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May 21, 2012

Baltimore Concert Opera closes season with Puccini's 'Il Trittico'

Baltimore Concert Opera wrapped up its season with the three vivid one-acters that make up Puccini's "Il Trittico." I caught two of them Friday night at the Engineers Club.

The performance of "Suor Angelica" proved quite effective overall.

This melodrama is forever on the verge of corny or kitschy, but Puccini's exquisitely crafted music always keeps things from spilling over. Even so, the ending presents a hurdle.

Here, the title character of the nun with a dark past takes a lethal dose of poison after learning that the out-of-wedlock child she left behind has died. As the opera closes, Angelica sees a vision of the child beckoning to her from the other world.

In a concert version, all of that can be left to the imagination (some stage productions allow that, too), but you still need to feel Angelica's emotional roller-coaster ride of emotions as death approaches -- her fear of having committed the mortal sin of suicide; her intense relief when she senses that she will be forgiven and redeemed, after all.

Elizabeth Brooks conveyed ...

these feelings affectingly. She acted out the whole closing portion of the opera, from the searing aria "Senza mamma" on, with impressive intensity.

The soprano did not have all of the vocal resources to go with the fine acting. Her tone had a narrow color range and lost security in the upper reaches. Still, Brooks brought the character and the tragedy to life, and that counted for a lot.

Laura Zuiderveen, singing from memory and with considerable expressive force, captured the severity of Angelica's aunt, the Principessa. Also bringing sturdy vocalism and a lot of character to the performance were Melissa Kornacki (the Abbess), Madeleine Gray (La Zelatrice), Alexandra Christoforakis (La Maestra delle Novizie) and Sharin Apostolou (Suor Genovieffa). The rest of the participants did sensitive work.

Conductor Michael Borowitz kept things moving smoothly. Puccini's score is much too rich in sonic material to be reduced to a mid-sized grand, but pianist James Harp didn't let that deter him; his playing had enough nuance and warmth to provide compensation.

In "Il Tabarro," the verismo chapter of the triptych, Brooks skimmed the surface as the unfaithful wife Giorgetta, and often sounded effortful. Although David Murray was sympathetic as Michele, Giorgetta's increasingly suspicious husband, there was not enough weight and nuance in the baritone's singing.

Theodore Chletsos came closer to the mark as Luigi, the stevedore who wants to take Giorgetta away from the humdrum life on the Seine. Except for tightening in the upper reaches, the tenor impressed with a robust tone and ardent phrasing.

Gray brought vocal authority and verve to the role of Frugola. Ben Hilgert (Tinca) and Thomas McNichols (Talpa) filled out the cast ably. Nicholas Houhoulis and Natalie Conte handled the off-stage music nicely.

For the 2012-2013 season, Baltimore Concert Opera will offer performances of "Cosi fan tutte," "Macbeth," "Carmen" and "Tosca."


Posted by Tim Smith at 11:04 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes

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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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