Opera, as most of us picture it, is tied up with spectacle: crowd scenes, triumphal marches, rivers overflowing their banks to destroy entire civilizations and that sort of thing.
But opera also can be an intimate art form, which is the point of Three by Three, a program of three, one-act American operas produced by Opera AACC that will play tonight through Sunday at the Pascal Center for the Performing Arts on the campus of Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold.
Gian-Carlo Menotti's The Telephone, Samuel Barber's A Hand of Bridge and Leonard Bernstein's Trouble in Tahiti have been staged by John Bowen, founder of Baltimore's enterprising Opera Vivente, and will be conducted by Douglas Byerly, AACC's music program coordinator.
"Each opera will be fully staged with costumes and lighting," Byerly says, "but in minimalistic settings. The music and words will really stand out."
Menotti's The Telephone is a perky, two-character story of a young fellow doing his best to propose to a girlfriend hopelessly addicted to gabbing on the phone.
Angelica Evans, a Towson University graduate, sings the role of the ever-chatty Lucy, with Robert Goldinger as the earnest young baritone doing his best to get a word in edgewise.
In a more serious vein is A Hand of Bridge, a brief (10 minutes) but intense piece in which four participants in the card game share their innermost thoughts as the bidding and trumping go on.
"Bridge is quintessential Barber," says Byerly of the composer, whose Violin Concerto and Adagio for Strings have become two of the best-loved works of the last century. "It's exceptionally well-written in a style that gives the composer away. You hear it and say, 'Ah, Barber.'"
Soprano Erin Wegner, another Towson graduate, and mezzo Crystal Day of AACC take the female roles, with AACC tenor Nic Johnson and the Johns Hopkins University baritone Josh Avins as their partners.
Leonard Bernstein's Trouble in Tahiti is no island romp, but rather a clever musical take on a troubled marriage. The famous "New York, New York" tune the composer had crafted for the movie musical On the Town is reprised in this later piece.
Soprano Jennifer Blades and baritone William Heim, two busy professional singers in the Baltimore-Washington region, star as the mismatched couple, with Erin Wegner, Nic Johnson and Josh Avins egging them on as the jazzy Greek chorus that gets some of Bernstein's zippiest tunes.
"We do opera here at the college because our students have asked for it," says Byerly, who came to the Arnold campus five years ago when only nine students were active in the voice program. There are now 54 students in the college's various voice studios. "It's a great outlet for all the talent we have here and we hope to see the opera program grow even more."
Johnson of Cape St. Claire, whose excellent work at AACC has won him an invitation to perform in Aaron Copland's opera The Tender Land with Baltimore's Opera Vivente, says the college's program has "a strong faculty and lots of talented people. ... We're proud of what we do."
Opera AACC's Three by Three production of operas by Menotti, Barber and Bernstein plays at the Pascal Center today through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. General admission tickets are $15; $13 for seniors and groups, and $10 for students. Information, tickets: 410-777-2457.