Last night's all-Wagner concert at the Lyric Opera House exposed the current strengths and weakness of the Baltimore Opera Company.
The strengths included a first-rate conductor, who led a free-lance orchestra unfamiliar with Wagner in idiomatic performances of that composer's music, and two fine singers, soprano Judith Telep-Ehrich and tenor George Gray, who have the vocal heft and the temperament to sing this most vocally demanding of all operatic composers. It was clear from last night's performance (or at least what an early deadline permitted this listener to hear) that this is a company that can recognize talent.
The weakness -- that this is a company in deep financial trouble -- was just as glaring: The orchestra was seriously undermanned; the company was not able to afford an acoustic shell, the consequence of which was sound that went above the stage, not into the audience; and it was evident that rehearsal time had been short. The orchestra played valiantly under its fine conductor, but one suspects that the results would have been more satisfying if the BOC had been able to afford more rehearsal.
This concert, which will be repeated tomorrow afternoon, and Wednesday and next Saturday evenings, was originally scheduled as a performance of Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde." (Last spring the BOC decided to scrap the production because it already faced an accumulated deficit of nearly $1 million and could not afford a production that would have cost nearly $500,000.)
There were many moments last night when one regretted that the Baltimore "Tristan" had turned out to be an impossible dream. Conductor Alexander Sander provided several such moments with his clear, intelligently paced conducting. And Mr. Gray provided more when he sang Siegmund's "Wintersturme" from "Die Walkuere." A middling performance last season in "Otello" had not prepared one for the excellence of his work last night. His singing was fresh-sounding and secure, and his understanding of the text was often poetic and touching.
Ms. Telep-Ehrlich was even better as Bruenhilde in "Goetterdaemmerung's" immolation scene. Her large, exciting voice possesses ringing tones in its high register and is capable of soft and warm singing in its low and middle registers. If she was not completely able to convince one that she was consumed with love for Siegfried, she was impressive enough.