From March 4 though March 8, University Opera, in partnership with the Wisconsin Union Theater, will present a special production of Stephen Sondheim’s popular musical Sweeney ToddThe Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

The cast of Sweeney Todd shared thoughts on Stephen Sondheim’s legacy, what it means to be performing his work following his recent death, and more.

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Kathryn Flynn
Vocal Performance (1st year Master’s)
Role: Beggar Woman

Have you ever performed a work of Sondheim’s before, prior to this production?
No. 

Do you have a favorite work of Sondheim? If so, what is it and why is it a favorite?
Sweeney Todd, hands down! I’ve never been a gigantic Sondheim fan, but there’s something all-encompassing about this particular work that favors and caters to many different types of both musical and opera lovers alike.

Is there something that you feel makes learning, performing, or listening to Sondheim unique?
The speak-sing qualities/aspects of singing Sondheim. Many roles he composed are heavily-characterized, versus heavily-sung. Having the freedom and permission to “have fun” with creating and forming those vocal and character choices (especially for a role like Beggar Woman!) has created an entirely-new dimension of musical interpretation for me.

Do you have any thoughts on what it means to be performing his work now, following his recent death?
Without a doubt, Sondheim is one of the most influential and long-lasting composers of all time in the world of Musical Theatre. Performing a work as recognizable and loved as “Sweeney Todd” definitely presents its points of anxiety, hoping to “live up to the standard” that Sondheim would have wanted his work to represent. However, performing this work amongst other actors and singers who have an equal love, admiration and desire to perform at their peak ability is bringing a dimension and color to this piece never experience before.

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Charles Hancin
Music No Option, Bachelors, Fifth Year
Role: Ensemble/Fogg

Have you ever performed a work of Sondheim’s before, prior to this production?
No.

Do you have a favorite work of Sondheim? If so, what is it and why is it a favorite?
It’s a tossup between Sweeney and Company, mostly for their adult themes, storytelling, and their capacity to be enjoyed by a wide range of audiences. These works better align with operettas than musicals in my opinion, and as such, command somewhat more respectability. That is not to say that other modern musicals are unrespectable, it’s just that there is more austerity to Sondheim’s works.

Is there something that you feel makes learning, performing, or listening to Sondheim unique?
His compositional voice is certainly distinct. In terms of scholarship, there is much that can be said about his ability to write lyrics and music for varied emotions, events, and characters. The way harmony or rhythm works with his writing is tightly controlled, but it is precisely this control that allows for so much more personal expression in the performance of the players in his works. Sweeney Todd is no exception, in fact, I would hazard that this is one of his most cohesive works save for perhaps that tooth-pulling competition, I can see why pretty much every production skips it.

That is not to say that his lyrics play little part in the success of his musicals. He is certainly a strong poet with a penchant for perfect rhymes. His wit is on full display in many of the numbers in Sweeney, but nowhere is it more exemplified than in A Little Priest. Much has already been said on the duet, so I won’t bore you with my frankly underqualified opinion, but I would be remiss not to mention that it’s downright awesome. Besides that, between Sondheim’s word choice and striking imagery, I don’t know which contributes more to the grimy and dank atmosphere of Sweeney Todd.

Anyway, I don’t see this level of quality in a lot of modern musicals, save for Bernstein, who had worked with Sondheim, probably imparting a fair amount of influence during their time together. I’d say this adherence to quality makes Sondheim’s works unique.

Do you have any thoughts on what it means to be performing his work now, following his recent death?
Not particularly as I’m somewhat an advocate of the unfortunately named ‘Death of the Author’ concept. That is not to say that I have no regard for Sondheim himself, I just see Sweeney Todd as a sort of timeless work that stands on its own merit without the desire to exalt it through the composer’s recent passing. I guess mentioning that would be a nice draw for audiences in terms of advertising, but I would personally steer away from that sort of stuff out of respect. Despite that, I’d have to be blind to miss the irony in doing the work that has the highest concentration of death, so why not go all the way?

Do you have any other thoughts to provide on the legacy of Sondheim, personal connections to the artist and his work, or something else in general?
Not particularly, though I guess I really liked Bernstein’s Mass for which I believe Sondheim was a lyricist. I bought the vocal score for it in high school and brought it over to America so that I can pore over it every once in a while. Those formative years were rather nice, but otherwise, my connection to Sondheim is relatively superficial.

