Big operas, a wunderkind pianist and a tribute to Leonard Bernstein

Classically Speaking: November delivers gems
Big operas, a wunderkind pianist and a tribute to Leonard Bernstein
Photo courtesy of the Madison Symphony Orchestra
Leonard Bernstein (left) and John DeMain discuss "A Quiet Place," an opera with music by Bernstein, prior to DeMain conducting the piece with the Houston Grand Opera in 1983.

Madison Opera

Madison Opera opens its 57th season with opera’s most famous double bill. Once known as “the ham and egg of opera,” “Cavalleria Rusticana” and “Pagliacci” are both one-act verismo operas of the 1890s — and made their composers (Pietro Mascagni and Ruggero Leoncavallo respectively) essentially one-hit wonders. But what hits they are! Filled with some of the most famous arias and passages in all of opera, these tales of betrayal and the revenge are being seen in Madison for the first time in over 30 years.

General director Kathryn Smith is giving us the usually potent mix of local debuts and returning artists, most notably director Kristine McIntyre, whose previous appearances here included “Dead Man Walking” and “Florencia en el Amazonas.” Joseph Mechavich (who was here in 2013 and 2017) will conduct. Maestro John DeMain has returned from conducting Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide” in Barcelona, but was not back in time for Madison Opera’s rehearsals. Perhaps we will spot him in the audience on Friday, Nov. 2, at 8 p.m. or Sunday, Nov. 4, at 2:30, in Overture Hall.

Salon Piano Series

One can have both operatic grandeur and the intimacy of a salon recital by attending the opening event of this year’s Salon Piano Series at Farley’s House of Pianos on Sunday, Nov. 4, at 4 p.m. In the past the series has often introduced local aficionados to a new talent taking the world by storm, and this event fits that description. Kenneth Broberg, 23, will make his local debut. His resume already includes the Silver Medal at the 15th Van Cliburn competition. Broberg’s program includes music by Claude Debussy, George Gershwin and Nicolai Medtner. And if you can’t make it on Sunday, there is a free masterclass at Farley’s on Saturday, Nov. 3, at 5 pm.

Madison Symphony Orchestra

As mentioned above, John DeMain spent most of October in Barcelona, conducting concert performances of Bernstein’s “Candide.” The Spanish metropolis was taking part in a global celebration of the 100th anniversary of the American composer’s birth. For the Madison Symphony Orchestra concerts of Nov. 9, 10 and 11, DeMain will offer his own tribute to Bernstein by not only presenting the overture to “Candide,” but also the Three Dance Episodes from “On the Town” and the Symphony No. 2 “Age of Anxiety.” The latter is titled “symphony,” but looks and sounds like a piano concerto. The soloist is Madison’s own world-famous Christopher Taylor.

The second half is devoted to Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 7” — the last work Bernstein conducted, in August 1990, just a couple of months before his death. DeMain had a distinguished relationship with Bernstein, being hand-picked to conduct the 1980 revival of “West Side Story,” then conducting the world premiere of Bernstein’s only full-length opera, “A Quiet Place.”

University Opera

The biggest event of the month from University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music is University Opera’s first production of the season “The Coronation of Poppea.” The 1643 opus of Claudio Monteverdi is considered the first great opera, and features a lurid libretto in which Emperor Nero and his consort, Poppea, sweep aside such notables as Nero’s wife and the great philosopher Seneca. (It brings to mind Anna Russell’s old line: “You can do anything in opera — so long as you sing it!”) As usual there are three performances in the Music Hall, Friday, Nov. 16, and Tuesday, Nov. 20, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, Nov. 18 at 2 p.m.

David Ronis will direct and Chad Hutchinson will conduct a small period instrument group visible (and better heard) outside of the usual orchestra pit.

Greg Hettmansberger covers jazz opera and classic music for