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

The Sunday Opera this week (1/14  3:00 p.m.) is turning to the ancient Greeks for the subject of Marc Antoine Charptentier’s “Medee,” the tragedy surrounding the sorceress who helped Jason, the man with whom she fell in love, steal the Golden Fleece.  She betrays her country and king (her father) and kills her brother in order for them to escape only then to be betrayed by Jason, leading to her murdering her children.  

The works of Stephen Sondheim will be featured on this week’s Dress Circle (1/14 7:00 p.m.) but nothing from cast recordings.  Instead, we’ll be featuring a variety of ladies who have recorded Sondheim’s music over the years.  The list includes Judy Collins who has the honor of singing “Send in the Clowns,” the only Sondheim song that made it into the popular charts where it spent eight weeks and made it to number 6 in 1975.  

We’ll be traveling to Czechoslovakia for this week’s Sunday opera (1/7  3:00 p.m.) and two works by the Czech master, Leos Janacek.  The first is a story of misplaced love and devotion that results in murder entitled “Jenufa.”  The Jenufa in a recording from 1986 is the wonderful Elisabeth Soderstrom, Peter Dvorsky is Steva, the object of her misplaced love, and Wieslav Ochman is the misunderstood Laca.  The second opera also features Elisabeth Soderstrom in the lead, this time as Emilia Marty, the woman who has lived for over 300 years in “The Makropulos Case.”  

Welcome to January and a new year that’s hopefully happy and healthy for you and yours.  This week’s Dress Circle (1/7  7:00 p.m.) is staying with tradition as we’ll take a look at some of the shows that have opened on Broadway during the chill of January.  Those shows include “The Happy Time,” “Sweet Charity,” “Darling of the Day,” “Celebration,” “The Little Mermaid,” and “The Ziegfeld Follies of 1936” among others.  It’s a great mix of old and new, just like every New Year, and it’s here for you at The Classical Network.  Join us each week at 7:00 p.m.

A “complete failure” will air as this week’s Sunday Opera (12/31  3:00 p.m.) when Handel’s “Serse” (“Xerxes”) will be presented.  In 1738, this mix of high tragedy and low comedy went against the desires of audiences of the day, but it is this mix that has made it one of Handel’s most beloved and staged operas after, possibly, “Julius Caesar.”  Add to the tragi-comic mix that the king does not get what he wants, accepts it with humility, and lives to tell about it, well, it just made for a bad night of 18th century theatergoing.  Our cast from a 1998 recording includes Judith Malafronte as Xerxes, Jennifer Smith as Romilda, the object of his desire, Susan Bickley as Amastre, the princess to whom he’s been betrothed, and Brian Asawa as Xerxes’ brother Arsamene, the man who loves and is loved by Romilda.  

It seems that there are always suggestions for ways to approach the New Year, and on this week’s Dress Circle (12/31  7:00 p.m.), we thought we’d add a few more but from the musicals.  Some of those “words of wisdom” come from shows like “Do I Hear a Waltz?”, “Snoopy,” “The Tap Dance Kid,” “Mame,” “Mr.

Two Christmas themed operas, and some additional holiday music, will be featured on this week’s Sunday Opera (12/24  3:00 p.m.).   The first is Hans Pfitzner’s charming fantasy entitled “Das Christ-Elflein” about a wood elf who travels with the Christ Child in order to find out more about humans and the celebration of Christmas.  The cast includes Helen Donath, Janet Perry, Alexander Malta, and Nikolaus Hilebrand with Kurt Eichhorn conducting.  

Take a break from the festivities this week and spend an hour on Christmas Eve (7:00 p.m.) with The Dress Circle for some favorite holiday moments from the musicals such as “The Gift of the Magi” by Peter Ekstrom, “A Year with Frog and Toad” by the Reale brothers, and “Scrooge” by Leslie Bricusse, as well as a few film songs from “The Santa Clause,” “The Snowman,” and “The Muppet Christmas Carol” and some nostalgia with songs such as “Christmas in Killarney” sung by Bing Crosby and Kenny Gardner singing “The Merry Christmas Waltz.”   

