Just when you thought the only financial news in the classical music business is bad news, a refreshing contrast comes from the Baltimore Opera.
"The figures are still being audited," says company general director Michael Harrison, "but we believe they will show that we ended the 2002-2003 season with a very modest operating surplus. It has been a very, very difficult year. The ticket goal was a tough one; we had to raise money to make up for not making our projected ticket sales. A lot of people who are extremely dedicated to the company came to the fore and have made Herculean strides in their giving."
Harrison expects to see the company end up about $50,000 in the black on last season's $7.5 million budget. The budget for the 2003-2004 season has been trimmed to about $6.2 million, reflecting a reduction in the number of performances and productions.
The positive outcome from 2002-2003 does not erase past setbacks for Baltimore Opera. Harrison says that each of the two previous seasons posted deficits of about $300,000. Attendance last season averaged about 75 percent of capacity at the Lyric Opera House.
"We have more work to do," Harrison says. "But [the pro- jected surplus] is a very positive thing. Now, the challenge is to do the same this year."
In other Baltimore Opera news, the company has made an intriguing casting choice for its production of Richard Strauss' Salome in March. Distinguished Welsh soprano Dame Gwyneth Jones will sing the role of Herodias, mother of the debauched Salome. During her peak years, Dame Gwyneth was known for her high-wattage vocalism in Wagnerian roles and an intense acting style. Now in her mid-60s, she has been focusing on smaller, character parts.
The memory of John Lehmeyer, the imaginative, personable opera director and costume designer who died on May 26, will be celebrated on Saturday at the Peabody Conservatory, where he was a longtime faculty member. Family, friends and colleagues will participate. There will be reminiscences, video tributes and music.
Members of the Baltimore Opera Chorus will salute Lehmeyer, who was to have directed this season's production of Salome, with selections from Cavalleria Rusticana and Die Fledermaus, conducted by James Harp. Those choristers will join singers from the Baltimore Choral Arts Society and Peabody Opera Chorus in excerpts from Faure's Requiem, conducted by Tom Hall. Haijime Teri Murai will lead the combined choral forces in the finale of Bernstein's Candide.
This free celebration, open to the public, will be at 4 p.m. Saturday at Peabody's Friedberg Hall, 1 E. Mount Vernon Place. For more information, call 410-659-8100, ext. 2.
The Concert Artists of Baltimore opens its 17th season this weekend with a typically attractive program dedicated to two supreme masters of melody, Mozart and Mendelssohn. Violinist Jose Miguel Cueto and violist Jennifer Rende will be the soloists in Mozart's incandescent Sinfonia Concertante. Mendelssohn's infrequently performed Symphony No. 2 for chorus, soloists and orchestra, known as Lobgesang (Song of Praise), completes the bill.
Edward Polochick will conduct the concert at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Gordon Center for Performing Arts, 3506 Gwynnbrook Ave., Owings Mills. Tickets are $18 to $25. Call 410-625-3525.
The Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, which suffered considerable public relations damage last season by dropping music director Leslie B. Dunner after five years of admirable work, suffered another kind of setback when the opening concerts of the 2003/2004 season had to be canceled due to Isabel's nasty attack. With luck, the rest of the season will flow smoothly, but fallout from the Dunner decision could linger for a long time.
The decision not to renew the conductor's contract and not to explain why was a rumor-igniting, unprofessional thing for a board of directors to do. Whatever caused the parting of the ways, Dunner deserved better, especially given the enhanced artistic credibility the orchestra gained from his tenure.
At least the sorry incident has not derailed the conductor's career. Dunner was recently named music director and resident conductor of the exceptional Joffrey Ballet of Chicago. Having studied dance and served as a guest conductor of the American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet and others, Dunner is no stranger to the genre. He will make his first appearance as the Joffrey's music director next week with a full-length production of Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, choreographed by John Cranko.
Now living in the Windy City, Dunner plans to do more performing as a clarinetist in addition to conducting. Maryland has not seen the last of him. He'll be back in the area to lead the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in a gala benefit concert for the Reginald F. Lewis African American Museum Dec. 11 at Meyerhoff Hall. Bill Cosby, James Earl Jones, Montel Williams and others celebrities will participate. For more information, call 410-783-8000.