A perennial favorite, we return to Blackhawk Church for our 11th year to present Handel’s most well known work, Messiah. Soloists Sarah Lawrence, Johanna Bronk, Gene Stenger, and Christopher Burchett perform alongside the WCO Chorus and the Festival Choir of Madison.
Sarah Lawrence, soprano
Sarah Lawrence is enjoying a widely varied career. Her rapidly expanding repertoire includes oratorio, operetta, opera and musical theatre. The release of her CD, Sweet Hello, marks her debut as a recording artist.
Sarah’s concert repertoire shows her versatility. She has performed Handel’s Messiah with the symphonies of Omaha, Madison, Cheyenne, and the Apollo Chorus in Chicago’s Orchestra Hall. With Wisconsin’s Peninsula Music Festival she has sung Haydn’s Creation and Bach’s B Minor Mass. Other Haydn performances have included the St. Cecilia Mass with the Rochester Oratorio Society, the Lord Nelson Mass with the North Shore Choral Society, and Paukenmesse with the Sheboygan Symphony. With the Madison Symphony Orchestra she has also performed Bach’s Magnificat and Mozart’s Mass in C Minor. She sang Prokofiev’s The Ugly Duckling and Canteloube’s Chants d’Auvergne with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. She has appeared in pops concerts with the Rockford Symphony Orchestra, the Duluth-Superior Symphony Orchestra and the Southwest Michigan Symphony.
Equally comfortable on the stage, Ms. Lawrence has performed the role of Masha in The Music Shop, Norina in Don Pasquale, Gretel in Hansel & Gretel, Frasquita and Micaela in Carmen, and Anne Page in The Merry Wives of Windsor. She has appeared with Madison Opera, Opera for the Young, Light Opera Oklahoma, Dorian Opera Theatre and Lyric Opera of the North. With Minnesota’s Colder By The Lake, she created the role of Missy in the world premiere of Tyler Kaiser’s Les Uncomfortables, and the role of Pristine in The Phantom of the Norshor. She appeared with Lyric Opera of the North in their production of The Magic Flute as Pamina. A huge fan of Gilbert & Sullivan’s operettas, Sarah has appeared as Rose Maybud in Ruddigore, Angelina in Trial by Jury, Yum-Yum in The Mikado, and Mabel in The Pirates of Penzance.
Ms. Lawrence appeared as Christine Daaé as a member of the Third National Tour of The Phantom of the Operaand in Phantom: The Vegas Spectacular. In recent seasons, she has also appeared as Fiordiligi in Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte with the Peninsula Music Festival, the title role in Lyric Opera of the North’s production of Semele, the soprano soloist in Beethoven’s 9th Symphony with the Duluth-Superior Symphony Orchestra, and as an Equity guest artist with The Duluth Playhouse as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady. The current season includes an appearance with Colder By The Lake in Older By The Lake and a return to the Duluth Playhouse, this time as Lily in The Secret Garden, as well as another turn as Mabel in The Pirates of Penzance as a part of the Tall Ships Festival in Duluth.
Johanna Bronk, mezzo-soprano
Johanna Bronk, mezzo-soprano, was recently a finalist in the 2017 International Handel Aria Competition, Tafelmusik Baroque Vocal Competition, and Bethlehem Bach competition. She is currently a Fellow with Music for Food, a hunger relief project founded by Grammy® Award winning violist, Kim Kashkashian, which combines chamber music performance with education and hunger-relief across America. Johanna is also a co-leader of the Sheltering Voices Project, a homeless-women's professional vocal ensemble, an initiative of the Eureka Ensemble Orchestra in Boston.
Upcoming this season, Johanna will perform with acclaimed vocal ensemble Seraphic Fire, the Madison Chamber Orchestra, and Boston's early music ensemble Musica Humana.
She has performed with the San Francisco Opera, New York City Ballet, Handel and Haydn Society, Carmel Bach Festival, West Edge Opera, Emmanuel Music, Sacred Music in a Sacred Space, Rogue Valley Symphony Orchestra, Styriarte Festival Graz Austria, and Boston Early Music Fringe Festival among numerous other ensembles.
Johanna holds a Master of Music with Honors from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and a Bachelor of Music from Oberlin Conservatory.
