The Livingston Inn | Madison, Wisconsin Bed and Breakfast

The Year to Honor and Remember

We have many interesting and lively discussions with guests during their stay at The Livingston Inn, whether at the breakfast table or at impromptu moments in the evening. There’s no shortage of perspectives and life experiences, creating a wide spectrum of ideas and opinions.

There are a couple of areas where guests almost universally share the same thoughts and feelings. One of those would be the beliefs and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Fifty years ago, Dr. King took his honorable place in U.S. history when he started a Civil Rights Movement to ensure equality for all Americans. His vision, courage, and determination were qualities that opened many eyes to injustice and suffering, both during the brief time he was with us and still to this day.

wpt_1358187062As we head toward a weekend when we celebrate Dr. King, I think this year, more than ever, is an important one to recognize what he accomplished and to show support to the people and ideas which carry on his legacy. With that in mind, I’d like to highlight some of the events happening here in Madison for MLK weekend and hope, whether you are a resident or visitor, you will take the time to participate.

FS-03-07-25-65-Dr. King and Rev. AbernathyJanuary 12 – United Nations of Dane County monthly Lecture Series, Madison Central Library, 7:00pm. January’s presentation is “Remembering the Dream: Living the Vision” A Salute to the Rev. Doctor Martin Luther King” with Barbara Nichols. Ms. Nichols has extensive experience in executive leadership and international initiatives and is currently a Diversity Consultant to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. As featured in my last blog, the Madison Central Library is a great place to visit in our downtown area, making attendance at the lecture even more appealing.

January 15 – Free Community Dinner, UW-Madison Gordon Dining and Event Center, 4:30-7pm. The King Coalition welcomes all community members to the 29th annual dinner. Join more than 500 community members and enjoy a wonderful meal with friends, old and new, in Dr. King’s spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood.

January 18 – 36th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr., Celebration, Capitol Rotunda, 12:00 noon. This year’s celebration will highlight the role of women in the Civil Rights Movement.5690442018741.image

January 18 – 30th Annual City-County Observance, Overture Center, 5-7:30pm. The evening’s festivities start with singing in the Rotunda followed by presentations and performances in the Capitol Theater. The observance will feature the MLK Community Choir led by one of Madison’s most-noted music directors, Leotha Stanley. Mr. Stanley has amazed audiences for years with his Mt. Zion Baptist Choir and his involvement in public school music programs. The program will also feature

Earnest Green, "Little Rock Nine", Central High School, Brown v. Board of Education

Earnest Green, “Little Rock Nine”, Central High School, Brown v. Board of Education

Earnest Green, one of nine students, known as the “Little Rock Nine”, to first integrate Central High School following the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

I hope you find an opportunity to take part in MLK events this upcoming weekend, whether here in Madison or your own community. Remember that one of Dr. King’s core ideas was service to the less fortunate around us which sometimes requires us to look outside of the comfort zone of the people and life experiences familiar to us. As the organizers and coalitions behind MLK day tell us, it’s not a day off. Instead, it’s a day on. As we start 2016, I hope this “day on” becomes for many of us a “year on”, not just to remember Martin Luther King but also to honor him through actions that guarantee the equality at the core of our country’s values for many generations to come.

Resources:
http://www.thekingcenter.org/landing_page.html
https://www.facebook.com/kingcoalition
http://www.ulgm.org/mlkevents
http://www.africanamericancommunication.com
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H0yP4aLyq1g – The March on Washington and the “I Have a Dream” speech – August 28, 1963

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Tis the Season (Not the Holiday One)

Don’t worry. With Halloween wrapping up, we’re not immediately turning to thoughts about the holiday season. However, before winter is upon us, we want to write about another season that got underway a couple months ago. Typically beginning in the fall, our many music and theater groups embark on their season of concerts and productions. Groups like Madison Symphony Orchestra, Madison Opera, Madison Ballet, Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, Forward Theater Company, University Theatre, and several other groups stay very busy with an ongoing array of excellent music and theater. Similar to our restaurant scene and sporting events, a small city like Madison has so much to choose from when it comes to the performing arts scene. With that in mind, we’d thought we’d give you a few of our recommendations for the upcoming season so you don’t miss out on some excellent shows and concerts.

