Tag Archives: Marcus Center

Florentine Opera to beguile and amuse with ‘Die Fledermaus’

Director John Hoomes returns to the Florentine Opera.
Director John Hoomes returns to the Florentine Opera.

Milwaukee welcomes back director John Hoomes (Elmer Gantry 2010) as the Florentine Opera closes its season with the delightful and cheeky operetta Die Fledermaus. The comical tale, by Johann Strauss II, tells the story of a masked ball held by a prince that brings together a collection of duplicitous socialites.

Rife with humor and witty athleticism, Fledermaus will feature the talents of Inna Dukach, in her Florentine debut as Rosalinde, Corey McKern (The Elixir of Love 2015, La Bohème 2014) as Eisenstein, and former Milwaukeean Bill Theisen as Frosch, with Milwaukeean James Zager on hand for choreography. Putting it all together is Hoomes, who says he’s excited to make his return to Milwaukee with this “fantastic piece.”

How would you describe Die Fledermaus’ place in the history of modern opera?

This work, like so many operas, almost went in cycles — similar to Faust, which did that for years. It was the most popular opera in the early 1900s, then for years nobody performed it, and then it started coming back. Fledermaus comes and goes. It’s a fantastic piece. It’s been at least eight years since I’ve done a Fledermaus, but now this is the second one I’ve done this year. It’s not like we all talk (to each other), it just all seems to roll back around.

Will the production be in its traditional period (the late 19th century), or something different?

It will be period, but with great liberty. The script for this is one I had worked with before and is put together from a number of different editions I have done. There isn’t an official edition of Fledermaus. It changes a good bit depending on the cast, on the direction and on the concept. The dialogue especially can be very different.

I’ve put together the dialogue for this production over the years myself. Some of it is based on a version from the 1930s, so some of it plays like the Carole Lombard comedies of the ’30s, and some of it looks and plays more contemporary, like some of the Naked Gun movies Leslie Nielsen was in. It gets very silly sometimes in a cool comedic way.

How has the cast taken to their roles as comedians? Is that typical or atypical of an opera singer’s palette?

Well, that’s what takes time rehearsing. Comedy is not easy and you really have to work and routine it to make it look naturalistic and make it run fast. The timing of the jokes is in the music: The music and composer give you all the timing, the length of pitch and everything. It’s all about that timing and opera singers aren’t used to having to do that. We’ll spend so much time polishing the gags. It’s very much like Broadway in that respect.

How would you characterize the score of Die Fledermaus?

It is written by Johann Strauss and so the music in this is almost all waltzes; the entire piece is made up of a series of waltzes. There are some melodies that people will recognize if they remember any of the Tom and Jerry cartoons because they used some of this music every now and then. It’s very light, it’s effervescent, it’s gorgeous music. Sometimes too, the music is kind of funny!

What do you think will resonate most with audiences?

Well, a lot of the scenes of the piece involve intrigue, like all operas, but it is more of a family piece as well. It’s light, it’s beautiful and nowadays with everything going on in the world it’s nice to come to a comedy, to something that’s light and beautiful. It’s a very wonderful, very funny piece. We kind of need a comedy now, with the state of the world.

It’s a little Eyes Wide Shut if it were done as a socially awkward Woody Allen comedy, without all the heaviness of it. It’s fun, the costuming is beautiful. So much of the piece is about the comedy and the music and how that blends together. I think people will be surprised just how funny it is.

What should less casual opera fans keep an eye out for in this production? Or is there any insider’s knowledge you can provide?

There’s a character that shows up in Act II whose name is Prince Orlofsky. He is supposed to be a German prince who is hosting this very elaborate, somewhat decadent party at his palace. Even though it is a male prince, the role is sung by a woman — it is a “pants role,” which is largely traditional in a lot of opera. For example, Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro. But for some reason, if people don’t know that they get a little surprised because he is a very prominent character. We have a wonderful soprano, Amanda Crider, who’s doing this role and that’s one of the special things about the piece.

Die Fledermaus will be performed at 7:30 p.m. May 13 and 2:30 p.m. May 15 at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, 929 N. Water St., Milwaukee. Tickets range from $31 to $130 and can be purchased at 800-326-7372 or florentineopera.org.

Milwaukee Symphony devotes two weekends to Johannes Brahms

Categorizing German composer Johannes Brahms can be difficult. From his position at the end of the Romantic era (the late 19th century), the composer was both rooted in the old world of classical music as well as ahead of his time.

Over two weekends, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra will give audiences the opportunity to decide for themselves Brahms’ place in history. The MSO’s Brahms Festival, taking place at the Marcus Center the weekends of April 29 and May 6, will feature Brahms’ entire symphonic repertory: four impressive, significant pieces.

