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May 11, 2010

Concert operas here, there, everywhere

Even in some cities where operas get staged all the time there are organizations devoted to presenting operas in concert form. Any why not? As I've pointed out before, there can be some very cool advantages to the non-staged versions, especially the opportunity to zero in more intently on the music (vocal and instrumental).

And, lately, it seems that concert presentations are likely to include so much semi-staging that the experience can be amazingly close to the full-fledged variety. When, for example, Washington National Opera offered a concert version of "Gotterdammerung" last fall, it hardly lost a thing in terms of dramatic impact. Singers did so much acting that it was easy to forget they weren't in costume.

Here in our fair city, two organizations, Baltimore Concert Opera and Chesapeake Concert Opera, have been providing much more than singers standing in front of music stands. There's a lot of physical action, a significant attempt to convey a sense of the theatricality of opera. I imagine that's one reason audiences have responded so enthusiastically to both groups, even though both have only piano accompaniment, rather than orchestra.

Reminder: Baltimore Concert Opera's next program, May 21 and 23 at the Engineers Club, offers "A Flight of Verdi" -- the first scene of Act 2 from "La Traviata," containing the great Violetta-Germont duet; the last act of "Rigoletto," which includes the famed quartet and "La donna e mobile"; and the last act of "Otello," which features some of Verdi's most affecting, heart-stirring music. Note that Steven White, a conductor who did great work for the late, lamented Baltimore Opera Company and who recently made his Metropolitan Opera debut, will lead the performance. That same weekend, Chesapeake Concert Opera presents a semi-staging of Rossini's "The Barber of Seville," one of the most popular operas ever written. Performances are May 21 and 22 at Memorial Episcopal Church.

Last Sunday, Washington Concert Opera wrapped up its season at Lisner Auditorium with

an incandescent performance of Rossini's "Cenerentola" that served as a model for how to make the concert format terrifically entertaining and thoroughly satisfying. Significantly, a stage director, Kristine McIntyre, was engaged for the occasion, and she crafted nearly as much activity as you would likely find in a fully staged, costumed production. Even conductor Antony Walker got in the act. And the chorus, although confined to bleachers behind the orchestra, still managed to contribute a lot of cute shtick. I don't remember seeing a regular opera house production of this work that was more fun than this.

An excellent cast was on hand, headed by Vivica Genaux in the title role. She used her ripe, warm, evenly produced mezzo to compelling effect. Kenneth Tarver brought a light, uncommonly sweet tenor and often exquisite phrasing to the role of the Prince. Eduardo Chama nearly stole the show as Don Magnifico, as much for the technical panache of his singing as for the deliciously colorful characterization; he's the real deal, buffo-wise. Daniele Lorio (Clorinda) and, especially, Magdalena Wor (Tisbe) provided abundant vocal power to go with their comic spark.

As Dandini, Daniel Mobbs turned out to be another stylish scene-stealer, with his supple, deftly nuanced singing and vibrant acting. Eugene Galvin did fine work as Alidoro. The choristers proved admirable; aside from a momentary derailing in the woodwinds, so did the orchestra. Walker's propulsive tempos ensured a lively evening; his attention to the finer details of Rossini's score ensured an enlightening one.


Posted by Tim Smith at 1:48 PM | | Comments (1)


Thanks for keeping us informed to all the exciting musical events going on around town!

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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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