Strathmore's noteworthy season

The Baltimore Sun

A celebration of the first African-American opera company, Tony Award-winning Broadway veterans, notable dance and symphonic ensembles, and golden-oldie rock groups are among the events likely to draw a good deal of attention during the Music Center at Strathmore's 2007-2008 season.

The lineup, announced yesterday, includes the center's first original production. This new work, Free to Sing, will tell the 19th-century story of Washington's Colored American Opera Company, which was formed in 1873. The company lasted only a short while but made a favorable mark in Washington and beyond.

"The first act will tell the heroic story of the enterprise," Strathmore President and CEO Eliot Pfanstiehl said. The second act will re-create, in concert form, a popular production the opera company performed, a long forgotten operetta by Julius Eichberg, The Doctor of Alcantara.

Collaborating on Free to Sing, which will premiere Feb. 16, are the Post-Classical Ensemble, Morgan State University Choir and director Scot Reese. "The fact that we're not just a presenter anymore, but a producer," is a big step," Pfanstiehl said. Symposia and other events related to the premiere will be held at the center.

Strathmore, the North Bethesda venue where the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra makes its second home, will offer several classical events during what will be the center's third full season. (The hall opened midway through the 2004-2005 season.) These include a concert by La Scala Philharmonic from the famed opera house in Milan, Italy, conducted by Riccardo Chailly on Oct. 10. (This will be the first co-presentation by Strathmore, the BSO and the Washington Performing Arts Society.)

Opera Lafayette will give the first modern revival of an obscure 1745 French opera, Zelindor, roi des Sylphes, with the New York Baroque Dance Company (Oct. 4). The Washington Bach Consort will perform Bach's Christmas Oratorio on Dec. 7. And the Juilliard School-trained siblings, all in their 20s, who perform under the name the 5 Browns will give a concert Nov. 3.

The Strathmore season will salute the American songbook with concerts by such stellar Broadway artists as Patti LuPone (Oct. 5), Mandy Patinkin (March 1) and Brian Stokes Mitchell (April 4).

On the dance front, Tango Buenos Aires will explore various aspects of the tango Oct. 26. The Moiseyev Dance Company, with its rich repertoire of Russian folk dances, will perform Jan. 11. The Philadelphia-based modern dance troupe Philadanco is slated for May 16, 2008.

World music is a significant part of the calendar as well. "We have a very international audience in Montgomery County," Pfanstiehl said. "The diversity of our audience is really striking, a demographic surprising to people who thought this was a monolithic bedroom community. And they show up for what is compelling."

There will be appearances by Portuguese fado singer Mariza (Oct. 9) and Benin-born Grammy nominee Angelique Kidjo (March 26), among others. A mix of Celtic and Appalachian folk music -- "Highland, Heath and Holler" -- will bring together several artists Jan. 18.

The season, which includes jazz artists and a variety of educational programming, also offers a "pop, rock and retro" series featuring vintage rock bands Three Dog Night (Nov. 2) and Jethro Tull (Dec. 3), veteran pop singer Anne Murray (March 18) and the multimedia show RAIN -- The Beatles Experience (Nov. 8 and 9).

"That series will show that the '60s and '70s are alive and well," Pfanstiehl says. "Or, as we like to say, if you were there, you probably don't remember."

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