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March 16, 2010

Guest blog review of Baltimore Opera Theatre's 'Rigoletto'

A scheduling conflict prevented me from catching the second production in Baltimore Opera Theatre's inaugural season at the Hippodrome, so I asked local opera buff Andrew Pappas -- I knew he'd bet there -- to submit a report, which is below. (Feel free to add your own reactions.)

Note that the company, on its Web site, has announced that "Madama Butterfly" will be performed next season (Oct. 23), directed by Giorgio Lalov and conducted by Markand Thakar.

Now, here's that guest blog post about "Rigoletto":   

 

Thursday, March 11, 2010, at the Hippodrome Theater in Baltimore, an ample crowd of opera fans and would-be aficionados attended a production of Giuseppe Verdi's Rigoletto presented by Giorgio Lalov and Baltimore Opera Theatre. From the first notes of the overture to the final curtain there were abundant orchestral and vocal performance highlights to assure a successful evening. Led by conductor Krassimir Topolov, the orchestra capably supported the vocal and dramatic achievements of the talented soloists and able chorus. For regional opera, the sets, costumes, and lighting were grand. The staging was remarkable. The appreciative audience rewarded the performers with boisterous applause throughout the evening. Any doubts that one might have held about the company prior to the performance were emphatically banished. This was a first-rate production.

The role of Rigoletto was performed by young Verdi baritone Nelson Martinez, who began his career in Cuba and who, at this juncture, has sung several roles in a number of venues across this country and abroad. His voice is larger than life, deeply expressive throughout the entire vocal range of the role. From poignantly and plaintively delivered pianissimos to super-grand explosions of sound with power to spare, his dramatic emotional impact was always impressive. With his immense vocal and acting talents, he convincingly portrayed the old and deformed court jester, capable of hurling derisive insults himself, but profoundly vulnerable to the terrifying curse that humbles him and portends the tragic outcome that unfolds.

The Duke of Mantua was portrayed with vocal ease and a great deal of polish and swagger by Ukrainian tenor Igor Borko. With numerous credits in this country and abroad, Borko brought a wealth of experience and exceptional timbre and stamina to his impressive performance. Most notable were the Act I aria about a life of pleasure with as many women as possible (Questa o quella - "This woman or that") and the more famous Act III aria about the wonderful inconstancy of women (La donna e mobile - "Woman is fickle").

Gilda as sung by Puerto Rican soprano Magda Nieves was performed exactly as you would want. She was the epitome of youth and innocence. She was tender, pure, and articulate in vocal delivery and dramatic portrayal. I found her exceptionally demure and pleasing in her Act I aria in which she adoringly repeats the name of her newly found love, Gaultier Malde (Caro nome - "Dearest name").

Of the many others in the cast, William Powers, an American, as the assassin Sparafucile and Viara Zhelezova, from Bulgaria, who sang both Maddalena and Countess Ceprano, were standouts.

Conductor Krassimir Topolov and the excellent orchestra and chorus were from Bulgaria, with a few local additional instrumentalists in the orchestra. The supernumerary roles were admirably served by students of the Hereford Theatre based at Hereford High School in Parkton, Maryland.

Lest you think I forgot, I must mention how well performed was the famous and abundantly loved quartet in the final act. The four singers gave a spacious and well tendered account, each voice given its perfect due. This was opera at its best!

-- Andrew Pappas

Posted by Tim Smith at 5:39 PM | | Comments (19)
        

Comments

Tim, I only wished you had been there to review Baltimore Opera Theatre's Rigoletto with a more critical eye. I honestly have a hard time believing any review that is this overly glowing - even when it's of my own work. Even the best of productions I have performed with or seen have had their flaws. [Sometimes, as Midgette recently noted - these flaws can be celebrated in their own right - and have their own value in the arts world.]

While, I appreciate Mr. Pappas' passion and devotion to the opera, I can't say I share his monochromatic view of this company's operatic efforts. I only wish you could have been two places at once and have given your readers the seasoned perspective on Baltimore's music scene they value. BP

Tim,
First let me say I was not at this performance. But, as an opera singer who frequently performs and attends opera all over the place I can’t believe anything in this review. Was it written by “Squealer” Napoleon's right hand pig and minister of propaganda from “Animal farm”? As I said I was not at the concert but I have never read such a glowing review of anything let alone an opera with so many contributing factors in a theater with horrible acoustics (unless using amplification). I base the acoustics comment on the several shows I have seen their including the last tour of Phantom of the Opera, Cats & Teatro Lirico D'Europa’s Don Giovanni several years ago. While I know several of the people in the cast and friends who saw the performance said it was generally good no one echoed the overtly if not gratuitously positive review. Who knows maybe I have just become so cynical that I refuse to believe a live performance could ever be THAT flawless.

