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Monday, April 8, 2013

Mythical Battle of Midas

Present Music and Milwaukee Opera Theatre present a world premiere

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Present Music, Milwaukee’s cutting-edge new music ensemble, joins with Milwaukee Opera Theatre in the debut of Judgment of Midas, an opera by Turkish-American composer Kamran Ince. Judgment of Midas is inspired by the discovery and excavation of ancient ruins in Sardis. Midas marks the largest project, and first opera, undertaken by Present Music. It is also the first opera composed by Ince, who will conduct the performances himself. Milwaukee Opera Theatre Artistic Director Jill Anna Ponasik directs the semi-staged premiere, which includes projections of the Sardis excavation.

Dr. Crawford H. Greenewalt, Jr., the late field director of the Harvard excavation, commissioned the opera to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Sardis excavations, which took place in what is now western Turkey. The excavations revealed stunning mosaics, including some that depicted the mythical contest of Pan and Apollo.

Judgment of Midas was developed in American Opera Projects’ “First Chance” program, which provides first-time hearings of new works before a live audience. AOP offers several programs to foster new opera, but “First Chance” is at its core.

Miriam Seidel’s original English libretto is based on the myth of the musical battle between Pan and Apollo as told in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. There is a twist added to the myth: Seidel interweaves the story of Theo and Franny, a modern American couple, with that of Ovid’s Pan and Apollo. Theo is a serious concert music composer, and Franny is into pop music and culture. The two lovers travel to Sardis and fall back in time to experience the mythical battle.

The opera is scored for more than 20 instrumentalists (including musicians flying in from Turkey), six soloists and an eight-member choir provided by Milwaukee Opera Theatre. The soloists are Matt DiBattista (Midas), Abigail Fischer (Franny), Gregory Gerbrandt (Theo), Jennifer Goltz (Pan), Philip Horst (Apollo) and Mikhail Svetlov (Timolous).

Midas promises to showcase Ince’s diverse compositional talents, which include a kaleidoscopic palette of world, ethnic, popular, folk and concert music. These varied colors explode into a battle of musical aesthetics, with Pan’s raucous street music raging against the ordered art music of Apollo. The opera addresses the question, “Which music is better, mine or yours?” Through wild-versus-reason battles, and the judgments of Mount Timolous and King Midas, we are transported and left with the responsibility to decide for ourselves whether there is such a thing as better music.

When asked about the opera, Ince said he hopes it will show that “it is not about what you listen to, but how you listen to it.”

Midas tops the list as Present Music’s most expansive project in its innovative 26-year history. “It has been thrilling to watch this project develop over the last 10 years,” says PM Artistic Director Kevin Stalheim. “This opera has several dimensions: From the contest between the gods, to a love story between two people struggling to understand their differences. Judgment of Midas inspires us to hear and listen in new ways.”

Of the many pre-concert events offered, the lecture “Unearthing the Muse: The Archaeology that Inspired an Opera” will be offered on Thursday, April 11 at 6:30 p.m. in the American Geographical Society Library at UWM’s Golda Meir Library, 3rd floor, 2311 E. Hartford Ave.

Judgment of Midas is presented in partnership with Peck School of the Arts’ “Year of the Arts.” Performances take place at the Helene Zelazo Center for the Arts, 2419 E. Kenwood Blvd., at 7:30 p.m., April 12-13. A pre-concert talk begins at 6:45 p.m. For tickets, visit presentmusic.org or call 414-271-0711 (ext. 5).

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