold tickets remain, they may be purchased at the door beginning one hour before the performance.  The Carol Rennebohm Auditorium is located in Music Hall, at the foot of Bascom Hill on Park Street.

University Opera is a cultural service of the School of Music at the University of Wisconsin-Madison whose mission is to provide comprehensive operatic training and performance opportunities for our students and operatic programming to the community. For more information, please contact opera@music.wisc.edu. Or visit the School of Music’s web site at music.wisc.edu.


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David Ronis Appointed as University Opera’s Permanent Director

David Ronis

David Ronis

The UW-Madison School of Music is pleased to announce that David Ronis, interim University Opera director since 2014, has been selected as the program’s permanent director following a nationally competitive search.

“We are delighted to have hired someone with such wide-ranging experience and expertise, as well as a proven commitment to music education in the 21st century,” said Susan C. Cook, director of the school of music, adding that Ronis also plans to collaborate with other programs on campus and beyond.

The position is endowed, and was initiated with a pledge of $500,000 from Dr. Charles Bishop, CEO of Opko Health’s Renal Division of Miami, Florida. The pledge was in memory of his wife, Karen K. Bishop, who died of cancer in January 2015. Karen Bishop was a successful businesswoman who, after her diagnosis, returned to school for a master’s degree in opera and a doctoral degree in voice, both at UW-Madison.

Dr. Bishop’s gift was matched dollar for dollar with John and Tashia Morgridge’s matching gift for faculty support, making the professorship a reality. It was further bolstered by overwhelming support by the community’s opera lovers and friends.

Ronis will become the inaugural Karen K. Bishop Director of University Opera and will assume his position in the fall.

David Ronis came to UW-Madison as interim director in 2014 following the retirement of William Farlow. Prior to coming here, Ronis was a faculty member at the Aaron Copland School of Music, Queens College/CUNY, where he directed the opera studio and co-founded the Baroque Opera Workshop, and at Hofstra University, where he taught voice and diction. Four of his productions have won awards in the National Opera Association’s Opera Production Competition, most recently his 2014 UW-Madison staging of Benjamin Britten’s Albert Herring. This marked the first time that University Opera has won a national award.

Ronis also has taught at La Lingua della Lirica in Novafeltria, Italy, the Westchester Summer Vocal Institute, and the Maryland Summer Center for the Arts. He has presented master classes and workshops across the country, coaching singers on acting and audition skills. As a performer, he has appeared in opera productions in Europe, Asia and the United States, in concert at Carnegie, Avery Fisher, and Alice Tully Halls, toured the U.S. with Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, and worked in film and television commercials.

“I look forward to continuing to work with the fine students and terrific colleagues at UW-Madison, ” Ronis said, adding that his plans include continued emphasis on the theatrical aspects of both traditional and contemporary operatic repertory and exploring additional partnerships with campus and community organizations.

“We are so very grateful to Charles Bishop for helping ensure the future health and stability of our opera program. Karen was a remarkable student, and this professorship recognizes her many talents as well as her commitment to the School of Music and the opera program,” added Professor Cook.

Ronis will be only the third director of University Opera. The program began informally in 1958, with Karlos Moser formally appointed as director in 1961. He served until 1998 and was replaced by William Farlow, who retired in 2014.


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University Opera Presents “Transformations”: Fairy Tales with a Twist!

February 12, 2016

This spring, University Opera will present Transformations, Conrad Susa’s daring 1973 chamber opera with texts by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Anne Sexton. Transformations will be directed by Interim Director of Opera, David Ronis, and conducted by Kyle Knox, who recently conducted Madison Opera’s production of Little Women.

Anne Sexton. Photograph by Gwendolyn Stewart.

Anne Sexton. Photograph by Gwendolyn Stewart.

This new production will be performed in English with projected supertitles in Music Hall, 925 Bascom Hill, on Friday, March 11 at 7:30 PM; Sunday, March 13 at 3:00 PM; and Tuesday, March 15 at 7:30 PM.

Transformations is an adult re-telling of ten classic fairy tales (among them, Snow White, Rumpelstiltskin, Rapunzel and Hansel and Gretel) as seen through Sexton’s eyes. Her struggle with depression and mental illness frames the darkly humorous and audaciously recounted tales, filled with mid-twentieth-century references, both literary and musical. As the singers play multiple characters, Sexton and Susa shed light on a variety of unexplored psychological implications of these stories, often using a confessional, even confrontational approach. The result is a wild ride – a true ensemble piece that is both wickedly funny and profoundly resonant.

In addition to winning a Pulitzer Prize, Sexton was also a fellow of Britain’s Royal Society of Literature and the first female member of the Harvard chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. She committed suicide in 1974 at age 45.

The UW-Madison production sets Transformations in a 1973 group therapy meeting of which Sexton is the facilitator. At the meeting, the characters process their fears through acting out the fairy tales. Among other twists to the tales, the “happy-ever-after” endings are subverted and Sexton often alludes to mental illness and popular culture.  It is a risky opera as it contains dark themes, scandalous dialogue, and witty humor. Sexton was viewed as a “confessional poet” who tackled many taboo female subjects such as abortion, masturbation, incest, and the list goes on. Note: Transformations is recommended for high school age and up.

Because of the themes raised, Ronis has scheduled a pre-performance panel discussion.

March 11, 2016
6:00 – 7:00 PM
Music Hall
Free Admission

The panelists will include:
Lynn Keller – Professor of Poetry, UW-Madison
Thomas DuBois – Professor of Scandinavian Studies, Comparative Literature and Folklore Studies,UW-Madison
Laura Schwendinger – Professor of Composition, School of Music, UW-Madison
Karlos Moser – Emeritus Director of Opera, UW-Madison
David Ronis – Interim Director of Opera, UW-Madison
Moderator: Susan Cook, Director, UW-Madison School of Music

We will also hold talkback sessions after each performance.

The work was commissioned by the Minnesota Opera and premiered there in 1973, a year and a half before Sexton’s suicide. In 1976, Karlos Moser presented the local premiere at UW—Madison and there was a subsequent University Opera production, again under Moser, in 1991. University Opera is undertaking this project in the spirit of our role as an education institution that values presenting contemporary operas and the discourse that it encourages.

The UW-Madison production will feature sopranos Erin Bryan, Nicole Heinen and Cayla Rosché, mezzo-soprano Rebecca Buechel, tenors Dennis Gotkowski, Michael Hoke and William Ottow, baritone Brian Schneider and guest bass-baritone Benjamin Schultz. The design team includes David Gipson, lighting; Hyewon Park and Sydney Krieger, costumes; and Greg Silver, technical director. The production stage manager will be Delaney Egan and additional student staff includes Thomas Stone, master electrician, and James Dewhurst, assistant master electrician.

Performance dates, times and prices:

Fri Mar 11 @ 7:30pm
Sun Mar 13 @ 3:00pm
Tue Mar 15 @ 7:30pm
General Admission: $25
Seniors: $20
Students: $10
Tickets available at the Union Box Office
Also available at the door.

Read a review of a biography of Anne Sexton: “The Death is Not the Life”

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Kyle Knox: The Accidental Conductor

by Katherine Esposito

Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.  – James Baldwin

It was the path he’d chosen, the direction he’d pursued, and Kyle Knox had finally tasted triumph in 2005, when he won, at age 23, the position of assistant principal clarinet of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

It was a plum trophy in a sometimes punishing profession, realized only after a decade of studious toil in the practice room and on the orchestra stage.

Kyle Knox.

Kyle Knox. Photograph by Katherine Esposito.

