`Lakme,' `Macbeth' coming to town

Schedule: Baltimore Opera Company plans two novel productions for its new season.

January 03, 2002|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

An earthy, brutal opera that offended Stalin, and an Oriental-flavored gem from the French repertoire are among the works planned for the Baltimore Opera Company's 2002-2003 season.

These two jolts of novelty - Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk by Dmitri Shostakovich and Lakme by Leo Delibes - will be balanced by such perennial favorites as Giuseppe Verdi's Rigoletto, Johann Strauss' Die Fledermaus and Giacomo Puccini's Madama Butterfly.

The Shostakovich production is Baltimore Opera's contribution to "Vivat! St. Petersburg," the city-wide festival in February and March 2003 marking the 300th anniversary of the Russian cultural metropolis of St. Petersburg.

Lady Macbeth was premiered there in 1934 (when the city was called Leningrad) and was immediately hailed as an example of the greatness of Soviet art. This praise continued for almost two years as the opera racked up more than 80 performances in Leningrad and nearly 100 in Moscow. Unfortunately, early in 1936, Stalin decided to see what all the fuss was about. The dictator was not impressed.

Official condemnation of the opera and its "fidgety, screaming, neurotic" score and "coarse, primitive, vulgar" plot soon followed. (Some say Stalin never got over the graphic orchestral depiction of lovemaking in the opera.) Shostakovich subsequently made amends by presenting his Symphony No. 5 as "the creative reply of a Soviet artist to just criticism."

Eventually, Lady Macbeth returned to the Russian stage, where it remains a repertoire standard. The opera also enjoys considerable attention at opera houses throughout the world, prized for its striking social drama and brilliantly crafted music.

The plot is stark - a woman bored with provincial life kills her husband and father-in-law so she can take up with a lusty worker; the lovers are caught and, on the way to prison in Siberia, the break-up of their affair leads to two more deaths. The opera contains scenes of biting irony and even has room for sardonic humor.

Karen Huffstodt will star in the title role; most other casting details have not been finalized.

Best known for his ballet scores, Delibes scored a triumph with Lakme in 1883. Not unlike Madama Butterfly, the opera involves a tragic coming together of East and West: A British soldier falls for the daughter of a Brahmin in India. She returns his love, despite her father's intense objections. When the soldier vacillates between his duty to his uniform and his passion for Lakme, she makes his decision easier by killing herself - all to the strains of luscious music.

The title role, which was a particular favorite of Lily Pons in the 1930s, will be sung in Baltimore by the sensational coloratura soprano Sumi Jo. She will be joined by tenor Fernando de la Mora, star of last season's Faust.

The 2002-2003 lineup also offers the return of stellar baritone Mark Delavan, who ignited the company's production of Tosca earlier this season. He will take the title role of the ill-fated court jester in Rigoletto; the cast includes soprano Stefania Bonfadelli and tenor Stefano Secco.

Susan Patterson, who has been featured in recent Baltimore productions of La traviata, La boheme and Aida, will head the cast of Die Fledermaus as Rosalinde.

Liping Zhang, the memorable Liu in Turandot here last season, will star in Butterfly with tenor Mark Heller.

All performances will be at the Lyric Opera House. For information about subscriptions to the 2002-2003 season, call 410-727-6000.

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