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Arts beyond the beltway

At this time of the year, each rise in the thermometer usually brings a corresponding decline in the amount of cultural activity that Baltimoreans can sample in the city. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, for example, puts the likes of Shostakovich and Mahler aside in favor of movie music and, this year, hits by Michael Jackson and Led Zeppelin. If it weren't for the indomitable Young Victorian Opera Company, which stages a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta each summer, the sound of classically trained voices in town would almost disappear at this time of year. If you're hoping for a production of something grander, maybe an opera by Mozart, Bizet or Stravinsky -- forget about it. Not in Baltimore. Summertime also means that the city's Equity theaters -- Hippodrome, Center Stage, Everyman -- are dark. To be sure, some of the community and ensemble theater companies still percolate in the heat. Single Carrot Theatre and Vagabond Players, for example, have shows running into early July. Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre at the Essex campus of the Community College of Baltimore County marks its 40th season running into August with five productions, and the Baltimore Playwrights Festival showcases new pieces through August. Still, there's no mistaking the slowdown on the cultural front around town. Things look quite different in Washington. "Summer's good," says Arena Stage artistic director Molly Smith (pictured). "We started programming in summer about six or seven years ago, dipping our toe in the water. We've found that people don't all go away." Arena Stage has now become basically a year-round company, and its summer offerings, such as last year's revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Oklahoma!" and this year's "The Music Man," have been very hot. And Arena Stage is not alone; several D.C. theaters are quite active much of the summer. Although it’s just as hard to find nonpops symphonic music in Washington, a fair amount of opera is available a little ways outside the city at Wolf Trap and deeper into Virginia. Looking elsewhere in the region, an easy (or at least tolerable) drive will yield a variety of other theater and classical music activity. Here's a guide to just some of the enticements beckoning beyond the Beltway.
Handout photo by Scott Suchman.
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