Claire Nowak

Can Florentine Win Its Third Grammy?

Company presents Wuthering Heights and will also produce first recording of the 1958 opera.

By - Jan 8th, 2015 02:29 pm
Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights

It started with an aria—more specifically, a soprano aria Carlisle Floyd composed based on a monologue from Emily Bronte’s novel Wuthering Heights. It was meant as nothing more than a concert piece. But after it premiered, opera companies repeatedly asked, “What does the rest of the opera sound like?”

To which Floyd replied, “Well, there is no rest of the opera.”

Santa Fe Opera commissioned him to create the rest, and he finished his Wuthering Heights in 1958. Now the Florentine Opera is producing the first commercial recording of that opera. Talks about the project started when the company performed Floyd’s Susannah in 2012. For Florentine General Director William Florescu, it’s a chance to showcase a deserving work and collaborate with a living legend.

“When I sang in the Cincinnati Opera Chorus, we did a production of Susannah and (Floyd) directed it,” Florescu says. “He’s sort of been an idol of mine ever since. So the opportunity, two years ago with Susannah and now doing this, I would say is one of the most fulfilling things of my professional life.”

Floyd also served as artistic advisor, so he had active input throughout rehearsals.  Since conductor Joseph Mechavich normally deals with “dead people’s music,” as he notes, having the 88-year-old composer on hand for questions is a rare opportunity.

“I can say, ‘Maestro Floyd, what did you mean here? What do you want?’ or he can tell me, ‘This is not what I intended. I wanted it to sound like this,’” Mechavich says. “That to me is so awe-inspiring because I don’t have to spend so much time investigating (his style) … I’m not being a curator. I’m with the artist and helping him translate his text.”

Mechavich has conducted four of Floyd’s operas—one was Susannah with the Florentine in 2012—so he has an understanding of the composer’s American sound. He says that includes accessible tunes and harmonies “that are a part of our ear and our own American consciousness.” Floyd’s other distinct characteristic is that he always writes his own libretto, a feat done by few composers of either opera or musical theater.

The recording will take place at the Sharon Lynn Wilson Center for the Arts over the course of two performances and a “patch session.” Most Florentine productions take place downtown, but the Wilson Center provides a more intimate space for the audience and better acoustics for the singers and sound engineers. The location also lets the company reach out to a different audience than at the downtown Marcus Center.

“This is an example of us taking our show on the road, for lack of a better term, to the west side of town and being committed to having that traffic go both ways,” Florescu says.

With another recording comes another potential Grammy win. The company previously won awards for its recordings of Elmer Gantry and Rio de Sangre. Though attending the award show was a thrill for Florescu, it’s not a driving force for the project. If the recording does win, he would accept it for his company, Floyd and Milwaukee.

“I would love that if that happened, and not so much for us,” he says. “I would love to see some more recognition (for Floyd), as much as possible, because I think he deserves it and I think the piece deserves it.

“For me, what’s important about it is the quality of stuff going on here in Milwaukee, not just by us but by all the arts. I think that’s an indicator of what we’re able to do in this city.”

7:30 p.m. Jan 9 & 2:30 p.m. Jan. 11 at the Sharon Lynn Wilson Center for the Arts. Tickets range from $30-70 and are available online or by calling 1-800-32-OPERA.

An Evening With Carlisle Floyd

Want to see the operatic legend up close and personal? The Florentine is also hosting a discussion panel about Floyd’s life and works to complement Wuthering Heights on Saturday. Florescu, Mechavich and Floyd will speak and answer questions. The Florentine Studio Artists will also perform.

7:00 p.m. Jan. 10 at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music. This is a free event. RSVP by calling 414-291-5700 ext. 224.

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