MSOMadison Symphony Orchestra. The annual MSO Christmas concert is not to be missed and definitely gets us in the holiday spirit. This year’s concert is coming up on the weekend of December 4. Beyond that, they have an excellent set of concerts from now through April. We particularly recommend the Emanuel Ax concert from March 11-13 because we enjoy piano performances. Plus the concert features the lively (and not so long) Mahler Symphony No. 4, a departure from his more typical dramatic style. The MSO website allows you to listen to the music of any concert and read program notes, so you can decide which concert might best suit your musical interests.

Forward TheaterForward Theater Company. Once again, Forward Theater has put together an exciting and ambitious season of theater here in Madison. The season opens this week with the Midwest premiere of Silent Sky. On the top of our list as well is the production of Mr. Burns (A Post-Electric Play) running April 7-24. We’re not die-hard fans of the Simpsons (and you don’t need to be to enjoy the play), but we like our dose of dark comedy with some music added in. In its review, The New York Times described the play by asking, “When was the last time you met a new play that was so smart it made your head spin?”  We’re sure this will be a fun and thought-provoking play along with an outstanding season overall with Forward Theater Company.

Madison Opera's 2007 production of La Boheme

Madison Opera’s 2007 production of La Boheme

Madison Opera. This year La Boheme returns to the Madison Opera season. The opera is coming up soon on November 13 and 15, so you need to act soon to get tickets. We recommend La Boheme for a couple reasons. First, as Madison Opera notes, it is the greatest love story in opera, and opera is made for great love stories. Second, if you don’t normally attend the opera, La Boheme draws in anyone with its beautiful music, arias, and duets. The final scene has to be one of the most moving in all of theater. If you can’t make it to La Boheme, Madison Opera has two more operas this season, and they consistently offer top-notch performances in all that they do.

Mad MenMajestic Theater / Orpheum Theater. While both the Majestic and the Orpheum have shows year-round, it’s worth mentioning a couple of upcoming events at each venue. Glen Hansard will be playing at the Orpheum on November 19. The Irish singer and songwriter has an impressive resume of musical accomplishments. He is most widely known for the music behind the movie Once, which also became a hit Broadway musical. On December 5th, the Mad Men Soiree returns to the Majestic Theater. Called the “swankiest holiday party”, this evening of 60s era music and dress has been a huge hit over the past four years and we’re glad to see this event keeps going even after the series finale.

University Theatre. Part of the UW Department of Theatre and Drama, University Theatre is well into its 2015-16 season with two plays already completing their run. But there is plenty more coming. If you’re in the Madison area during late winter, we recommend Smart People by leading female playwright Lydia Diamond. Four stories within the play examine issues important especially to our up and coming generation, such as racism, intelligence, and human connections. The play runs from February 25 to March 13 at the UW Mitchell Theatre.

Peter PanMadison Ballet and Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. Two of Madison’s renowned performing arts groups come together to present the story of Peter Pan for three shows on March 19 and 20 at Overture Hall. A show for both adults and children, Peter Pan will feature the choreography of long-time Madison Ballet Artistic Director, W. Earle Smith along with a contemporary score played by WCO. A timeless and magical story, we’re certain this production will not disappoint.

We are so grateful for the many opportunities for performing arts and entertainment in Madison, and we hope this sampling of music and theatre gets you in the mood of the season before that other “holiday” season takes over.

Taste of Madison Top 10

4a18240c1edabb5fdfdefbdbe223eef9The Taste of Madison is upon us this weekend! Our restaurant culture in Madison is fabulous and what better way to celebrate it than by sampling food all weekend long.