Just my thoughts,
Peace

If any of the folks you know who attended would care to weigh in, their input would be very welcome. I confess to a tinge of cynicism myself when I read Andrew's report. But I know well what it's like to be on the receiving end of cyncial reactions whenever I rave about something, such as Eschenbach's conducting of the NSO last weekend. And although I, naturally, believe me opinions are practically sacred, I truly like to hear other views.TIM

I was at the performance with 4 other highly educated opera friends and I can tell you, in no uncertain terms that the performance was a great success with major talent. There was an immediate and long standing ovation after the curtain went down and the soloists got HUGE ovations! The arias and duets and quartet were applauded with gusto. Just who was it that you say you KNEW IN THE CAST? State their names, please! There were only two local singers in the cast they have both lauded this performance highly! I know them too! Or should I say that I really know them. Get over your jealousy, This company is here o stay because the AUDIENCE has spoken!!!!!

1st: I didn't say anything bad about the performance; I said I find the review hard to believe. As stated already I was not at the performance.

2nd. I happen to be good friends with both local artists and they too had nothing but positive things to say. My comment was directed at the review.

3rd. I frankly do not understand the comment from “SCHWARTZ” about jealousy. I have worked with G. Lalov in the past and hope to do so in the future he is a good man and as far as I have experienced so is his company.

In second thought I guess I am a bit jealous of those who did see it, because it sounds like I really missed out due to a rehearsal of my own.
Peace

I made everything possible to attend this performance with several of my friends. Actually, my mom came from Arlington, Virginia with her friend to be able to see the performance as well. We all were very impressed by the high class opera which I haven’t seen for years. Rigoletto presented by Baltimore Opera Theatre was the best performance of this opera my friends and I have ever seen. The vocal performances were brilliant, the acting was great, the costumes were amazing (finally some real opera costumes with wonderful design, fabrics and colors), and the decors were piece of real art themselves. The orchestra couldn’t be better. I fully support the review written by Mr. Andrew Pappas. I would like to thank him for expressing so well what my friends and I experienced during the performance on Thursday night. Afterwards, we discussed the opera with other people who were greeting the musicians outside of the Hippodrome Theater and everybody was asking when the next performance of Baltimore Opera Theatre will be. We talked to people we didn’t know and everybody was so impressed by the high quality of this performance. We almost started a fan club and we couldn’t leave for an hour after the performance. Baltimore Opera Theatre’s Rigoletto was one of the best performances I have ever seen! I am looking forward to their next season and their future performances!

I attended Rigoletto on March 11, and let me tell you the crowd was very happy! Judging by the grand applause at the end I can say a good time was had by all. The gentleman who portrayed Rigoletto was amazing! I loved his voice. I also thought that Gilda was great she sang well and looked fabulous. ! The people in the seats around me had all positive comments about the performance. This was and exceptional night out in Baltimore!

It is a shame that a review – and the reaction to the review – has taken the attention off of a wonderful performance last week. I do agree that the role of a critic is to critique; the best reviews do not simply point out what was good about a performance, but mentions the good, the bad, and the ugly. The performance last week was a human endeavor and, being human, it was not perfect. Further, the review did focus solely on the many positives of the performance, and could have been more balanced. That being said, I can understand why Mr. Pappas was so glowing about the performance. As a former Baltimore Opera season ticket holder, I was ecstatic to have a fully staged, fully orchestrated opera back on the stage here in Baltimore. It was a very good performance, and I look forward to many more productions by this company. Additionally, I think the review failed to mention one of the strongest aspects of the opera: two lovely young local singers, who easily held their own with a more seasoned cast (dare I say, outsung some of others in the cast), and showed that the opera scene here in Baltimore is alive and well. I look forward to hearing both of these ladies in future performances. Alas, it was not the Met – and might not have deserved a Met-type review – but it was still very good, and deserves its rightful praise.

As someone who has followed your reviews for many years, in fact, as long as you've been in Baltimore...I have always felt that you have a pretty discerning ear, especially when it comes to opera. There have been only a few occasions in your tenure that I have been in disagreement...for the most part, I believe we share similar tastes.

I can only imagine that the reason that you allowed someone who is an obvious fan of this organization to review it on your blog is because you were brow-beaten into doing so by an angry fan who was upset that you dared choose another event over this one, but frankly, his review sounds more like a mother's review of a child's first piano recital, than a realistic critique of a performance. Now, I was at the Hippodrome on that fateful night in question, and thought I would take a stab at a review, in the style (though not nearly as well worded) of Tim Smith.

