Michael Kownacky

Program Host

Michael is program host and host of the WWFM Sunday Opera, Sundays at 3 pm, and co-host of The Dress Circle, Sundays at 7 pm.

You can also hear Michael, along with his The Dress Circle co-host, on JazzOn2, every Wednesday evening from 7pm, eastern, for Strike Up the Band, a program celebrating the big bands and dance bands of jazz.

Ways to Connect

Placido Domingo leads the LA Opera in the title role of Verdi’s “Nabucco” on this week’s Sunday Opera (9/30 3:00 p.m).  Joining Domingo is Liudmyla Monastryska as the treacherous Abigaille.  Rounding out the cast are Mario Chang as Ismaele, Nancy Fabiola Herrera as Fenena, and Liv Redpath as Anna in this tale of treachery and redemption that follows Nabucco through his madness, the seizure of his throne by Abigaille, and Nabucco’s restoration through his newly found faith and Abigaille’s suicide.   James Conlon conducts the LA Opera Chorus and Orchestra.  

We’re happy to be celebrating the career of a very special performer on this week’s Dress Circle (9/23 7:00 p.m.) as we present a program in our “So Far” series dedicated to the work of Audra McDonald.  Join us for selections from some of her stage appearances in musicals like “Carousel,” “Ragtime,” “Marie Christine,” “110 in the Shade,” and “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill.”  Her work in television musicals includes “The Sound of Music” and “Annie,” and we’ll also look at some of the studio cast recordings and concert work in “Wonderful Town,” “Allegro,” and “Dreamgirls.”  

Journey to Seville with this week’s Sunday Opera (9/23 3:00 p.m.) and the LA Opera production of George Bizet’s “Carmen” featuring Ana Maria Martinez as the ill-fated title character.  Joining Martinez is Brandon Jovanovich as obsessed Don Jose, and Amanda Woodbury as the faithful Micaela.  Rounding out the quartet is Alexander Vinogradov as the egotistical bullfighter Escamillo.  James Conlon conducts the La Opera Chorus and Orchestra.  

There have been many musical dynasties over the years, and we’ll be looking at one of them on this week’s Dress Circle (9/16 7:00 p.m.) when we look at the dynasty that began with Richard Rodgers, continued with his daughter Mary Rodgers, and is currently represented by Mary’s son, Adam Guettel.  From Richard, we’ll hear a medley of many of his familiar songs arranged by Peter Nero.  To represent Mary’s work, we’ll look at her musicals “Once Upon a Mattress” and “The Mad Show” along with a song she contributed to “Working.”  

There have always been operas based on actual events, and this week’s Sunday Opera (9/16 3:00 p.m.) is one of those.  “Bel Canto,” with a score by Jimmy Lopez and libretto by Nilo Cruz, uses the novel of the same name by Ann Patchett which, in turn, uses the 1996 – 1997 Japanese Embassy Crisis in Lima, Peru as its source.  The plot deals with a terrorist takeover of a party at the Embassy, and the relationships that develop during the four ensuing months.  

This week’s Dress Circle (9/9 7:00 p.m.) is celebrating the stage and screen career of Andre Previn who came to the United States at the age of ten to escape Nazi persecution.  His remarkable seven-decade career began in 1948 and has encompassed all manner of musical genre from classical to jazz to Broadway and Hollywood.  

We’re continuing with our second series of operas from the Lyric Opera of Chicago and their production of Richard Wagner’s “Das Rheingold” on this week’s Sunday Opera (9/9 3:00 p.m.).  Sir Andrew Davis conducts the Lyric Opera Chorus and Orchestra to support a cast including Eric Owens as Wotan, Samuel Youn as Alberich, Stefan Margita as Loge, Tanja Ariane Baumgartner as Fricka, Okka von der Damerau as Erda, and as the giants, Fasolt and Fafner, Wilhelm Schwinghammer and Tobias Kehrer.  

We’re welcoming September with this week’s Dress Circle (9/2  7:00 p.m.) and our monthly program featuring some of the shows that opened on Broadway this month which always offers us a wonderfully eclectic playlist.  The shows we’re featuring include well-known favorites like “Gypsy” and “Fiddler on the Roof” as well as forgotten gems like “The Chocolate Soldier,” “Irma La Douce,” and “Magdalena.”  

Although a story about selfish desire for information and pleasure might sound like it could involve politics, this week’s Sunday Opera (9/2 3:00 p.m.) explores those themes in “Faust” by Charles Gounod from the Lyric Opera of Chicago.  Most people know a bit about the story of the bored Faust selling his soul to the Devil (Mephistopheles) in order to gain unlimited information/knowledge and unbridled hedonism resulting in the death of four innocent people and, depending upon the version, the damnation or salvation of Faust.

We’re continuing with our celebration of Leonard Bernstein on this week’s Dress Circle (8/26  7:00 p.m.) by looking at two of his scores.  One is the “Mass” that he wrote with Stephen Schwartz that opened The Kennedy Center in Washington in 1971 with selections from the original 1971recording as well as the 2004 recording.  Confusing to many, this wonderful celebration is less an actual mass than it is a lesson about finding sanity out of chaos which is so desperately needed today.  

The Sunday Opera returns to Chicago this week (8/26 3:00 p.m.) for a bit of fiancée swapping from the minds of Lorenzo Da Ponte and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in “Cosi fan tutte, ossia la scuola degli amanti” which translates with care to “Women Are Like That or The School for Lovers” where a pair of soldiers bet that their fincees will be eternally faithful and set into motion a plan to test them by pretending to be amorous Albanians.  

The first part of our centennial celebration of the life and career of Leonard Bernstein is this week’s Dress Circle (8/19 7:00 p.m.).  Although he is probably best known for his work in the classical music realm, we’ll be focusing on his works for the stage, and this first program will look at a variety of his musicals and will feature performances from “On the Town” (1944), “Peter Pan" (1950), “Wonderful Town” (1953), “Candide” (1956), and “West Side Story” (1957).  For this program, we’ll be featuring original cast, revival cast, and studio cast recordings.  

The Lyric Opera of Chicago returns to the Sunday Opera (8/19 3:00 p.m.) with Hector Berlioz’s epic work “Les Troyens” for which he wrote the libretto himself based on Virgil’s retelling of the circumstances surrounding the Trojan War, the “Aeneid.”  Sir Andrew Davis conducts a cast that includes Christine Goerke as Cassandre, Susan Graham as Didon, Brandon Jovanovich as Enee, Lucas Meachem as Chorebe, Christian Van Horn as Narbal, and Okka von der Damerau as Anna.

Put on your dancing shoes!  No, Julian Marsh is not doing a show; they’re doin’ choreography on this week’s Dress Circle (8/12 7:00 p.m.)  There was a time when just about every show included a ballet or extended dance scenes, and we’ll be sampling some of them this week.  Some of those dances include the “Sadie Hawkins’ Day Ballet” from “Li’l Abner,” the “Halloween Interlude” Dance from “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” the “Twins Ballet” from “The Boys from Syracuse,” and from “Make a Wish,” “The Sale Ballet.”  

The age-old story of good being undermined by corrupt forces and the forbidden question comes to us from the Lyric Opera of Chicago on this week’s Sunday Opera (8/12 3:00 p.m.) and their production of “Lohengrin” by Richard Wagner.  Knight of the Grail Lohengrin, son of Parsifal, is sent to Brabant to unify the people and protect the unjustly accused Elsa under the proviso that he does so anonymously and that no one must ever ask his name.  Of course, Elsa asks, and loses both Lohengrin and her life as a result.  

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