The young man who’d once won Most Valuable Player in Raritan, New Jersey as a 12-year-old Little Leaguer had bent his competitive edge toward music, and he’d won something akin to MVP there, too.  He studied with the great clarinetists – Ricardo Morales and Yehuda Gilad – went on to Juilliard and Tanglewood, and bested hundreds of rivals for the Milwaukee job.

Then, three years later, almost imperceptibly, one neuron at a time, it all started to unravel.

Today, Knox is best known in Madison as a promising young conductor, a graduate student at UW-Madison who will conduct UW’s upcoming opera, Transformationsand recently made his Madison Opera debut in its production of Little Women.  In 2014 and 2015, he conducted University Opera’s award-winning Albert Herring and two concerts with the Middleton Community Orchestra.  (He is also the husband of the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s concertmaster, Naha Greenholtz.)

Kyle Knox with his wife, Naha Greenholtz, hiking in Santa Fe, 2009.

Kyle Knox with his wife, Naha Greenholtz, hiking in Santa Fe, 2009. Family photograph.

He has impressed many observers, including Madison Symphony Orchestra conductor John DeMain, who has watched Knox conduct several times, including Albert Herring, in which DeMain’s daughter Jennifer was cast. “[Kyle] worked uncompromisingly to achieve as close to perfection as possible,” says DeMain.

Until a few years ago, however, Kyle had never considered becoming a conductor leading an orchestra.  He was exhilarated to be playing in one.

His emergence as a conductor has almost been an accident, one that may now be resolving in his favor. But he faced many bleak days before he got there.


It was almost imperceptible at first, just odd coordination problems with his right hand. It was the spring of 2009. “I remember I was playing principal on Peter and the Wolf, and there’s this one passage with fast 16th notes and C-major arpeggios, and I remember having a hard time with this particular passage, repeating 16th notes, a very specific sequence of finger motions, and thinking, ‘What the hell is going on here?’ It was very strange” Kyle says.

For that concert, he wound up transposing it into a different key, and playing on an A clarinet instead of the usual one. “I didn’t think anything of it at the time,” he continues. “I just thought, oh, for some reason, my pointer finger is a little slow.”

“But maybe a month later, I was playing E-flat clarinet on Shostakovich’s 6th Symphony, and there’s a huge E-flat solo in the beginning of the second movement, very fast, and it had a very similar sequence of fingerings in the middle of the solo, and I practiced it obsessively, and I recorded it at home, and drove my wife crazy. But no matter how much I practiced, I never felt comfortable with the fingerwork.”

Classical orchestral musicians, at the highest levels, achieve mastery through one main thing: practice. It is not enough to be talented and musical; one must constantly revisit passage after passage to precisely engrave notes in the mind. Largely due to this kind of preparation, Kyle had always been assured and confident while performing. But now he began to feel unmoored.

The symphony schedule was intense: much music, many solos, multiple performances. In concert after concert, the strange sensations recurred.  At first, Kyle thought it was just a matter of working harder, to fix those notes even more firmly in his brain. “When something’s difficult, you want to feel secure on it. When I do these octaves, I know the distances, [so that] even if I miss the note,  I know it was a fluke. It has to feel right in your head,” he says.

But it wasn’t feeling right anymore. He began to lose confidence in his playing. A rigorous orchestra schedule gave him little respite.

His fellow musicians and the symphony patrons did not detect anything awry. But Kyle felt it was getting worse.

After six months he consulted neurological specialists at the Cleveland Clinic and Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City, who studied his movements as played his clarinet in their offices. They asked him questions and ruled out a few possibilities. Then they gave him a diagnosis: focal dystonia. He had never heard of it before.

His response was to practice even harder. He describes the chain of events that unfolded. “I started obsessively practicing, to make it feel right. In an effort to make it feel right, you start playing wrong, because you start compensating. You start doing strange things, which eventually start to show in your actual playing, and then you start hearing mistakes, which confirms your initial fear that there was something wrong. And then it becomes a feedback loop.”

For three years, Kyle continued to play with the MSO. He was managing, but the amount of music to learn and crush of performances — 150 per year — became overwhelming. “I just couldn’t rehab in a way that gave me confidence about playing in orchestra full time,” he says. “Wind players can’t hide.  Everything you do is a solo, so you feel exposed. It was a really rough time.”

He remembers his final concert, in October 2010, Mozart’s Requiem with conductor Edo de Waart, on which he played the basset horn.  “I hadn’t told anyone anything about what I was dealing with,” he says. “I remember thinking about the routines of orchestra life, how accustomed to the whole ritual I had become and reflecting on how some day soon I just wouldn’t be doing it anymore.  It was heavy.  After that Requiem performance I talked to the personnel manager and started my injury leave. That was it.”


Since the age 13, Kyle had known he wanted to work with music. He remembers hearing Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” on the radio, and watching a documentary about Leonard Bernstein and the music of Gustav Mahler. “I was mesmerized,” he says. “I was interested innately. I had to figure out a way to access it, and access came through the clarinet.”

Now, that access was cut short. He was adrift.  He immediately dove into conducting after cobbling together a volunteer orchestra in Milwaukee, trying out conducting studies at Northwestern University, and ultimately attending graduate school at UW-Madison.

At the School of Music, he studies with orchestra conductor James Smith, an “accidental conductor” himself who also once played clarinet. “Jim is enormously accomplished,” Kyle says. “I’ve been very lucky to play some of America’s greatest orchestras in my career. I’ve played for a lot a famous conductors, and I can legitimately say that Jim is as good as anyone I’ve ever played for.”

Kyle Knox with the UW Symphony Orchestra, 2013.

Kyle Knox with the UW Symphony Orchestra, 2013.

Scott Gendel (MM & DMA, School of Music) and Kyle Knox, preparing Little Women. Gendel is coach & accompanist for the show. Photograph by Steffanie Berg.

Scott Gendel (MM & DMA, School of Music) and Kyle Knox, preparing Little Women. Gendel is coach & accompanist for the show. Photograph by Steffanie Berg.

Madison got to know Kyle three years later, after several notable turns as a promising young conductor. Early on, he caught the eye of John DeMain, who knew about Kyle’s focal dystonia, and who saw real promise, and wanted to give him a chance.

Telling Kyle’s story on paper makes it all sound so simple. One career ended, another one started. He did it the only way he knows, urgently, intently, almost desperately, uncomfortable with any lack of movement in his life. The truth, however, is that he really had very little control over what was happening. And that was the main thing he needed to accept.

“Being a clarinetist was a thing that defined me,” he says. “It was part of my sense of self, and you can’t underestimate that.”  He knows better now. “The things that made me able to accomplish anything on the clarinet are intrinsic qualities. The clarinet doesn’t define me. I define myself.”

If he had to enter that valley once more, he’d hope to approach it differently. He’d take time to grieve, to try to discern underlying meaning, to try to figure out the nature of the problem. Rushing doesn’t help anyway, he says.

“Sometimes, in a effort to redefine yourself too quickly, you can slow your process down of ending up where you’re going to end up anyway,” he continues. “Maybe you’ve been pushing too hard, maybe you’re been working too hard. Your body is telling you things, and you need to use it as an opportunity to reflect.”

“You have to be sympathetic with yourself. I think that is hugely important. And to have as much an eye on the long term as possible-that life is long, that your career is long, that there are lots of things in the future that will happen that are potentially good. But you have to let them unfold.”

Ten years ago, he wouldn’t have listened to these words. It wasn’t who he was. But it is who he is now.

“It’s possible to have great aspirations, but also to be patient and to be sane. It is possible to be of both minds. And I think the most successful people are that way.”