A sparse crowd filled the Hippodrome on Thursday night, ardently hoping to see grand opera on the level to which they have become accustomed, in a town with such a rich operatic history as Baltimore. From the akward speech by the general director's charming young son before the performance (I do have to give kudos to the attempt at putting a younger face on the opera, and this child who was obviously put up to this, did an admirable job) to the final curtain, which I am amazed I actually allowed myself to see, this performance sadly did not live up to expectations.

Although there were some bright spots, this screamed "provincial" from the get-go. The singing for the most part was sub-par at best, with the possible exception of Nelson Martinez in the title role, who shows a great deal of promise, and who in the hands of a talented director, could offer a rather compelling Rigoletto. His voice is one of great size and beauty, but his dramatic choices were suspect, and one had the sense that he was either 1) regretfully doing what he was told, or 2) not yet as seasoned on stage as his formidable voice would lead you to believe. As Gilda, Magda Nieves offered a great deal of vocal heft and did an admirable job, given the cards that were stacked against her. Her opening costume and awful makeup made her look far more like a Valkyrie than a Gilda, and when her unfortunate staging required her to "hop" up onto a table as the dying Gilda, in order to help colleagues who were not able to lift her, sparked more than one chuckle from the audience.

Sadly, those are the positives. Mr. Borko's nasal tone, unfortunate costume and wig, and total lack of understanding (seemingly) of italian vocal tradition made him seem more of a spoof than a Duke. Mr. Powers, who made his City Opera debut in the 70's according to his bio, must have left much of his good singing in that decade. Although he brought a little more understanding of stagecraft to the stage than his colleagues, his voice lacked the authority that Sparafucile needs and deserves. As Countess Ceprano and Maddalena,Viara Zhelezova can't have been the best option available. She lacked the vocal authority and dramatic chops to pull off either. Her Maddalena was especially uncomfortable. The insertion into the cast of two fine local singers was nothing more than a publicity stunt, as now Mr. Lalov can claim that he employs local musicians, I'd have preferred to hear much more of them as opposed to the Teatro Lirico crowd.

Opera is the apex of all art forms, and I am afraid that one person cannot be an expert in all the art forms that come together to make opera. One would wish that Mr. Lalov's name was listed less in the program...General Director, Director, Costume Designer, Lighting designer, jack of all trades, master of none.

Not one of the costumes seemed to fit properly, nor were they stylistically appropriate. The men in the chorus and comprimario roles (who could have used a coaching or two more on their music...mistakes abounded) walked about the stage with the carriage and deportment of someone you would expect to meet on Eutaw Street after the performance. All of the men were wearing what seemed to be shiny lycra biking pants, rather than tights...which added to the inability to put yourself into the moment. The set, seemed as though it had been staple-gunned together that day, and needless to say did not inspire the desired effect (although I will say that Act I scene ii was a little less offensive).

All in all, this seemed to be thown together, out of the truck, wigs scotch-taped to head, back on the bus to the next town of unsuspecting bumpkins- opera. Not grand opera, in any sense of the word. I wanted to like it...truly I did. I have seen many amateur performances that out-shined this performance, hands down. I have never seen a performance at the Peabody Opera that didn't outshine this Rigoletto. I felt swindled out of the cost of my ticket. I appreciate Mr. Pappas' enthusiasm. One would wish that the Baltimore Opera had people who were willing to be so vocal about its product. The bottom line, opera costs money to do right...I don't know that I can put my money on Mr. Lalov.

Thanks awfully for sharing your views. I just want to set one thing straight. No one brow-beat moi. Oddly enough, I didn't hear from a single person about that performance or the absense of a review. I was just curious about what happened. I knew Andrew maintained a local opera fan email list and I asked if he knew of anyone who would like to submit a report. He decided to write his own, and I'm an equal opportunity guest-blog-post-giver. I really did want to go, especially after I learned that the company didn't want me there, but I had a play, a concert review and an opera review (Annapolis) to work into the weekend, in addition to the BSO, so I finally decided not to bother crashing 'Rigoletto' and go with a slightly saner schedule. I must say your review makes me wish all the more that I had attended. In fact, you made it rather easy for me to think I had been. TIM

I was a member of the audience for Baltimore Opera Theater's production of Rigoletto and was amazed at the performance. Rigoletto had an amazing voice and was very well received by the audiance. And to think that they were not even using microphones. If the acoustics in the theater are bad, you could tell on this night. I think Baltimore Opera Theater is doing a wonderful job of bring quality arts to a city that is art deprived.

You may not want to put your $ on Mr. Lalov Frank, but I have, and so have a number of other people. You can write all the hateful things you want...THERE WAS AN IMMEDIATE AND LONG STANDING OVATION and the talk was extremely positive at the intermission and as people exited. The company has a wonderful Young Ambassadors of Opera program and it was totally appropriate to have the young man announce. Get over yourself. You don't run opera in this town. The people who buy tickets do!

