Poised for the last grand opera of the current season, the Madison Opera's ever-enthusiastic general director Ann Stanke notes, "This is an exciting time, and I'm glad to be around for it." She's speaking not only of the group's successes this year but also of their progress since becoming independent of the Madison Symphony Orchestra five years ago and of their outlook for future seasons.
"We had almost nothing at the outset other than our passion for opera and a small group of dedicated supporters," Stanke observes. "Financially it was downright scary." It wasn't clear five years ago that the community would support the necessarily high cost of good opera. There have been risky times since, but the recipe of maintaining consistently high levels of artistic achievement -- enough to attract national notices in the prestigious Opera News -- is an investment that is paying dividends in the form of an highly successful production of Gounod's Faust last fall and a very promising La Traviata by Verdi scheduled for April 23 and 25.
The cast for La Traviata appears solid. Soprano Joyce Guyer, tenor Scott Piper and baritone Christopher Robertson will sing the lead roles in the Madison production, and Louis Salemno, a widely recognized expert on Italian operatic styles, will conduct. Director Lorna Haywood's reputation for creativity within a generally traditional approach and a dramatic set lent by the Piedmont Opera should be a strong combination for one of Verdi's most touching tragedies, cast in music that is almost unbearably beautiful.
Still ahead are this summer's Side by Side by Sondheim, to be staged in the Esquire Theater in July and the just-revealed plans for next season. "One or two smaller details need to be nailed down," Stanke notes, "but we're very excited about having Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro in November of this year and Bizet's Carmen in May of 2000."
Most intriguing is January's children's opera, Brundibár, written by the Czech composer Hans Krása in the Holocaust concentration camp at Terezin to distract the children from the horrors around them. Roland Johnson will conduct the reportedly upbeat, fun work at the Mitby Auditorium.
As an organization, the Madison Opera is now on a secure footing, Stanke reports. Corporate supporters is strong, the endowment fund is growing and personal giving is about 20% of last year's figures. Combined with a very active board and a small but hard-working staff, it's now possible to consider even grander projects in coming years, such masterpieces as Verdi's Falstaff and Puccini's Turandot. An exciting time indeed.
Isthmus, April, 1999
Copyright 1999 Jess Anderson