If you didn't know that this is National Opera Week, a glance at the local scene would make you suspect something of the kind. Three companies in Baltimore alone will be busy with performances; add in College Park and Washington, and it looks like an epidemic.

The designation of Nov. 13 to 22 as National Opera Week (easier to market than National Opera Ten-Day Period) was made by Opera America, the service organization representing about 150 companies, and the National Endowment for the Arts. The celebrating began last Friday in D.C. with the awarding of the 2009 NEA Opera Honors (recipients included mezzo Marilyn Horne and composer John Adams).

It's really a coincidence that so much operatic activity happens to have been planned for this week in Baltimore, but it makes a neat - and encouraging - tie-in to National Opera Week.

Of particular interest is the debut of Baltimore Opera Theater, organized by Bulgarian-born impresario Giorgio Lalov, whose opera company, Teatro Lirico d'Europa, has toured for 20 years, and his wife, Baltimore native Jenny Kelly, who has been involved in the booking of Teatro Lirico and other cultural enterprises.

Baltimore Opera Theater will present two staged productions this season, starting with Rossini's "The Barber of Seville" this weekend at the Hippodrome.

"Everything is going fine," Lalov says. "We have great singers - that's what matters. We are using local musicians from Baltimore; many of them played with Baltimore Opera [Company]. And we have a very good local conductor, Markand Thakar, who you know for his work with the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra."

Lalov promises a "traditional, funny staging." The cast, drawn primarily from artists Lalov has worked with through Teatro Lirico, is headed by Petar Danailov as Figaro and Viara Zheleova as Rosina.

Verdi's "Rigoletto," with some Baltimore-area singers in the small roles, will be performed March 11. Lalov is planning "a minimum of three productions next season," including Verdi's "La Traviata" and Puccini's "La Boheme."

As for this weekend, "I always cross my fingers," Lalov says. "But I've put on 4,000 shows and never missed one."

"The Barber of Seville" will be performed at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Hippodrome, 12 N. Eutaw St. For tickets, call 410-547-7328 or go to ticketmaster.com.

Meanwhile, Baltimore Concert Opera, which opened its second season in September with Gounod's "Faust," continues the season with two performances this week of Donizetti's "Don Pasquale."

The company is marking National Opera Week by offering first-time opera-goers free tickets to Wednesday's performance. (For instructions, go to operaamerica.org.)

"We're in the business of trying to build interest in the art form," says Baltimore Concert Opera general director Brendan Cooke. He says that response to the company, which debuted last season, "is generally very good. We've had people tell us they don't miss the staging or the orchestra."

The "Don Pasquale" cast includes Adam Fry in the title role, Leah Inger as Norina and Tim Augustin as Ernesto. James Harp will be the pianist. Says Cooke: "When you can't have an orchestra, Jimmy is the next best thing."

Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, 8 p.m. Saturday at the Engineers Club, 11 W. Mount Vernon Place. For tickets, call 443-844-3496 or go to baltimoreconcertopera.com.

More opera to consider this week: from Peabody Opera Theatre, Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte" Thursday through Sunday (410-234-4800); from Opera Vivente, open house Friday through Sunday (410-547-7997); from Maryland Opera Studio, Mozart's "La finta giardiniera" and Donizetti's "L'elisir d'amore" alternating Thursday through Nov. 24 at the Clarice Smith Center (301-405-2787); from Washington Concert Opera, Gounod's "Faust" Sunday at Lisner Auditorium (202-364-5826).

Hartigan retrospective

The late Grace Hartigan became one of Baltimore's best known and most admired artists after arriving in the early 1960s. She was a considerable force among Abstract Expressionists, and her work can be seen in major museums in this country and abroad. She also was a revered teacher at MICA.

"Grace Hartigan (1922-2008): A Life in Painting," which opens Wednesday at the C. Grimaldis Gallery, brings together a retrospective of her works from the 1950s to some of the last pieces she created. The exhibit runs through Jan. 9 at the gallery, 523 N. Charles St. For more information, call 410-539-1080 or go cgrimaldisgallery.com.

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