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Luis Orozco
DMA 1st year
Role: Sweeney Todd

Have you ever performed a work of Sondheim’s before, prior to this production?
No.

Do you have a favorite work of Sondheim? If so, what is it and why is it a favorite?
A little night music. Musically and dramatically brilliant! Sondheim has a gift for taking some of the most flawed characters and making them relatable and humanizing them.

Is there something that you feel makes learning, performing, or listening to Sondheim unique?
It’s extremely lyric centered, and finding a way to sing it while being as clear with the text as possible is always the challenge.

Do you have any thoughts on what it means to be performing his work now, following his recent death?
We are lucky to have the catalog from such a giant! We’re privileged to be performing his works.

Do you have any other thoughts to provide on the legacy of Sondheim, personal connections to the artist and his work, or something else in general?
Just grateful for his music and his words. “Witches can be right, giants can be good. You decide what’s right, You decide what’s good. Just remember Someone is on your side. No one is alone. You are not alone”

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Lindsey Meekhof
DMA
Role: Mrs. Lovett

Have you ever performed a work of Sondheim’s before, prior to this production?
Yes. Into the Woods (Baker’s wife).

Do you have a favorite work of Sondheim? If so, what is it and why is it a favorite?
Into the Woods will always be my favorite since it was my first introduction to Sondheim. I loved that the characters are not all bad or good, they are people trying to figure it out as they go. “No One Is Alone” is one of my favorite pieces of musical theater of all time. He was masterful at delivering messages that everyone makes mistakes and there is always a community to identify with.

Is there something that you feel makes learning, performing, or listening to Sondheim unique?
The complexity of these characters and how complicated the label of villain can be.

Do you have any thoughts on what it means to be performing his work now, following his recent death?
His legacy will live on through his work and us continuing to share these messages of how important having community support is. It is also very meaningful to be performing for audiences after the isolation of the pandemic. This show will bring out many Sondheim fans that can share in the performance together.

Do you have any other thoughts to provide on the legacy of Sondheim, personal connections to the artist and his work, or something else in general?
Sweeney is a figure who was isolated and abandoned by his community then commits horrific crimes in his obsession for vengeance. Many of the characters in Sweeney Todd are left behind and isolated individuals. They crave connection as we all do. It is difficult in this story to label a true villain when so many bad things are happening. I would love to hear audience perspective on the characters, especially when Sondheim provides lighter and comic moments in the story.

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Justin Kroll
DMA
Role: Beadle Bamford

Have you ever performed a work of Sondheim’s before, prior to this production?
Yes. Pirelli, Sweeney Todd (Waco Civic Theatre). 

Do you have a favorite work of Sondheim? If so, what is it and why is it a favorite?
Sweeney Todd.

Is there something that you feel makes learning, performing, or listening to Sondheim unique?
The complex, intentional detail in every aspect of his works.

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Noah Strube
Music Performance BA, Third Year
Role: Toby

Have you ever performed a work of Sondheim’s before, prior to this production?
Yes. I’ve never been in a full show of his work, but I have done Giants in the Sky from Into the Woods for Solo and Ensemble, and I did a character study on Bobby from Company for opera workshop.

Do you have a favorite work of Sondheim? If so, what is it and why is it a favorite?
I love Sunday in the Park with George. Its theme about the conflict involved in the pursuit of art is among the most relatable in all of musical theatre, and especially among Sondheim’s shows. Not to mention the score, balancing rhythmic complexity of the title song, as well as the sweeping glory of ‘Sunday’, one of my absolute favorite songs in a show.

Is there something that you feel makes learning, performing, or listening to Sondheim unique?
It is difficult, likely the most difficult repertoire in musical theatre as far as the well known repertoire goes, but working on it is never unsatisfying. Every time you open the score, you will learn or discover something new about it.

Do you have any thoughts on what it means to be performing his work now, following his recent death?
It shows that a man that brilliant whose work is so beloved will live on as long as there are people performing musical theatre. Few names carry the weight that his does in this community. I feel like he will be looked back on with the same reverent eyes we view the great composers of centuries ago now.

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Jude Balthazar
Voice and Opera Performance, DMA, 1st year
Role: Anthony

Have you ever performed a work of Sondheim’s before, prior to this production?
No.