Starting at 2pm on Saturday, restaurants, caterers, and other vendors will surround the Capitol Square for a fun two days of food, live music, and a festive finale to another beautiful Madison summer. To add to the fun, participants vote for their favorite food in a variety of categories with a chance to win a $100 gift certificate to a participating restaurant. The Taste of Madison supports local charities as well with volunteers working at over 26 4dd7b4d73a682b25735e8c200ec93507beverage stands.

With over 80 restaurants and caterers at this year’s event, with anything from tamales to RumChata cheesecake, there’s a lot to choose from. Reviving a tradition around here at The Livingston Inn, I’ve asked each family member to pick their top two restaurants that might help our readers narrow down their list.

Peggy’s Picks
Bonzo – menu: falafel, chicken skewer, beef skewer
Lombardino’s – menu: fried calamari, eggplant fries, butterscotch panna cotta

Dave’s Picks
Lao Laan-Xang – menu: crab rangoon, coconut shrimp, vegetable spring roll
Rare Steakhouse – menu: steak slider with horseradish cream, duckfat French fries with citrus aioli

Daniel’s Picks
Lombardino’s – menu: see above
Tipsy Cow – menu: truffle fries, beer battered cheese curds, PBR fish taco

Joanna’s Picks
Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream – menu: ice cream and root beer floats
b110a6e712f5717cdef2c463a9f8d3beSai Bai Thong – menu: pad thai, squash chicken curry, yum ta wai shrimp, pad chu chee catfish

Luke’s Picks
Taj India – menu: chicken tikka masala and rice, mixed veggie curry and rice, channa masala and rice, samosa
The Old Fashioned — menu: mac & cheese, beer battered cheese curds, Wisconsin ring bologna, spicy pickled egg, brandy old fashioned ice cream

Admission is free, and this year’s Taste of Madison features over 30 diverse music acts performing on three stages. The event ends on Sunday at 7pm, so you’ll still have plenty of time for that Labor Day barbeque on Monday.

We hope to see you out there at this weekend’s festivities!

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Summer Time Fun

Last week I really enjoyed a supplement to our weekly newspaper, The Isthmus, called “Summer Times”.  It reminded me of all the wonderful things Madison has to offer this time of year.  Certainly we have our time-honored events like Concerts on the Square, Opera in the Park, Art Fair on the Square, and Paddle and Portage.  But The Isthmus supplement was well done because it also featured things to do and see that are less familiar, either because they typically attract a smaller crowd or perhaps still have not been discovered by most residents and visitors.  Of those, the following are ones I would recommend checking out for summer 2015:

index1.    Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA) Rooftop Cinema. The Isthmus dedicates a whole section to outdoor movie watching.  This has been a summer tradition in our family for years, and we love it.  While there are options around town for drive-ins and outdoor venues featuring major films, MMoCA makes it extra special with avant-garde short films, including a Canadian precursor to sketches from one of my favorite TV shows, Kids in the Hall.  MMoCA shows the films on top of the Overture Center on State Street, adding to the appeal of this film-watching experience.   Movies screenings are Friday nights in June and on August 21.  www.mmoca.org

2.    Music Theatre of Madison (MTM) at The Brink Lounge.  For a small city, Madison has an impressive number of theater groups.  MTM has earned an excellent reputation among vocal performers and will perform a show called Miscast 6.0.  This one-night only cabaret on July 31 features performers encouraged to bring to life songs from their favorite musicals, whether the performers are right for the part or not.  The result is entertaining mismatches that demonstrate vocal skills in funny and sometimes moving performances.  A further bonus is Miscast 6.0 will be held at one of my favorite music venues – The Brink Lounge, a casual yet elegant space just blocks from the Capitol Square and The Livingston Inn.  www.mtmadison.com

