4 opera and classical music picks for November

Concerts light up Madison this month
4 opera and classical music picks for November

Much of the world this year has been celebrating the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, and Madison has a number of performances honoring the occasion this month.

Coinciding with the exhibit of one of the First Folios (the first printed copies of Shakespeare’s plays from 1623) at the Chazen Museum of Art, two of our local theater companies present two of the greatest operas based on the Bard’s plays.

Madison Opera opens their season with Gounod’s “Romeo et Juliette,” with performances on Friday, Nov. 4 at 8 p.m., and Sunday, Nov. 6 at 2:30. One of the more intriguing aspects of this production is that the director is Doug Scholz-Carlson, who has directed the Shakespeare original. It will be interesting to see what insights he brings to the opera. It always takes longer to sing a story than say it, so the folks who write the librettos (the words of an opera) have to condense the action or leave out some details.

The cast is led by local favorite Emily Birsan and tenor John Irvin, also seen in “The Barber of Seville” a couple of seasons back. By any measure, a couple of hours or so of soaking up beautiful music (not to mention the sets and costumes on Overture Hall’s stage) should be the perfect escape from all the incessant chatter of the last weekend before the elections.

And if you need a laugh after the elections–or you just want another dose of Shakespeare–then by all means get to Music Hall on Nov. 11, 13 or 15 for University Opera’s production of “Falstaff.” The work is famous for being the greatest opera ever penned by an octogenarian (Verdi was 80 when he composed it). It’s arguably as great an operatic comedy written by anyone at any age (no, I’m not forgetting about Mozart, et al!).

Brilliantly adapted by Arrigo Boito from Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” “Falstaff” marks the first event since David Ronis shed the interim title of University Opera director and was awarded the job permanently. He directs the production, which features Paul Rowe, professor of voice at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in the title role, joined by a collection of students and returning alumni.

You can catch “Falstaff” and enjoy a true homecoming at Overture Center, as the Madison Symphony continues its season with “Paired to Perfection.” One could argue that the marketing hook is not hyperbole, as it refers to Christina and Michelle Naughton, Madison natives (and twins) whose pristine piano playing continues to propel their reputations worldwide. They will be featured in Mozart’s “Concerto for Two Pianos,” and maestro John DeMain will open with Debussy’s atmospheric “Le Printemps” and close with one of the mightiest 20th-century works, “Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5.” Concerts are Nov. 11 at 7:30, Nov. 12 at 8, and Nov. 13 at 2:30.

One of the best ways to emerge from the post-Thanksgiving turkey tryptophan stupor is to attend the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s “Holiday Pops,” the first of Madison’s beloved seasonal concerts.

Performances are on Nov. 26 at 2 and 6 p.m. at the warm and inviting Middleton Performing Arts Center. This year’s featured artists are the Isthmus Brass Ensemble, and conductor Andrew Sewell’s always engaging programming is sure to include a frothy mixture of familiar and rare holiday treats. And in what has become part of the tradition, the Middleton High School choir will join with the instrumental forces.