Do you have a favorite work of Sondheim? If so, what is it and why is it a favorite?
Since “Sweeney Todd” is my first performance work of Sondheim, I would say it’s a pleasure to discover the marvelous storyteller he is. The libretto is so alive and the music is to me an extension of the unspoken ideas/thoughts/feelings/emotions that carries the singing or that keeps going when there is no singing.

Is there something that you feel makes learning, performing, or listening to Sondheim unique?
I do. The uniqueness is how I ended up valuing the lyric/text/words first in order to genuinely be the character. For instance, in Sweeney Todd, it is imperative , at least for me, that you are seen and heard will performing as natural as possible on stage, and I feel this won’t happened without eating the text out and digesting it fully.

Do you have any thoughts on what it means to be performing his work now, following his recent death?
Sondheim grew up to become this impeccably renowned national and international musical figure. To sing his work today is telling me as an international student in the United States that I am called to follow his footstep to the best of my abilities. His music made history, and I have to keep living his legacy by sharing to the future generation who he was and his messages through his music.

Do you have any other thoughts to provide on the legacy of Sondheim, personal connections to the artist and his work, or something else in general?
I have always heard of him since I transferred to the state for my undergrad. I have been told how special his music is and I have witnessed the performances of his song by many of my peers that moved me; but his death had me think more of him and what he wanted to communicate to the world. I am glad to be in a such position to explore his world of thinking in Sweeney Todd.

 

From March 4 though March 8, University Opera, in partnership with the Wisconsin Union Theater, will present a special production of Stephen Sondheim’s popular musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Directed by Karen K. Bishop Director of Opera David Ronis, and conducted by Director of Orchestral Activities Oriol Sans, the production will feature student performers from the School of Music, accompanied by the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra.

Stephen Sondheim, a true giant of American musical theatre, was lost just months ago in November of 2021. University Opera is privileged to honor the legacy of Mr. Sondheim in performing Sweeney Todd, one of the beloved works in his extensive oeuvre. The wry humor of Hugh Wheeler’s book, paired with Sondheim’s memorable tunes and haunting lyrics, complete with riveting orchestrations make for a memorable evening of musical theatre.

This dark, Tony Award-Winning musical features razor sharp wit, and tells the tale of Sweeney Todd, an exiled 19th-century barber who was framed by a corrupt judge to take advantage of Todd’s wife. Upon his return to London, Todd teams up with his new landlord, Mrs. Lovett, a floundering pie shop owner. Together, the team splits open a new way to peddle profitable pies, whilst Sweeney seeks his vengeance in the barbershop upstairs, waiting for Judge Turpin to get a trim.

This large production will involve over 70 UW-Madison students–singer-actors, instrumentalists, technicians, and stage crew–spanning a wide age range, from freshmen to doctoral students. The title role will be performed by Luis Orozco; his partner in business (and crime), Mrs. Lovett, will be played by Lindsey Meekhof; the ingenue role of Johanna will be doubled by Isabel Celata and Molly Schumacher and her suitor, Anothony Hope, will be performed by Jude Balthazar and Kenneth Hoversten. Madison Barrett and Kathryn Flynn will perform as the Beggar Woman; Judge Turpin will be sung by James Harrington with Justin Kroll as The Beadle; Tobias Rigg will be played by Noah Strube; Even Mitchell will play Pirelli and Charles Hancin will sing Jonas Fogg. The outstanding ensemble of singers lead by DMA student and chorus master Andrew Voth includes Christian Brenny, Riley Brutto, Michael Chiaverini, Katie Eggers, Ben Gagliardi, Grace Greene, Charles Hancin, Alec Hansen, Jonathan Henreckson, Corey Lallo, Krista Laszewski, Minseon Lee, Daniel Levy, Allyson Mills, Abageal Phelan, Emily Quartemont, Princess Vaulx, William Volmar, and Eloise Williamson. Besides Maestro Sans, the musical team will consist of UW-Madison vocal coach Thomas Kasdorf (musical preparation), and William Preston (rehearsal pianist). Graduate student Alison Norris will serve as assistant conductor and conduct one performance.

The production will be designed by Joseph Varga with lighting by Kenneth Ferencek, costumes by Hyewon Park, wigs by Jan Ross, and sound by Kyle Spradling. Scenery, Props, and Supertitles are courtesy of Madison Opera. Greg Silver will be the technical director and the production stage manager will be Sarah Marty. Others on the production staff include Teresa Sarkela, props coordinator; Kyle Sackett, operations manager for University Opera; Kelsey Wang, assistant costume designer; Isabel Coff, sound assistant; and assistant stage managers Meghan Stecker, Zak Wolff, Mckayla Murphy and Kaya Sarajian.

