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Baltimore Opera Theatre's 'Madama Butterfly' struggles to fly at the Hippodrome

Baltimore Opera Theatre's 'Madama Butterfly' struggles to fly at the Hippodrome

As you know well by now,

, more than ever before, I imagine. (Quality, of course, is a whole other issue.)

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Most of this activity is on an intimate level, very different in goals and resources from, say, the deceased Baltimore Opera Company. One organization does aim for something on a larger scale -- Baltimore Opera Theatre, an outgrowth of the much-traveled Teatro Lirico d'Europa. Its latest production, Puccini's "Madama Butterfly," was offered Saturday night at the Hippodrome and drew a very decent-sized turnout. This really is an opera town, it seems.

There is no mistaking the sincerity behind Baltimore Opera Theatre, or the value of its commitment to involve local young people in various capacities (supernumeraries, program book design, etc.). But, based on this "Butterfly" and last season's "Barber of Seville," there is also no mistaking the need for major upgrading. If Baltimore Opera Theatre is serious about establishing a presence here, there has to be a lot more than noble intentions.

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To be sure, someone interested in getting the jist of Puccini's beloved opera would have done so on this occasion, thanks in large measure to Elena Razgylyaeva, who gave an accomplished performances as Butterfly. The soprano's top notes may have been uneven, but the rest of the voice had a consistently warm, well-centered sound, and she shaped her phrases with considerable eloquence. Her acting, too, was nuanced, especially in the Act 2 scene with Sharpless and the opera's finale.

Viara Zhelezova was a persuasive Suzuki, in voice and gesture. Orlin Goranov, as Pinkerton,

stayed on the surface of the role, musically and theatrically. He seemed to think he was singing Neapolitan songs, rather than Puccini, but, at his best, he produced a vibrant tone that filled out the melodic lines nicely. Gary Simpson was a sympathetic, somewhat dry-voiced Sharpless. Annie Gill sang Kate Pinkerton's few lines ably.

Guerogiu Dinev barely registered as Goro, one of the great character roles in opera. And I'm not sure what a baritone was doing singing the tenor role of Yamadori (or dressed more like a peasant than a prince, for that matter). The choristers got through their musical assignment more or less cohesively, but they didn't know what to do with themselves onstage.

Then again, it appeared that director Giorgio Lalov left most of the performers to their own devices. It was hard to detect much directorial guidance, let alone inspiration, in this production, which had serviceable scenery and costumes (credited to Lalov) and with occasionally subtle lighting.

As for the orchestra, better to draw a veil. I cannot remember the last time I heard such persistently wretched sounds coming from a brass section; intonation seemed to be a totally alien concept. The woodwinds were only marginally more reliable, leaving a thin string section to carry the weight. There's no use pretending this situation was acceptable by any professional standards. It wasn't. Under the circumstances, conductor Markand Thakar had his hands full just trying to keep things together in the pit, but he attempted more stylish sculpting here and there than he had during last season's "Barber" with the company.

The use of amplification added an additional disappointment to the evening. As singers got closer to the microphones spread along the lip of the stage, their voices boomed absurdly (at least in the two locations I tried in the balcony). I'm no fan of any sonic enhancement in opera, but if it's going to be used, it can be -- and needs to be -- much more subly applied.

PHOTO COUTESY OF BALTIMORE OPERA THEATRE

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