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Johannes Brahms only published four symphonies in his lifetime, all of which will be presented by the MSO over two weekends.

That may not seem like a large number, but it was for Brahms, a notorious perfectionist who frequently destroyed his own works when they did not measure up to his high standards. Brahms was rumored to have destroyed over 20 string quartets before he finally presented his first public example in 1873. Brahms also destroyed several of his early works, including pieces that he had performed earlier in his career. This extreme perfection and dedication to his craft led to a smaller but exceptional legacy.

The works that did survive Brahms’ composition chopping block, including the four symphonies, are now considered standard repertoire — which provides its own unique set of problems. “The challenge with these pieces comes from their notoriety,” explains MSO principal clarinetist Todd Levy. “There is an expectation with pieces like this since many of the audience members know and love these works. They may already have their own interpretive ideas as they listen to the works.”

On April 30 and May 1, music director and conductor Edo de Waart will begin the festival by conducting Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 in C minor and Symphony No. 2 in D Major. The first symphony runs roughly 45 minutes in its entirety, and, like many of Brahms’ works underwent several drafts over many years. The earliest sketches of the work date back to 1854, but the finished work did not premiere until 1876, almost eighteen years later. The work is considered universally to be a masterpiece, and frequently harkens back to the works of other great German composers, including Beethoven.

In contrast, Brahms composed his Second Symphony over the summer of 1877, during a visit to the Austrian province of Carinthia. This composition period was far briefer than for its predecessor. Like the First Symphony, the Second reflects the work of Beethoven, this time most similar to the pastoral and lush harmonies of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony.

The following weekend, May 6 and 7, will feature Brahms’ other two symphonies, also conducted by de Waart. Symphony No. 3 in F major, composed in 1883, is Brahms’ shortest symphony and is often identified as his most personal, a slight shift away from the more traditional, non-programmatic works he is better known for. It features multiple motifs reminiscent of works by composer Robert Schumann, a close friend of Brahms and husband to the woman Brahms famously pined for: Clara Schumann. Brahms also uses a recurring motif — a rising F, A-flat, F pattern — that is meant to signify Brahms’ half-serious personal motto frei aber froh, or “free but happy.”

Brahms’ final symphony is darker and more complex, a noble work in E minor that premiered in 1885. Its minor key is only the first contrast to its preceding symphony, being more solemn. It concludes, famously, with a passacaglia, a serious-sounding musical form defined by its repeating, stately bass line.

With symphonies needing to cover so many artists in a given season, it’s rare for patrons to have a chance to hear so much work by a single composer in a two-week period, Levy says.

“It’s a great opportunity to hear these symphonies live performed by a great orchestra,” adds Levy. “Though the pieces are standard repertoire, they are not always performed in this short of a time frame.”

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s Brahms Festival will span two weekends: April 30 and May 1, and May 6 and 7. Tickets range from $17 to $107. For concert times and additional information, visit mso.org or call 414-291-7605.

‘The Artistry of Jennifer Koh’

Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra director Edo de Waart returns for the first time in 2016, and he’s bringing Jennifer Koh along with him. The “risk-taking, high-octane” violinist is one of the world’s top instrumentalists, and she’ll bring that fiery talent to Bartók’s Second Violin Concerto. Also on the program are Anna Clyne’s elegiac Within Her Arms and Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony.

At the Marcus Center, 929 N. Water St. Tickets range from $17 to $107 and can be ordered at 414-291-7605 or mso.org.

8 p.m. Feb. 5 and 6

Milwaukee Symphony plays Bartók and Tchaikovsky’s final works

At the end of January, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra will present a meeting of titans. The final major works by Béla Bartók and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, both expressions of the composers’ maturation and realizations of their mortality, will define this early 2016 program.

Bartók’s Piano Concerto No. 3 will be featured in the first half of the concert (after Witold Lutosławski’s Musique funèbre), performed by renowned American pianist Orli Shaham. This isn’t Shaham’s first time with the work, but it is her first time with the MSO — a debut she’s excited about. “I’ve been here before as part of a recital but never to perform with the symphony, so this will be a very special visit,” she says.

This concerto was composed in 1945, in the last months of Bartók’s life, and was a gift for his wife. Much like the rest of his work, it is inspired by folk music in its structure and harmonies. Bartók spent most of his early career exploring central European regions like Hungary and Romania for folk tunes, and while those journeys were halted by World War I, the influence remained for the rest of his life.

What separates his Third Concerto and other contemporaneous works is a move toward simplification. In the last decade or so of his life, Bartók began to reduce the amount of notation in his pieces, his final exploration of tonality. “It’s ironic that this piece actually has the fewest notes (but) it speaks the most,” Shaham says. “At this stage in his career, Bartok’s style had become so refined that he didn’t need the extra harmonies anymore.”