Spring Performances with Kyle Knox, Conductor

University Opera, Transformations

March 11, 13, 15, 2016



Madison Savoyards, The Gondoliers

July & August, 2016



Middleton Players Theater, Sunday in the Park with George

June & July, 2016



Summer Music Clinic Honors Orchestra

June 26-July 1, 2016



Katherine Esposito is the publicist and concert manager for the UW-Madison School of Music.


About Focal Dystonia

Kyle Knox is only one of many musicians who was diagnosed with focal dystonia, many of them very famous. Glenn Gould, the pianist, and Robert Schumann, the 19th century composer, both are now believed to have suffered from it. Pianist Leon Fleischer used only his left hand for several decades while searching for a solution. A New York Times story in 2012 sheds light on this little-understood and seldom discussed condition. Another Times story recounts the story of pianist Fleischer.

Here’s how Kyle Knox describes it:

“Focal dystonia is far too complicated for me to paraphrase easily.  That said, I’ll try: Basically it is a neurological condition where the brain’s ability to rewire itself, called plasticity (normally a good thing as it enables the acquisition of new skills and information), becomes overactive. In the case of musicians, it becomes overactive in a very specific way that involves otherwise familiar gestures that have been long perfected through years of practice. To put it simply, music that was once effortless suddenly starts to ‘feel’ wrong.  It doesn’t sound wrong to outside listeners, but the neurological experience of playing, for example,  a certain finger combination,  becomes distorted in the player’s mind. As my neurologist told me, ‘all initial symptoms of musician’s focal dystonia are imperceptible to the outside observer.'”

A link from the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation provides more information.



The Music of Franz Schubert
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Fischer & Lutes present a third “Schubertiade”

In homage to a beloved composer, the UW-Madison School of Music will present its third annual Schubertiade, an evening of songs, piano duets and chamber music by Franz Schubert, one day before the composer’s 219th birthday.

The concert will take place on Saturday evening, January 30, 2016 at 8 p.m. in Mills Concert Hall. The concert is hosted by pianist Martha Fischer, who is professor of collaborative piano and piano at the School of Music, and her pianist husband Bill Lutes, emeritus artist-in-residence. Alumna soprano Jamie-Rose Guarrine, who has sung with many major opera companies including Wolftrap in Washington, D.C., the Santa Fe Opera, the Minnesota Opera, as well as Milwaukee’s Florentine Opera and Madison Opera, will be a guest soloist. Guarrine now teaches at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Martha Fischer & Bill Lutes

Martha Fischer & Bill Lutes

Schubert was born on January 31, 1797, in Himmelpfortgrund, near Vienna in Austria, and died at age 31, yet in that short span managed to write some 600 works for the voice, seven symphonies, operas, chamber music, and much more. He influenced many composers, including Mendelssohn, Liszt, Brahms, and Schumann, and is now considered one of the most important composers of the late Classical and early Romantic eras.

Fischer’s and Lutes’s association with Schubert dates from their time as graduate students at the New England Conservatory of Music, where they discovered the composer and each other simultaneously. They married in 1984.

Schubertiades, which were popular during Schubert’s lifetime, were homey Viennese “house concerts” featuring the composer, fellow musicians and friends that offered music performances, dancing and carousing, often until dawn. At the School of Music, performers and patrons will be on stage together, seated in chairs and on sofas, to attempt to mimic the “house concert” style. For the first time, a public reception will be held afterwards.

The program will include a major work for piano duet, the Allegro in A minor, known as “Lebensstürme” or Life’s Storms, performed by Fischer and Lutes. Guarrine will sing one of Schubert’s final works, the delightful “Shepherd on the Rock,” along with Fischer and clarinet faculty Wesley Warnhoff.

Additional guests will include UW-Madison voice faculty Mimmi Fulmer and Paul Rowe; current University Opera director David Ronis; alumni singers Daniel O’Dea and Benjamin Schultz; current DMA candidate Sara Guttenberg; soprano Marie McManama; UW-Madison horn faculty Daniel Grabois; UW-Madison faculty violinist Soh-hyun Park Altino; UW-Madison faculty violist Sally Chisholm; adjunct professor of clarinet Wesley Warnhoff; alumnus cellist Ben Ferris; and Parry Karp, faculty cellist.

“The overarching idea for this year’s Schubertiade is music inspired by the motions and movements of the natural world, especially water, wind, and woodlands, forests and trees,” says Lutes. “The poems that Schubert chose for his lieder often feature vivid and evocative imagery from nature, while exploring our human emotional and spiritual responses to the natural world. As Schubert is moved by the natural world, we listeners are moved in turn by the sublime ‘nature music’ of his songs and instrumental works.”

Accordingly, the concert will offer one of Schubert’s best loved “water” songs, “Die Forelle” (The Trout) as well as the Theme and Variations movement derived from this song from the famous “Trout” Quintet for piano and strings.

This concert and future Schubertiades are being graciously underwritten by Ann Boyer.

Tickets are $15.00 for adults. Students of all ages are free.

Tickets are available through the Union Theater Box Office. Patrons may buy online ($4 fee) or save the fee and buy in person at Memorial Union or in Mills lobby day of show.

Please note: We recommend that patrons arrive early, both to secure a parking spot and to buy a ticket. Parking will be tight due to UW hockey, but parking passes may be ordered in advance to guarantee a space.

Options include H.C. White Garage (Lot 6); Fluno Center (Lot 83); University Avenue Ramp (Lot 20). VISA is accepted.

Complete this online request form or call the Special Events Office at (608) 262-8683. Please allow two weeks for processing. In the box for “special instructions,” please indicate “Schubertiade.”

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University Opera presents The Marriage of Figaro: Oct. 23-27

University Opera presents The Marriage of Figaro, Mozart and da Ponte’s masterpiece of comedy and intrigue

After the unprecedented success of last spring’s sold-out run of The Magic Flute, this fall, University Opera will present four performances of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro.  This new production will be directed by returning interim opera director, David Ronis, and James Smith will conduct the UW Symphony Orchestra.  The production will involve over 80 UW singers, instrumentalists, and stage crew.

The opera will be performed in Italian with projected English supertitles in the Music Hall, 925 Bascom Mall, on Friday, October 23 at 7:00pm, Saturday, October 24 at 7:00pm, Sunday, October 25 at 3:00pm, and Tuesday, October 27 at 7:00pm.


The Marriage of Figaro was the first of Mozart’s collaborations with the formidable librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte, and shows both geniuses at the height of their powers.  Da Ponte based his libretto on Pierre Beaumarchais’ seminal play of the same title.  With its topical references and oblique indictment of the French aristocracy, the play was considered scandalous when it opened in 1784.  Although Da Ponte and Mozart’s version, written two years later, keenly depicts the underlying tension between the sexes and social classes, it focuses less on the period’s political issues and more on the complex humanity of its characters.  Mozart and da Ponte’s Figaro, which provides insight into the tenuousness of human relationships via hilarious situational comedy, is at once an eminently delightful, yet profoundly moving work.  Mozart’s brilliant score mirrors the complex world it depicts.  Full of stunning arias and intricate yet transparent ensembles, Figaro is one of the crowning achievements of one of the world’s great artists.

James Smith

James Smith. Photo by Michael R. Anderson.

David Ronis. Photo by Luke DeLalio.

David Ronis. Photo by Luke DeLalio.

Although written before Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, The Marriage of Figaro represents the continuation of that story.  In Figaro, Count Almaviva, having married Rosina, has taken to philandering.  His downtrodden wife conspires with Figaro, now his valet, and Figaro’s bride-to-be, Susanna, the Count’s current amorous target, to teach him a lesson.  In the process, all of the relationships in the opera are called into question and undergo both subtle and not so subtle changes.  All is resolved in the end when the Countess’s love and devotion wins out as she is reunited with her repentant husband.

