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March 26, 2012

Baltmore Concert Opera serves up 'Lucia' complete with armonica

Nothing like a perennial favorite and a bit of novelty to pack 'em in. So it was for Baltimore Concert Opera, which gave two SRO performances of "Lucia di Lammermoor" over the weekend, complete with the armonica Donizetti originally intended for the mad scene.

On Sunday afternoon in the elegant ballroom at the Engineers Club, many of the singers sounded like they were working their way into the roles, rather than having lived in them. Recitative passages suffered especially from a bland delivery that glossed over the vividness of the Italian language.

That said, the performance caught fire as it went along, and, even pared down to orchestra-less concert size, the brilliance of "Lucia" could be appreciated. 

In the title role, Sharon Cheng sounded ...

wan much of the time. Her pleasant, if monotonic, soprano floated through phrases, instead of animating them, and her diction was mushy. Her embellishments were on the conservative side and not always comfortably executed. Still, she proved eloquent in the Lucia/Enrico duet in Act 2, and she did produce enough sparks to capture the dramatic power of the mad scene.

That mad scene featured the remarkable Dennis James on the armonica, an invention of Benjamin Franklin's that could not be more fitting for depiction of Lucia's unraveling mental state. Coordination between singer and armonica was not entirely smooth, but the interplay provided considerable aural fascination.

William Davenport brought a wonderfully ringing tone and great ardor to the role of Edgardo. I hope the tenor can develop softer dynamics, which would have added much to his otherwise exceptional work here. I thought Davenport sounded like a tenor with a future the first time I heard him; I still do.

Nicholas Pallesen proved impressive as Enrico, with a dark, sizable voice and consistently potent phrasing. Matthew Curran, as Raimondo, summoned a rich, smooth sound and shaped the music with stylish power.

Conductor Ronald Gretz took sensible tempos and allowed for some effective rubato. The Sextet was too rigidly paced for my taste, though; the melodic peaks could have used more breadth. Jim Harp provided solid support at the piano.


Posted by Tim Smith at 11:12 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes, Opera


Are you sure that you saw the same BCO performance that Megan Ihnen and I watched? The performance -- at least Sunday's -- was generally wonderful. I am so sorry that you missed it! But if, somehow, you were in attendance physically, then I am even more sorry for you, because you keep trying to destroy that which provides you with employment. I guess it must be difficult for you to not have Opera Vivente to kick around any more.

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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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