Gene Stenger, tenor
Hailed as an “impressive tenor” (The New York Times) who sings with “sweet vibrancy” (The Cleveland Plain Dealer) and creates “the most lasting moments” (The Virginia Gazette) of the performance, Gene Stenger’s 2019-2020 season will feature his debuts with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra (Mozart's Requiem), Odyssey Opera (world premiere of Arnold Rosner's The Chronicle of Nine), Orchestra Seattle and Seattle Chamber Singers (Bach's St. Matthew Passion), Chatham Baroque (BWV 93), the Mineola Choral Society (Haydn's Creation), Bach Vespers at Holy Trinity New York (BWV 140 & 144), and ARTEK. His return solo engagements include performances with the Virginia Symphony Orchestra (Beethoven'sSymphony No. 9), Bach Society of St. Louis (Mozart's Requiem, and Bach's Magnificat), Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (Handel's Messiah), Colorado Bach Ensemble (Handel's Messiah), TENET Vocal Artists (Bach's Christmas Oratorio), Madison Bach Musicians (Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610), Bach Collegium at St. Peter's New York (Bach's St. Matthew Passion), and the Yale Camerata (Mendelssohn’s Elijah).
Mr. Stenger has also been a featured soloist with the Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart performing as the tenor soloist in an international tour of Bach’s St. Matthew Passionunder the baton of Helmuth Rilling, the Staunton Music Festival, Emmanuel Music, the Harvard Baroque Chamber Orchestra, the Juilliard 415 Baroque Ensemble at Lincoln Center, the Yale Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, the American Classical Orchestra, and the Baldwin Wallace, Carmel, Oregon, Bach Akademie Charlotte, and Northeast Pennsylvania Bach Festivals.
Originally from Pittsburgh, PA, Gene holds degrees from Yale University’s School of Music, and Institute of Sacred Music, Colorado State University, and Baldwin Wallace University Conservatory of Music. Recent discography credits include tenor soloist in Schmelzer’s Le Memorie Dolorosewith TENET Vocal Artists and ACRONYM, and tenor soloist on Yale Schola Cantorum’s album Fauré Requiem and other sacred musicled by David Hill released on Hyperion Records. He currently resides in New Haven, CT, where he serves as instructor of voice at Yale University.
Christopher Burchett, bass
Christopher Burchett’s rich, no-holds-barred voice and committed stagecraft have earned him a place on the stages of opera companies and orchestras throughout the United States and Europe including New York City Opera, Santa Fe Opera, Boston Lyric Opera, the Estates Theatre in Prague, The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, BBC Orchestra at the Barbican Centre, Glimmerglass Opera, Fort Worth Opera, Beth Morrison Projects, Prototype Festival, The Holland Festival, Palm Beach Opera, Virginia Opera, Opera Omaha, Opera Saratoga, Eugene Opera, Indianapolis Opera, Kentucky Opera and Opera Orchestra of New York. Opera News has described Christopher as a “fearlessly vulnerable” performer “who gave an unflinchingly, heroically human performance that will linger long in the memory.”
In 2017 Christopher performed the Governor/Innkeeper in Man of La Mancha with Indianapolis Opera, the Priest and Angel of the Agony in Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius with The Orchestra Now, Raphael in Haydn’s The Creation with the Bloomington Chamber Singers and both Carmina Burana and Creon in Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex with the Washington Chorus at The Kennedy Center. That summer he returned to Opera Saratoga to sing Larry Foreman in The Cradle Will Rock and Sander in Zemire et Azor and then traveled to London to record Arnold Rosner’s The Parable of the Law with the London Philharmonic for Toccata Classics. He finished the year singing the role of Eisenstein in Die Fledermaus with Fargo-Moorhead Opera and Germont in La Traviata with Indianapolis Opera.
In 2018 he made his Chicago Opera Theater debut as John Cree in Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell's opera Elizabeth Creefollowed by return engagements with Boston Lyric Opera singing the role of Mac the Knife in their production of The Threepenny Opera and as the soldier in David T. Little's Soldier Songs with Beth Morrison Projects and Fargo-Moorhead Opera. Last fall he sang Sam in Trouble in Tahiti with both the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra and Lyric Opera of the North as well as a 50th anniversary gala concert with Fargo-Moorhead Opera.
This season includes performances of Second Elder in Handel’s Susannah and Cosimo in the world premiere of Laura Schwendinger’s opera Artemisia both with the Time’s Arrow Festival in New York. In the summer he sings the role of Director in Michael Gordon Acquanetta with the Bard Summerscape Festival and Beth Morrison Projects. Other performances include Handel’s Messiah with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and a return engagement with The Prototype Festival.
