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“Brass Fest II” to feature eclectic mix of jazz and folk vocals, solo trumpet, and works for brass quintet

From October 9 to 11, the UW-Madison School of Music will present its second brass music festival, following a spirited event last year that was enthusiastically received by students and the community.

This year, “Brass Fest II” has added a vocalist to the mix: a Norwegian singer who mixes jazz tunes with pop and folk music from the Middle East, Bulgaria, Spain and India. The three-day festival will also features two brass quintets and a solo trumpeter.

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The festivals showcase the energetic, eclectic world of brass music, says festival organizer John Aley, professor of trumpet at UW-Madison and principal trumpeter of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. “We benefited from creative energy last year that continues to impact positively in the School of Music,” says Aley. “The performances will showcase some amazing talent and innovation including the surprising and delightful synergy of brass plus voice.”

On the docket this year:

Friday, October 9: Axiom Brass Quintet, 8 PM, Mills Hall. This lively Chicago quintet features repertoire ranging from jazz and Latin music to string quartet transcriptions, as well as original compositions for brass quintet.  Friday’s concert will offer an Elizabethan suite, “The Art of the Fugue” by J.S. Bach, and brass quintet works by Victor Ewald, David Sampson, and Patrice Caratini.

Axiom Brass is an Ensemble-in-Residence at the Boston University Tanglewood Institute and at Chicago’s Rush Hour Concerts. They are winners of the Chamber Music Yellow Springs Competition (2012), the Preis der Europa-Stadt Passau in Germany (2012), the 2008 International Chamber Brass Competition and prize-winners of the 2010 Fischoff Chamber Music Competition, the Plowman Chamber Music Competition, and the Jeju City International Brass Quintet Competition in South Korea. Axiom Brass is comprised of Dorival Puccini, Jr., trumpet; Jacob DiEdwardo, horn; Kevin Harrison, tuba; Serdar Cizmeci, trombone; and Kris Hammond, trumpet.

Saturday, October 10: Festival Brass Choir with the Axiom Brass Quintet, the Wisconsin Brass Quintet, trumpeter Adam Rapa, vocalist Elisabeth Vik, and students/faculty of the School of Music. 8 PM, Mills Hall. Conducted by Scott Teeple, professor of music and wind ensemble conductor. The concert will include works by Astor Piazzolla, James M. Stephenson, Anthony DiLorenzo, Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, and a Bulgarian vocal work sung by Ms. Vik.

The Norwegian-born vocalist Elisabeth Vik was classically trained by Norwegian opera singer Rolf Nykmark, then moved on to study commercial music and music business at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts in England. She received a bachelors degree in pop-music performance, then moved to New York City. She has traveled the world gathering and learning techniques and musical expressions, giving her sound and stylings hints of Indian, Arabic, Spanish, Bulgarian as well as Norwegian flavors, superimposed upon a classical technique and an affinity for jazz.

American Adam Rapa is a dynamic performer, composer, producer and educator known for the excitement, energy and enthusiasm he brings to stages and classrooms around the world. Rapa has been featured as a special guest artist and clinician at trumpet conferences around the globe including the International Trumpet Guild conference, the National Trumpet Competition, and festivals in dozens of countries around the world. Adam performed and/or recorded with Grammy Award winners Nicholas Payton and Roy Hargrove, Christian McBride, Doc Severinsen, Soulive, Wycliffe Gordon, Eric Reed, Jason Moran, Robert Glasper, Cyrus Chestnut, Jorge Pardo, Mnozil Brass, Belgian Brass, Alice in Chains, Academy Award winning film composer A.R. Rahman, and many others. Now living and freelancing in Copenhagen, Rapa plays lead trumpet in the Danish Radio Big Band and also performs with members of the Afro-Cuban All-Stars.

The Wisconsin Brass Quintet, formed in 1972, is a faculty ensemble in residence at the UW-Madison. In addition to performing with the WBQ, the players have also been members of the American Brass Quintet, Empire Brass Quintet and Meridian Arts Ensemble. Current members include Tom Curry, tuba; Mark Hetzler, trombone; Daniel Grabois, horn; John Aley, trumpet; and Matthew Onstad, trumpet.

Sunday, October 11: Duo recital with trumpet soloist Adam Rapa, vocalist Elisabeth Vik, and musicians from the School of Music. 7:30 PM, Mills Hall.  Based in Denmark, the duo offers a creative blend of classical and jazz, melding traditional and modern repertoire with a Latin sizzle. Works will include the Carmen Suite by George Bizet, Så Skimrande Var Aldrig Havet by Evert Taube, arranged by Rapa & Vik, Oblivion by Astor Piazzolla arranged by Rapa, and Anitras Dance by Edvard Grieg, arranged by Vik & Rapa.

Tickets for the Friday and Saturday concerts are $15 for adults, free for students and children. Sunday’s concert is free to all.

Buy tickets to both concerts and save!

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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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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!

 

 

 

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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.

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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.