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

After EVITA, Andrew Lloyd Webber wanted to work on something a bit less massive, and on this week’s Dress Circle (12/2 7:00 p.m.), we’ll look at that smaller show’s beginnings on TV and growth into a full evening for the stage.  The musical is “Tell Me on a Sunday” and tells the story of a British girl’s relationship adventures in the United States.  The television special starred Marti Webb, and she also appeared in the West End production when it became “Song and Dance” with the addition of Webber’s “Variations” which he wrote for his cellist brother Julian.  

The heroic folk-legend of Swiss patriot William Tell is this week’s Sunday Opera (12/2 3:00 p.m.) from Opera Southwest.  Gioacchino Rossini’s opera, with a libretto by Etienne de Jouy and Hippolyte-Louis-Florent Bis which was based on the play by Friedrich Schiller, features the love story of Arnold and Mathilde told against the Swiss fight for freedom, led by Tell, from the Austrians who have been in power for one-hundred years. 

Ancient Babylon is the setting for this week’s Sunday Opera from OperaDelaware (12/2 3:00 p.m.) with Gioachiono Rossini’s last Italian opera, “Semiramide” featuring a libretto by Gaetano Rossi based on Voltaire's tragedy “Semiramis,” which in turn was based on the legend of Semiramis of Assyria.  Nicknamed by some as “’Tancredi’ revisited,” the story deals with the power-struggle of Queen Semiramide who was one of the people responsible for the death of her predecessor.  

The composing team of Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones enjoyed a collaboration that lasted over 60 years but are still probably best known for only one of their shows, "The Fantasticks."  We thought we'd remedy that on this week’s Dress Circle and take a look at some of their work which may not be that familiar from shows such as the Julius Monk revue “Demi-Dozen.”  

Just in time for the holidays, we’ll be spending an afternoon with Edgar Allan Poe on this week’s Sunday  Opera (11/25 3:00 p.m.).  We’ll begin with two versions of Poe’s novella “The Fall of the House of Usher” from the San Francisco Opera.  This supernatural tale deals with the final days of the Usher family after the premature burial of Madeline.  The first version is Gordon Getty’s “Usher House” which will be followed by Claude Debussy’s fragments of “La Chute de la Maison Usher” which were completed by Robert Orledge.  

Teaching has its side effects, and one of those is the need for “calendar art”!  The Dress Circle program this week (11/18 7:00 p.m.) is an off-shoot of that need as we present a Thanksgiving program – of sorts.  In the past, we’ve looked at family, food, and “thanks” as themes, but this time, we wanted to share with you some of the theatergoing events for which we’ve been thankful over the years.  

An opera based on an 18th century Chinese work called the “pinnacle of Chinese fiction” by Bright Sheng and David Henry Hwang is this week’s Sunday Opera (11/18 3:00 p.m.).  “The Dream of the Red Chamber” is a huge work that features some forty main characters and over four-hundred secondary characters.  In this San Francisco Opera version, the focus has been fine-tuned by librettist David Henry Hwang.  

Our years teaching English have gotten the better of us on this week’s Dress Circle (11/11 7:00 p.m.), and we’ve turned to the world of literature for our theme as we look at Emily Bronte’s 1847 romantic tragedy “Wuthering Heights” through stage and screen adaptations.  Join us for selections from Alfred Newman’s score for the film as well as an aria from Bernard Hermann’s opera.  

We could all use some levity just now, and there will be an afternoon of it when this week’s Sunday Opera (11/11 3:00 p.m.) features the San Francisco Opera production of Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale” where a poor and rebellious nephew and his beloved teach his conniving uncle a lesson about love and family.  The cast includes Maurizio Muraro in the title role, Lawrence Brownlee is his nephew Ernesto, and Heidi Stober as Ernesto’s beloved Norina.  

… And suddenly, it’s November!  As usual, this week’s Dress Circle (11/4 7:00 p.m.) will celebrate the new month by looking at some of the shows that opened on Broadway in November, and we have quite a hefty list from which to choose.  Some of the shows we’ve chosen, which span over 114 years, include the forgotten Rodgers and Hammerstein musical based on a novella by John Steinbeck entitled “Pipe Dream,” the big Tony Award winner from last year by David Yazbeck, “The Band’s Visit,” and the Elton John / Tim Rice massive stage hit, “The Lion King.”  

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.

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