This week’s Sunday Opera (12/17  3:00 p.m.) is one of understanding, love, and compassion in Alexander von Zemlinsky’s “Der Traumgorge” which follows Gorge who loses his love Grete because of the fairytale world in which he lives.  He travels to find his idealized fairytale princess only to find another, Gertraud, who lives in pain, poverty, and loneliness, being accused of witchcraft and arson.  As he comes to understand Gertraud, and through his own poverty, Gorge finds meaning in his life.  David Kuebler is Gorge, and the three women in his life, Gertraud, Grete, and the Princess are Pa

For many of us, television and television specials have played a large part of our various holiday traditions as we grew-up, and we’ll look at a few of those in the fifth part of our series exploring original musicals for television.  We’ve included songs from five original television scores including Angela Lansbury in Jerry Herman’s “Mrs.

A forgotten tragedy from 1839 will be featured on this week’s Sunday Opera (12/10  3:00 p.m.) with the broadcast of Saverio Mercadante’s “Il Bravo.”  Based on a play that was, in turn, based on the novel “The Bravo” by James Fenimore Cooper, the libretto explores the inability of the Venetian government to properly care for its citizens.  Dino Di Domenico leads the cast as Il Bravo in this 1991 recording, and he’s joined by Adelisa Tabiadon, Janet Perry, Sergio Bertocchi, and Stefano Antonucci along with the Bratislava Philharmonic Chorus and The Italian International Orchestra with Bruno A

An anthem in a musical usually comes when a character is at a crossroads, and we’ll be taking a look at a variety of anthems on this week’s Dress Circle (12/10  7:00 p.m.).   At some point in most musicals, one or more characters have to take stock of their situation and overcome some obstacle in order to find a happy ending, and that moment of personal crisis has given birth to some of the greatest songs in musicals.  Join as we sample anthems from “Ragtime,” “Steel Pier,” “Chess,” “La Cage Aux Folles,” “The Color Purple,” “Company,” and more.  It’ll be an hour of memorable numbers and per

We’ll head out west for this week’s Sunday Opera (12/3  3:00 p.m.) and an adaptation by Craig Bohmler and Steven Mark Kohn of Zane Grey’s novel considered by many to be the greatest western ever written, “Riders of the Purple Sage,” a story of religious persecution and cattle rustlers.  The cast from Arizona Opera includes Laura Wilde as Jane, Joshua Jeremiah as Lassiter, Amanda Opuszynski as Bess, and Joshua Dennis as Venters with Joseph Mechavich conducting.   Following the opera, join host Michael Kownacky for more American music: a secular cantata by Paul Moravec entitled “The Blizzard

For many, holiday preparations are already at a fever pitch, that’s why we’re taking a break this week (12/3  7:00p.m.) from holiday fare to take a look at some of the show that opened on Broadway in December.  We’ll turn to some Christmas themed shows at the end of the month, but we hope that you’ll join us for a respite without a sprig of holly in sight!  Some of the shows from which you’ll hear songs are Oscar Hammerstein’s adaptation of Bizet in “Carmen Jones,” the Gershwin’s “Lady Be Good!”, Richard Rodgers’ and Lorenz Hart’s “Pal Joey,” “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” by Jule Styne and Leo

“Amleto,” an opera by Franco Faccio that disappeared for over 140 years, is the special treat on this week’s Sunday Opera (11/26  3:00 p.m.).  This broadcast is from the 2014 production by Opera Southwest and was realized and reconstructed by Southwest’s Artistic Director and conductor Anthony Barrese.  The opera premiered on May 30, 1865 in Genoa and was revised in 1871 for a La Scala production after which Faccio withdrew the score which was not to be heard again until the 21st century.  Alex Richardson stars in the title role, and he’s joined by Abla Hamza as his Ofelia, Shannon DeVine a

What do people look forward to most at Thanksgiving time?  We say it’s the leftovers, so we’ll look to some more Broadway turkeys because there are just so many of them.  This time, the cut-off is a dozen or fewer performances, and we’ve been able to find songs from a dozen of those shows.  Join us for some excellent songs from shows you didn’t even know you missed such as “Honkey Tonk Nights,” “Jerome Kern Goes to Hollywood,” “Christine,” “Dance a Little Closer,” “The Red Shoes,” “Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?”, and “Welcome to the Club” to name a few.  We hope you had a

