Saturday, September 25, 2010

Baltimore Concert Opera's Barber of Seville: Sets and Costumes Not Missed!

If you go to BCO's second and last performance of Rossini's "Il Barbiere di Siviglia" on Sunday afternoon this weekend, pay attention to Jarrod Lee's Fiorello at the beginning of the opera. The young bass-baritone couples his sharp, focused voice with some well-timed expressions and movements, excellent in the comic opera context. Fiorello melds in with the chorus for the rest of Barber, so it was good to see another chorus member urging Lee onto the stage to take a bow with the rest of the cast at evening's end.

This was my first experience with Baltimore Concert Opera, excepting the free Artscape performance this summer which showcased the Verdi baritone. Fear not the concert opera format with a company of this caliber. Like Washington National Opera's successful concert interpretation of Wagner last season, BCO proves that this kind of performance on a budget can be as exciting as fully staged opera. In the ornate ballroom of the Engineers Club in Baltimore, with its elegant little stage at one end, you might feel as though you're sitting right in the middle of an opera set any way.

If last night's Barber performance is typical, BCO's singers don't necessarily remain standing in a row behind their music stands throughout the performance. Those stands might get pushed aside to make room for more expressive singing in a number or get roughly handled like a prop during some vibrant acting. The conductor, here Gary Casity from Florida's Sarasota Opera, might even get pushed aside or roughly handled by an energetic Figaro taking command of the floor for his aria, here David Krohn. David Krohn! Let's not forget that another performer described Krohn as a complete animal on stage and a fearless baritone. Krohn can go the other direction in opera roles very well and has experience in the more menacing Tarquinius role for Britten's "The Rape of Lucretia". I'm thinking that I'd like to see a Scarpia from him later.

Mezzo-soprano Heather Johnson was in excellent form as Rosina last night, too, and tenor Tim Augustin's Almaviva was fine. Bass-baritone Stephen Eisenhard as Dr. Bartolo and bass Jeffrey Tarr as Don Basilio stood out for some extravagant comic opera acting and singing that almost made me hallucinate the period costumes of a full staging on them. Heather Kniotek-DeSimone was in good, strong voice as Bartolo's sneezing maid, Berta.

James Harp provided his legendary accompaniment on the piano. The production skips the overture, which I thought would have been interesting to hear from Harp's keyboard. For the storm scene later in Act II, conductor Gary Casity joined Harp for a four-hands arrangement. The production also skips the recitative sequences and replaces them with company director Brendan Cooke narrating from a seat in front of the stage -- effective for this concert format and accompanied by some sly commentary on the surtitle screen.

Here is a link for Baltimore Concert Opera. Go and buy a ticket! If you can't use the ticket-buying software, as I can't on my outdated set-up, I found that their phone contact system has been improved this season. After I left a message seeking a ticket for Barber, I had two separate return calls on my answering machine from BCO representatives who wanted to help me with my purchase.