MTM

juneteenthmadison3.    Juneteenth.  One Madison tradition that has endured over the years is the annual Juneteenth celebration.  In its 15th year, the 2015 event features a parade at 4pm on June 19th at Brittingham Park followed by a celebration on June 20th from noon to 6pm at Olin Park.  From music to movies, literature to language, fashion to finance, Black America has a predominant influence on mainstream American culture.  Juneteenth is an ideal way to celebrate African-American heritage and emancipation as part of our urban community.  www.juneteenthmadison.wordpress.com

Radicals4.    Madison Radicals.  Have you heard about our ultimate disc (Frisbee) team?  They’re having another stellar year, leading the standings in the Midwest division.  Best of all, they play at Breese Stevens field, a beautifully restored old ballpark just blocks from The Livingston Inn.  The Radicals attract a nice-sized group of dedicated fans, and we sometimes enjoy an evening on our front porch just listening to the roar of the crowd when there’s a goal or spectacular play.  Remaining home games are 6/20, 7/12, and 7/17.  www.radicalsultimate.com

5.    Shake the Lake.  For many years our renowned summer fireworks event, Rhythm and Booms, attracted big crowds and was the fireworks show to see around town.  Unfortunately, lack of funding got the best of it.  Shake the Lake hopes to re-vive our fireworks tradition in Madison.  Set on Lake Monona and John Nolen Drive, the evening fun includes live bands plus performances from the UW Marching Band and our superb Mad City Rollin’ Dolls roller derby.  The event also offers fun for kids, a rooftop party on Monona Terrace, and a collaborative BBQ platter featuring our top restaurants through the Madison Area Chef’s Network.  Join the fun on June 27 starting at 5pm, fireworks at 10pm.  www.shakethelake.org

There are many other wonderful events, games, festivals, and fairs related to music, theater, sports, art, and so much more this summer in Madison.  It’s sure to be a time for great memories.  If you happen to be staying with us in the coming months, be sure to ask what’s going on around town.  We would be happy to tell you how you might work one or two extra special opportunities into your visit to Madison.

Happy Summer!

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Turn On Johnson: Artisans Abound

Believe it or not, the Johnson Street re-construction in our neighborhood is nearly complete. The anticipated end date is mid-November. For those of us living in the area, it will be very welcome and somewhat hard to believe. We are excited about how the project will restore and improve one of our most important neighborhood streets.

I’ve written previously about the Turn on Johnson campaign – a community effort dedicated to the businesses affected by this major construction project. As we near the end of this undertaking, I’d like to write one more post about our neighborhood businesses.

A theme occurred to me a few weeks ago about some of our local businesses. They particularly excel at a certain skill. Call them craftspeople, masters of their trade, artisans. Our family has been fortunate to benefit from these individuals opening a shop in our neighborhood, and I’d like to feature some of them.

Wilke Chiropractic and Wellness, at 824 East Johnson, opened its door around the time construction on the street began. My wife and I met owner Steve Wilke soon after at a Tenney-Lapham Neighborhood Association function. When you meet Steve, he has the type of personality you’d like to see in a chiropractor – a calm and pleasant demeanor yet knowledgeable in his practice. About a month after I met Steve, I developed pain in my shoulder and neck that made it difficult to do many things. I called Steve and set up an appointment. Steve’s chiropractic method has no “popping” or “cracking” and instead focuses on neural pathways. It’s a very light touch method, and I was greatly impressed how it cured me of my issues. I highly recommend Steve to anyone, whether local or visiting, seeking chiropractic services.

Studio924Some other artisans in our neighborhood also serve mention based on our personal experience. Our local hair salon, Studio 924, has a friendly and talented team of stylists practicing their craft at 925 East Johnson. Our daughter recently made the big decision to cut her long hair to a shoulder-length style. As a 16-year old, she agonized over the decision, of course, but we made an appointment at Studio 924, re-assuring her they would do a great job. When she came back home, she walked in the door so excited and happy. The haircut was beautifully done, and we have one happy teenager as a result.