The Sunday Opera travels to Albuquerque’s Opera Southwest this week (11/19  3:00 p.m.) for Giocchino Rossini’s “Tancredi.”  The libretto by Gaetano Rossi (who would write the libretto for Rossini’s “Semiramide” ten years later) features both a happy and tragic ending for this story that includes a love story that is affected by false assumptions and disguise.  Heather Johnson stars in the title role, and the rest of the cast includes Lindsay Ohse, Heath Huberg, Matthew Curran, Madelyn Wanner, and Chelsea Duval-Major in a production conducted by Anthony Barrese.

Just in time for Thanksgiving!  This week’s Dress Circle (11/19  7:00 p.m.) will feature some Broadway Turkeys!  We took a look at the champs last week, so it’s only fair that we take a look at some of the failures that outnumber them by at least 10 to 1.  There are many factors that contribute to a show’s failure.  The show may just be bad, the direction or casting misguided, or one aspect, either the book or score, just isn’t up to par, but sometimes, there are unseen factors as when a backer pulls out, reviews are mediocre even though the show is good, and many more.

As in everything, Broadway has its share of winners and losers, and this week (11/12  7:00 p.m.) we’ll be looking at some box office champs that ran more than 3,000 performances.  We’ll end with the current leader, “Phantom of the Opera” which has over 12,000 performances on Broadway.  Along the way, we’ll sample “A Chorus Line,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Grease,” “Rent,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Miss Saigon,” and “Wicked” along with five more.    Celebrate the best Broadway has to offer this week, and every week, on The Dress Circle.  Don’t forget to look for the webcasts of shows you may mi

Felice Romani is once again the librettist for our final opera from the Caramoor Music Festival on this week’s Sunday opera (11/12  3:00 p.m.).  The opera is Vincenzo Bellini’s “Il Pirata,” a tragic story of lost love, treachery, death, and madness.  Angela Meade leads the cast once more as Imogene.  Her true love, Gualtiero, is sung by Santigo Ballerini, and Harold Wilson sings the role of the evil that comes between them, Ernesto.  Will Crutchfield conducts.  As a bit of a departure from our usual Sunday Operas, host Michael Kownacky will be celebrating a birthday with the time left.   A

We’ll be hearing from New York’s Caramoor Festival again for this week’s Sunday Opera (11/5  3:00 p.m.).  This week, it’s Gaetano Donizetti’s “Lucrezia Borgia,” a tale of treachery and murder with one of the largest body counts in Grand Opera!  The libretto by Felice Romani is based on the play by Victor Hugo and looks at a segment of the life of this woman, the daughter of Pope Alexander VI, who is rumored to have poisoned ad murdered hundreds of people.  The 2016 Caramoor cast features rising star Angela Meade as Lucrezia, Christophoros Stamboglis as her husband Alfonso D’Este.  Also feat

The Dress Circle is ushering in November (11/5  7:00 p.m.) with our monthly feature as we look at some of the shows that opened this month.  This time, we’ll be sampling a dozen shows that includes “Into the Woods,” “Seussical,” “The Lion King,” “Billy Elliott,” “Grand Hotel,” and “Young Frankenstein” by performers such as Christopher Fitgerald, Roger Bart, Sutton Foster, Joanna Gleason, Robert Westenberg, Heather Headley, and David Shiner.  We’ll also hear selections from “Mary Poppins,” “Jersey Boys,” “Kiss Me Kate,” and “Teddy and Alice” as well.  Don’t forget to follow The Dress Circle

Giuseppe Verdi’s last opera, “Falstaff,” in a concert performance from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra will air on this week’s Sunday Opera (10/29  3:00 p.m.).  The lustful Sir John will be performed by Falstaff specialist, Ambrogio Maestri.  Joining him are Eleanora Buratto and Laura Polverelli as the objects of his attention, Alice and Meg, Luca Salsi as Alice’s husband, Rosa Feola as their daughter Nanetta, and Saimir Pirgu as her love, Fenton.  Rounding out the cast are Daniela Barcellona as the cunning Mistress Quickly, Saveria Fiore as Dr.

