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May 23, 2010

Suggestions for your Sunday reading and concert-going

First, for my cyber-only readers who may have missed it in the Sunday paper, I should point out my interview with soprano Kathleen Battle, who is heading to the area this week for concerts with the Baltimore Symphony and Morgan State Choir. Battle's long career has sure been fascinating. Hers is one of the most intrinsically and exquisitely beautiful voices of our age, surely one of the most beautiful of any age. For a while, though, she seemed to be bent on a baffling path of self-destruction. I hope that's all far, far behind her. Her performances here, devoted to spirituals, promise to be memorable.

Now, for those of you looking for live vocal music today, consider rushing out for Baltimore Concert Opera's "A Flight of Verdi" (3 p.m. at the Engineers Club). It's something of a luxury to have Steven White conducting, and he brings his customary sensitivity to this program of three acts from Verdi operas. White has been a strong supporter of this organization from the start, and will likely be involved in the future, especially if money can be found to move up from piano-only accompaniment to orchestra. For this occasion, Jim Harp is at the keyboard, so that's practically a full orchestra right there.

I was especially impressed during Friday's performance by the presentation of Act 4 from "Otello." The music seemed a little more personal, in a way, heard in such an intimate setting. Thomas Booth filled out the title role with considerable vocal presence, with firmness of tehcnique to match intensity of phrasing. Lesley Ann Friend sounded a bit tentative at times, but nonetheless shaped Desdemona's lines effectively. Sarah Lambert provided vivid support as Emilia. I missed part of the first scene from Act 2 of "La Traviata," but heard enough to be persuaded of baritone Jonathan Carle's significant contribution in the role of Germont. He's got style, above all, always looking for ways to vary the tone color and find nuances in the text. It was nice to hear him sing not just "Di Provenza," but the usually omitted cabaletta. Karen Myers, as Violetta, could have used more vocal weight and expressive insight.

Act 3 from "Rigoletto" gave Carle another chance to shine in a title role; his singing had a good deal of warmth and insight. I wish Rolando Sanz, as the Duke, had

done something more distinctive with "La donna e mobile." He plowed through the two verses at the same loud volume and fast tempo, a common enough shortcoming with many a tenor -- and conductor -- in opera houses today. How easy it would have been in a situation like this to add some individual and subtle flourishes. Still, Sanz' bright sound and vibrant phrasing did have appeal, especially in the Quartet. Myers, as Gilda, got the job done. Lambert was again in fine form as Maddalena. Matthew Curran revealed a sturdy bass in the role of Sparafucile.

If you're looking for instrumental music today, there's an interesting choice tonight. Members of the Baltimore Symphony will be the focus of two concerts that will take place at the same time (7:30 p.m.). The season-finale of the free Chamber Music by Candlelight series at Second Pres offers a violin sonata by Beethoven, a strong quartet by Bartok and a quintet for winds and strings by Prokofiev. Over at An die Musuk, cellist Dariusz Skoraczewski will perform selections from his new CD of solo pieces by Hindemith, Saariaho, Ligeti and more (the An die Musik Web site wasn't working when I tried it, so here's the phone number: 410-385-2638).


Posted by Tim Smith at 12:47 PM | | Comments (1)


Not only is Mr. White a fine conductor, but his comments before the performance were outstanding. He certainly didn't talk down to his audience, but instead revealed some of the subtleties of Verdi's works. The intimate setting of the Engineer's Club, the piano score, and real voices combined to make me appreciate these familiar operas in a new way. The Baltimore Concert Opera has found a great venue and an economical, yet engaging method of preserving live opera in Baltimore.

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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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