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November 10, 2008

Weekend update: Handel Choir, Wash. Concert Opera

Melinda O'NealJust a quick entry to mention the vocal pleasures of the weekend, starting Saturday night with the Handel Choir of Baltimore. Melinda O'Neal has steadily and rapidly honed this formerly uneven ensemble into quite a potent chorus. The Handel and Bach program at First English Lutheran found the singers maintaining solid intonation, clarity of articulation and sensitivity to the shape of phrases. There was a telling sign early on of how much O'Neal has done for the group -- the firm, colorful way individual voices started off the contrapuntal flurry of the Alleluia in Handel's Coronation Anthem, "The King shall rejoice." That was the kind of detail that would not have been so beautifully realized in the pre-O'Neal days that I experienced. Two Bach cantatas received dynamic performances from the choristers, who were backed stylishly by a period instrument orchestra (occasional rough patches caused minimal damage). Three fine soloists did a good deal of elegant work: Jay White (countertenor), Robert Petillo (tenor) and Phillip Collister (bass). It was a thoughtfully constructed, entertaining program delivered with an informed sense of historic style.

On Sunday night at George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium, Washington Concert Opera explored one of the many Donizetti works that are largely ignored today, Maria Padilla. The experience seemed all the more worthwhile given Washington National Opera's current production of another neglected gem, Lucrezia Borgia. There are amazing things in Maria Padilla, including a soprano/mezzo duet that can stand comparison with the one in Bellini's Norma and some exceptional instrumental coloring. The story is no better or worse than hundreds of other operas -- a Spanish king secretly marries a woman who gets a little annoyed to find out late that he's about to marry a French princess. For almost all of its length, the music provides abundant interest, enough to bring the drama alive even without sets or costumes. At least it did so here, with an enthusiastic cast and the fiery conducting of Antony Walker (I wish he had slowed down once in a while, but his driving approach was hard to resist). The cast included Leah Partridge in the title role; Jennifer Rivera as Maria's sister, Ines (a standout performance); Mark S. Doss as Don Pedro; Justin Lavender as Maria's father, Don Ruiz. Chorus and orchestra got through more on enthusiasm than finesse or tonal fullness. All in all, a memorable night with an unjustly forgotten opera.


Posted by Tim Smith at 4:18 PM | | Comments (2)


I also went to Maria Padilla and aside from the tacked-on happy ending -that the music certainly did not lead to but hat was the censor's fault not Donizetti's- I thought it was a very major work.

Leah Partridge while not completely up to the challenge did a wonderful job negotiating a hard part and creating a character.

Looking very forward to my next to favorite Mercadante opera Il Giuramento next year --still waiting to hear Mercadante's Vestale live some day!!

Louis Bothwell

P.S. I love your blog.

Thanks so much for writing. You're way ahead of me, having a favorite Mercadante opera. I don't even have a favorite Mercadante aria. -- TIM

Dear Mr. Smith,

I am so glad that our efforts are yielding the kind of quality performance that we so want to give on a consistent basis. I"ve been with HCB three years and it is quite rewarding. Thank you for coming to our concerts and we hope to provide you with more enjoyable musical experiences.

Daniel Everitt,
Handel Choir of Baltrimore

Thanks for writing. It's always a pleasure to hear a musical organization make progress, and I really admire the choir's development and obvious commitment. TIM

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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