With local opera, the more the merrier Music: Plenty of talent to go around, says Harbor Opera founder.

November 23, 1996|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN STAFF

Suddenly, it seems, Baltimore can't have too many opera companies.

Today and tomorrow the Baltimore Opera Company winds up its run of Beethoven's "Fidelio." The Municipal Opera Company has done Mozart's "The Magic Flute," Peabody Opera Theater did Verdi's "Falstaff" and the fledgling Opera Vivente has put on a potpourri of famous operatic scenes.

Now enter the Harbor Opera Company, a close cousin to the multicultural Municipal Opera, which this weekendpresents one of its first full-length operas, Gian Carlo Menotti's famous children's opera "Amal and the Night Visitors."

Does a blue-collar city of 691,000 really need four community opera companies plus a major regional house?

"Maybe we will serve to wake up the young people who see us and to bring more of them into the concert halls," says Delores Taylor Jones. She founded Harbor Opera in 1989 to give local singers a venue, but until last year the company was organized as a workshop to perform scenes from the standard repertory.

"I used to say this community was too small to support two or three small opera companies," says Jones, who taught music at Mount Royal Elementary-Middle School for 25 years. "Right now we're all going our separate ways, but it's not about power. It's about developing a theatrical community that helps and serves everybody."

Judging from the reception accorded the company yesterday morning -- when it brought "Amal" to Douglass to perform for city elementary, middle and high school students -- there's plenty of action to go around.

"I liked it very much," says Tyisha Conner, 9, whose fourth-grade class at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School was bused in for the performance. "It almost made me cry."

Classmate Keta Humphrey did have a complaint about the acoustics in the cavernous auditorium: "Sometimes I could hardly understand what they were singing."

But Taii Speaks, who was sitting next to her, thought that was no big problem. "The way they were moving on the stage told the whole story," she says.

Menotti's opera, a modern version of a Medieval miracle play, tells the story of Amal, a poor, crippled boy, and his mother after they are visited by the Three Kings who are on their way to Bethlehem to honor the baby Jesus.

Commissioned in 1951 by NBC, it was the first opera ever written specifically for TV, and in the years since it has become a minor classic on both stage and screen.

Suzanna Tufts, a comic who appeared earlier this month as Papagena in the Municipal Opera Company's "Magic Flute," will sing the title role of Amal, with soprano Elizabeth Lyra Ross as Amal's mother. The three kings will be sung by tenor Richard Butler, baritone Frank Hooper and bass Larry Sulin.

Wetzler Taylor plays the kings' page, and the Harbor Opera Chorus will be joined by members of the Douglass Concert Choir. The show is directed by Douglass theater arts teacher Troy Brown, and school band director David Burton conducts the orchestra.

Ever the optimist, Jones compares the situation in Baltimore to Europe, where aspiring singers routinely start out in small houses far from the cultural capitals.

"Europe has lots of little opera companies," Jones says. "That's where we get our superstars from, because under that system young people have the opportunity to develop themselves.

"But there is no lack of talent in Baltimore. What we need is to create ways to develop the talents we have. And I think I am just going to try."

Other Harbor Opera Company productions this season will be "Cavalleria Rusticana" by Ruggiero Leoncavallo in April at Douglass High; and "Carmen Jones," an adaptation of Bizet's "Carmen," in the summer at Arena Playhouse, 801 McCulloh St.

Harbor Opera

What: "Amal and the Night Visitors," performed in English

When: 5 p.m. tomorrow and Dec. 6

Where: This weekend at Frederick Douglass High School, 2301 Gwynns Falls Parkway; Dec. 6 at Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church, 1316 Park Ave.

Tickets: $7

$ Call: (410) 944-5277

Pub Date: 11/23/96

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