Bartók didn’t finish the piece before his death of leukemia in 1945, and the last 17 measures were completely by a colleague, Tibor Serly, before the premiere in 1946. It’s remained popular ever since, which is no surprise to Shaham.

“Bartok’s work stands the test of time because he went to the elements. He went to the human source for music making, which was folk music,” explained Shaham. “The melodies are something that everyone relates to because they tell a story of people regardless of where they live.”

The second half of the concert will feature Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, which premiered only nine days before the composer’s death in October 1893. Its title, “Pathétique,” means “passionate,” an appropriate title for the work.

How much the work serves as a meditation on Tchaikovsky’s pending mortality depends on whom you speak to in the musicological world. There are possible allusions to the Orthodox requiem liturgy in the first movement, and a “cross” motif early in the first movement in which four consecutive notes make a sign of the cross when connected.

One suggestion made by Tchaikovsky specialists is that the work deals specifically with the power of Fate, referenced in other Tchaikovsky symphonies, and how it controls one’s life and death.

The finale adds additional evidence to these themes of mortality. It’s the only Tchaikovsky work to end in a minor key and its tempo is marked at an extremely slow “adagio lamentoso,” adding to the mournful underlay of the entire work. In addition, the end of the piece is marked “morendo,” meaning “dying away.”

ON STAGE

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra will present a program including works by Bartók and Tchaikovsky at 8 p.m. Jan. 30 and 2:30 p.m. Jan. 31 at the Marcus Center, 929 N. Water St. Tickets range from $17 to $107 and can be purchased at 414-291-7605 or mso.org.

‘The Firebird’

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra will heat up the Marcus Center with Stravinsky’s first masterpiece, The Firebird, led by guest conductor Christopher Seaman. And that won’t be the only thing smoldering. Violinist Karen Gomyo will embrace a simmering violin concerto by Sibelius and the MSO also will take on works by early-20th-century composers Edward Elgar and Paul Dukas.

At 929 N. Water St. Tickets range from $17 to $107 and can be ordered at 414-291-7605 or mso.org.

8 p.m. Jan. 22 and 23


‘The Musicals of Jerry Herman’

Hello, Dolly!, Mame and La Cage Aux Folles all owe their tuneful success to one composer: Jerry Herman. The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra will open 2016 with a celebration of Herman’s music, joined by a variety of guest artists and new assistant conductor Yaniv Dinur.

At the Marcus Center, 929 N. Water St. Tickets are $27 to$67 and can be ordered at 414-273-7206 or marcuscenter.org.

7:30 p.m. Jan. 13


‘Newsies’

As a ’90s musical film, Newsies made headlines as a box office bomb. Twenty years later, it made headlines again — as a Broadway box office smash. This tale of newspaper sellers turned revolutionary strikers at the turn of the 20th century is now on tour, meaning fans of the Alan Menken-scored and Harvey Fierstein-written musical nationwide can finally get a chance to “Seize the Day” and pick up tickets.

At the Marcus Center, 929 N. Water St., Milwaukee. Tickets are $32 to $120 and can be ordered at 414-273-7206 or marcuscenter.org.

Jan. 5-10

The Second City’s ‘Holidazed and Confused’ Revue

By the week before Christmas, you’ve probably been so overwhelmed by people talking about the holiday season that you’re ready to put a candy cane through your eyeball. That’s what The Second City’s annual holiday revue is for — the touring production sends up traditional festivities with all the flair you’d expect from the Chicago improv troupe.

At the Marcus Center, 929 N. Water St., Milwaukee. Tickets start at $38 and can be ordered at 414-273-7206 or marcuscenter.org.

Dec. 16 to 20

‘An American in Paris’

Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra music director Edo de Waart conducts this all-American program, featuring a variety of works from our national canon. The highlight is Gershwin’s jazzy symphonic poem An American in Paris, but the program also will feature John Adams’ foxtrot The Chairman Dances, William Schuman’s Sixth Symphony and Aaron Copland’s Clarinet Concerto, performed with principal clarinet Todd Levy. At the Marcus Center, 929 N. Water St. Tickets range from $17 to $107 and can be purchased at 414-291-7605 or mso.org.

11:15 a.m. Sept. 25 and 8 p.m. Sept. 26

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Rufus Wainwright


THE SETS LIST

Considered one of the greatest vocalists and songwriters performing today, Rufus Wainwright vacillates between contemporary and classical notions of pop music with an enviable ease. So it makes sense that he’d want to perform an evening of his best work with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. The Marcus Center may not be the Pabst Theater (where he recorded his live album Milwaukee at Last!!!), but Wainwright loves the city whatever the venue.

At the Marcus Center in Milwaukee. Tickets are $17 to $107. For more information visit mso.org.