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

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.  

You may not know the composer’s name on this week’s Dress Circle (8/5 7:00 p.m.), but you’re sure to know many of the songs penned by the wonderful James “Jimmy” McHugh.  With lyricists like Dorothy Fields, Harold Adamson, and Ted Koehler, McHugh’s prolific career spanned three decades with songs for the stage and screen.  Join us as we celebrate the career of this wonderful composer with songs that appeared in the films “Higher and Higher” and “Bring on the Girls” as well as the revue of his music entitled “Lucky in the Rain.”  

We’re staying in England for this week’s Sunday Opera (8/5 3:00 p.m.) and the Opera North production of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera.”  Without the censors of the 1850s, Antonio Somma’s libretto is set, as it was first intended, in Sweden, where the opera deals with the political machinations surrounding the assassination of King Gustavus III.  The cast includes Rafael Rojas as Gustavus, Adrienn Miksch as Amelia, Philip Rhodes as Count Anckarstroem (Renato), Patricia Bardon as the fortune teller Ulrika, and Tereza Georgyan as Gustavus’ page Oscar.  

We’ll be looking at July and August together for our show openings on this week’s Dress Circle (7/29 7:00 p.m.) since Broadway openings slow during the summer months with the exception of this year where there will be no fewer than four new musicals opening.  However, since they haven’t opened yet, we don’t have any music from them and won’t be mentioning them.  The “summer shows” we will be mentioning include the 1997 revival of “1776,” the riotous revue “Two on the Aisle,” one of Langston Hughes’ Broadway musicals “Simply Heavenly,” and the high-energy “Hairspray.”  

Join us as we travel to Glasgow for this week’s Sunday Opera (7/29 3:00 p.m.) and the Scottish Opera’s production of “Eugene Onegin.”  Tchaikovsky’s glorious adaptation of Pushkin’s novel features Samuel Dale Johnson as the jaded Onegin, Peter Auty as the doomed Lensky, and Natalya Romaniw as the naïve Tatyana.  Also in the cast are Sioned Gwen Davies as Tatyana’s sister Olga, Alison Kettlewell as their mother Larina, Anne-Marie Owens as their servant Filipyevna, and Graeme Broadbent as Prince Gremin.  Stuart Stratford conducts.  

The Dress Circle will shine a spotlight on Glenn Close this week (7/22 7:00 p.m.) in performances which might be unfamiliar to many, her outings in Broadway musicals with selections from the Richard Rodgers and Martin Charnin musical about Henry VIII entitled “Rex” where she played Princess Mary, as Charity Barnum in Cy Coleman and Michael Stewart’s “Barnum,” and her much lauded performance as Norma Desmund in “Sunset Boulevard” by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Don Black, and Christopher Hampton.  

We looked at music of George Gershwin last week on The Dress Circle, and this week (7/15 7:00 p.m.) we’ll concentrate on lyrics by his brother Ira but with composers other than George.  Those composers supplying the music for Ira include Kurt Weill, who got Ira to begin writing again after George’s death, Harold Arlen, Harry Warren, and Burton Lane.  

We’re continuing with productions from England’s Royal Opera House at Covent Garden on this week’s Sunday Opera (7/15 3:00 p.m.) with their production of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Macbeth.”  Shakespeare’s tragic tale of unbridled ambition features Zeljko Lucic as Macbeth, Anna Netrebko as the tortured Lady Macbeth, Ildebrando D’Arcangelo as Banquo, Konu Kim as Malcolm, and Yusif Eyvazov as Macduff with Antonio Pappano leading the Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House.  

The Dress Circle is celebrating the life of George Gershwin this week (7/8  7:00 p.m.) as we approach the 81st anniversary of his untimely death on July 11, 1937 with a program of his lesser-known works with his brother Ira as well as with other lyricists.  Included will be songs from shows like 1925’s “Tip-Toes,” “Sweet Little Devil” from 1924, and “Primrose” written expressly for the London stage in 1924.  Although they were all well received, they have been forgotten.  

The Sunday Opera begins a series of productions from the UK this week (7/8  3:00 p.m.) with the world premiere of George Benjamin’s “Lessons of Love and Violence” which debuted at the Royal Opera House in May of this year.  

