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Baltimore Concert Opera announces first full season at Engineers Club

When the Baltimore Opera Company started its lamentable descent into oblivion last season, an intrepid band of local singers with longtime BOC connections launched an enterprise aimed at providing a fresh, intimate outlet for the art form -- no sets or costumes, only piano accompaniment. Initially, Baltimore Concert Opera was viewed as just a stopgap until Baltimore Opera could climb out of bankruptcy, but no such resurrection proved possible. So the new venture, with Brendan Cooke as general director and the Engineers Club (Garrett-Jacobs Mansion) as home base, started putting down roots for the long term.

Following up on its two presentations, which drew enthusiastic audiences last spring, Baltimore Concert Opera will offer a full season of three operas and a "flight" of Verdi (complete acts from three different works). The number of performances is expanding as well -- two each, instead of just one.

The season opens with Gounod's "Faust" Sept. 11 and 13. Steven Sanders will sing the title role, with Julia Turner Cooke as Marguerite, David Cushing as Mephistopheles; Jonathan Carle as Valentin. James Harp will be at the piano. Julien Benichou will conduct. Up next is ...

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Donizetti's "Don Pasquale," slated for Nov. 18 and 21, with Adam Fry in the title role, Leah Inger-Murphy as Norina and Tim Augustin as Ernesto.

The venerable double bill of Mascagni's "Cavalleria Rusticana" and Leoncavallo's "Pagliacci" will be tackled on March 19 and 21. The "Cav" cast includes Suzanne Balaes-Blair as Santuzza, Kevin Courtemanche as Turridu and Jimi James as Alfio; Courtemanche will be back as Canio in "Pag," with James as Tonio and Sara Stewart as Nedda.

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Details on programming and casting for the "Flight of Verdi," May 21 and 23, will be announced later.

The 2009-2010 season will not lack for operatic activity here. The debut of Baltimore Opera Theater at the Hippodrome is planned. Two chamber-sized troupes, Opera Vivente and American Opera Theater, will have a sizable presence. Peabody Opera Theatre will be as active as ever. With Baltimore Concert Opera's full season, too, there certainly will be a good deal of void-filling options. No, it's not the same as having the Baltimore Opera Company up and running, but it's nothing to sneeze at, either.

PHOTO OF BRENDAN COOKE COURTESY OF BALTIMORE CONCERT OPERA

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