A champion of new music, Christopher has created roles in 14 world premieres to date. Some of those roles include the title role in Paola Prestini and Cerise Jacobs’ Gilgamesh with Beth Morrison Projects and Friends of Madam White Snake, M. Carré-Lamadon in Stephen Hartke's The Greater Good with Glimmerglass Opera, Baritone Soloist in Paul Moravec's Blizzard Voices, Jack Absolute in Kirke Mechem’s The Rivals with Skylight Opera Theatre, Soldier in Paola Prestini’s Oceanic Verses at The Kennedy Center, Victor in Jeff Meyer’s Buried Alive with Fort Worth Opera and Fargo Moorhead Opera and Orsen in Edwin Penhorwood’s Too Many Sopranos with Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre.
He has also participated in the revival of several 20th and 21st century works, some of which include Blazes in Peter Maxwell Davies’ The Lighthouse with Boston Lyric Opera, Father Palmer in Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell's Silent Nightwith Fort Worth Opera, Restless Mourning by Anthony Davis with Opera Omaha and Palivec and General von Schwarzburg in Robert Kurka’s The Good Soldier Schweik with Glimmerglass Opera.
Widely sought after for his concert work, Christopher has appeared with many of the country’s finest Bach festivals including the Carmel Bach Festival, Boulder Bach Festival, Louisville Bach Society and Bethlehem Bach Festival where he sang Bach’s B Minor Mass as part of an Emmy winning national PBS broadcast entitled “Make a Joyful Noise”. Other concert highlights include Britten’s War Requiem with both the Louisville Orchestra and Washington Chorus at the Kennedy Center, Handel's Messiah with the Portland Baroque Orchestra, Elijah with Omaha Symphony, Sandro in American Symphony Orchestra's concert production of Mona Lisa at Carnegie Hall, Vaughan Williams’ A Sea Symphonywith Princeton Pro Musica, Vaughn Williams’ Fantasia on Christmas Carols with the New York Choral Society at Carnegie Hall, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the New Hampshire Music Festival, Mozart's C Minor Mass with Orchestra Now at Carnegie Hall, and "So in Love With Broadway", a concert of musical standards and selections of hits from the music of Frank Loesser with the Omaha Symphony.
Christopher can be heard on the Naxos record label in Stephen Hartke’s The Greater Good, Julian Wachner’s Come My Dark Eyed One, Mohammed Fairouz’s No Orpheus and the title role of Bernard Rands’ opera Vincent. Other recordings available include the newly released first complete recording of Mark Blitzstein's The Cradle Will Rock on Bridge Records as well as Paola Prestini's Oceanic Verses on the VIA label, David Lang’s The Difficulty of Crossing a Field on the Cantaloupe label and Joseph Summer’s The Tempest on Albany Records. He can also currently be heard on the I-tunes label as part of the "Opera America Songbook", a recorded collection of 47 songs commissioned by Opera America to celebrate the opening of the National Opera Center.
Festival Choir of Madison
Festival Choir is an auditioned mixed-voice choir of 40+ singers who come from all walks of life to make music together. This dedicated group of singers, some of whom travel from far outside of Madison, gather every week to rehearse the varied music you hear during their regular season concerts. They do so because they love singing and because there is nothing quite like the experience of collective artistry.
Festival Choir has long championed living composers by commissioning and performing new works. Recent Composers-in-Residence have included Stephen Paulus, Elizabeth Alexander, Paul Carey, Eric Whitacre, and Scott Gendel.
In addition to its regular subscription season, the Choir has performed live broadcasts from the Chazen Museum for Wisconsin Public Radio, appeared as part of Overture Center's Grand Opening Festival, and toured across the state and abroad. In 1999, the Choir travelled by invitation to Austria as the first choral ensemble ever asked to participate in the prestigious Ost-West Musikfest.
Founded in 1973 as the Diocesan Choir by Vernon Sell, Festival Choir was led by David Lewis Crosby from 1975 to 1993, Eric Townell from 1993 to 2006, Drew Collins from 2007 to 2008, Dr. Bruce Gladstone from 2009 through 2011, and Dr. Bryson Mortensen from 2011 through 2015.
Supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.