Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Chapel Reunion in Elm Grove, Wisconsin - June 11, 2013

After several years of tracking down our friends from the Chapel, Ann Zettel-Backys organized a reunion at Mary Code Johnson's home in Elm Grove on June 11, 2013.  Thirteen of us from classes 1959-1961 gathered for a great afternoon of telling stories, catching up and, of course, eating. For me, some of the women were immediately recognizable while for others, I had to search their eyes looking for the teenager I last saw in Robinsonville half a century ago.

Ann, a.k.a. Sherlock, did a fantastic job of finding our classmates. If anyone wants more info, Ann has a list of addresses for women she has located.  Ann's e-mail is:

We'd love to get together again and hopefully add friends from the Class of l962 and, as Sue Marin, suggested, our classmates who are sisters. 

In the meantime, here are a few photos for those who couldn't make it:

Reunion Cake: Beyond The Beanie and The Veil

Our Sacramento contingency: Barbara Zettel and Ellen Huguet-Yee

Our gracious hostess, Mary Code Johnson

Top row: Donna Brey, Barbara Zettel, Mary Raisleger-Hughes, Barbara Stahl-Graf, Ellen Huguet-Yee, Mary Ann McNamara-Crosby; Middle Row: Mary Ellen Loberger-Spoerke, Mary Code Johnson, Ann Koenig-Hoban, Sue Marin-Johnson;  Lower Row: Kathy Zambrowicz-Pigeon, Ann Zettel-Backys, Marie Therese Cider-Rogers

Barbara Zettel organizing us for the group photo.
We gathered on Mary Johnson's deck to sing the Blessings of St Frances hymn. Ann and Barbara Zettel with Barb Stahl-Graf. I wish we had recorded it; the four-part harmony was beautiful.

The class of 1960 with Kathy Zam gathered around Mary's dining room table.

Reunion organizers: Mary Ellen, Mary and Ann.

Class of 1959: Kathy Zambrowicz-Pigeon and Ann Zettel-Backys

        CLASS of 1960   Top Row: Mary Ann McNamara-Crosby, Ellen Huguet-Yee, Sue Marin-Johnson, Donna Brey; Bottom Row: Ann Koenig-Hoban, Barbara Zettel, BarbStahl-Graf
CLASS of 1961:  Mary Ellen Loberger-Spoerke, Mary Code-Johnson, Marie Therese Cider-Rogers

Marie Therese was in the area visiting her mother in OshKosh but definitely gets the award for coming the furthest, Mexico!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

It's All About the Music

Don Giovanni – Seduction, Deception, No Redemption 

Last night was dress rehearsal for Madison Opera’s production of Don Giovanni which plays at the Overture Center for the Arts this week-end, Friday, April 26, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, April 28, at 2:30 p.m.

And, to borrow a line from this opera buffa (comic opera) by Mozart, “Heavens, what a day this has been!”  See Backstage Notes below.

 A half dozen of us met backstage at 5:30 p.m. with Ronia Holmes, the opera company’s marketing and community engagement manager, who organized a Blog It! Tweet It! Night.

Along with about 75 special guests, we joined the orchestra (in casual attire) and cast (in full costume) as they performed the opera – up close and personal – with occasional breaks in the performance to fine tune a lighting or musical cue.

Even those breaks couldn’t diminish the spell this opera has cast on audiences since it was first performed in Prague on October 29, 1787.  Set in 18th century Seville, Spain, Don Giovanni, Italian for Don Juan, is Mozart’s masterpiece about the infamous womanizer who, on what turns out to be his last day on earth, kills the father of Donna Anna, a woman he has just seduced as the curtain opens.

In the next three hours, we watch as Don Giovanni, with the aid of his trusty but slightly disgruntled servant, Leporello, plots to seduce Zerlina, a peasant girl about to marry Masetto, all the while pursued and foiled in his attempts by the jilted noble lady, Donna Elvira.

“Scoundrel.” “Villain.” “Monster.” “Traitor.” “Liar.” Donna Elvira’s pet names for Don Giovanni fairly well describe his behavior which, if we haven’t figured that out in the first five minutes of the opera hits us over the head in a later scene when Leporello reads from Don Giovanni’s hefty black book detailing his 2,066 seductive conquests, give or take a few.  In Don Giovanni’s world, if a woman is wearing a skirt, it’s open season.