Ticket prices range from $45-$22 and are available in advance through the Campus Arts Ticketing office at (608) 265-ARTS and online at artsticketing.wisc.edu. Tickets may also be purchased in person at the Wisconsin Union Theater Box Office Monday-Friday, 11:30 am-5:30 pm and Saturdays, 12-5 pm. Tickets may also be purchased at the door beginning one hour before the performance.

Sweeney Todd is presented through special arrangement with Music Theatre International (MTI). All authorized performance materials are also supplied by MTI.

University Opera is a cultural service of the Mead Witter School of Music 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.

After presenting two successful and innovative video productions in 2020-21, University Opera is back on stage with the Wisconsin premiere of Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s moving chamber opera, Two Remain (Out of Darkness). This memory piece, full of exquisite and evocative music, tells the stories of Holocaust survivors Krystyna Zywulska and Gad Beck. Many years after the war, both are haunted by the memories of those they lost and what they had to sacrifice in order to survive. The work is based on Zywulska’s and Beck’s memoirs as well as material from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the documentary film Paragraph 175. Three performances will be presented at Music Hall on the UW-Madison campus: November 19 at 7:30pm, November 21 at 2:00pm, and November 23 at 7:30pm. The Mead Witter School of Music’s Director of Orchestral Activities, Oriol Sans, will conduct a chamber ensemble comprised of members of the UW-Madison Symphony and Karen K. Bishop Director of Opera, David Ronis, will direct the production.

Krystyna Zywulska was born Sonia Landau, a Jew, in 1914. In 1942, she escaped from the Warsaw Ghetto, took on a Christian identity and started working with the Polish Resistance. She was later arrested by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz as a political prisoner. Secretly composing lyrics to inspire her fellow prisoners, her job in the Camp was to catalogue the personal effects of thousands of women and children before they were murdered in the gas chambers. Many years after the war, she is asked by a journalist to record her stories. Plagued by the ghosts of her past, she struggles to find the words.

Gad Beck’s first true love, Manfred Lewin, was sent to Auschwitz when he was 19 years old and murdered. As an old man, Beck is visited by the image of Manfred as the painful truth of their story emerges. It is estimated that over 100,000 men and women were imprisoned by the Nazis for homosexuality during World War II and many of them were murdered. Even after the war was over, Paragraph 175, the German law prohibiting homosexuality, remained in effect until 1969.

These are only two of thousands and thousands of survivor stories, but they have much to teach us. In thinking about the Holocaust, we tend to focus on the millions who were lost. But Two Remain (Out of Darkness) presents the stories of two survivors as they painfully struggle with “survivor’s guilt.” Years later, they are still haunted by the unspeakable atrocities of the war, the profound losses they suffered, and by the choices they made in order to live. In the finale, the characters from both stories unite to proclaim their survivorship and, perhaps, to find some kind of closure.

The cast features Sachie Ueshima as Krystyna Zywulska and guest artist/actor Joshua Kelly as Gad Beck. Kenneth Hoversten and Kyle Sackett alternate as Beck’s young lover, Manfred and Isabel Celata plays Krysia, Zywulska at a younger age. Completing the cast are Kathryn Flynn and Maria Marsland alternating as Zosia; Lindsey Meekhof and Maria Steigerwald as Edka; and Jerzy Gillon and Emily Quartemont splitting performances as Mariola.

Greg Silver will design both set and lights and Hyewon Park will design costumes. The production stage manager will be Grace Greene. Others on the production staff include Justin Kroll, assistant director; Kyle Sackett, operations manager for University Opera; Ana Gonzalez, master electrician; and assistant stage manager Cecilia League. Kenneth Hoversten and Molly Schumacher will be costume assistants.

After each performance, there will be a talkback with the cast and creative staff.

Tickets are $27 for the general public, $22 for senior citizens and $10 for UW-Madison students, available in advance through the Campus Arts Ticketing office at (608) 265-ARTS and online at http://artsticketing.wisc.edu/. Tickets may also be purchased in person at the Wisconsin Union Theater Box Office or 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.

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.