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February 18, 2009

New Baltimore company to perform opera in concert

Like a lot of other people in this town, Brendan Cooke was affected personally by Baltimore Opera's decision to file for bankruptcy in December. He had sung with the company for nearly a decade, in more than 20 supporting roles and as a member of the chorus in the bass section, and he was counting on more work this spring. Cooke isn't giving up on opera, however. He's now running his own company: Baltimore Concert Opera.

"Some friends were talking about how we were going to have some free time this spring," he says, "and the idea of forming our own opera company started almost as a joke." But the idea quickly led in a serious direction, resulting in a project that will offer Mozart's Don Giovanni on March 25 in the elegant ballroom of the Engineer's Club (Garrett-Jacobs Mansion), which seats about 250. There will be no staging, just singers with music stands, and not too many of the recitatives ("it would be dreadfully boring without any acting," Cooke says). And no orchestra; to keep things financially manageable, there will be only piano accompaniment.

"Our feeling is that it is better to hear opera with no costumes, orchestra or acting than not to hear it at all," says Cooke, who will not be performing in this inaugural performance. The cast includes local and imported singers, conducted by Anthony Barrese. "Our goal is to break even, and we're well on the way to doing that," Cooke says. Not bad, considering that the company hasn't even issued a formal press release yet (members of the Engineer's Club received notices about the event yesterday). If all goes well, another opera-in-concert will be presented this spring. Beyond that, Cooke envisions a four-opera season, maybe two performances each. That will all depend on money, of course.

"It's been a neat ride so far," Cooke says. "And a neat project at a time when some of us are feeling beaten down." He is quick to point out that Baltimore Concert Opera was not formed by disgruntled folks attempting to "thumb our noses at Baltimore Opera. That couldn't be further from the truth. This is a way of providing something for people to do while Baltimore Opera is restructuring," he says.

Staged operas in Baltimore, on a smaller scale than the public enjoyed at the Lyric, remain available, thanks to Opera Vivente and Peabody Opera Theatre. 

Posted by Tim Smith at 11:01 AM | | Comments (2)


Congrats, Brendan! I had heard about this as a possibility a couple of weeks ago, and am happy to hear that it is a reality.

This is great news… opera in concert is such a wonderful experience. Hopefully the new company will grow and be to Baltimore what Washington Concert Opera is to DC and Eve Queler’s group is to New York.
Can’t wait to go… good luck on the new venture!

Thanks for posting your enthusiastic comments.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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