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

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.” 

The music of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky is being featured on this week’s Sunday Opera (2/18  3:00 p.m.) through two of his well-known and much loved pieces.  The program begins with the psychological drama “Pique Dame” (“The Queen of Spades”) and a recording from 1991.  Herman has two problems: he’s in love with Liza who is far above his station in life, and he is obsessed with gambling.  He learns that Liza’s grandmother is a countess who is known as The Queen of Spades because she knows a formula that always allows her to win.  

This week’s Dress Circle (2/18  7:00 p.m.) will be a survey of some of the CDs of a group formed in 1995 called “The Broadway Kids.”  This rotating cast of young people between the ages of eight and sixteen, had to appear in at least one Broadway or off-Broadway show or a major national tour in order to audition, and we’ll be looking at three of their eight CDs including The Broadway Kids “Sing Broadway,” “Back on Broadway,” and “Sing America.”  

Two works by Umberto Giordano will be featured on this week’s Sunday Opera (2/11  3:00 p.m.).  Giordano was on the forefront of the verismo (realism) movement in the world of opera, and we’ll be sampling two of those on this program.  The first is one of his best-known works, “Fedora,” a tragic story of doomed love due to actions taken too quickly and without thought.   Our recording from 1986 features as Eva Marton as Fedora, and her Loris is Jose Carreras.

Valentine’s Day is creeping up, and The Dress Circle will be all about love this week (2/11  7:00 p.m.) with songs that ask some musical questions from some rather unfamiliar shows.  We’ll begin with a few “love” songs with titles that just were just too good to resist like “Kiss Me and Kill Me with Love” from “Ankles Aweigh” and “I Love You Like a Table” from “Waitress,” but the bulk of the show will be a series of songs that ask a variety of questions about love like “Must It Be Love?” from “Bajour,” “Why Did You Make Me Love You?” from “Radio Gals,” and “Where Is Love?” 

Richard Wagner’s second opera, “Das Liebesverbot,” is the centerpiece of this week’s Sunday Opera (2/4  3:00 p.m.).   Premiering in 1836, “Das Liebesverbot” or “The Ban on Love,” is based on Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure” with a libretto by Wagner and has been called “Wagner’s lost comedy” since its premier was a disaster with the leading man forgetting his part and improvising through the performance.  This performance, recorded in 1983, features Hermann Prey, Wolfgang Fassler, and Sabine Haas.  

The Dress Circle begins the month of February (2/4  7:00 p.m.) with its monthly feature to showcase some of the shows that have opened this month.  The menu of productions spans some 72 years with the earliest being Irving Berlin’s long forgotten musical “Face the Music” from 1932.  Along the way, we’ll also be looking at a musical was based on some of the stories of Chaucer from “The Canterbury Tales” starring Hermione Baddeley.  

An American opera based on an American original is this week’s Sunday Opera (1/28  3:00 p.m.) as we take a look at Lori Laitman’s 2016 treatment of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter.”  Hawthorne’s 1850 novel is a moral allegory centering on Hester Prynne’s affair with the Reverend Dimmesdale, the birth of her illegitimate daughter, Pearl, and her strength and determination to make a life for them in the face of hatred and prejudice.  Laura Claycomb is Hester and Dominic Armstrong is Dimmesdale in this recording featuring the Opera Colorado Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Ari Pelto

Just for fun, this week’s Dress Circle (1/28  7:00 p.m.) will be celebrating “Backward’s Day” a few days early.  Every January 31st, Backwards Day gives people the chance to reverse their ways, to go back to a simpler way of life, just to have a wonderful time eating dinner for breakfast, wearing their clothes backwards, talking backwards, or even just saying goodbye when they meet someone. 

Gordon Getty is the featured composer on this week’s Sunday Opera (1/21  3:00 p.m.) in two of his works.  We’ll begin with “Plump Jack,” an adaptation by the composer of “Henry IV” Parts 1 & 2 and “Henry V” of Shakespeare featuring Lester Lynch as Falstaff as he falls from favor with Prince Hal on the death of the prince’s father.  The second opera is based on Oscar Wilde’s first published story, “The Canterville Ghost” about an American family who move into a haunted castle only to drive the poor ghost to despair.  

Join the Dress Circle for a trip to London on this week’s program (1/21  7:00 p.m.)  as we look at five musicals that have been mounted by the Royal Shakespeare Company.  Of course, we’ll include music from the world-wide sensation “Les Miserables.” 

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.  

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