Shakespearian Opera with Pop Art and Go-go boots!

University Opera’s outside-of-the-box production of Benjamin Britten’s A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM evokes the 1960s world of Andy Warhol

This fall, University Opera steps outside the proverbial box, setting Benjamin Britten’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at The Factory, Andy Warhol’s famous (or perhaps infamous) studio, in the mid-1960s.  Three performances of Britten’s evocative, colorful opera will be presented at the Music Hall on the UW-Madison campus on November 15 at 7:30pm, November 17 at 2:00pm, and November 19 at 7:30pm.  The Mead Witter School of Music’s new Director of Orchestral Activities, Oriol Sans, will conduct the UW-Madison Symphony and Karen K. Bishop Director of Opera, David Ronis, will direct the production.

The magical plot of Midsummer revolves around the adventures of four lovers and six “rustics,” or “rude mechanicals,” all manipulated by a group of fairies.  It features the machinations of Oberon, King of the Fairies, trying to get even with his queen, Tytania, with whom he is at odds.  While the rustics prepare to perform at the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta, Oberon also attempts to influence the love interests of four young people.  Mistakes are made, and the lovers’ allegiances are thrown into confusion.  But in the end, all is resolved as those assembled for the wedding enjoy the rustics’ performance of the hilarious “Pyramus and Thisby” play.

Britten and his partner, Peter Pears, masterfully crafted the libretto for A Midsummer Night’s Dream from Shakespeare’s iconic play, trimming the text and re-ordering some scenes.  The result is a beautifully balanced, atmospheric yet playful musical version of Shakespeare’s play that regularly delights audiences.

The UW-Madison production imagines Oberon as a kind of Andy Warhol character, and his kingdom as Warhol’s workspace/playspace, The Factory.  Some of the other characters are loosely modeled on those who were active in Warhol’s world.  Tytania is inspired by Edie Sedgwick, Puck resembles Ondine, one of the Warhol Superstars, and the lovers are artists employed at The Factory.  The “mechanicals” are depicted as a hodgepodge group of misfit blue collar workers, Warhol wannabes, who come together as an avant-garde theater troupe.  The stories of the fairies, lovers, and mechanicals converge at the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta who, in this setting, are arts philanthropists whose wedding takes place at, naturally, The Factory.

The large cast features countertenor Thomas Aláan as Oberon and Amanda Lauricella alternating with Kelsey Wang as Tytania.  Puck will be played by Michael Kelley and the Boy, “Damon,” by Tanner Zocher.  Of the four lovers, the role of Helena will be split between Jing Liu and Rachel Love; Chloe Agostino and Julia Urbank will alternate as Hermia; Benjamin Liupaogo and DaSean Stokes will take on Lysander; and Kevin Green will appear in all the performances as Demetrius.  The “mechanicals” will be played by James Harrington (Bottom), Jake Elfner (Quince), Thore Dosdall (Flute), Jack Innes (Starveling), Jeffrey Larson (Snout), and Benjamin Galvin (Snug).  The ensemble of fairies will include Miranda Kettlewell (Cobweb), Lauren Shafer (Mustardseed), Madelaine Trewin (Moth), and Brooke Wahlstrom (Peaseblossom) as well as Chloé Flesch, Angela Fraioli, Maria Marsland, and Maria Steigerwald. Hippolyta will be played by Lindsey Meekhof and UW-Madison Professor of Voice, Paul Rowe, will sing the role of Theseus.

The production will be designed by Greg Silver (also the Technical Director) with lighting by Kenneth Ferencek.  Sydney Krieger and Hyewon Park will be the costume designers; Jennifer Childers, the props designer; Lindsey Meekhof, the assistant director; and the production stage manager will be Sarah Luedtke.  Others on the production staff include Benjamin Hopkins, operations manager for University Opera; Alice Combs, master electrician; assistant electrician Rachael Wasson; assistant stage managers Grace Greene and Cecilia League; and Ashley Haggard and Kelsey Wang, costume assistants.

The public is invited to a pre-performance panel discussion which will take place:

November 17, 2019
12:30 – 1:20pm
Music Hall
Free Admission

On the panel will be:
Joshua Calhoun – Associate Professor of English, UW-Madison
Steffen Silvis – Ph.D. Candidate in Interdisciplinary Theatre Studies, UW-Madison
Douglas Rosenberg – Professor of Art, UW-Madison

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

Susan Cook, Director of the Mead Witter School of Music, Moderator

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) or at the door beginning one hour before the performance.  The Carol Rennebohm Auditorium is located in the 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.

January 10, 2018
Contact:
David Ronis ronis@wisc.edu
Katherine Esposito  kesposito@wisc.edu

Riveting theater, achingly beautiful music abound in upcoming University Opera production of La Bohème

University Opera takes over the Wisconsin Union Theater for a three-day run of Puccini’s masterpiece

On February 23, 24 and 25, University Opera, in collaboration with the Wisconsin Union Theater, will present a special production of Giacomo Puccini’s timeless masterpiece, La Bohème, at the Wisconsin Union Theater’s Shannon Hall.  This marks the first time in over 15 years that University Opera has staged a production at the Union Theater and the first bona fide opera production in the space since the theater’s renovation in 2014.  Conducted by interim UW-Madison Director of Orchestras, Chad Hutchinson, and directed by Karen K. Bishop Director of Opera, David Ronis, the production will be performed in Italian with English supertitles.  It will take full advantage of the many upgrades to Shannon Hall, in particular, the expanded orchestra pit which will accommodate the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra.