JohnsonPublicHouseIf there can be a beautifully done cup of coffee, the “artisans” at Johnson Public House do so on a daily basis. Certainly, baristas should be thought of as individuals skilled in a craft or trade, but the workers at Johnson Public House take it to another level. Each cup of coffee or espresso drink at JPH is brewed to order. The aromas and flavor are amazing, and we highly recommend stopping in whenever you are seeking a local coffee shop in our area (Cargo Coffee is an equally top notch place. See my 2/9/14 post.)

OldTownCyclesI’ll end with two more amazing local shops. Old Town Cycles at 920 East Johnson, provides outstanding bike service and repair. With the many people who commute and run errands by bicycle in Madison, bike shops are a very welcome service, and Old Town Cycles does so with a low-key and honest style. And if you want to see craftsmanship at its finest, you must stop in Spruce Tree Music at 851 East Johnson. The shop might not look like much from the outside, but from the second you step inside, you enter a hum of knowledgeable workers interacting with customers from all over Madison regarding the sales and service of all types of stringed instruments. It’s worth a stop just to peruse the beautifully crafted harps, mandolins, guitars, dulcimers, and much more.SpruceTreeMusic

It has been a pleasure for me to learn and write about our local businesses during the Turn on Johnson campaign. It has given me an even better appreciation of the unique character of the neighborhood around The Livingston Inn. Both now and when the Johnson Street construction ends, please visit these impressive artisans as well as the shops, restaurants, and other services in our area. I guarantee you will you find something special about the experience and re-discover what a small local business community is all about.

Summer’s Not Over Yet, But…

I read an article last week about summertime things to do with the implication that the season is almost over. Maybe some people plan so much in their summers that it feels that way by the beginning of July. Nevertheless, I and other readers replied to the article with exclamations not to wish summer away, and that for some of us, the season is just starting.

With that in mind, though, every summer around this time I have to tell myself there are a couple of happenings here in Madison that if you wait too long, you’ll miss them. So, while I won’t proclaim summer is almost over, here are three things you might miss out on if you don’t plan for them soon.

concerts-on-the-squareConcerts on the Square. This wildly popular event has been a Wednesday evening tradition in downtown Madison for over 30 years. Featuring musicians from the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, Concerts on the Square offers free outdoor chamber music on the steps of our beautiful state Capitol. Concert goers bring a blanket and often a picnic dinner and sit on the Capitol lawn to enjoy a summer evening with beautiful music. The streets around the Capitol Square are closed, and as I’ve observed before, the vibe before, during, and after the concert is just amazing. It reminds me of those summer nights when I was a kid, hanging out with friends until the sun goes down late in the evening.

Whether you’re seeking to attend for the first time, or have joined the festivities in years past, the important thing to remember is that WCO only schedules concerts through the end of July. So be careful not to put it off too long or think you’ll see something in August. Get a date planned today!

madison-mallardsMadison Mallards. Madison’s collegiate summer baseball team has to be one of the most entertaining and fun activities around town. Whether watching the game or checking out the antics between innings, I have always enjoyed every minute of every game I’ve attended. Played at Warner Park on Madison’s northeast side, the Mallards offer a very accessible venue with plenty of great seats, always an entertaining announcer, and some equally amusing vendors selling their wares, including beef sticks (regulars will understand this reference…one of the team’s quirky traditions!).

Similar to Concerts on the Square, anyone interested in seeing the Mallards should be aware of their schedule. Because the team consists of college players, the season ends early so the students can return to school. The last home game this year is August 6, so get your tickets now to “Play Ball”!

madison-restaurant-weekRestaurant Week. Offered only in January and July, Restaurant Week allows food lovers to sample cuisine at many of Madison’s well-known independent restaurants. Organized by Madison Magazine, participating restaurants offer a special $25 prix-fixed menu with 3 courses and 3 options of each course. The summer Restaurant Week is July 20 to 25, and The Livingston Inn every year offers a $25 nightly room discount, essentially paying for one prix-fixed menu each night. So don’t let the opportunity pass you by this year for a memorable evening out on the town!

