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April 19, 2010

Chesapeake Concert Opera offers intimate, youthful 'La Boheme'

In between trying to have a little bit of personal life (hey, that's not too much to ask, is it?), I caught two operas and a play over the weekend, starting Friday night with Chesapeake Concert Opera's "La Boheme" at Brown Memorial Park Avenue Church in Bolton Hill. More on the other two events anon.

Like Baltimore Concert Opera (formed last year), the Chesapeake organization (launched this season) presents works sans sets, costumes and orchestra -- but avec plenty of spirit. In the case of both ensembles, you can't miss the sense of singers just wanting to sing, to jump into an opera and take the audience along with them.

That certainly was the case Friday, as Chesapeake Concert Opera's young cast -- easily fitting the youthfulness of Puccini's characters -- offered a lot of vivid acting and stage business (there was clever use of a balcony area in some key spots). A few of the singers kept an eye on a music stand -- nothing wrong with that in a concert version, of course -- but everyone sounded quite at home.

There were three drawbacks to the presentation. Terrible acoustics; the performers sounded like they were singing in a tunnel. (The company is usually based at another Bolton Hill church.)

No chorus, so a chunk of Act 2 and a little of Act 3 went unheard. That didn't matter so much in the end; the drama, after all, is centered so squarely on the individual characters that this merely added to the intimacy of the evening. (And don't tell anybody, but I rather liked not having to hear all those damn kids squealing about Parpignol for a change.)

More problematic was

company general director Beth Stewart's idea of interrupting Act 1, just before Mimi's entrance, to provide some more narration (the program calls this "our signature cheeky narration"). Artistically speaking, that was a terrible idea, one that, happily, Stewart did not repeat -- she got all of her narrating out of the way in one swoop before each remaining act. (Given that the plot was also printed in the program, I'm not entirely sure that any narration was really needed, but I understand the point of trying to connect more personally with any uninitiated folks in the house.) 

That said, I was impressed with the general quality and commitment of the singing. Christine Kavanagh was an effective Mimi, her voice sure of pitch, rich of tone and sensitive of phrase. William Davenport, who sang the role of Rodolfo has the makings of a significant tenor. There's an immediately expressive and appealing quality in the timbre, one with quite an Italianate tint (in a couple places, he produced a sound reminiscent of a young Pavarotti). He needs to get the top of the voice under better control and develop more distinctive phrasing, but he sure has a lot going for him already.

Kevin Wetzel's sturdy, warm-voiced Marcello added another asset; this was an admirably finished performance. Aside from some stridency when pushed, Chloe Olivia Moore did a nice job as Musetta. Andrew Adelsberger, as Colline, could have used more tonal weight and a little more nuance for his aria, but he brought personality to the proceedings. Douglas Peters made an amiable Schaunard and sang with a good deal of character. Jason Buckwalter was his usual dynamic self as Benoit and Alcindoro.

Grant Gilman conducted fluently. Clinton Adams was very much a star of the evening for his colorful, sensitive work at the piano.

Chesapeake Concert Opera continues its season with "Barber of Seville" in May, "Abduction from the Seraglio" in June.


Posted by Tim Smith at 6:35 AM | | Comments (3)


No, Tim, you cannot have a personal life -- you must review, review, and review some MORE!!!

(How else could we live these events so vicariously? ;^)

As for the "cheeky narration": yeah, bad idea. Of course, for the uninitiated, I'd worry more about translating the Italian for them (in the booklet?) first and foremost. (Heck, I still tend to read libretti when I'm not just listening to the music.)

I have attended all four CCO performances and have been impressed by the
phenomenal quality of the voices of the young, talented opera singers.
I am a huge fan of CCO and support their concept of providing opportunities to
young, talented opera singers to perform some of the great operas. I agree with
Tim's comments about the intimacy of the performances and it is a bonus to
be so close to see firsthand the expressions of the singers. If you haven't had the
pleasure and benefit of attending one of CCO's performances I encourage you
to join the group to hear the next performance of Rossini's comic
opera "The Barber of Seville" on May 21 and 22.
Marjorie Forster

Yes,the Park Ave Church has tricky sound but the Bolton St Church has perfect acoustics so I look forward to the other operas. Beth Stewart was excellent as narrator and greatly appreciated by my husband and daughter who had never seen or heard La Boheme and didn't know the plot. In addition to good voice I say Bravo to Marcello for great acting! Musetta too! Yes, Rodolfo's voice also reminded me of Pavorotti.

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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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