Viewing Figaro as a work that is intimately tied to the 18th-century, Director Ronis has assembled a design team to create a traditional setting for the production.  But he also sees it as a piece with tremendous relevance today.  “Even though it can be difficult for modern audiences to relate to men in frock coats and women in hoop skirts, by realistically focusing on the characters’ joys, pains, and struggles, it is possible to deliver messages of The Marriage of Figaro in a way that is both entertaining and meaningful in the 21st century,” he says.

The large cast of The Marriage of Figaro includes Joel Rathmann and alumnus Benjamin Schultz, who will split performances of the title role; Erin Bryan and Anna Whiteway as Susanna; Brian Schneider and Gavin Waid as Count Almaviva; and Anna Polum and Yanzelmalee Rivera as the Countess.  The role of Cherubino will be split between Alaina Carlson and Kirsten Larson.  In supporting roles, the production will feature Tia Cleveland and Meghan Hilker as Marcellina, alum Thomas Weis as Bartolo, Dennis Gotkowski and Fabian Qamar as Basilio, Kyle Connors and Mikko Utevsky as Antonio, Emi Chen and Emily Weaver as Barbarina, Todd Keller and Jiabao Zhang as Don Curzio.

Assisting Maestro Smith will be Kyle Knox, assistant conductor; Professor John Stowe, harpsichord continuo; Andrew Briggs, cello continuo; Chan Mi Jean and Kangwoo Jin, musical preparation; and Sara Guttenberg, chorus master.

The production will be designed by Dana Fralick, scenery and props; John Frautschy, lighting; Hyewon Park and Sydney Kreiger, costumes; and Jan Ross, wigs.  The production stage manager will be Isabel Karp and the assistant director, Elisheva Pront.  Additional student staff includes Sarah Kunath, master electrician, and Emi Chen, costume assistant.

Tickets are $25.00 for the general public, $20.00 for senior citizens and $10.00 for UW-Madison students, available in advance through the Campus Arts Ticketing office at (608) 265-ARTS and online at http://www.arts.wisc.edu/ (click “box office”). Tickets may also be purchased in person at the Wisconsin Union Theater Box Office Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. and Saturdays, 12:00-5:00 p.m. and the Vilas Hall Box Office, Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., and after 5:30 p.m. on University Theatre performance evenings.  Because shows often sell out, advance purchase is recommended. If unsold tickets remain, they may be purchased at the door beginning one hour before the performance.

The Carol Rennebohm Auditorium is located in Music Hall, at the foot of Bascom Hill on Park Street.

University Opera is a cultural service of the School of Music at the University of Wisconsin-Madison whose mission is to provide comprehensive operatic training and performance opportunities for our students and operatic programming to the community. For more information, please contact opera@music.wisc.edu. Or visit the School of Music’s web site at www.music.wisc.edu/

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Rising Opera Sensation Brenda Rae Returns to Madison to support University Opera

Brenda Rae, a School of Music voice alumna whose 2013 U.S. operatic debut in the Santa Fe Opera’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s  “La Traviata” received high praise from the New York Times, will star this September in a major fundraising concert for University Opera.

“Ms. Rae soared beautifully in the early going, but it was in her pianissimo singing that she really shone,” wrote James R. Oestreich, of Brenda’s role as Violetta, the high-class prostitute dying of consumption.

Listen to Brenda sing the role of Semele at the Seattle Opera.

Brenda Rae, an Appleton native, earned a bachelor’s degree in voice from the School of Music in 2004 followed by a master’s degree and artist’s diploma from The Juilliard School. She then moved to Europe where she has performed regularly in Frankfurt, Munich, Berlin and many other cities.

The three-day event will celebrate the newly created position of Director of University Opera, funded by the recently established Karen K. Bishop Fund.  Karen Bishop was the founder of Rainbow Play Systems, makers of playground equipment, but sold it in 2003 to pursue her first love, opera. She gained masters and doctoral degrees at UW-Madison, and prior to her death in January 2015 after a struggle with cancer, she asked her husband Charlie Bishop to support the university opera program.

Charlie Bishop’s initial gift of $500,000 was coupled with several hundred thousand dollars raised by local supporters, including several individual member donations and a joint board donation from Opera Props, a local support group, as well as a bequest from the estate of Margaret Winston, another longtime benefactor who died in September 2014. With Bishop’s pledge, the fund secured a dollar-for-dollar matching grant from the John and Tashia Morgridge Foundation to create the Karen K. Bishop Fund for the Director of University Opera.

This fall, the School of Music will initiate a national search for a permanent opera director.

The public portion of the three-day University Opera event includes a ticketed concert on Sunday, Sept. 27, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall and a free master class on September 25. The program with the UW Symphony Orchestra includes the Concerto for Coloratura Soprano by Reinhold Glière, to be sung by Ms. Rae, La Mer by Claude Debussy, and Symphonic Dances by Sergei Rachmaninoff.  The public is invited to a reception following the concert. Tickets are $25, available through the Memorial Union box office. Students are admitted free.

While at UW-Madison, Brenda Rae won the annual Concerto Competition and performed leading roles with University Opera including Constance in “Dialogues of the Carmelites,” Despina in “Cosi fan tutte,” and Nannetta in “Falstaff.”

“It was thrilling to hear a singer with Brenda’s towering vocal attributes at the beginning of her career,” says Mimmi Fulmer, professor of voice and opera, who was Brenda’s teacher at UW-Madison.

Brenda Rae, who dropped the last name Klinkert after leaving Wisconsin, was also featured in a 2014 article in the Metropolitan Opera Guild’s magazine, Opera News, following her performance in Santa Fe.  “Rae proved her prima donna mettle in Santa Fe last summer, when she knocked local opera fans back on their heels with her superb Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata, presented in a revival of Laurent Pelly’s edgy modern-dress staging from 2009,” the author, F. Paul Driscoll, wrote. “Rae bounded into the action of Act I with a fashion model’s lanky hauteur, her strikingly pale shoulders marked with a red floral tattoo, and sang as if her life depended on it.”

In the article, Brenda remembered her time at the School of Music.

“Before I was at Juilliard, when I was a student at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, I hadn’t really decided to focus on classical voice,” she said. “But my teachers there were pretty smart. By the end of my sophomore year, they had given me a scene from Sonnambula to do. And I fell in love with opera.”

The University Opera program was established in the early 1960s with Karlos Moser as director. Moser retired in 1997 and was followed by William Farlow, who retired in 2014.  The position is now filled by David Ronis, visiting assistant professor of opera.

Graduates have included current Broadway star Nathaniel Stampley; Gregory Schmidt, now with the Metropolitan Opera; Jamie-Rose Guarrine, who will join the faculty of University of Massachusetts-Amherst this fall; James Kyrshak, who recently joined the Vienna State Opera; and Emily Birsan, currently performing with the Ryan Center of Chicago’s Lyric Opera, as well as many others.


For more information, please email Katherine Esposito or call 608.263.5615.





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Morgridge Fund and Private Opera Bequests combine to secure permanent endowment for University Opera

Cancer claims Karen Bishop, but husband carries out her wishes

by Katherine Esposito

It takes a big heart to pour oneself into a operatic solo, in front of a live audience, roles always edged with varying shades of emotion, all guaranteed to be intense.

For Karen K. Bishop, who returned to school at UW-Madison in her late 40s to gain master’s and doctoral degrees in opera, those emotions were only too real.

