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Baltimore Concert Opera opens season with 'Barber of Seville'

The opera-in-concert-format genre appears to have taken hold around here.

The demise of the Baltimore Opera Company provided an extra opening for the more economical, un-staged approach, and some singers associated with that former institution stepped through it. They formed Baltimore Concert Opera an outlet for musicians from the area and beyond. It was launched in the spring of 2009 and has found a comfortable home in the elegant domain of the Engineers Club at the Garret-Jacobs Mansion. 

I stopped by Sunday afternoon's performance of Rossini's "The Barber of Seville" -- just the first half, actually; I had a play to review later that day. (Please don't tell anyone, but I like Act 1 of this opera a whole lot better than Act 2, so it worked out fine for me. And all the principals get something substantive to sing in that first act anyway.)

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The company, which uses only piano accompaniment, wisely dispensed with the overture and also cut out the recitative. I could understand the latter decision, but it seemed a pity not to include at least the charming recit passage where Figaro ends up amusingly spelling out Rosina's name; that would have been more fun to hear than company general director Brendan Cooke's description of it.

Cooke spiced his narration throughout with cheeky lines, and several of those set off rim-shot jokes delivered solely by surtitle. I'm not sure so much shtick added greatly to the presentation, but the audience seemed to have a good time with it.

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As for the actual opera portion, that was

in exceedingly energetic hands and voices. Given the fairly loose situation of the concert format, the singers could indulge to their hearts content, and so they did, as much musically as theatrically (lack of sets and props hardly hindered them).

In the title role, David Krohn offered remarkably vivid phrasing that needed only a little more tonal weight behind it.

Tim Augustin, as Almaviva, sounded like he he has spent valuable time studying legendary tenor Tito Schipa; I sure can't imagine a better role model. It was gratifying to hear such elegant shaping of melodic lines, complete with gentle gradations of dynamics. Augustin wasn't always able to sustain tonal smoothness (top notes could be effortful), but the musicality was consistently impressive.

Heather Johnson, an engaging Rosina, used her solid, colorful mezzo tellingly.

Stephen Eisenhard animated Bartolo's music with genuine buffo flair, if not always quite enough vocal heft. Jeffrey Tarr's Basilio was likewise vibrant in style and just a bit short on tonal punch at climactic points. The rest of the participants rounded things out effecitvely.

Gary Casity conducted with a flair for rubato, and Jim Harp delivered the accompaniment with abundant flourish.

Next up for Baltimore Concert Opera: "La Boheme" in December.

PHOTOS (from top) OF DAVID KROHN AND TIM AUGUSTIN COURTESY OF BALTIMORE CONCERT OPERA

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