The best sign of Lyric Opera Baltimore's growth would be an expansion of the company's fully staged productions, which are down to two after an inaugural season of three. But the idea of putting a concert into the lineup as filler for the second season certainly has merit and, judging by the decent-sized, enthusiastic turnout Saturday night at the Lyric Opera House, marketability.
Celebrating bel canto repertoire, mostly by Rossini, the program featured decidedly animated vocalists who bounded into the material -- literally, in the case of baritone Daniel Belcher, making his entrance through the theater to deliver a super-caffeinated "Largo al factotum" from "Il barbiere di Siviglia."
Most of the concert was devoted to excerpts from comic opera scenes. I wouldn't have minded a wider sampling or a few more arias in the mix, for that matter. And I sure did miss the sound of an orchestra -- a couple of tinny-sounding pianos, however well played by James Harp and Edward Polochick, just didn't have the right ring and zing.
But the payoff here came from what amounted to a semi-staging, with lots of vivid acting and cavorting about, directed by Garnett Bruce. None of the singers consulted a score or stayed long in one place; all of them sounded thoroughly connected to the music and the characters they were portraying.
Mezzo Daniela Mack and tenor Alek Shrader brought admirable technique and sparkling personality to scenes from Rossini's "La Cenerentola" and (joined by Belcher) "Barbiere."
Mack's solo turn, "Pensa alla patria" from "L'italiana in Algeri," showcased the singer's burnished tone, evenly produced from top to bottom. Shrader caressed "Povero Ernesto" from "Don Pasquale" elegantly. High notes needed more weight, but this was still impressive singing by what sounded to me like a significant tenore di grazia in the making.
Soprano Coleen Daly offered the most sobering item on the bill, "O quante volte" from Bellini's "I Capuleti e i Montecchi." The aria was beautifully sculpted and, aside from tonal thinning in the upper reaches, finely sung.
Other highlights included an unabashedly over-the-top version of the "Cat Duet" attributed (spuriously, experts say) to Rossini, delivered by Belcher and baritone Steven Condy.
That vocal pair also sailed through a scene from "Cenerentola," handling rapid patter deftly even while tossing an apple around (the apple shtick was related to the curtain-raiser, the "William Tell" Overture). Both singers were major assets during the concert, easily making up for a lack of vocal heft with abundant panache.
Harp and Polochick took turns providing some of the accompaniment, and teamed up for the rest. Both pianists served the singers well throughout the intermission-less evening.