A Night at Overture
It was a night cold enough to separate the feather merchants from the ribbon clerks, as my late father liked to say.
Despite our general abhorrence at venturing out on sub-zero evenings, several opportunities beckoned us to Madison’s Overture Center for the Arts, and its lively concessions kept us in the building for the entire evening. On a night there was no big show in Overture Hall to clutter up the passageways with its ticketholders, we couldn’t think of an evening better spent.
We started with an early dinner at Fresco, the Food Fight franchise located high atop the building. Despite being tucked into a corner surrounded by glass, we were toasty warm and enjoyed our excellent rooftop view. For us it was salads, appetizers and a glass of wine, and we had forgotten what a fine job Chef John Jerabek does with his seasonal cuisines.
The salads may be the restaurant’s best value, their fresh ingredient and sumptuous portions delivered at what seemed a remarkably low price. Jean’s roasted vegetable salad ($7) blended mixed greens with roasted seasonal vegetables and chevre, all dressed in a savory balsamic vinegar. For my money, the menu’s best value is the Bibb wedge salad ($6), what looked to be an entire head of Bibb lettuce quartered and dressed in buttermilk dressing and flanked by small servings of chopped bacon, egg, cucumber and carrot, enabling each bite to offer new flavors depending on how you chose to mix and match ingredients.
Our appetizers were among the best we’ve had, and it’s hard to determine which was more delightful. The butternut squash and Gruyere risotto cakes dressed in a balsamic-brown sugar reduction sauce ($9) came three to the serving, and the earthy squash flavors dominated the palate, balanced beautifully by the understated cheese. The seared sashimi-grade scallops ($12) were even better. Served with crumbled Neuske’s bacon over a mascarpone polenta with an aged balsamic reduction sauce, the varying tastes and texture were more than we could have imagined they could be. All went well with a surprisingly pleasant Bridlewood Estate Pinot Noir ($8/glass) from California’s Santa Ynez Valley.
We finished just in time to take a quick stroll through “Menagerie,” the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art’s newly opened Shinique Smith installation before attending a 40-minute lecture by the artist herself. Smith works with fabrics and found objects to created bundled art, which is stacked, suspended and otherwise displayed in numerous ways. The Brooklyn, N.Y.-based artist also draws on Japanese calligraphy and graffiti to give her sculptures added dimension. Smith admitted to being a “tagger” in her youth, and to having once been arrested for her early artistic expression. “If you have ever been handcuffed, you never want to go there again,” she confided to the large lecture hall crowd.
Unfortunately, we ran out of time to review her art with our new-found appreciation. (We’ll be back.) We had just minutes to take our Capital Theater seats before the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra took the stage. WCO under Maestro Andrew Sewell is much appreciated, but under-patronized when they are not performing in Concerts on the Square, so we were heartened to see a slightly lager than normal crowd turn out for their single Friday night concert.
WCO’s accomplished strings section began with Ottorino Respighi’s “Ancient Airs and Dances Suite No. III, an interesting four-movement work from a composer better known for his work “The Pines of Rome.” The Respighi was nice, but we knew it t be a warm-up for two more interesting performances.
Antonio Vivaldi’s “Piccolo Concerto, RV 443” was next, featuring University of Oregon assistant professor of flute Molly Barth. The piccolo is a somewhat strange choice as a solo instrument, but Barth performed the work with energy and aplomb, her soaring shrill notes receiving enthusiastic applause and a partial standing ovation (meaning that some of the audience stood all the way up, not that all of the audience only stood partially up.)
The show’s second half featured a curious composition that mixed the works of multiple composers. “L’eventail de Jeanne Mvts. I-IX” was a social history lesson that involved Jeanne Dubost, a storied Parisian hostess whose home was a meeting place for cultural luminaries during the 1920s. In response to a challenge from Madame Dubost, a group of composers including Ibert, Milhaud, Poulenc and Ravel offered short compositions for the hostess to use with the students in her ballet school.
WCO took steps to replicate Madame Dubost’s exercise by commissioning W. Earle Smith, head of Madison Ballet, to choreograph a ballet around the nine movements. Smith responded by creating “The Class,” a dance replicating a ballet class and featuring a dozen of his dancers. The innovative approach saved what proved to be an odd lot of compositions, well-submerged behind the lithe, graceful movements of the young dancers. I would counsel Maestro Sewell not perform the composition again, but I would encourage him to incorporate Madison Ballet into future performance whenever possible.
And we made a note to ourselves that, when seasons sometimes seem their bleakest, there always seems to be respite in The House that Jerry Frautschi Built. And last night we scored that respite, and in spades.