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 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,”

The Lyric opera of Chicago continues their season on this week’s Sunday Opera (6/3 3:00 p.m.) with a tragic tale of callous privilege and contempt in Giuseppe Verdi’s “Rigoletto.”  The cast includes Quinn Kelsey in the title role, and he’s joined by Rosa Feola as the infatuated Gilda, Matthew Polenzani as the feckless Duke of Mantua, and Alexander Tsymbalyuk as the treacherous Sparafucile.  Also in the cast are Zanda Svede as Maddalena and Lauren Decker as Giovanna.  Marco Armiliato conducts.  

An “all-star” version of Stephen Sondheim’s “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” to welcome the upcoming Princeton Festival production will air on this week’s Dress Circle (5/27 7:00 p.m.).   We’ll be playing a large percentage of this delightful score using the original Broadway cast, original London cast, the 1996 Broadway revival, and the film if time permits.  

We’re beginning a new series of performances from The Lyric Opera of Chicago with Gluck’s “Orphee et Eurydice” as this week’s Sunday Opera (5/27 3:00 p.m.)  Dmitry Korchak stars as Orpheus, and his Eurydice is Andriana Chuchman.  They’re joined by Lauren Snouffer as Amour and the Lyric Opera of Chicago Chorus and Orchestra.  The performance is conducted by Harry Bicket.  After the opera, we’ll continue with more music of Gluck in his “balleto” “Alessandro” about the ill-fated love of Alexander the Great for Roxane.  

Among the many definitions of a “moment,” the first is “a minute portion or point of time: instant,” and on this week’s Dress Circle (5/20 7:00 p.m.), we’ll be looking at a series of “Moment Moments.”  We were surprised by how important moments are in musicals, and we had many shows from which to choose songs.

Listeners are in store for an hour of wonderful singing on this week’s “Dress Circle”  (5/13  7:00 p.m.) when Dinah Shore is featured singing songs from Broadway and Hollywood including songs from her film outing with Alan Jones and Robert Merrill entitled “Aaron Slick from Punkin Crick." 

We’ll be transported to the Yorkshire Moors for this week’s Sunday Opera (5/13  3:00 p.m.) through Bernard Hermann’s 1951 treatment of Emily Bronte’s brooding novel “Wuthering Heights.”  The opera was begun in 1943 while Hermann was writing the film score for the adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre,” but it would never be produced during his life time.  Focusing on the first half of Bronte’s novel, “Wuthering Heights” looks at the tragic love of the headstrong Cathy and the tormented Heathcliff played out against the beautifully bleak moorland.  

There may be May flowers and all that, but this week’s Dress Circle (5/6 7:00 p.m.) has very little to do with them because we’re focusing on the shows that opened in or on their way to New York.   Our list includes “The Baker’s Wife,” a Stephen Schwartz show that closed on its way to Broadway, the legendary “Fantasticks,” and “The Most Happy Fella,” Frank Loesser’s monumental romantic musical.  We’re also including “Passion,” Stephen Sondheim’s chamber opera about a different kind of love, and Lena Horne’s one-woman show that wowed audiences for over 300 performances.   

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.  

John Barrowman is best known to American television audiences for his appearances on “Dr. Who” and “Torchwood,” but this week’s Dress Circle (3/11 7:00 p.m.) is dedicated to his wonderful performances in musicals, mostly in London’s West End.  You’ll hear him perform songs from his starring roles in “Matador,” “Anything Goes,” “The Fix,” and “Hair” along with “Grease,” “Sunset Boulevard,” and the totally forgotten musical, “Jean Seberg.”  If you only know Barrowman from his television appearances, this week’s program is sure to be a pleasant surprise.

Music by the rival of Weber and friend to Beethoven and Mendelssohn is being featured on this week’s Sunday opera (2/4  3:00 p.m.) when we’ll look at two supernatural works from the pen of Heinrich August Marschner.  The first is the opera that cemented his place as one of the important composers of German opera, “Hans Heiling” in which the prince of the gnomes searches the mortal world to find a wife but learns just how difficult finding true love can be.  

Vincenzo Bellini’s last opera, “I Puritani,” is on offer as this week’s Sunday Opera (2/25  3:00 p.m.).  It proved to be one of Bellini’s best received operas, and it was revived frequently after its premier at the Theatre-Italien on 24 January 1835.  With a libretto by Count Carlo Pepoli, it’s a story of love, mistaken infidelity, madness, opportunistic sanity, and finally, a happy ending.  

We’ll be “crossing over” on this week’s Dress Circle (2/25  7:00 p.m.).  Well, the singers will be crossing over as some of opera’s greatest sing favorites from the world of Broadway.  Those singers include Eileen Farrell, Robert Merrill, Rise Stevens, Dorothy Kirsten, Thomas Hampson, Kiri Te Kanawa, Jerry Hadley, Frederica von Stade, and more.  We’ve scheduled songs by Rodgers and Hammerstein, Frank Loesser, Leonard Bernstein, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, and the Gershwins from shows like “South Pacific,” “Music in the Air,” “The Most Happy Fella,” “Allegro,” and “The New Moon.” 

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