From all appearances, the Madison Opera's summer show will be a laugh a minute, offering a comic double-bill, Lee Hoiby's Bon Appetit and Richard Wargo's The Music Shop, for three performances at the Mitby Theater on the MATC Truax campus, Friday July 14 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, July 15 at 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. Composer Wargo will be on hand to offer a pre-opera talk one hour before each performance.
"We're taking some risks with this program," says Ann Stanke, Madison Opera's general director, "but after The Fantasticks and Side by Side with Sondheim in previous seasons we needed something new for summer. The rehearsals have been going very well, and I don't think a better cast for the Music Shop has ever been assembled." Members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra will be in the pit.
Director Lorna Haywood and Maestro Louis Salemno, both of whom triumphed in last season's production of Verdi's La Traviata, have returned to put on the comic pairing. The lack of adequate sets for either opera was resolved with new designs by Bill Owen, MO's director of productions, being built in the company's own warehouse shop.
Hoiby, originally from Wisconsin, used a text by the French chef of television fame herself, Julia Child. The simple premise is baking a cake on stage -- "Buying butter and eggs is not something I'm used to doing for our productions," Stanke noted -- but the master chef, played by mezzo-soprano Emily Lodine, suffers the interference of two non-singing sous-chefs, one French and one American, played by Andrew Foster and George Wolff. While the cake is in the oven, the other opera takes place.
The Music Shop, based on text by Chekhov, is a zany work in which an absent-minded husband has forgotten what aria he needs to buy for his wife's performance the next day at a royal wedding. The harried shop staff play every aria under the sun in an effort to help the husband remember, a feat which melds all the arias in an amazing way. The cast includes John David Miles as the shopkeeper, Gregory Schmidt as the husband, Sarah Lawrence as the shop's assistant and Antonia Fusaro as the wife.
Stanke also reports that the Madison Opera continues to solidify its financial base. She modestly fails to mention that at the recent company banquet, MO president Tom Terry announced the establishment of a special endowment fund in Stanke's name, a well-deserved honor, in my opinion. The coming 40th-anniversary season will feature first-rate casts in Puccini's La Bohème and Verdi's final masterpiece, Falstaff, both conducted by John DeMain.
Isthmus, July, 2000
Copyright 2000 Jess Anderson