Karen Krieger Bishop

Karen Krieger Bishop

Bishop received a music degree in 1981 from Wheaton Conservatory of Music in Illinois, but decided to pursue her entrepreneurial interests, founding Rainbow Play Systems of South Central Wisconsin, retailers of playground equipment. In 1987, she married Charlie Bishop, who completed a postdoctoral fellowship in biochemistry at UW-Madison in the early 1980s. They had two children. Bishop sold the business in 2003 and turned her thoughts again to music.

She enrolled at the UW-Madison School of Music and became friends with much-younger Benjamin Schultz, then gaining his doctoral degree in opera. With Schultz, now assistant director of the school, the two talked and laughed and studied opera together.  She was singing and researching lost art songs of Ernst Bacon and John Duke. He was writing a book on Polish diction. They bought coffee on State Street and co-starred in a show. “She was hungry for knowledge,” Schultz said. “She followed her heart.”

What Schultz didn’t know is the reason why Bishop had sold her thriving business and entered the opera program. She had breast cancer, which was diagnosed in the mid-1990s and, in January, finally claimed her life. She was 54.

Very few people knew. That’s as she wished.  Now, her husband, Charlie, has acceded to another wish of Karen’s: to support the University Opera program.  He has joined community supporters and the local support group, UW Opera Props, to further a fund-raising campaign to “Go All In” to secure an endowed directorship for University Opera by pledging $500,000 to establish the Karen K. Bishop Fund for the Director of University Opera. That role has been temporarily filled by visiting opera director David Ronis. Ronis replaced William Farlow, who retired in 2014.

Bishop’s donation will be coupled with several hundred thousand dollars recently raised by local supporters of the opera program, including several individual member donations and a joint board donation from Opera Props, and a bequest from the estate of Margaret Winston, another longtime benefactor who died last September. With Bishop’s pledge, the fund has secured a dollar-for-dollar matching grant from the John and Tashia Morgridge Foundation, creating an endowed professorship and a lasting footing for the popular and successful program, which offers one of the few opera master’s degrees in the nation. Graduates have included current Broadway star Nathaniel Stampley; Gregory Schmidt, now with the Metropolitan Opera; Jamie-Rose Guarrine, who will join the faculty of University of Massachusets-Amherst this fall; James Kyrshak, who recently joined the Vienna State Opera; and Emily Birsan, currently performing with the Ryan Center of Chicago’s Lyric Opera.

It’s hard to overstate the value of the donations to the School of Music. The new Bishop Fund represents a “transformative opportunity,” said Prof. Mimmi Fulmer, with whom both Bishop and Schultz studied.  “University Opera will, for the first time, be able to plan for the future with a solid financial foundation,” she added.

Reached at his office in Miami, Florida, Charlie Bishop said that Karen was firm about her wishes. “We spoke of her desires,” he said. “She wanted to support University Opera and the School of Music. So, I made a commitment to make sure that that happened. It would make Karen happy to know that she had a positive impact on the School of Music that she admired so much.”

Bishop added that he hopes the new fund will raise the profile of University Opera and UW-Madison more generally.

“I often wonder if people in Madison realize how remarkable an achievement it is for students to mount two full opera productions every year,” he said. “It’s tremendously difficult. Professional organizations struggle.  But UW does it masterfully.”

“[The program] offers unsurpassed opportunities for vocal performance and to study operatic compositions by leading composers.”


Save the Date!

Sunday, September 27: Special Fundraising Concert with Brenda Rae, a rising opera star and alumna of the UW-Madison School of Music and The Juilliard School. Brenda will sing the Glière Concerto for Coloratura Soprano, op. 82, with the UW Symphony Orchestra. 7:30 p.m., Mills Hall. Tickets $25, on sale July 15 at the Wisconsin Union Theater Box Office.

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University Opera’s Spring Show: The Magic Flute

From March 13 to 17, University Opera will present Mozart’s beloved masterpiece of fantasy, The Magic Flute, in a family-friendly, exotic East-West staging.  In a departure, the opera will run for four performances instead of the usual three, adding a Saturday evening that will allow lead roles will be split evenly among singers. The show will involve over 80 university singers, instrumentalists, and stage crew. The show dates are Friday, March 13, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, March 14, 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, March 15, 3:00 p.m.; and Tuesday, March 17, 7:30 p.m.

Buy tickets online or in person at the Memorial Union Box Office.


The Magic Flute will mark interim opera director David Ronis’s second production at UW-Madison.  Ronis recently earned distinction when his 2014 production of Dialogues of the Carmelites at Queens College in New York was awarded third prize in the National Opera Association’s Opera Production Competition.  He will be joined at the helm by James Smith, conducting the UW Symphony Orchestra.

Full of surprises and delights, The Magic Flute is a treat for both seasoned opera lovers and those new to opera.  The familiar plot centers on Prince Tamino, sent by the Queen of the Night to rescue her daughter, Pamina, from the Sorcerer, Sarastro.  As the opera unfolds, Tamino’s quest for love evolves into one in which self-actualization becomes equally important.  Along for the ride are Papageno, his comic sidekick, searching for his own soul mate; the Queen’s Three Ladies; Three Spirits who serve as guides; and an assortment of other memorable characters.

Ronis comments about his concept for The Magic Flute: “When planning the production, I kept seeing Sarastro and his Masonic principles as being related to those of Eastern philosophy.  So, in order to create the polarity between the opposing forces of Sarastro and the Queen of the Night, I characterized Sarastro as coming from the East vs. the Queen of the Night, coming from the cultural West.  Thus, the Queen and her Ladies wear Victorian bustle dresses, while the basic costume for Sarastro’s followers is the shalwar kameez, the traditional garment of South and Central Asia.  To complement this, the scenic design combines pan-Asian, Victorian, and surreal elements with a few contemporary comedic references thrown in.  This works nicely, framing the story as well as creating an exotic environment in which the fantasy can take place.”

David Ronis. Photo by Luke DeLalio.

David Ronis. Photo by Luke DeLalio.

The large cast of The Magic Flute includes Thomas Leighton and William Ottow, who will split the performances as Tamino, Nicole Heinen and Anna Whiteway as Pamina, and Joel Rathmann and Brian Schneider as Papageno.  The Queen of the Night will be played by Sarah Richardson and alumna Olivia Pogodzinski, and the role of Sarastro will be taken by alumnus Thomas Weis.  The six singers playing the Three Ladies will be Susanna Beerheide, Tia Cleveland, Jessica Kasinski, Kirsten Larson, Heather Richardson, and Sheila Wilhelmi.  Rounding out the cast will be Alaina Carlson, Eileen Peterson, and Emily Weaver as the Three Spirits; Emi Chen and Gaby Klugman as Papagena; Nathaniel Greenhill and Michael Hoke as Monostatos; alumnus Benjamin Li as the Speaker; Mikko Utevsky as the Second Priest; and Evan Esslinger and Fabian Qamar as the Armored Men.  Assisting Maestro Smith will be Kyle Knox, assistant conductor; Seungwha Baek and Chan Mi Jean, musical preparation; and Dennis Gotkowski, chorus master.

The physical production will be based on designs by Charles “Jen” Trieloff II and realized by Joseph Varga, Greg Silver, and Liz Rathke.  Costume design is by Sydney Krieger, Hyewon Park and Sam Fleming, lighting design by Rob Stepek, props design by Dana Fralick, and the production stage manager will be Erin McDermott.  Student staff include Emi Chen, costume assistant; Fabian Qamar, props assistant; Emily Hake and Melanie Treuhaft, scenic painters; Briana Miller, master electrician; and Kyle Baldauf, assistant carpenter.

This production of The Magic Flute is dedicated to the memories of Karen K. Bishop and Charles Jennings Trieloff II.  Ms. Bishop was an UW-Madison alumnus who performed in a number of University Opera productions between 2007 and 2011. Mr. Trieloff was the original set designer for the production.

