Morris raises voice for benefits


May 11, 2004|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Worthy causes are bringing some high-wattage vocal artists to the area this weekend. On Friday, celebrated bass-baritone James Morris headlines a lineup of Metropolitan Opera soloists and choristers in a multiple sclerosis fund raiser; on Sunday, he'll give a recital to benefit a boys' camp.

Having just finished several grueling weeks as head god Wotan in Wagner's Ring Cycle at the Met, Morris could be off fishing. Instead, he's facing back-to-back concerts. "They're good causes," he says. "And I haven't gotten any offers from the Baltimore Opera lately, so any chance to sing in Baltimore is welcome."

Morris, who grew up in Baltimore and did his initial studying here, retains fond memories of "the greatest place on earth" - Camp Deerwood on Squam Lake in New Hampshire. "It's where the movie On Golden Pond was made," he says.

There's a family connection to the place; the singer's father and the camp's original owner were good friends. Morris attended the camp as a kid and later worked as a counselor. "It's very dear to my heart," he says. "The camp has turned so many boys into men. Anytime I can do something nice for them, I'm happy to, because they did so much for me."

Several months after Morris volunteered to do the camp benefit, a member of the Metropolitan Opera Chorus asked a favor. Would he be willing to make a radio ad promoting a benefit concert for the Maryland Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society? Morris went one better and offered to sing at the event. "Talk about a generous spirit," says Laura Fries, a soprano in the Met Chorus.

For Fries, the MS benefit is a "very personal" project; two of her relatives have been diagnosed with the disease. She helped gather nearly a dozen chorus members (including former Baltimorean April Haines) and three soloists for the concert - Morris, the highly praised soprano Christine Goerke, who won the 2001 Richard Tucker Award, and mezzo-soprano Diane Elias, a regular at the Met. "They are doing this concert out of the goodness of their hearts," Fries says.

The program offers selections from Mozart's Magic Flute, Beethoven's Fidelio and Bizet's The Pearl Fishers, among others. Goerke will sing Vissi d'arte from Puccini's Tosca. Morris will be heard in an aria from Verdi's Don Carlo and a medley from the musical Man of La Mancha. Kathleen Kelly, an assistant conductor at the Met, will lead a 50-member orchestra.

"An Evening of Opera" begins at 8 p.m. Friday at Kraushaar Auditorium, Goucher College, 1021 Dulaney Valley Road. Tickets are $75. Patron seats, including a reception, are $250. Call 888-991-7500.

For his recital, Morris will sing arias by Handel, Mozart and Verdi, along with songs by Richard Strauss ("My favorite part of the program," he says). He'll also continue with Friday's Man of La Mancha theme by singing Jacques Ibert's Chansons de Don Quichotte (Don Quixote).

The Morris recital will be at 4 p.m. Sunday at Grace United Methodist Church, 5407 N. Charles St. Tickets are $35 and $100 (includes reception). Call 410-433-6650.

More musical choices

Vocal music is everywhere this weekend. Worth a listen:

The Baltimore Opera Company Studio, a career development program for young artists, will present Rossini's one-act comedy La Scala di Seta (The Silken Ladder). The overture has long been treasured; this is a rare opportunity to sample the entire farcical piece, which revolves around a secret marriage. The performance will be at 2 p.m. Sunday at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, 7401 Park Heights Ave. Tickets are $10. Call 410-727-6000.

The Handel Choir of Baltimore, joined by the Baltimore Masterworks Chorale and Handel Children's Choir, will celebrate American talent. The program, led by Frank Nemhauser, the last director of the Baltimore Symphony Chorus, includes works by Randall Thompson, Adolphus Hailstork and Masterworks Chorale director Mark Hardy (the premiere of his Moonrise). The concert is at 4 p.m. Sunday at the Church of St. Michael and All Saints, 2013 St. Paul St. Tickets are $20 to $28. Call 410-366-6544.

`Carmen' curse

Around the Baltimore Opera, Bizet's Carmen is considered a curse. A couple of singers got injured in a 1998 staging. A couple more followed suit in this month's Carmen - a tenor fell during rehearsals and, last Friday, soprano Carla Maria Izzo fell heading offstage during a performance. She gamely sang the Saturday and Sunday shows, supported by a cane.

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