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Chesapeake Concert Opera offers intimate, youthful 'La Boheme'

Chesapeake Concert Opera offers intimate, youthful 'La Boheme'

In between trying to have a little bit of personal life (hey, that's not too much to ask, is it?), I caught two operas and a play over the weekend, starting Friday night with

's "La Boheme" at Brown Memorial Park Avenue Church in Bolton Hill. More on the other two events anon.

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Like Baltimore Concert Opera (formed last year), the Chesapeake organization (launched this season) presents works sans sets, costumes and orchestra -- but avec plenty of spirit. In the case of both ensembles, you can't miss the sense of singers just wanting to sing, to jump into an opera and take the audience along with them.

That certainly was the case Friday, as Chesapeake Concert Opera's young cast -- easily fitting the youthfulness of Puccini's characters -- offered a lot of vivid acting and stage business (there was clever use of a balcony area in some key spots). A few of the singers kept an eye on a music stand -- nothing wrong with that in a concert version, of course -- but everyone sounded quite at home.

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There were three drawbacks to the presentation. Terrible acoustics; the performers sounded like they were singing in a tunnel. (The company is usually based at another Bolton Hill church.)

No chorus, so a chunk of Act 2 and a little of Act 3 went unheard. That didn't matter so much in the end; the drama, after all, is centered so squarely on the individual characters that this merely added to the intimacy of the evening. (And don't tell anybody, but I rather liked not having to hear all those damn kids squealing about Parpignol for a change.)

More problematic was

Chesapeake Concert Opera offers intimate, youthful 'La Boheme'

company general director Beth Stewart's idea of interrupting Act 1, just before Mimi's entrance, to provide some more narration (the program calls this "our signature cheeky narration"). Artistically speaking, that was a terrible idea, one that, happily, Stewart did not repeat -- she got all of her narrating out of the way in one swoop before each remaining act. (Given that the plot was also printed in the program, I'm not entirely sure that any narration was really needed, but I understand the point of trying to connect more personally with any uninitiated folks in the house.)

That said, I was impressed with the general quality and commitment of the singing. Christine Kavanagh was an effective Mimi, her voice sure of pitch, rich of tone and sensitive of phrase. William Davenport, who sang the role of Rodolfo has the makings of a significant tenor. There's an immediately expressive and appealing quality in the timbre, one with quite an Italianate tint (in a couple places, he produced a sound reminiscent of a young Pavarotti). He needs to get the top of the voice under better control and develop more distinctive phrasing, but he sure has a lot going for him already.

Kevin Wetzel's sturdy, warm-voiced Marcello added another asset; this was an admirably finished performance. Aside from some stridency when pushed, Chloe Olivia Moore did a nice job as Musetta. Andrew Adelsberger, as Colline, could have used more tonal weight and a little more nuance for his aria, but he brought personality to the proceedings. Douglas Peters made an amiable Schaunard and sang with a good deal of character. Jason Buckwalter was his usual dynamic self as Benoit and Alcindoro.

Grant Gilman conducted fluently. Clinton Adams was very much a star of the evening for his colorful, sensitive work at the piano.

Chesapeake Concert Opera continues its season with "Barber of Seville" in May, "Abduction from the Seraglio" in June.

PHOTOS OF CHRISTINE KAVANAGH AND WILLIAM DAVENPORT COURTESY OF CHESAPEAKE CONCERT OPERA

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