Schwartz, not meant to be hateful by any means. Just thought it reasonable to share the other end of the spectrum from the review that was posted. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, and since Mr. Pappas was given this forum to share his, I thought I'd share mine. Hopefully, Shwartz, the company can take it as constructive criticism and grow from the experience. There were some positives in the performance that should be commended, there were many negatives that were happily glossed over by Mr. Pappas. I never claimed to run opera in this town (don't know why I would ever make that claim), but I guess by your logic, I do...as I had been a season ticket holder to the BOC for many years, and an avid supporter of many other venues in town. Thanks for the promotion from fan to impresario, my grandchildren will be thrilled with the news. Truth is, I will probably buy another ticket for a future performance by BOT, as it did indeed have its high points, and some opera is better than none. Sorry if my comments offended you, I was just responding to the request to hear from other people who had been there. Also, I am glad to hear that your love for this product has caused you to support Mr. Lalov financially...it shows that this city has not completely turned its back on opera after the Baltimore Opera closed. I do wish all the best BOT, just can't quite see to donating any money after the performance I saw. Perhaps their next season will change my mind. Again, sorry for any offense...none meant. Just too much time on my hands, I guess.

Mr. Esposito,
You have made slanderous accusations on this blog. You stated that Mr. Smith must have been brow beaten into showcasing Mr. Pappas review, that young Lalov was PUT UP to speaking, and that it was a publicity stunt that local artists were engaged. I hope that you are hauled into court and have to face a judge to answer for these evil and low minded accusations. I happen to know with certainty that Christian Lalov is never able to be put up to anything! He wanted to speak because he loves to do so. He is willingly representing the Young Ambassadors of Opera program of the company. No one asked Mr. Pappas to write a review for the company. The BOT staff was shocked to see the review. Furthermore, the BOT staff do not want anything further to do with the BALTIMORE SUN or Mr. Smith and they have made this known to the SUN editor. They are not doing opera here to be exploited by diabolical ego slike yours or Mr. Smiths...They are doing the operas for the public, and it is the ticket buyers who will have the final say! There was no publicity stunt involved in the hiring of local soloists and musicians. A hall was rented in June and auditions were held.
A pianist was paid to play. Money was spent to hold the auditions. The local musicians and singers were paid REAL money and they were paid ON TIME with NO DELAYS and no excuses.
You are VERY offensive indeed. You stink to high heaven of corruption! No one has asked you or anyone for a donation. Mr. Lalov does not need your support. I am supporting Mr. Lalov because he is sincere and honest and one of the only people I have ever met that is doing something for the art of opera that has nothing to do with any personal gain for himself. Go back into the dark hole you crawled out of!!!!!!!

Whoa... I step out of here for a day, and the pies, man, they start a-flyin', backzees and forthzees...

Plenty of drama -- yup, must be opera!!!

(Going back to my underground lake now.)

Doug, at least people are talking about opera! This is a good thing, right?

This is not the only program i have seen from Mr Lalov and I can say, with confidence, that they are all quality. And I, like SCHWARTZ, heard very nice things at the intermission and at the end of the program. The ovation was long and heartfelt. And despite the typo in my previous comment, the acoustics were wonderful. There was NO NEED for the performers to wear a MIC!!!!! Keep up the good work Baltimore Opera Theater.

Brendan,

I did not think that people would be arguing over opera in blog comments once the BOC closed. It seems that there are at least a few passionate people and some competition growing out of the rubble. If more people get involved, there might be an opera Renaissance in Baltimore.

Jenny, may the SCHWARTZ be with you.

Brendan: Absolutely, a good thing! (Just watch out for those flying pies, or catapulted produce. ;^)

I wouldn't hold out hope for a "renaissance" of any sort just yet on the "professional level," because while enthusiasm will always be fairly high (especially among true devotees), the economic situation is just too darn ugly right now for anything long-lasting to take root. Instead, IMHumO, the time is ripe to support local amateur and semi-professional opera productions with a heightened sense of purpose -- and we should focus on supplementing those experiences by extending _many_ invitations to opera companies far and wide to make visiting performances, whether staged or in concert format (I mean, the Lyric may be creaky and outdated, but the acoustics are excellent).

Somewhere in the mix, perhaps, some folks will pull together a plan (and, more importantly, the personnel and resources) to re-establish an opera company here. Sooner may _not_ be better in this case, because I want the next incarnation of a "Baltimore Opera Company" to be rock-solid and incapable of vaporizing in mid-season...

It is a good thing that people are talking about opera!

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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 baltimoresun.com/artsmash. 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.
View the Artsmash blog
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