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Alyson Cambridge will sing the title role in "Madama Butterfly."
Alyson Cambridge will sing the title role in "Madama Butterfly." (Photo:

Florentine brings another Puccini opera with "Madama Butterfly" this week

Sam Cooke, Willie Nelson and Giacomo Puccini.

All three giants in the world of music. All three of them writing perhaps their greatest works, one after another. Three great ones in a row.

For Cooke, it was "What a Wonderful World," "Chain Gang" and "A Change is Gonna Come."

For Nelson, it was "Crazy," "Hello Walls" and "Funny How Time Slips Away."

And for Puccini, it was "La Boheme," "Tosca" and "Madama Butterfly."

Milwaukee is going through what might be called "Puccini season,’ with two of the greatest of his operas getting the treatment from two wonderful companies. It opened with a brilliant production of "Tosca," which closed its run at Skylight last weekend.

There won’t be any withdrawal symptoms, though, because next weekend the highly respected Florentine Opera opens "Madama Butterfly," the last of Puccini’s trio of great works, for a two performance run Oct. 16 and 18 in Uihlein Hall at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.

The opera is an ultra-romantic and ultra-tragic story of a U.S. Navy officer who takes a 15-year-old Japanese geisha for a wife. Officer Pinkerton, though, leaves Cio-Cio San and returns to America. She delivers their child and raises him, all the while resisting efforts to get her to remarry and pining for the return of Pinkerton. She is convinced he will be back. 

He does return – with his American wife but believing he has made a mistake leaving Cio-Cio San. His wife, Kate, has agreed to raise the child, and Cio-Cio San says she will give the baby to them if Pinkerton himself comes to see her. He does, she blindfolds her son and gives him to Pinkerton, then walks behind a screen and stabs herself with her father’s knife.  

The role of cio-Cio San has one of the most beautiful and famous arias in all of the world of opera, one many people have heard at one time or in one version or another. The aria is "Un Bel Di" – or "One Fine Day" – and you can hear the famed Maria Callas sing it here.  

In Florentin…

The Milwaukee Bucks have extended John Hammond's contract's, despite what I reported would happen.
The Milwaukee Bucks have extended John Hammond's contract's, despite what I reported would happen. (Photo:

When sources go south: Bucks' extension of Hammond's contract contradicts report

Recently, the Milwaukee Bucks extended the contract of General Manager John Hammond through the 2016-17 season, a move that solidifies the leadership of the team.

The action also puts to bed a report I wrote in July that Coach Jason Kidd was going to be named head of basketball operations and Hammond would leave the team or be put into another position.

It might be helpful to explain how this came about. I won’t go through every minute, but a little bit of explanation is necessary. And it may shed some light on how difficult it can be to use anonymous sources, which is something I based this story on.

The Sunday night after the Fourth of July I got a text from a sportswriter in another town who was very familiar with the Bucks saying he heard that Hammond was going to be fired the next week and that Kidd was going to take over basketball operations.

The first thing I thought was that the report seemed possible. The Bucks’ owners had hired Kidd without even telling Hammond. Kidd had tried to become the head of basketball operations with the Brooklyn Nets, and failed.

So, it passed the original smell test.

Then I recalled a conversation a few days earlier with someone who was in the draft room with the Bucks when Kidd and Hammond reportedly argued over whether to draft Arkansas forward Bobby Portis. Kidd won that argument.

I then decided that even though it was a Sunday evening I’d make some calls.

The first person I called was reluctant to talk. He was a highly-placed source but did not have any history of talking out of school. It was obvious that this was a difficult issue for him since he he is very loyal to his organization.  I kept asking the question several different ways and finally the person said that he knew Hammond had something lined up with another team.

