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A few more thoughts on the Lyric, 'Carmen' and Baltimore's operatic future

Yes, I'm back on this topic, which I hadn't planned on revisiting so soon. But in case you aren't so blog-addicted that you've already read every comment and response-to-comment on Monday's post, I just wanted to make a few more points about the presentation of Opera New Jersey's "Carmen" at the Lyric.

What I found so interesting and encouraging about the afternoon was the atmosphere and the demographics in the house -- lots of people, a wide variety of ages, all apparently drawn to the place for grand opera, just like in the good old days here. That response, assuming it wasn't just a fluke, ought to provide the boost, the incentive for opera-serious folks here to build something at least akin to a new Baltimore company in the house where the Baltimore Opera Company once resided.

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Having said that, I don't want anyone

to think that I'd ever be fully satisfied with a regular dose of what was onstage Sunday. Let me go so far as to say that the Lyric staff should make a solemn pledge now to look for productions that go far beyond the level that Opera New Jersey revealed in this "Carmen." This was, as I wrote to a commentor on my previous post, a case of pleasant provincialism in terms of staging. (The cast was certainly better than that, in most cases.)

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There are many talented, innovative stage directors and designers out there, and any new operatic venture at the Lyric should be looking to them when it comes to future collaborations. The theatrical side of things is enormously important in this visual age. I still think musical assets trump everything else, which is why I wasn't as bothered as some by Bernard Uzan's concept for this "Carmen," but I know that the total ear-and-eye package matters.

In practical terms, Uzan's bullring set, which turns choristers into mostly passive spectators, was probably the only production that would allow the former Baltimore Opera Chorus to be reunited for the performance -- there wouldn't have been time or money to have elaborate stage rehearsals; they could, more or less, just plop down and go to it (which they did, quite impressively).

In the end, I think the essential drama of "Carmen" emerged tellingly enough, as it did the first time I saw it years ago, (I never did buy Uzan's notion that Carmen would, in effect, stab herself, as she did here, but such directorial decisions are not so rare.) And with mostly solid singing and a fine orchestra in the pit, the operatic art was served.

So I still say the Lyric took a big step forward on Sunday. Now comes the tough part -- an encore.

Mind you, I haven't forgotten about Baltimore Opera Theatre, which debuted at the Hippodrome in November and is due back there with "Rigoletto" on March 11. This, too, represents a serious, passionate attempt to fill the void left by the sadly liquidated opera company. If this venture can pick up steam (the opening "Barber of Seville" featured some real vocal pros, but unacceptable chorus and orchestra), it could become a significant player on the scene. You never know.

Just as anything can happen in an opera plot, anything can happen with opera companies and opera-craving communities. That's why I say it's going to be interesting around here in the months and years ahead.

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