Tickets are $22.00 for the general public, $18.00 for senior citizens and $10.00 for UW-Madison students, available in advance through the Campus Arts Ticketing office at (608) 265-ARTS and online at http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu/location.html. Tickets  may also be purchased in person at the Wisconsin Union Theater Box Office Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. and Saturdays, 12:00-5:00 p.m. and the Vilas Hall Box Office, Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., and after 5:30 p.m. on University Theatre performance evenings.  Because shows often sell out, advance purchase is recommended. If unsold tickets remain, they may be purchased at the door beginning one hour before the performance.  The Carol Rennebohm Auditorium is located in Music Hall, at the foot of Bascom Hill on Park Street.

University Opera is a cultural service of the School of Music at the University of Wisconsin-Madison whose mission is to provide comprehensive operatic training and performance opportunities for our students and operatic programming to the community.

For more information, please contact opera@music.wisc.edu.

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UW-Madison School of Music to Share $2.5M Grant to Promote Study of Jewish Culture

When Teri Dobbs was twelve years old, growing up in the tiny farming town of Platte, South Dakota, her mother took her aside and broached a topic that would forever change the young girl’s life.

“My mom started educating me about the Holocaust, and gave me a book,” says Dobbs, an associate professor of music and chair of the music education program at UW-Madison. “She said, ‘You need to read this book, because it could have been us.’ ’’ It was about the extermination camp at Treblinka, during World War II in Poland.

Dobbs asked her what she meant.

“Performing the Jewish Archives” is a $2.5 million grant to five universities to mount recently rediscovered Jewish musical, theatrical and literary works created from 1880 to 1950, and encourage the creation of new works based on archives.

Teri Dobbs

Teri Dobbs. Photograph by Michael R. Anderson.

Her mom replied, “Well, your grandfather’s Jewish.” Dobbs was bewildered, and her mother explained: He was one of the only Jewish people in town, his mother having been part of a wave of Jewish immigrants in the late 19th century who became merchants, peddlers and farmers on the Great Plains. His name was Gerrit Dyke.

Dobbs kept reading. She asked questions. She wanted to know: How did a Dutch Jewish woman, Maria Louisa Rosenthal, land in the middle of South Dakota in the 1880s? After marrying Govert VanderBoom, a non-Jewish Dutch man, Maria Louisa took his name, but the name Rosenthal was not forgotten. Dobbs’ mom kept a trove of family papers, including Maria Louisa’s obituary, who in her papers consistently referred to herself as “Maria Louisa Rosenthal VanderBoom.” And, when asked, extended family members replied, “Yes, Maria was Jewish.” But that was the end of the conversation.

It wasn’t the end of Dobbs’ interest in Jewish history, however.

In 2002, she became a Jew by choice and married a Jewish man. As it happened, her husband, Jesse Markow, had a similar background: his grandfather, Morris (Moishe) Markov had emigrated from the Ukraine, from a shtetl called Markova, located in what was known then as the Pale of Jewish Settlement. Markow arrived in New York City around 1904 as a single man, with only a wooden flute in his pocket that he’d formerly played in the Russian czar’s army, and found his first job working at a laundry at the dockyards.

Dobbs' husband, Jesse Markow, with his grandfather's flute.

Dobbs’ husband, Jesse Markow, with his grandfather’s flute.

Neither Rosenthal nor Markov maintained any links to their former homelands. And so it was for so many expatriate Jews at that time.

Meanwhile, Dobbs grew up. She went to college at the University of South Dakota and served four years with the United States Air Force Academy Band as a flutist and singer, then taught band, orchestra, vocal music, and general music in Colorado, South Dakota, and Illinois. Later, in graduate school at Northwestern University, where she earned a master’s degree in 1992 and a Ph.D in music education in 2005, she found herself drawn to that Jewish history, and started delving into music created and performed during the Holocaust, or Shoah.

At UW-Madison, where she arrived in 2006 as an assistant (now associate) professor of music education, she focused on children’s musical experiences in the ghetto at Theresienstadt, known now as Terezín. During World War II, Terezín, an 18th-century fortified city in Czechoslovakia, not far from Prague, was converted by the Nazis into a transit camp for thousands of largely upper class, educated Jews, including well-known artists, writers, and composers, most of whom who ultimately were killed in concentration camps. One of those, the composer Hans Krasa, had written a children’s operetta, Brundibár, which was performed over 50 times by children at Terezín.

Artifacts from the children's operetta, Brundibár

Artifacts from the children’s operetta, Brundibár.

Performing Brundibár provided a way for the Jews at Terezín to preserve some semblance of culture as society was disintegrating all around them. It also provided Dobbs the entrée into a field of study that had so long intrigued her.

In 2010, she began an intense study of the operetta, culminating in a paper published last fall in the Philosophy of Music Education Review, “Remembering the Singing of Silenced Voices: Brundibár and Problems of Pedagogy,” in which Dobbs explored the cognitive dissonance of music-making during wartime and questioned how the opera is taught today. On a recent sabbatical, she spent time researching the archives in the Jewish Museum of Prague and the Terezín Memorial, in addition to Yale University’s Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies and the Shoah Foundation Video History Archive at the University of Southern California.

In Prague, she interviewed survivors of Terezín, some of whom had sung in the Brundibár chorus. All shed light on how valuable the experience of music making was to people trapped inside the ghetto, and provide insight into music education today.

“Studying Brundibár is, in a way, studying the ‘present absence’ of people who are no longer with us,” Dobbs says. “When we hear the operetta, we hear the voices of children who were silenced.”

It turned out that Dobbs’ work fit perfectly within a framework being developed by researchers elsewhere.

Due to her pedagogical pedigree, Dobbs was recently named an international co-investigator in a $2.5 million grant to mount recently rediscovered Jewish musical, theatrical and literary works created from 1880 to 1950, and to encourage the creation of new works based on archives. The grant, called “Performing the Jewish Archive,” was awarded by the British Arts & Humanities Research Council, and is led by Dr. Stephen Muir at the University of Leeds in England. Other co-investigators include Dr. Helen Finch, School of Languages, Cultures and Societies, University of Leeds; Dr. Lisa Peschel, Film, Theatre and Television, University of York; Dr. Nick Barraclough, Psychology, University of York; Dr. Joseph Toltz, Sydney Conservatorium, University of Sydney; and Dr. David Fligg, Leeds College of Music.

The three-year “Performing the Jewish Archive” project will involve a large number of partners, exploring archives, delivering community and educational projects, holding at least two international conferences and a series of symposia at the British Library, as well as mounting five international performance festivals – in the United States, the Czech Republic, South Africa, Australia and Yorkshire, England. Madison — where two of those festivals will take place in 2015 and 2016 — is the only United States site to be chosen. The goal of the performance festivals is to uncover lost and damaged theater scripts, musical scores and works of literature so that they may be experienced by modern audiences.

Not so long ago, lead investigator Stephen Muir himself, on a trip to South Africa, unearthed a musical score called “One Little Goat” by a previously unknown Russian Jewish composer, David Eisenstadt (Dovid Ajzensztadt). Eisenstadt had lost his life at the Treblinka concentration camp but had given the manuscript to a friend to review. Decades ago, the score had wended its way to South Africa via a friend and was finally premiered last spring in England.

Brundibár is only one example of the wealth of Jewish performance art that has been lost for so long. And so the race is on to find others, to preserve them, and to present them. And for at least one researcher, it will also help open a door to her own past.