Yet Donna Elvira, a truly conflicted woman, admits that she still loves the wretch, “Where is the scoundrel who betrayed me that I love.”  Without a doubt, Don Giovanni has his charms, not the least of which are his tight black pants and long, flowing hair.

Without giving away the plot completely, Don Giovanni in the final scene, which opens with an amusing food fight with Leporello quite adept at physical comedy (and asides), gets his just desserts from the ghostly Commendatore.

To follow the action, it helps to remember this is an opera of couples – Don Giovanni and Leporello in their pursuit of seduction, Zerlina and Masetto already going through the pangs of jealousy and infidelity in their impending marriage, Donna Anna and her fiancĂ© Don Ottavio set on revenging her father’s death, and, if I may join these two, Donna Elvira and the slain Don Pedro, Donna Anna’s father who is also the Commendatore of Seville, because they both offer Don Giovanni a shot at redemption.

While the libretto written by Lorenzo da Ponte is considered the weakest of the three he wrote with Mozart,  (a year earlier he wrote the libretto for The Marriage of Figaro, wildly popular among Bohemian audiences), Don Giovanni is, of course, all about the music.

Audiences are in for an unbelievable musical treat – sweet arias by Donna Anna and Zerlina,  a lovely piece of music that Don Giovanni sings accompanied by a mandolin player in the orchestra,  and Mozart’s masterpiece finales.

But I’ll leave the musical descriptions to the experts.  All I can say is Mozart’s music is intoxicating. My standard line is: if I hear a piece of classical music that is so lovely I fall in love with it, it nearly always is written by Mozart.

The music of Don Giovanni is so lovely, so moving, Madison audiences should just sit back and enjoy the show. 


To meet the actors in Don Giovanni and to learn more about the opera and what goes on backstage, visit Madison Opera at:

Backstage Notes:

How lucky are we to have Madison Opera!  The amount of work that goes into two performances of Don Giovanni is staggering.

Here are a few highlights from our backstage tour Wednesday night with Madison Opera Production Manager, Ken Fereneck:

• What?  Wigs and costumes are cleaned after every performance with spray bottles containing 100 percent vodka?  That’s right! All wigs, including the ones made of human hair worn by the key actors, get a good squirting of vodka to keep them fresh and odorless. Costumes, too, according to wardrobe head, Karen Brown-Larimore. She, along with an assistant, two dressers and four stitchers, keeps Madison Opera actors looking their best.

• Almost everything for the performance was rented including the costumes which are altered to fit the actors and the sets.  Typically rented sets come with a stage carpenter who helps direct the set-up. Among their many tasks, a crew of twelve stage hands had to repaint, fix and modify the sets for Don Giovanni.

• Set trucks unload through the Overture’s huge 23’ x 10’ backstage doors.  The set for the first opera performed at the Overture when it opened in 2004 was too high so crews cut it in half and reassembled it for the stage.  Once the trucks for Don Giovanni arrived last Saturday, the crews and actors had one week to pull the performance together...long days and long nights. The director typically comes to town three weeks before the performance but are hired at least a year in advance.

•  Maestro Joe Mechavich doubles as harpsichordist during the performance of Don Giovanni, both playing and conducting from the score which rests on the harpsichord in the orchestra pit.

• Madison Opera offices will be moving to a new building at Broom and Mifflin Streets.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

April 8, 2013

About a decade ago,  a friend and I met a woman at the oldest mission in Tucson who rapidly became a dear friend.  I only spent a few hours in her company but she taught me a lesson that has worked well whenever I'm debating about doing something - taking a chance.

Within a short time of meeting her, after discovering that we'd all been to Machu Picchu at some point in our lives - a real bonding point, she invited us to her home for breakfast.  We were having a great time together but we hardly knew her and didn't want to impose. We hedged and stammered a bit and finally she asked us, "Why not?"  We couldn't come up with a decent answer so away we went.  She made a fantastic breakfast, including homemade tortillas, and we stayed in touch until her death a few years later.  She was so like her name, Esperanza,  hope.

When I was asked to blog about Don Giovanni for the Madison Opera Guild, I thought,"why not?" And when it came to choosing a new blog address, well you guessed it, whynothope.