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December 13, 2010

Elizabeth Futral raises her voice in support of Lyric Opera Baltimore

It's really too early to know for sure how things will turn out for Lyric Opera Baltimore, the new company set to launch next November in the theater where the Baltimore Opera Company was a longtime tenant. Everyone connected with the venture says the fiscal and management mistakes that led to the demise of the old organization will not be repeated, that there will be sufficient money in the bank before anything goes onstage.

Meanwhile, a three-production season for 2011-2012 has been announced, complete with casting info, and, on Sunday night, Lyric Opera Baltimore offered a free concert featuring the soprano who will help inaugurate that season in "La Traviata" -- Elizabeth Futral.

The singer is well known to Baltimore Opera audiences; she starred in several productions in the company's final years. She donated her services for the recital and, at the conclusion, spoke of how "many hearts broke" across the country when Baltimore Opera folded. She encouraged the audience to support the new company. Earlier, her husband, Steven White, who will conduct that "Traviata," took the stage to urge the opening of pocketbooks to help with the "revitalization, rejuvenation and renaissance of opera in Baltimore."

Given the small turnout for this event, I wasn't sure how optimistic to get, but there was no mistaking the enthusiasm in the place. No one sounds more upbeat or determined than James Harp, artistic director of the new company, who accompanied Futral with extraordinary sensitivity and flair at the piano.

For her part, the soprano, looking supremely elegant, offered a rich program featuring opera and holiday repertoire. I was especially taken with

her impassioned, eloquent performances of arias from Massenet's "Thais" and Carlisle Floyd's "Susannah" and her disarming accounts of "Gesu Bambino" and "White Christmas."

The much-admired acoustics of the Lyric gave Futral's singing a terrific immediacy. I would have welcome some sweeter high notes along the way, but the vivid communicativeness of the singing consistently hit home.

As for Lyric Opera Baltimore's '11-'12 season: "Traviata," with Futral (Violetta), Eric Margiore (Alfredo) and Jason Stearns (Germont), sets from Lyric Opera of Chicago; "The Marriage of Figaro" with Daniel Mobbs (Figaro), Caitlyn Lynch (Countess), conducted by Joseph Rescigno, sets from Montreal Opera; "Faust with Stefania Dovhan (Marguerite) and Timothy Mix (Valentin), conducted by James Meena, sets from Opera Arizona.

Being back in the Lyric on Sunday reminded me all over again about what we all lost when Baltimore Opera folded. I realize that every time someone says they want to bring opera back to Baltimore, it can sound as grating as all that take-our-country-back nonsense heard so often during the midterm elections. Obviously, Baltimore still has opera; no one took it away. There was more than the Baltimore Opera back when that company was alive and well. It will continue to have various operatic entities if Lyric Opera Baltimore arrives and thrives.

But when there was -- for want of a better term (I know this term rankles some folks) -- a grand opera company in town, that put other efforts in perspective. They gained some of their strength and appeal from providing an alternative and a kind of complement to the larger organization. But for a couple years now, that contrast hasn't existed, so it shines a different and not always flattering light on the chamber-sized groups.

Call me old-fashioned, but I would much prefer living in a city that had a major opera company -- big budget, notable artists and scenery onstage, an appropriately scaled orchestra in the pit -- and as many smaller companies as the market will bear.

I wouldn't care if that major company were on the more intimate side of, say, the very classy Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, housed in a modest-sized venue. (I have heard very well-reasoned arguments in favor of such an approach.) But I know that in Baltimore, a place where traditions are clutched as long as possible, you can't stop a lot of people from wanting to get something back in the Lyric. And the renovations going on there offer the possibility that opera will, in fact, look even grander (again, for want of a better term), than it could ever look there before.

If a new company does take hold (and, most importantly, if it offers high quality), it will fill a void, but it won't push all the other companies away. I can imagine all of them enjoying a new burst of creativity, taking a new look at repertoire choices, artists and, for those that don't use a concert format, staging concepts.

Anyway, Sunday's event provided a fresh reason to imagine that things will get very interesting around here next season.

PHOTO BY CHRISTIAN STEINER

Posted by Tim Smith at 10:05 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes, Opera
        

Comments

I would just like to add that the name of the larger opera company in Arizona is Arizona Opera. It is so named because it performs in both Tucson and Phoenix where it presents great singers as well as fine sets.

Someone should probably tell the Baltimore folks. The info comes from their season material. TS

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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.
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