I made a second call to someone who worked for the Bucks in the basketball side of the operation. He said that he heard that a July 10 date (five days away) was being set for a big annou…

Niffer Clarke and Max Williamson in Splinter Group's stunning "Bug."
Niffer Clarke and Max Williamson in Splinter Group's stunning "Bug." (Photo: Ross Zentner)

Splinter Group's "Bug" is a disturbing and frightening journey to madness

It’s a rare moment when the first sound of a cricket can herald a passionate and directed descent into a chilling madness with one victim leading the other into a complex version of hell.

But that’s what happens in the distinguished production of Tracy Letts' "Bug," which opened this weekend at Splinter Group under the direction of Jim Farrell.

That cricket is the spark that takes Agnes and Peter to places nobody ever thought even existed.

Agnes (Niffer Clarke) is a middle aged divorcee, living her life in a seedy Oklahoma motel and fearful of her ex-husband Goss (Rick Pendzich) who has just gotten out of two years in prison for armed robbery.

Her only ally in life is R.C. (Sara Zientek), a lesbian bartender who is the rock in the stormy seas of Agnes’ life. And R. C. brings the conductor of this train to nowhere, Peter (Max Williamson) into the motel room and into Agnes’ world.

Agnes is lonely. She is a lost sailboat without any rudder. She wants someone to like her, to show her some respect. Self esteem and Agnes live in different Oklahoma counties.

Suddenly there is Peter. Half her age, tall and taciturn. He is awkward around her, but he likes her. A lot. It’s been years since Peter has been with a woman, and there is a sense of being flattered when he confesses that to her.

But he is a man of mystery.

‘I don’t know why I love you," she says after their relationship has caught a rhythm. "I don’t know anything about you."

We know that phrase is just a wisp of a willow as it’s clear that Letts is going to let her, and us, know everything about him.

And it starts with the cricket.

In bed together, Peter hears the sound of the cricket. He slaps his arm and his head and his back. "Aphids," he tells Agnes. And they search for the offending sound the the cricket, stripping bed linen until they finally notice it is a battery-dead smoke alarm.

Not to worry as Peter’s obsessive fear of the bugs begins to slowly take over their relationship a…

"The Seeds of Banquo" opened at Theater Red Thursday night.
"The Seeds of Banquo" opened at Theater Red Thursday night. (Photo: Cassius Alexander Cox)

Love affair with long-dead man fuels Iannone's triumph

Angela Iannone, one of the finest actors ever to grace a stage in Milwaukee, has been engaged in a love affair for the past six years with a man who died when he was only 59 years old.

Not only that, but the man died in June 1893.

Edwin Booth was his name, the finest actor of his time, the brother of the man who killed Abraham Lincoln and the object of desire for Iannone who has crafted a series of play about this lover -- "The Edwin Booth Cycle."

Watching the latest effort, "The Seeds of Banquo," opened at Soulstice Theatre by Theater Red Thursday night, made me wish that I loved somebody so much that I could write a play like this.

In 2009 Iannone was going to direct Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew," a play she didn’t really care for. But she began her research and finally found the prompt book for the play that belonged to Booth. It was a detailed and sensitive and clear guide to how she could make the play work.

Then she saw a picture of the handsome actor and it was love at first sight.

She has steeped herself in the life of Booth and has found his strength and weaknesses and has let her love flourish in this smart and sensitive and very funny production.

The setting is a rehearsal of "Macbeth," of course starring Booth as Macbeth.

Booth, played by John Mundschau Glowacki, is in rehearsals with his friend and actor Lawrence Barrett played by Cory Jefferson Hagen, who is unsure of exactly what role or roles Booth has in mind for him.

Mrs. Elizabeth Bowers, played magnificent imperiousness by Marcee Doherty-Elst is Lady Macbeth and Mr. Owen Fawcett, played by Bryan Quinn, stumbles into the rehearsal and is handed many other roles.

The story ranges far and wide, always focused on Booth who has a severe ego, a sly sense of humor and an enraptured love of the details of a theatrical production.  There is a confluence of lives, both private and personal, each of which provides both joys and sorrows for this magnificent talent.

Like a Brando or Ja…