“Having the opportunity to do this kind of research/scholarship in many ways brings me full circle, connecting and reconnecting me with a part of my heritage that was hidden for so long,” says Dobbs. “It’s a way for me to return to my roots by remembering actively those who went before me, maybe even to make things a bit better for those who come after me. In Judaism, this can be considered a type of ‘tikkun olam,’ or ‘healing the world.'”

Read about Dobbs’ research in a story published in the online newsletter of the Center for Jewish Studies.

“Remembering the Singing of Silenced Voices”: Philosophy of Music Education Review, Fall 2013, Teryl Dobbs, author.

More media links:

Lost and found: music of the Holocaust

Raiders of the lost arts get £1.5m grant

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David Ronis brings theatrical flair to University Opera

David Ronis, the visiting director of University Opera at the UW-Madison School of Music, doesn’t want his opera singers to just “park and bark” their arias. He wants them to truly express the various hidden narrative levels of the opera’s libretto and musical score.

In short, he wants them to act as actors do.

It’s not a new idea, Ronis says. In fact, he says, the overall trend in opera over the last 30 years has been for opera singers to develop acting skills as keen as their vocal ones–and he considers himself to be part of that movement.

David Ronis. Photo by Luke DeLalio.

David Ronis. Photo by Luke DeLalio.

At one point, working in this way was a departure for Ronis himself. He’d been singing professionally in opera for years before he landed a job in the Los Angeles company of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, where he suddenly was surrounded by actors with real technique. After three years there he returned to New York and began to study acting seriously and added acting jobs – spoken theater, commercials, and independent films – to his resume.

It was life-changing. He began to look at operatic acting with new eyes, and discovered he was a bit embarrassed by the quality of much of the work that he saw.

“So I joined some friends – other teachers and directors – whose mission in life was to train opera singers to become better actors,” Ronis says. “And my background, being a singer myself as well as a trained actor, has facilitated that. So that’s what I work on now: how to use yourself, your imagination, your emotions, and your body, to act the story more effectively.”

For Albert Herring, this season’s University Opera production and Ronis’s first at UW-Madison, that means detailed stage work. “Comedy is harder than drama,” he says. “When you’re singing an aria about how lonely you are and how you want to commit suicide, it usually has a slower, more sustained inner tempo. Although the emotions are intense, it doesn’t require the same kind of technical skill as comedy.”

“In comedy, things happen quickly. Characters exchange thoughts, react to each other, and things are constantly bouncing back and forth,” he continues.  “So we’re spending a lot of time working on those interchanges, and how they manifest in action. The trick is to do it cleanly and with proper timing.”

What does Ronis find funny? “I love comedy that arises out of situation,” he says. “The first time I saw the play Noises Off, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I also have a few favorite standup comedians – Chris Rock, Kathy Griffin, Louis CK – as well as few sitcoms like ’30 Rock’ that I think are deeply funny. The classic TV comedies from the 50s and 60s are fantastic! Yesterday, in rehearsal, I found myself saying to one of the students, ‘Okay, you’re Lucy! This is a Lucy moment!’ ”

Did they have any idea what you were talking about? “They did! Yes!”

Learn more about University Opera’s Albert Herring, including how to buy tickets.

We asked David to tell us a bit more about this background and his plans for the UW-Madison School of Music. Here’s his response.

Q: Welcome to Madison, David! You’re such a New Yorker – how does it feel to be in the Midwest?

A: I’ve actually spent quite a bit of time in the Midwest. When I was actively performing, I sang all over the country, frequently spending a good month or more in a given city. So I got pretty comfortable living outside of New York. I’ve been to Wisconsin a number of times – I sang at both the Skylight and Florentine Opera companies as well as on tour with the New York City Opera National Company in Madison (at the Oscar Mayer Theater) And also in Platteville!

Q: Did you have any connections with the School of Music before you came here?

A: Yes, my good friends Paul and Cheryl Rowe have been here for 16 years. Paul is on the voice faculty and Cheryl is a terrific singer and voice teacher in her own right. It was Paul and Cheryl who encouraged me to apply for the interim position. And I’m glad they did!

Q: What are your plans this year for University Opera?

A: Well, we’ve selected two shows that I think are perfect for the UW students and for the community. In October, we’re doing Benjamin Britten’s Albert Herring and in March, Mozart’s masterpiece, The Magic Flute. Albert Herring is a terrific comedy with a social message or two that’s truly an ensemble piece. Technically, it’s a chamber opera, because the orchestra consists of only 13 players.

Albert Herring is also a perfect piece for the intimate Music Hall at UW-Madison which seats 380. Grand opera it isn’t. What it is, is a terrific opportunity for young singers and instrumentalists to develop their skills and put on an entertaining, meaningful work. We’re very happy to bring this piece to the Madison community. The conductor for Albert Herring is Kyle Knox, a remarkably talented graduate student, studying with orchestra conductor James Smith. It’s been a delight collaborating with Kyle on this project and I look forward to working with Jim in the spring.

I actually have a special connection with this work. When I was a young singer, I had the opportunity to travel to the Britten-Pears School in Aldeburgh, England in order perform the title role of Albert Herring as well as to study it with Peter Pears, the original Albert. It was a minimal workshop production, directed by Eric Crozier, Britten’s librettist, and Nancy Evans, another original cast member, yet quite memorable for me. I’m very happy to share my one degree of separation from the creation of the work with UW students. It was fantastic to do Albert Herring in the part of England where it not only takes place, but where Britten, Pears, Crozier and the English Opera Group lived and worked.

The spring production, The Magic Flute, will be sung in German with English dialogue. Since we have a full orchestra for the spring production, I wanted to do a piece that had a fairly large cast and chorus, thus offering lots of opportunities for UW students to perform. The Magic Flute is the perfect piece – well-loved and family friendly. One of our missions is to develop new, young audiences, and this opera goes a long way to accomplish that task. We look forward to bringing this work to the Music Hall.

Q: As a Visiting Assistant Professor with a one-year appointment, how do you see your role, as far as continuing and developing University Opera?

A: It’s an interesting position to be in. This is truly a year of transition for University Opera. After 16 successful years under William Farlow, I want to make sure that the program continues to grow and develop. One year is long enough to begin a few new initiatives that will hopefully be continued in the years to come. At the top of my list are the program’s educational priorities – to provide ways to help students develop their skills and to provide performance opportunities for them. In order to involve as many students as possible in the program, we’ve double cast some roles in Albert Herring and I’m expecting to do the same in The Magic Flute. As part of the Opera Workshop class (which produces an Opera Scenes program twice a year in addition to the mainstage productions), I’ve started teaching an Acting for Singers class. Seeing that my personal mission has been to develop better acting standards among opera singers, I’m excited to have the opportunity to help the students with their stage skills. Also, pursuing the part of the mission of University Opera that values community service, I would like to reach out to various arts and civic groups, both on campus and off, to see what kinds of collaborations may be possible – connections that would be mutually beneficial.

Q: Do you have any other observations regarding University Opera or the School of Music in general?

A: Well, I continue to be impressed with the students. They seem hungry for knowledge and to develop their skills. As a group, they are very hard working, and I think that you’ll see the results in performance. Susan Cook, the Director of the School of Music, Ben Schultz, the Assistant Director, and the other administrative staff have been very welcoming and helpful as I adjust to new systems and procedures. Likewise the School of Music faculty members I’ve met. I’m very happy to be among this group and look forward to an exciting year!




David Ronis
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University Opera Presents Britten’s “Albert Herring”

University Opera presents Albert Herring, Benjamin Britten’s entertaining ensemble comedy with a social message

On October 24, 26, and 28, University Opera will present its first operatic production of the season, Albert Herring, composed in 1947 by Benjamin Britten. The libretto is based on Guy de Maupassant’s novella Le Rosier de Madame Husson, and was written by Eric Crozier. It was premiered in 1947 at Glyndebourne Festival Opera in East Sussex, England, and received its first United States premiere at Tanglewood in 1949. It has been called the greatest comic opera of the century.

