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

A forgotten opera by the proclaimed father of Polish opera, Stanislaw Moniuszko, is this week’s Sunday Opera (5/6 3:00 p.m.).  Although “The Haunted Manor” (“Straszny Dwor”) is a romantic comedy, it’s considered to be one of the finest examples of patriotic Polish themed music.  The story centers around two brothers who try to avoid the marriage machinations of their aunt, only to find the women they love and want to marry in a purportedly haunted house.  

A fringe benefit of the CD era is the theme for this week’s Dress Circle (4/29 7:00 p.m.).  The standard LP could hold about 44 minutes of music, so when CDs arrived that could hold 80 minutes, record labels were in a quandary:  Should they just ignore the remaining time or try to fill it with something?   We’re very happy that they filled it with something that those of us who love musicals are thrilled to have:  Bonus tracks – alternate takes, cut songs, songs left off of the LP because of time constraints, demo recordings, and interviews with stars and creators.  

Two sides of Sergei Prokofiev will be featured on this week’s Sunday Opera (4/29 3:00 p.m.) in the form of his dramatic tragedy “The Fiery Angel” and his much loved comedy “The Love for Three Oranges.”  In a dramatic score that is said to be a perfect embodiment of Prokofiev’s brooding and dark sarcasm, “The Fiery Angel” follows Renata, a devout woman, as she searches for her missing love, an angel with whom she has been in love since she was a child. 

Ricky Ian Gordon’s treatment of John Steinbeck’s heartbreaking 1939 novel “The Grapes of Wrath” is this week’s Sunday Opera (4/22  3:00 p.m.).  This world premier recording features Brian Leerhuber as the desperate Tom Joad leading his extended family away from the horrors of the dustbowl only to find that California holds no promise for them at the end of their journey.  The cast also includes Roger Honeywell as Jim Casey, Kella Kaduce as Rosasharn, Andrew Wilkowske as Tom’s hapless brother Noah, Robert Orth as Uncle John, and Deanne Meek and Peter Halverson as Ma and Pa Joad.

With all of the negative news flying about, most of us need a “happy place” to which we can escape to hide from the madness.  This week’s Dress Circle (4/22  7:00 p.m.) will offer up some happy places that are found in a variety of musicals.   Join us as we head to “Never Never Land” with Peter Pan, “My Own Little Corner” with Cinderella, and “Loveland” from “Follies.”   

Two words that are dear to the hearts of many people are Walt Disney, and on this week’s Dress Circle (4/15  7:00 p.m.) we’ll hear some of the music associated with Disney films but not by the originators in a show called Everybody Does Disney.  For instance, from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” we’ll hear “Heigh-Ho,” but it will be performed by The Shanghai Quartet.  “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” from “Cinderella” gets an “Andrews Sisters” treatment by Michelle Nicastro.  Louis Armstrong will stop by to perform “The Bear Necessities” from “The Jungle Book.  

“La Juive,” a tragic tale of religious intolerance by Fromental Halevy will air on this week’s Sunday Opera (4/15 3:00 p.m.).  Eugene Scribe wrote the libretto for this opera which became one of the most popular operas of the 19th century after its premier in Paris on 23 February 1835.  It deals with the plight of Jews in Switzerland in the 15th century, particularly Rachel and her adoptive father Eleazar who are persecuted by the Catholic Church and are arrested after it is found that Racheal’s love Samuel is actually Prince Leopold.  

If you’re a fan of musicals written expressly for television, we’ll have four more for you on this week’s Dress Circle (4/8 7:00 p.m.).  Our first seems be on its way to a Broadway production, but it had its start on the cult-favorite television series “Smash.”  The musical is titled “Bombshell” by Marc Shaiman and Scott M. Riesett.  

The Sunday Opera (4/8 3:00 p.m.) will, in its small way, be celebrating the centennial year of Leonard Bernstein’s birth with an afternoon of his two major operas: “Trouble in Tahiti,” and its sequel “A Quiet Place.”  “Trouble in Tahiti” had its world premiere at Brandeis University as part of their Festival of Creative Arts.  The barely finished opera which had a problematic physical production, was not particularly well received, but it was reworked and performed at Tanglewood before appearing on television, all in 1952.  

There will be no fooling on this week’s Dress Circle (4/1 7:00 p.m.) when we once again take a look at some of the shows that opened this month.  A few of those “shows of April” are “Beauty and the Beast,” the current smash “Anastasia,” “Carousel,” “Hallelujah, Baby!”, “The Secret Garden,” and “She Loves Me” along with several more.  Join us for another diverse evening of great music from Broadway.  As always, thank you for being a part of our musical family.  

It’s a perfect April Fool’s on this week’s Sunday Opera (4/1 3:00 p.m.) when we turn to Franz Josef Haydn and his farce “Il Mondo Della Luna.”  Based on a play by Carlo Goldoni, the clever Ecclitico wins both money and a bride from the foolish Buonafede with a tale that he will take him to the moon and introduce him to the society there.  We’ll turn to a 1993 recording featuring Luigi Alva, Domenico Trimarchi, Edith Mathis, Arlene Auger, Frederica von Stade, and Anthony Rolfe Johnson for this charming bit of tomfoolery.   

Two works by Sir Michael Tippett are on offer for this week’s Sunday Opera (3/25  3:00 p.m.)  His groundbreaking opera “A Midsummer Marriage” which deals with a symbolic pathway to marriage and life in the face of change will open the program.  The recording is the world premiere production from 1955 featuring Joan Sutherland, Richard Lewis, Edith Coates, and Adele Leigh and the Covent Garden Chorus and Orchestra under the direction of John Pritchard.

This weekend, many people will be celebrating Palm Sunday, and The Dress Circle will join in the celebration with an all-star production of the Andrew Lloyd Webber / Tim Rice musical “Jesus Christ Superstar” (3/25  7:00 p.m.)  Beginning as a concept album in 1970, the first authorized concert version of the material was seen in Pittsburgh, PA in July of 1971 with the world premier staged presentation arriving on Broadway in October of 1971.  It would have its West End Premiere in 1972.  

Familiar voices, many from the past, will be showcased on this week’s Sunday Opera (3/18  3:00 p.m.) in an all-star presentation of Giacomo Puccini’s “Il Trittico.”  We’ll sample three recordings.  The first, “Il Tabarro” stars Leontyne Price, Sherrill Milnes, and Placido Domingo.  “Suor Angelica” stars Renata Tebaldi in the title role and Giuletta Simionato as the callous Principessa.  Leo Nucci is the cantankerous “Gianni Schicchi” with Mirella Freni as his daughter Lauretta, and Roberto Alagna as her love, Rinuccio.  Also featured in this cast are Eva Podles, Barbara Frittoli, and Dalibo

The 3/18

 (7:00 p.m.) Dress Circle will feature recordings produced by The York Theatre Company which, for over 48 years, has been dedicated to the production of New Musicals, and through their Musicals in Mufti Series, concert performances of forgotten shows.  Ted Otten and Michael Kownacky have found and will be sampling four recordings of shows presented by The York Theatre Company on this week’s program.  

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