Friday, Feb. 23 @ 7:30 PM

Saturday, Feb. 24 @ 7:30 PM

Sunday, Feb. 25 @3:00 PM

Arguably Puccini’s most beautiful work, La Bohème blends riveting theater with sumptuous music.  The incomparable score accompanies the story of Rodolfo and Mimi, a penniless poet and a seamstress, who fall in love and suffer through heartbreak and tragedy.  Along for the ride are Rodolfo’s fellow starving artist buddies, Marcello, Schaunard, and Colline, as well as Marcello’s sassy yet bighearted girlfriend, Musetta, all surviving on laughter and the promise of love.

Says longtime University Opera supporter Kathleen Harker: “I am excited to see opera return to Shannon Hall at the Union with the University Opera’s lavish production of Puccini’s La Boheme. I have fond memories of seeing my first opera, a touring Metropolitan Opera production of ‘Madama Butterfly,’ at the Memorial Union in 1965.”

La Bohème is chock full of memorable arias including Rodolfo’s “Che gelida manina” and Mimi’s “Mi chiamano Mimi”  both from the end of the first act, when Mimi and Rodolfo fall in love; as well as Musetta’s Waltz, “Quando m’en vò,” which Musetta sings in the lively second act to arouse Marcello’s jealousy.  It was also the inspiration for Rent, Jonathan Larson’s musical theater adaptation of the material, recently seen at the Overture Center in a national touring production.


Above: Luciano Pavarotti sings “Che Gelida Manina,” 1961

University Opera’s production sets La Bohème in Paris of 1925, the period called les années folles, “the crazy years” – France’s version of the Roaring Twenties – during which time so many famous artists and intellectuals found themselves in the City of Light.  Among the crowd at the Café Momus in the second act, audience members might be able to pick out characters inspired by some of these famous expats – F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Salvador Dalí, Simone de Beauvoir, Man Ray, and Ernest Hemingway, to name a few.  “We’re so excited to be presenting this timeless, heart-wrenching story against the backdrop of the vibrant cultural and artistic milieu of Paris in the 1920s,” says director David Ronis.  “The environment is a natural fit for generating the emotionally charged performances that really make La Bohème so fulfilling to see.”

This marks the first time in over 15 years that University Opera has staged a production at the Union Theater and the first bona fide opera production in the space since the theater’s renovation in 2014.

The transposition of the story to the 1920s also provides fertile ground for the imagination of set designer Joseph Varga, emeritus professor of scenic design in the UW-Madison Department of Theatre and Drama.  For this production, Varga has designed a non-literal unit set that functions beautifully for both indoor and outdoor scenes, the background of which features a stunning roofscape view of Paris.  Varga is joined by M.F.A. student lighting designer, Sruthi Suresan, costume designers Sydney Krieger and Hyewon Park and props designer Jennifer Childers.  Completing the production team will be production manager Martie Barthel-Steer, technical director Greg Silver, scenic painters Teresa Sarkela and Yoshinori Asai, prop manager Jo Chalhoub, rehearsal pianist Sarah Williams, assistant director Sarah Kendall, and assistant stage managers Meghan Stecker and Delaney Egan.

This large production will involve over 80 UW-Madison students – singers, instrumentalists, and stage crew – as well as ten young performers who are members of Madison Youth Choirs.  Most of the principal roles will be double cast.  Shaddai Solidum and Yanzelmalee Rivera will split performances as Mimi. UW-Madison doctoral candidate and Madison Opera studio artist Benjamin Liupaogo will divide performances of Rodolfo with José Muñiz.  Katie Anderson and Claire Powling will both perform the role of Musetta, Matt Chastain and alumnus James Held will be Marcello, Nicholas Damiano and John McHugh will perform Schaunard.  Guest artist and alumnus Benjamin Schultz-Burkel will be seen as Colline, Jeremiah Gile as Benoit, and Jake Elner as Alcindoro.  UW-Madison vocal coach, Dr. Daniel Fung, will be responsible for the musical preparation.

Tickets are $38 for premium seating, $30 general admission, $25 senior tickets, $15 non-UW-Madison students and $10 UW-Madison students and are available in advance through the Campus Arts Ticketing office at (608) 265-ARTS and online at https://union.wisc.edu/events-and-activities/event-calendar/event/la-boheme/. 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.

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.

University Opera is a cultural service of the Mead Witter 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 https://www.music.wisc.edu/

Below, enjoy two more gorgeous arias from La Bohème. We will see you at the Union in late February!


Anna Netrebko sings “Si, mi chiamo mimi”


Maria Callas sings “Quando me’n vo,'” 1958