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March 12, 2012

Lyric Opera Baltimore continues inaugural season with buoyant 'Figaro'

The tally for Lyric Opera Baltimore's inaugural season is two for two. There have been shortcomings in each, to be sure, but the net result has been positive. 

With a lively, solidly-cast production of Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro" over the weekend, the organization helped to solidify its claim as the successor to the late, lamented Baltimore Opera Company. Actually, in this case, it seemed more a resurrection than replacement.

This was the same physical production the former company presented on the pre-renovated Lyric stage in 2005 -- a formation of a few tall movable set pieces, decorated with crucial documents of the 18th century, designed by Allen Charles Klein.And the same director, Bernard Uzan, was on hand to guide the cast.

I'm all for a little deja vu now and then, but it would have been nice to see something new and more interesting.

That said, the musical side of things represented a significant step up (I caught Sunday afternoon's performance). To begin with, the conductor this time, Joseph Rescigno, balanced momentum with graceful contour. Unlike in '05, the score was allowed to breathe, yet never felt draggy.

There may not have a starry assemblage of singers onstage, but there wasn't a weak link. Everyone demonstrated an appreciation for the subtleties of the music and the text, as well as a flair for creating vibrant characters.

The performers achieved a true ensemble effort, put through their paces by Uzan in unfussy, neatly timed fashion. Comic bits generally hit the spot (Figaro's extra use for a yard stick in the measuring scene, for example), and the opera's more serious side was sensitively served.

In the title role, ...

Daniel Mobbs proved a very genial fellow. He offered a voice that, except when pushed hard in his last act aria, was evenly produced throughout the registers and capable of considerable tonal warmth. The bass-baritone also demonstrated an ability to shape and inflect the music most tellingly.

Janina Burnett, as Susanna, sounded a bit unfocused at first, but quickly added nuance and flair to her vocalism. Her account of "Deh vieni, non tardar" proved especially winning.

Caitlyn Lynch gave an exceptionally classy performance in the role of the Countess. From the first limpid notes of "Porgi amor," the soprano commanded attention. She phrased that aria with remarkable beauty of tone and seamless legato, casting quite a spell as she uncovered the essence of the music -- of the whole opera, for that matter, since it is the Countess who provides the work's heart and soul.

Lynch did much the same later in "Dove sono," which likewise seemed to spread a glow through the house.

Marian Pop, as the Count, could have used more volume at times, but the baritone's vocal suavity served him well. Kirsten Gunlogson handled the musical and theatrical demands of Cherubino deftly.

There was nicely characterized work from Madeleine Gray (Marcellina), Julius Ahn (Don Basilio and Don Curzio) and Michael Ventura (Antonio). Stephen Morscheck, as Dr. Bartolo, got a good deal of color from his soft-grained bass-baritone in the vendetta aria.

The production also introduced Melissa Wimbish, Lyric Opera's Peabody Young Artists of the Year (the company plans to showcase a singer from the conservatory each season). As Barbarina, the soprano revealed a bright voice and a knack for animating phrases.

The chorus handled its brief scenes in dynamic fashion.

As was the case with the season-opening "La Traviata," it was a luxury to have the Baltimore Symphony in the pit. The orchestra made a key contribution to the success of the venture with playing notable for its fluency and sparkle. I wish the harpsichordist for the recitatives had demonstrated a similar kind of elan.


Posted by Tim Smith at 10:56 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes, Opera


I thought that the Susana and Figaro were excellent and the Countess above average and the rest of the cast solid … the production itself was functional without being particularly engaging… social order starting to change you and get a whiff of the coming change is in the libretto but the large revolutionary texts, the guillotine etc. were as subtle as a sledge hammer and distracted from what is a very human comedy of manners with very subtle layers of meaning.

So far the new Lyric Opera Baltimore is a really provincial affair… the conducting had the magic of making the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra like a run of the mill pit orchestra rather than the fine world class ensemble it is… Unless the Faust is a knock-out, I will not be renewing.

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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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