We’re taking a look at duets on this week’s Dress Circle (10/29  7:00 p.m.), and they’re not just for lovers.  From shows like “Barnum,” “Napoleon,” “Calamity Jane,” “Strike Up the Band,” “Carousel,” and “Out of This World,” you’ll hear Glenn Close, Jim Dale, Susan Watson, Doris Day, Howard Keel, Jo Sullivan, Robert Weede, Audra McDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell and others share the ups and downs of all sorts of relationships.  Join us for music of times that are happy, wistful, combative, sad, philosophical, and silly.  Oh, there will be songs about love too.  Join us this and every Sunday,

We’re nearing the end of the season of operas from San Francisco this Sunday (10/22  3:00 p.m.) with another archival production.  This time, it’s Richard Strauss’ 1933 lyric comedy “Arabella” in a recording made in 1980 and starring Kiri Te Kanawa in the title role as the daughter of a penniless nobleman who wants to marry for love, not the fortune her father needs.  The cast also includes Barbara Daniels as her sister Zdenka, Sona Cervena and Alexander Malta as Arabella’s parents, Ingvar Wixell as a not-so-mysterious stranger Mandryka, and William Lewis as Matteo, a penniless soldier who’

The musical theatre world lost a true legend on August 8th of this year, and we decided to wait until closer to Barbara Cook’s birthday to celebrate her life and incredible career that spanned over six decades on this week’s DRESS CIRCLE (10/22  7:00 p.m.).  Cook, born in Atlanta, Georgia, decided to try a stage career in New York in 1948 at the age of 21, and her talents were recognized almost immediately.  She appeared/starred in eighteen productions beginning with “Flahooley” in 1951 and including “She Loves Me,” “The Music Man,” “Carousel,” “Plain and Fancy,” “Candide,” “Show Boat,” and

Maurizio Muraro stars in the title role of Gaetano Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale” from San Francisco on this week’s Sunday Opera (10/15   3:00 p.m.).  “Pasquale,” the 73rd of Donizetti’s 75 operas, deals with a foolish, old man who is tricked into allowing his nephew Ernesto to marry the girl he loves, Norina, with the help of the wily Dr. Malatesta.  Joining Muraro, in this September 2016 performnance , you’ll hear Heidi Stober as the spirited Norina, Lawrence Brownlee as the confused Ernesto, and Lucas Meachem as the happily scheming Dr.

With the way things are going in the world, one could easily wish for the old days when things were thought to be better even when they really weren’t.  We thought we’d take a look at how Broadway musicals remembered the “Good Old Days” with songs from a variety of musicals like the wistful memory of “Try to Remember” from “The Fantasticks” and “Lilacs Bring Back Memories” from “Nunsense.”  From “Damn Yankees” we’ll hear a happy memory of a troubled times in “Those Were the Good Old Days” and a flood of warm memories in “The Happy Time.”  There will also be a sampling of songs about relatio

The world premiere production of Chinese American composer Bright Sheng’s “Dream of the Red Chamber” is this week’s Sunday Opera.  (10/8  3:00 p.m.)  The task of adapting this mid-18th century novel which consists of 120 chapters and nearly 600 named characters fell to Tony Award Winning playwright David Henry Hwang who focused on the tale of one of the “twelve beauties” of the story Dai-yu and her tragic love for Bao Yu.  It’s a story of love, treachery, and loss.  The primarily Asian cast features Pureum Jo as the doomed Dai-yu and Yijie Shi as Bao Yu.

One of our favorite singers will be featured on this week’s Dress Circle (10/8  7:00 p.m.) as we look at the legendary Ella Fitzgerald through her incredible series of recordings that are catalogued under the “Songbook” Title.  Fitzgerald, who began singing by chance in 1934 when her name was drawn at random to be a contestant in an amateur contest at the Apollo Theatre, wowed the audience with her rendition of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Judy” at the spur of the moment.  She had intended to dance but changed her mind at the last minute.  She would go on to be known as the “First Lady of Song” for

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