It will mark the first opera staged under the direction of David Ronis, visiting director of opera at UW-Madison. Read about David Ronis’s new ideas for University Opera. 

The opera will be performed in Music Hall, 925 Bascom Mall, on Friday, October 24 at 7:30 p.m., Sunday, October 26 at 3 p.m., and Tuesday, October 28 at 7:30 p.m.


The story begins when the town council in the small English village of
Loxford, motivated by the formidable Lady Billows, meets in order to select a “chaste and virtuous” Queen of the May. When no young ladies can be found that fit the bill (scandale!), they decide to choose a King of the May instead. The young man they select is the nerdy Albert Herring. Henpecked by his mother, Albert dreams of going out on his own. For the moment, however, he does not have the emotional wherewithal to break loose from her tether. That changes when his contemporaries, Sid and Nancy, spike his drink during the celebration. Under the influence of alcohol, he conquers his inhibitions and disappears overnight. The next morning, the whole town believes him to be dead. But Albert, of course, reappears and proceeds to tell them all off. Thus, Britten’s opera is both a coming of age story as well as one that gently examines the nature of hypocrisy in modern society.

Although originally set in 1900, the University Opera production transports Albert Herring to 1947, the year it was written. At that time, England was still reeling from the hardships of World War II. By setting the opera at the the time of its creation, University Opera hopes
to reflect some of the social and economic challenges faced by Britten and
his colleagues when they started the English Opera Group. Some of Britten’s most important work dates from this period in which he wrote for the same forces of 13 instrumentalists and a small group of singers, and consequently made a huge contribution to the genre of the chamber opera.

The 13-character cast of Albert Herring features William Ottow and Joshua Sanders in the title role, as well as Jessica Kasinski and Tyana O’Connor as Lady Billows. Additionally, the production will include Alaina Carlson and Jennifer DeMain as Nancy, Brian Schneider as Sid, Joel Rathmann as the Vicar, Tia Cleveland as Mrs. Herring, Sheila Wilhelmi as Florence, Dennis Gotkowski as the Mayor, Emi Chen as Emmie, Emily Weaver as Cis, and Nicole Heinen and Sarah Richardson as Miss Wordsworth. Three local performers join the cast – Rick Henslin as Superintendent of Police Budd, as well as Michael Chiaverini and Eli Kuzma, boys who sing in the Madison Youth Choir, splitting the role of Harry. The instrumental forces for Albert Herring will be the University Opera Orchestra, conducted by Kyle Knox, with musical preparation by Mr. Knox, Chan Mi Jean, and Thomas Kasdorf.

The production staff include scenic designer Stephen Hudson-Mairet, costume designers Sydney Krieger and Hyewon Park, lighting designer Jordan Kardasz, prop designer Dana Fralick, scene painting advisor Liz Rathke, technical director Greg Silver, and production stage manager Erin McDermott. Student staff include Emi Chen, costumes; Katie Oliver and Fabian Qamar, props; Melanie Treuhaft, scene painter; Briana Miller, master electrician; and Lukas Heins, assistant carpenter.

Tickets are $22.00 for the general public, $18.00 for senior citizens and $10.00 for UW-Madison students, available in advance through the Campus Arts Ticketing office at (608) 265-ARTS and online at http://www.arts.wisc.edu/ (click “box office”). Tickets may also be purchased in person at the Wisconsin Union Theater Box Office Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. and Saturdays, 12:00-5:00 p.m. and the Vilas Hall Box Office, Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., and after 5:30 p.m. on University Theatre performance evenings. Because shows often sell out, advance purchase is recommended. If unsold tickets remain, they may be purchased at the door beginning one hour before the performance. The Carol Rennebohm Auditorium is located in Music Hall, at the foot of Bascom Hill on Park Street.

University Opera is a cultural service of the School of Music at the University of Wisconsin-Madison whose mission is to provide comprehensive operatic training and performance opportunities for our students and operatic programming to the community. For more information, please contact opera@music.wisc.edu.


School of Music announces David Ronis as visiting director of opera

The UW-Madison School of Music is pleased to announce the appointment of opera director David Ronis to serve a one-year term as Visiting Assistant Professor, Director of University Opera, replacing William Farlow, who retires this year after 16 years in the position. His final production of Hector Berlioz’s Béatrice et Bénédict will be staged Tuesday, April 15, in Music Hall.

David Ronis. Photo by Luke DeLalio.

David Ronis. Photo by Luke DeLalio.

Ronis, a tenor with many singing and acting roles to his credit, is currently on the faculties of the Aaron Copland School of Music, Queens College/City University of New York, and Hofstra University on Long Island, where he teaches voice, directs opera, and coaches singers on acting and auditioning skills.

“The voice and opera programs are delighted to welcome David Ronis,” says Mimmi Fulmer, professor of voice and opera at the School of Music. “Mr. Ronis will direct two full productions for University Opera during the 2014-15 season, as well as join me in teaching Opera Workshop. He brings a background of a distinguished singing career in both opera and musical theater as well as extensive credits as a director. We are fortunate to have him contribute his artistry and experience to our singers and our audiences. I am looking forward to the opportunity to work together to present another wonderful season of University Opera.”

Ronis’s resumé is impressive. His 2009 and 2011 productions of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo and Argento’s Postcard From Morocco won first and third place, respectively, in the National Opera Association Opera Production Competition. Other recent productions include L’incoronazione di Poppea, Suor Angelica, La Damoiselle Elue, The Magic Flute, Le Nozze di Figaro, and Dido and Aeneas at Queens College, Rigoletto for the Queens Symphony Orchestra, Cosî fan tutte for OSH Opera, From Berlin to Potsdam: A Kurt Weill Cabaret for the Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam, and a portion of Gregg Wramage’s Death in Summer at the Manhattan School of Music, part of their annual “From Page to Stage” series.

Mr. Ronis is also the co-director of the Baroque Opera Workshop at Queens College, a faculty member at the Westchester Summer Vocal Institute, and served as the local chair for the National Opera Association’s January 2014 convention in New York City.

Ronis visited UW-Madison in March and says he was “very impressed with the students.”

“Their skill level is very high, they were very engaged, interested and motivated. They asked really difficult questions. I just loved it,” he added.

David Ronis.

David Ronis as “Lumiere” in Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.”

Mr. Ronis has sung over 50 operatic roles, including performances of the Witch in Hansel and Gretel, the Four Servants in Les Contes D’Hoffmann, Prince Orlovsky in Die Fledermaus, Basilio and Curzio in Le Nozze di Figaro, and Goro in Madama Butterfly. He has appeared on stages from Milan’s La Scala to Vienna, New York to Hong Kong. He also has performed as a soloist in the world’s most famous halls and at summer music festivals and has acted in many musical theater productions, independent films and commercials. He is a member of the National Opera Association, National Association of Teachers of Singing, the College Music Society, Actors Equity Association, the American Guild of Musical Artists and the Screen Actors Guild.

Mr. Ronis received his B.F.A. degree from Purchase College of the State University of New York and the M.A.L.S. (Master of Arts in Liberal Studies) in Opera Studies, an interdisciplinary research degree, from Empire State College/SUNY. He also studied at the Conservatoire Americain in Fontainebleau, France, then under the direction of the legendary teacher, Nadia Boulanger. Additionally, he received the Anthony Gishford Award to attend the Britten-Pears School in Aldeburgh, England, where he worked with the late Sir Peter Pears.