Join us as we travel to 17th century England this week (7/1 3:00 p.m.) in a production of Vincenzo Bellini’s “I Puritani” from the Lyric Opera of Chicago.  Set during the English Civil War in 1640, the story deals with lovers caught in a web of intrigue, the sense of duty, and unrelenting loyalties.  The cast includes Albina Shagimuratova, Lawrence Brownlee, Adrian Sampetrean, and Lauren Decker with Enrique Mazzolla conducting.  

It's all about cinema nostalgia on this week’s Dress Circle (7/1  7:00 p.m.) as we sample some popular artists singing theme songs from some memorable films.  The vocalists include Doris Day, Cliff Edwards, Johnny Mathis, Peggy Lee, Bob Hope, and Mario Lanza, and some of film themes are “Dear Heart,” “Wild Is the Wind,” “Golden Earrings,” “Love Is a Many Splendored Thing,” “Because You’re Mine,” and “Three Coins in the Fountain” just to name a few.  Don’t forget to look for us on Facebook as well as our own website at www.DCSRO.com for more information. 

The Sunday Opera continues with the 2018 season from the Lyric Opera of Chicago this week (6/24 3:00 p.m.) with Giacomo Puccini’s adaptation of a 1762 work by Count Carlo Gozzi, “Turandot.”  Originally, this story of a Chinese princess who asks riddles and beheads anyone who seeks her hand was, in turn, based on a 12th century Persian work, one of seven that corresponds with the seven days of the week, colors, and then known planets, was originally about “Turan-Dokht” or the daughter of Turan, a Russian or central Asian princess.  

We’re a bit late for Mother’s and Father’s Days, but we’re early for Grandparent’s Day, and it’s really never too late to celebrate “parents” and caregivers in any form.  We’ll do that on The Dress Circle this week (6/24 7:00 p.m.) as we turn to the musicals to take a look at some stage parents from shows like “Honk!”, “Falsettoland,” “Aida,” “Seussical,” “Earnest in Love,” and “Ragtime” with special appearances by Beniamino Gigli and Miss Bette Davis.  Join us to see if it’s true that “Parents Are People too.” 

We’ll travel to Sri Lanka for this week’s Sunday Opera (6/17 3:00 p.m.) and a production of Georges Bizet’s “The Pearl Fishers” from the Chicago Lyric Opera.  This story of desire, friendship, and sacrifice which includes one of the most famous and beloved tenor/baritone duets, “Au fond du temple saint,” stars Mariusz Kwiecien, Matthew Polenzani, and Andrea Silvestrelli with Sir Andrew Davis conducting.  

The delightful stage output of Marvin Hamlisch is the subject of this week’s Dress Circle (6/17  7:00 p.m.)  as we look at songs from familiar shows like “A Chorus Line” (with songs from the Italian and Japanese original cast recordings), “They’re Playing Our Song” and “The Good-bye Girl” (both Broadway and West End casts), and “The Sweet Smell of Success.”  

This week’s Dress Circle (6/10) will begin at 8:00 because of the length of the opera.  Join us as we take a trip to the West End as we look at five “Recent and Current London Musicals.”   We’ll be sampling songs from “Calendar Girls,” a moving musical based on the charming film of the same name and starring some British favorites such as Claire Moore and Joanna Riding.  A revival of “42nd Street” is currently appearing at Drury Lane, and the original cast included Sheena Easton as Dorothy Brock.  

The second opera in Richard Wagner’s “Ring Cycle,” “Die Walkure,” is this week’s Sunday Opera (6/10 3:00 p.m.) from the Lyric Opera of Chicago.  Wotan’s daughters, the Valkyries. are charged with determining who will live or die in battle, and when Wotan’s favorite, Brunnhilde, disobeys him and allows Siegmund to live, she is stripped of her powers, turned mortal, and encircled by a magic flame to remain in an enchanted sleep forever.   

June may not be bustin’ out all over, but it is certainly wet, and as we enter the month of June, this week’s Dress Circle (6/3 7:00 p.m.) will take a look at some of the shows that have opened this month.  The “summer” months are notoriously lean for Broadway openings, and June is the month of the Tony Awards, so shows generally don’t open then since they would have to be remembered for an entire year before voting occurs.  In any case, we will hear songs from musicals including “Godspell,” “I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road,” “Seventeen,” the 1993 revival of “Chicago,”

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