Singing The Praises Of Opera


September 13, 1992|By MARILYN MCCRAVEN

A Sept. 20 concert by the Municipal Opera Company of Baltimore Inc. has been canceled. The concert was mentioned in the Mission Accomplished feature in this past Sunday's issue of the Sun Magazine.

The Sun regrets the error.

For a quarter of a century, churchgoers from Roland Park tWest Baltimore have enjoyed the lyrical voice of Dorothy Lofton Jones, who sings such standards as "O, Divine Redeemer," "I Talked to God Last Night" and "Thy Will Be Done."

But next month, she will be seen in a new venue: a full-length opera performed by the Municipal Opera Company of Baltimore Inc., of which she is board chairman.


On Oct. 23, 24 and 25, the company will perform "Suor Angelica," by Puccini, at Catonsville Community College. It will be the eighth performance for the company, but the first time it has tackled a full opera; until now the members have sung only

selections from operas.

That performance is a milestone for the mostly African-American group, which has grown from 17 to 27 singers and has seen its audiences steadily increase since its founding in March 1991.

Mrs. Jones, who lives in White Hall in Baltimore County and retired from the C&P Telephone Co. in May, was prompted to found the group after meeting many talented people who loved to sing opera but, like herself, never got the chance to pursue a traditional career path in opera.

Q: Why wait until now to tackle a full-length opera?

A: When we first started we didn't have enough people to do a full opera.

Q: What's "Suor Angelica" about?

A: It's a story of a woman who has a child out of wedlock. Her family sends her to a convent where she stays for seven years. Her aunt brings her papers to sign [renouncing her position in the family]. She drinks a poison potion . . . and she dies.

Q: Why perform this particular opera?

A: Mainly because it's a one-act opera; we didn't want to be too adventurous.

Q: Will you be singing the lead?

A: No, I wanted to put aside myself. I wanted to promote younger, upcoming singers. I'll be singing chorus.

Q: How much work is involved in preparing for this performance?

A: It takes lots of time to learn the acting with the singing and make it work smoothly. We've been rehearsing four hours a week since May.

Q: Do you worry about money?

A: Absolutely. I make a lot of calls asking for donations. All of the money goes back into productions for our accompanists, costumes, makeup or if we have a guest artist. We have people who volunteer to sew costumes for us.

Q: Many community opera groups fail. Will this one succeed?

It's been successful beyond my expectations. . . . Since June we've been under the auspices of Catonsville [Community College]. We get free space for rehearsals, performances. . . . We also get the services of Lucia Starr, who is on the faculty. Willis Keeling is Catonsville's music department head and our musical director.

Q: Most of your singers are African-Americans. Are there other venues where they could perform?

A: Not really. There's the Baltimore Opera Company, but once a person is working an eight-hour-a-day job, they [Baltimore Opera] are reluctant to hire you. We [black singers] tend to get stuck in the chorus . . . just a small role, not a lead role. If you're going to do a lead role, you must devote all your time.

Q: How were you first exposed to opera?

A: At Douglass [High School in the 1950s]. We had wonderful teachers -- Robert Earl Anderson, Marion Smith, Georgeanna Chester. We had an a cappella choir -- that was for boys and girls -- a girl's choir and a male choir.

Q: What are some highlights of your singing career?

A: I sang with the Baltimore Symphony Chorus from '69-'71; I wawith the Baltimore Opera [as a chorus singer] from '84 to '90; I sang in the ensemble of "Porgy and Bess" presented by the Houston Grand Opera Company in performances in Chicago, at Radio City Music Hall in New York, in St. Louis and Kansas City before it went overseas.

Q: What's your company's next major performance before the opera?

A: On Sept. 20, we will open the Lois Wright Memorial Concert Series with a performance featuring selections from "Porgy and Bess" at NCCB [the New Community College of Baltimore, Liberty campus]. That performance will include the Eva Anderson Dancers and instrumentalists from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

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