Madison is such an incredible place to spend a summer, and there are so many things to do and see all summer long, including sometimes simply sitting in a park and enjoying the lakes. There is still plenty of time to do all that you’ve planned, but if you intend on some outdoor chamber music, a ballgame, or sampling Madison’s food scene, get out your calendar and make your plans soon!

Connections and Reunions

As mentioned in last week’s post, The Livingston Inn was honored to have hosted a reunion for the Harman sisters on Sept 16, 2012, exactly one year to the day from our Grand Opening celebration.

This was indeed a special afternoon.  When you talk to Gail and Jacquie about The Leitch House and what it’s meant to them, you get such a warm and friendly feeling about their family, and what a fun, welcoming role this historic home has played in so many Madisonians’ lives.

We can’t begin to tell you all the stories they’ve shared with us, but I’ll try to do some of their joyful family history justice here.

Gail and Jacquie decided to have a private dinner at the inn when Gail came back to Madison from Texas for her 50th UW class reunion.  As a reunion planning committee member, Gail had worked hard to make that a success, and she and Jacquie thought it would be appropriate to try to connect with other local and Midwest friends while she was here.  They contacted us to see if they could arrange a party at the inn, and we were only too happy to help them make that happen.  (And the evening ended with Gail spending the night at the inn, sleeping in her childhood bedroom, now known as The Willow Room.)

A portrait of the Harman ladies painted when Jacquie was six and Gail was ten. The artist, a neighbor, was only 20 years old when she painted it. Her brother was one of the guests at the reunion.

The guest list was memorable since it truly was a broad swathe across the family’s past, and encompassed people from many different chapters of the sisters’ lives.

From family and relatives; to the daughter of their childhood neighbor; to a godchild of Dolly and Gordon’s; to a college student who lived in the house when the university faced a housing shortage in the early ‘60’s and the Harmans opened their home to four women students each semester.

We were happy to be able to host this wonderful event that presented many opportunities for these friends and family members to reminisce.  Some notable details and memories:

The Harmans frequently entertained, and they always served a special punch known as “Fluid Druids” – which more than one guest specifically requested.  Gail and Jacquie provided the recipe and we made a great big batch of it for their guests!

The Harmans often had musical afternoons as a family, or parties around a musical theme.  They had a grand piano, and each family member played at least one instrument (piano, organ, violin and harp among them).  Jacquie remembers being a little amused at times by the themes – like the “Chinese Singalong.” Hmmmm…

A 1960 Cap Times news article that featured the Harmans’ ‘Aunt Polly’

The Harmans had three mannequins that they kept in various places in the house, dressed in period and/or seasonally themed outfits.  Aunt Polly stood in the front hallway by the antique wall phone.  She was dressed in period clothes appropriate to the season, or a Graduation cap & gown, Halloween costume, etc.  “I remember whipping around the corner from the back parlor into the foyer,” shares Jacquie, “nudging her arm and automatically saying ‘excuse me.’ Then I’d say to myself ‘Oh for Heaven’s sake, I don’t have to say excuse me to Aunt Polly.’”  Aunt Phoebe was a dramatic blond who resided in Gail’s bedroom near her cherry four poster bed.  Aunt Phoebe wore an exquisitely handcrafted wedding gown from the 1800’s (cocoa brown!).  And Roland was a little boy who stood in the front parlor near the concert grand piano in his velvet waistcoat and knickers – ever the polite audience.

Dolly and Gordon Harman were such a vibrant part of Madison society and supported many groups around the area, often opening their home for tour stops, planning committees and history buffs.  They were avid supporters of the Dane County Humane Society, and even adopted a dog from them.

One guest remembered that Gordon would host a huge Yard Sale in the fall, and neighbors could add their items.  He hoped to help students looking for household items for their apartments by selling gently used things at better-than-new prices.  He’d also pick up discarded items through the year — like lamps or furniture left at the curb — and fix them, giving them new life, so he could sell them at a modest price at the annual yard sale.

