Monday, September 30, 2013

Caro elisir!

Sharin Apostolou
I had the delight of seeing Baltimore Concert Opera's semi-staged concert version of Mr. Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore on September 29. Baltimore Concert Opera is one of several opera groups that sought to fill the void left when the venerable Baltimore Opera Company folded in 2009. This article tells how Brendan Cooke, co-founder and Artistic Director of Baltimore Concert Opera, worked tirelessly to keep opera alive in Baltimore. When Mr. Cooke was named General Director of Opera Delaware in 2012, a relationship between Baltimore Concert Opera and Opera Delaware was initiated that now includes productions jointly planned and funded by the two companies. Local opera afficionados say the biggest difference this association has meant for Baltimore is a higher professional level of the singers engaged for principal roles.

And a very fine cast it was indeed. Headed by the Adina of Sharin Apostolou, the cast also included William Davenport as Nemorino, Trevor Scheunemann as Belcore and Stephen Eisenhard as Dulcamara. Ms. Apostolou and Mr. Scheunemann were the two standouts in the cast. I've raved written before of Ms. Apostolou's gleaming soprano and involved, realistic acting, and I was not disappointed on Sunday. Prendi, per me sei libero is my absolute favorite passage in this opera, I must confess that a furtive tear did roll down my cheek as Ms. Apostolou sang it. Mr. Scheunemann's bio lists the Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, and Washington National Opera among his credits. This is not a surprise. His Belcore was a beautifully sung combination of swagger and fun. To my mind, a successful performance of Belcore shows the signor sargente has enough sense not to take his own braggadocio seriously--women and war, he sings, are both great games--and Mr. Scheunemann very often gave us such moments of clarity.

Trevor Scheunemann
Courtesy Columbia Artists Mgt.
Tenor William Davenport gave us an ardent Nemorino. His bio-blurb lists Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor, Gustavo in Un ballo in maschera, and the Duke in Rigoletto. Those roles would fit Mr. Davenport's beautiful voice perfectly, but it pains me to say I think Nemorino doesn't. Nemorino requires a lighter voice, while Mr. Davenport's voice is quite stentorian. This is not a complaint about his singing, for he sang the role well, and received well-deserved (if annoyingly premature) shouts of "Bravo" at the conclusion of Una furtiva lagrima.

Stephen Eisenhard has the goods as a basso buffo, handling Dulcamara's rapid-fire patter with ease and showing a comic flair.  Kimberly Christie shows great promise in her debut role as Gianetta.

It sometimes seemed as if the cast were eager to do more with their roles, but felt limited. The same cast performs L'Elisir, fully staged, at Opera Delaware on October 11 and 13, and I was not surprised to learn they had been in staging rehearsals in Wilmington all week. Alternating between the Baltimore version and the Wilmington version--surely as a concert performance, Baltimore had cuts Wilmington doesn't--could explain the occasional ragged feel in terms of cues and continuity.

Complaints? One or two. When the chorus sang, it was hard to distinguish the soloists' vocal lines, which is not surprising considering physical placement of the chorus. Occasionally the 88-key orchestra (overall very well done by James Harp--especially his commentary on the love potion of Queen Isolde) overpowered the singers, too. Along with difficult to read supertitles, these are mere quibbles. I call this a fine performance, and I look forward to seeing the staged production at Opera Delaware. I recommend you do the same.

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