Opera fare has anti-Nazi resonance


German double bill offers `Mahagonny,' `Weisse Rose'

Music Column

January 21, 2003|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

As usual, lots of musical doings are vying for your attention. Here are a few upcoming events that caught my eye.

Germany's Weimar and Nazi periods will be the focus of an unusual double bill from Peabody Chamber Opera this week and next in the intimate space of the Theatre Project.

The 1927 Mahagonny Songspiel, with text by Bertolt Brecht and music by Kurt Weill, offers a stinging score of cabaret-like songs that tell the tale of an imaginary American city where a God figure condemns everyone to hell - only to be told, "We're in hell already."

There was in Brecht's words and Weill's jazz-inflected music more than enough modernity and sarcasm to rouse the suspicions of the growing Nazi party. When this piece was later expanded into a full-length opera, Mahagonny, a riot broke out at its premiere. Weill soon left Germany for good.

Resisters to the Nazis by Germans inside the Reich may not have been great in number, but certainly in courage. They included a pair of siblings, Hans and Sophie Scholl, who helped to form a movement called Die Weisse Rose (The White Rose) aimed at spreading the truth about Hitler's regime. They were executed in 1943.

Nearly 25 years later, composer Udo Zimmermann paid tribute to their defiance in an opera called Die Weisse Rose. In 1986, he made a substantial revision to the score, which calls for two singers and 15 instrumentalists; this is the version that Peabody Chamber Opera will perform.

In flashbacks, the work provides a glimpse into the minds of Hans and Sophie as they prepare for death. Zimmermann drew on their diaries, the Psalms and other texts for the libretto of this remarkable opera.

Roger Brunyate is the director, JoAnn Kulesza the conductor for the double bill. Performances are at 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday, Jan. 30 and 31; 3 p.m. Jan. 26 and Feb. 2. Tickets are $16, $8 for seniors, $5 for students. Call 410-752-8558. The Theatre Project is at 45 W. Preston St.

Potential for stress

For five years, Leslie B. Dunner has put an invigorating stamp on the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra as music director. Programming, in particular, has been admirably adventurous for a community ensemble, offering more American music - including world premieres - than a certain larger orchestra about 40 miles to the northwest has offered lately.

Dunner's tenure is going to be unexpectedly cut short; the board of directors decided not to renew his contract beyond the 2002-2003 season. His many supporters in Annapolis have been rallying to his defense, but to no avail. The board, which now maintains a no-comment posture after initially citing declining ticket sales and the need for a change, remains adamant.

This whole curious business should lend an unusual degree of tension to Dunner's appearance with the orchestra this weekend, his first since the news about the non-renewal broke last month. His typically imaginative program puts the spotlight on two of the ASO's principal players - David Perkel in the Overture for trombone and strings by Alan Hovhaness; and Steven Barzal in a horn concerto by Mozart. The program also includes Schumann's Symphony No. 2.

Performances are at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, 801 Chase St., Annapolis. Tickets are $25 to $35; $10 for students. Call 410-263-0907.


Opera AACC - the initials stand for its home base at Anne Arundel Community College - provides an opportunity for students and amateurs from throughout the community to work with teachers and young professionals in the region. The production of Franz Lehar's masterful operetta The Merry Widow, opening Friday, is a case in point.

The cast includes tenor Vijay Ghosh and mezzo Jennifer Blades, who have been standouts in productions by Opera Vivente and other area companies. Among those joining them onstage will be Joy C. Greene, part-time music faculty member at AACC; and William C. Heim, part-time music faculty member at Towson University.

John Bowen, general director of Opera Vivente, will direct. Conducting duties will be shared by the Annapolis Symphony's Dunner and Doug Byerly, artistic director of Opera AACC. The production will use, for the first time in this country, Jeremy Sams' new, colorful English translation of the German libretto, prepared recently for London's Royal Opera.

Performances are at 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 30 and 31, and Feb. 1; 2 p.m. Sunday at the Pascal Center for Performing Arts at Anne Arundel Community College. Tickets are $10, $9 for seniors. Call 410-777-2457.

25 years and counting

The Office of Cultural Affairs at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions will mark its 25th anniversary with an action-packed concert. The lineup includes the U.S. premiere of the 1962 Viola Concerto by Czech-born American composer Vaclav Nelhybel; The Emperor's New Clothes, an orchestral work by Mihaly Virizlay, principal cellist emeritus of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra; Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola; and Schubert's Mass in G major.

Joining the JHMI Choral Society and Orchestra, conducted by Patricia Sparti, will be Jonathan Carney, concertmaster of the BSO, and Richard Field, principal violist of the BSO.

The performance is at 3 p.m. Sunday at Turner Auditorium, Rutland Avenue and Monument Street. Admission is free. For more information, call 410-955-3363.

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