According to Gail and Jacquie, the Harmans simply loved living at 752 Gorham and sharing it with others.  Peggy and I are always happy to hear about this fun, loving family who lived here.  We love this home, too, and hope to share it with many, many more people through the years!

Dolly and Gordon Harman: Never Boring!

Opera for Everyone

Over the past few years, my wife and I have attended a good portion of Madison Opera’s productions. Our children have also had the opportunity to attend dress rehearsals, through school and tickets from friends. Without hesitation, I can tell you we’ve enjoyed every single one.  And, in fact, we’ve attended mostly the less popular productions (for example, we missed La Boheme).  Each time it has been a thrill to enter the Overture Center and surround ourselves with the story, the music, the set, the costumes, and the incredible singing talent.

My wife and I attended our first opera many years ago in Santa Fe.  It was in English and a newer work from a composer that wasn’t a household name.  I can’t even remember the title.  But that’s okay.  Santa Fe opera is really cool, and it was an experience we’ll never forget.  Driving up to the outdoor amphitheater, we sensed something spectacular was going to happen.   And it did.  Hearing the passion of the voices combined with a beautiful story, all under the stars of the southwest sky, was simply remarkable.  We were hooked.

Last weekend, the two of us saw Eugene Onegin at the Overture Center, another lesser known opera and this one in Russian.  We were impressed once more.  First of all, the set was phenomenal, a first rate production normally seen in a large metropolitan city.  At the beginning of Act Two, the mood of the trees and snow, falling at just the right moment, accompanied by a heart-wrenching aria was unforgettable.  We also enjoyed the story of Eugene Onegin.  We purposefully did not read anything in the program and were nicely surprised as the plot developed.  And lastly, the voices.  I took piano lessons for over 12 years in my youth, and I know the practice it takes to get to perfection.  The performers in Eugene Onegin could not only sustain a note but project it and turn it on a dime.  It was pure talent and it was a treasure to listen to.

If you’re still not sure about opera, allow me to wrap up with a few pointers that might win you over.

  1. Whether Italian, German, or even Russian, don’t let a libretto in another language scare you away.  Almost all operas have supertitles in English to help you follow along, and it’s kind of cool to hear the foreign language sung.  Even then, I don’t stay glued to supertitles.  That’s because once I get into it, I have a sense of the feeling within the scene without a need to understand every word. This makes it fun.
  2. Put yourself into the feelings of the character. Whether you think of your own experiences or your children, spouse, or a friend, we can all relate to the intense feelings projected by the performer.  When Tatiana was rejected by Eugene Onegin, I immediately thought of my daughter, who is getting into the boyfriend craze, and how I might feel if something similar happened to her.  It’s a powerful way to get connected to the story.
  3. Get good seats.  The live performance of opera is what makes it dynamic.  Spending a little more on decent seats makes it even better.  Book well in advance whenever you can.  The Overture Center, for example, has some great affordable seats near the back of the orchestra section that I highly recommend.  But they sometimes sell out quickly.  The next operas in Madison are Galileo Galilei from January 26-29 then Cinderella on April 27 and 29, if you want to mark your calendar now.
  4. Don’t be intimidated.  I think many people stay away from opera because they think it’s for people who are much more refined or knowledgeable, perhaps the stereotype of a cultural snob.  But hopefully you can tell from my post, I am
    quite the common man when it comes to opera.  I might be using the wrong terminology, and the only foreign language I know is Spanish.  I can’t even remember composer names at times (I confess I also forget movies I’ve seen).  In any case, I don’t believe there are cultural snobs, and if there are, they are a minority.

So what is comes down to is this: when I attend an opera, I see people like me.  People who like a good story, are moved by passion and feeling, and are wowed by talent, beautiful music, and a feast for the eyes.  Opera is very welcoming if you take in everything it offers.  Yes, opera is for everyone.

Photo Credit: Tim Matheson / Vancouver Opera