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

Welcome to December!  As usual, we’ll be starting the month with a selection of songs from shows that opened in New York in December on this week’s Dress Circle (12/2 7:00 p.m.).   We’ll be sampling material from over 100 years of Broadway magic that begins with Victor Herbert’s 1906 operetta “Mlle. Modiste” and ends with 2017’s “SpongeBob SquarePants.”  Along the way, there’ll be songs from “Drood,” “City of Angles,” “Kiss Me Kate,” “Show Boat,” and “The Music Man” as well as some other familiar works.  It’s all about Broadway openings this week on The Dress Circle! 

Beaumarchais’ trickster Figaro is the central figure on this week’s Sunday Opera (11/4 3:00 p.m.) in the San Francisco Opera production of Giaochino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville.”  Luca Meacham is the wily Figaro, Daniela Mack the lovelorn Rosina, and Rene Barbera the fickle Count Almaviva.  Joining them are Alessandro Corbelli as the greedy Doctor Bartolo, Andrea Silvestrelli as Don Basilio, and Catherine Cook, Edward Nelson, and Efrain Solis as Berta, Fiorello, and Ambrogio.  Giuseppe Finzi conducts.  

We begin a series from the San Francisco Opera on this week’s Sunday Opera (10/28 3:00 p.m.) with Umberto Giordano’s love story set during the French Revolution based loosely on the life of its title character, the poet Andrea Chenier.  The production features Yonghoon Lee as Chenier and Anna Pirozzi as his love, Maddalena.  The remainder of the cast includes George Gagnidze, Joel Sorenson, Robert Pomakov, Catherine Cook, Jill Grove, and David Pershall with Nicola Luisotti conducting.  

Audra McDonald will be featured again on this week’s Dress Circle (10/28 7:00 p.m.) as we take a second look at her career “So Far.”  This time, we’ll be including selections from her performance as Bess in the 2012 revival of “Porgy and Bess.”  We’ll also be sampling songs from several of her solo CDs by the likes of Rodgers and Hart, McHugh and Fields, Kern and Wodehouse, Arlen and Gershwin, and Bernstein and Sondheim to name a few.  It’s a celebration of one of Broadway’s most delightful leading ladies, so join us for a happy hour in the Dress Circle.

The Dress Circle didn’t make it back to school this year, but we’re going remedy that in a way on this week’s program (10/21 7:00 p.m.) as we do what most students do the first few weeks of school, “Let’s Revue.”  We’ve never done a show in our 35 plus years that looks solely at revues, and we thought it was about time.  We’ll begin with one of the granddaddies of all revues, the “Ziegfeld Follies of 1919” with John Steele singing Irving Berlin’s “A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody,” a song that became synonymous with the “Follies.”  

We’ll be going “down to the sea in ships” on this week’s Sunday Opera (10/21 3:00 p.m.) with an encore production of Jake Heggie’s version of “Moby Dick.”  Jay Hunter Morris leads the cast as Captain Ahab, and he’s joined by Joshua Guerrero as the Greenhorn (Ishmael), Morgan Smith as Starbuck, Musa Ngqungwana as Queequeg, and Jacqueline Ehols as Pip.  The performance features James Conlon leading the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra.  

We never like to do this type of a program, but we felt compelled to remember another wonderful performer whom we lost far too early on this week’s Dress Circle (10/14 7:00 p.m.) as we look back at the career of Marin Mazzie who passed away after a three-year battle with ovarian cancer on September 13 at the age of 57.  For us, we’ll always remember her iconic performance as Mother in “Ragtime” where she stopped the show with her incredibly moving performance of “Back to Before.”   We were also thrilled to see her spirited performance as Lilli Vanessi / Katharine in the 1999 revival of “Kiss Me Kate.”  These two shows alone are testament to her versatility and power.  

A trickster and a vengeful husband are featured on this week’s Sunday Opera (10/14 3:00 p.m.) in Giacomo Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi” from his collection “Il Trittico” and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s “Paglicacci” from Los Angeles Opera On Air.  The afternoon begins with Placido Domingo as the scheming Schicchi who tricks the bickering Donato family out of part of their inheritance by pretending to be their dead relative, Buoso, and writing the will Buoso left unfinished.  Joining Domingo are Andriana Chuchman as Schicchi’s daughter Lauretta, who sings the much loved aria “O mio babbino caro,” her beloved Rinuccio is Arturo Chacon-Cruz, and Meredith Arwady as the imperious Zita.  

Celebrate October on this week’s Dress Circle (10/7 7:00 P.M.) as we showcase our regular  survey of shows that opened on Broadway this month.  The program will feature music from Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s forgotten gem “Allegro” as part of a varied menu that includes music from Sting’s musical memory “The Last Ship.”  

A recurring theme in opera deals with forbidden love that leads to a tragic ending, and this week’s Sunday Opera (10/7 3:00 P.M.) is a version of that in Vincenzo Bellini’s “Norma” from LA Opera On Air.  Angela Meade stars as the titular Druid princess who falls in love and secretly has children with the Roman proconsul Pollione (Russell Thomas) against the laws set forth by her father, Oroveso (Morris Robinson).  

We lost Neil Simon on August 26th and we wanted to celebrate the life of this brillian playwright who brought joy to theatre audiences around the world for over five decades on this week’s Dress Circle (9/30  7:00).  Simon is probably best known for his plays and comedies like The Brighton Beach Trilogy and “The Odd Couple,” but he’s also a perfect subject for The Dress Circle since he penned several books for musicals.  

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.  

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.  

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