September 2012 Event Highlights

September 2012 Event Highlights

Playing with Politics

Forward Theater Company kicks off its fourth season with 44 Plays for 44 Presidents (September 20–October 7, The non-partisan play from Chicago’s Neo-Futurists melds comedy, drama, music, dance and the talents of five actors to chronicle the lives of the country’s forty-four commanders in chief, from George Washington to Barack Obama. It’s sure to be the most fun lead-up to this fall’s presidential elections!

Mix Masters

Each fall, the Wisconsin Union Theater welcomes musicians from around the globe for the Madison World Music Festival (September 14–15, This year, the international celebration kicks things up a notch with a focus on fusion—nearly every band mixes influences to create a sound that’s all their own. There’s Zeb & Haniya, a duo from Pakistan who blend traditional and alternative, folk and ethnic blues music; Delhi to Dublin, a Canada-based band with musicians hailing from India and Ireland; and Movits, a trio performing Swedish hip hop and swing. And don’t miss Matuto, a band described as “Appalachia meets Brazil,” offering bluegrass to forro, swamp rock to maracatu. 

Sights Unseen

The idea of vision is wrought with assumptions—that you see things the way I do, that there’s a collective visual experience or a “standard” or “normal” way to view an object. About Seeing, the latest exhibition at the James Watrous Gallery (through October 14,, questions these and other expectations through the work of three Wisconsin artists who have experienced vision problems, plus others who explore the physiology of color and depth perception, color blindness and other aspects of vision.

Unique Histories 

Hart Crane was an American poet in the early twentieth century who struggled with mental illness, alcohol, sexuality and feelings of inadequacy. His difficult life and fascinating experiences as an out man during the Roaring Twenties inspired former Broom Street Theater artistic director Callen Harty to write The Bottom of the Sea is Cruel (September 14–October 6,, a biographical play whose title is a line in one of Crane’s own poems.

The 1920s is also the setting of Paragon Springs, presented by Strollers Theatre (September 14–October 6, A reimagining of Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People, the play finds the famed “healing waters” of a small town mysteriously poisoned—and a resident is determined to learn the truth behind the tragedy. 

And history becomes hilarious in Madison Theatre Guild‘s Lettice and Lovage (September 21–October 6, Lettice Douffet, a docent at a dull historical home in England, livens up her tours with wild “histories,” ultimately attracting the attention of an inspector of the Preservation Trust.

Light Bright

Light, sound, color and movement are the media Leo Villareal uses to create immersive LED and computer-driven sculptures and installations that viewers and critics have likened to such natural phenomena as sunsets, fireworks and lightning. The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art presents Leo Villareal (September 9–December 30,, a traveling exhibition of more than fifteen works organized by the San Jose Museum of Art that traces the artist’s career, from early experiments with strobe lights to recent projects utilizing thousands of pinpoint LEDs. 

Painting Peak

Watercolor is a painting style that requires technical precision and control, yet rewards artists with unparalleled nuance, luminosity and complexity. The medium reached a pinnacle in Victorian Britain, and the Chazen Museum of Art celebrates this high point with The Golden Age of British Watercolors, 1870–1910 (September 27–December 2,, featuring landscapes, still lifes, classical themes, a fairy scene and more.

Director Melanie Cain offers up details on Fresco Opera Theatre’s The Good, the Bad, and the Divas, an original spaghetti western told through Italian arias.

Tell me about the story.
The story is based on six divas. They’ve all been hurt by a man and are out for revenge. We start with a shoot-out, of course. A girl shoots her ex and gets put in jail, and the others come to bust her out.

How did you think to combine a western with Italian music?
Spaghetti westerns were often taped in Italy or named after directors, who often were Italian.

What arias did you choose?
There’s the drinking song from La Traviata, the anvil chorus everyone knows from the Looney Tunes, Mozart tunes and some stuff that’s pretty far-fetched.

What’s been the most fun so far?
Writing the story and coming up with a new storyline, and seeing the singers buy into the story and their characters. 

What do you hope audiences get out of seeing the show?
Our mission is to make opera more accessible, [to show] that opera can be beautiful and fun. We keep our things pretty fast and furious. 

The Good, The Bad, and The Divas runs September 7–9 at Overture Center.

Classically Speaking

With Greg Hettmansberger

When the kids go back to school, it’s time for music lovers to head indoors: There may be only one main event this month to mark the retreat to the
concert hall, but the Madison Symphony Orchestra is promising to make it a great one. Russia Resounds! (September 21–23, is a triptych of three familiar masters—and one less-than-familiar work.

Music director John DeMain opens his eighteenth season here with Prokofiev’s breezy “Classical” Symphony; barely lasting a quarter hour, the piece bubbles with a charm verging on nonchalance.

The hidden gem is the Piano Concerto No. 2 of Tchaikovsky—not the one with all the famous tunes, but an even more ambitious work that has unfortunately been overshadowed by the ubiquitous earlier masterpiece. The soloist is Garrick Ohlsson, who made his name by becoming the first American winner of the Chopin Piano Competition four decades ago. Unlike so many competition kings, Ohlsson has gone on to a career of probity and interpretive depth. One of the highlights of the Tchaikovsky No. 2 is a chamber movement within the slow movement—a powerful stretch of music too often cut. According to DeMain, it was Ohlsson who insisted that, should he come to Madison to perform it, the work be given in its entirety.

The 2012 season kickoff concludes with the perennially colorful “Firebird” Suite of Stravinsky. By night’s end no one should mind that summer is behind us.

Want more classical coverage? Find Greg Hettmansberger’s blog.

The layered, textured, abstracted landscapes of Dave Tilton are the focus of Ambient, a new exhibition at Grace Chosy Gallery (September 7–29, The artist seeks to convey impressions, rather than specific details, of a landscape in his paintings. “Sometimes my impressions accumulate over many encounters with a particular place; sometimes they build on themselves and evolve; often they blend into a montage?of places once distinct.”

View an array of art, meet interesting artists and enjoy a lovely drive south of Madison with 14 South Artists‘s ninth annual Fall Studio Arts Tour (September 15–16,

Round out the weekend with a visit to the Willy Street Fair (September 15–16,, the city’s largest block party with arts and crafts, plus street performers, global foods and eight stages of live music.

And stop by the Olbrich Botanical Gardens atrium for Quilts in Bloom (September 22–October 14,, an annual showcase of quilts displayed alongside chrysanthemums and fall foliage. 

Katie Vaughn is managing editor of Madison Magazine. Read her arts and entertainment blog .