Hippodrome, opera good fit


January 28, 2005|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

The elegantly regilded Hippodrome Theatre could be mistaken for an old-world opera house. On Wednesday night, for three hours at least, that's exactly what it was.

Teatro Lirico D'Europa - administratively based in Hunt Valley - presented a fully staged production of Don Giovanni that offered sufficient entertainment value and demonstrated the theater's flexibility.

The entertainment usually booked at this renovated vaudeville and movie house is amplified, so it was fascinating to hear the natural acoustics there. And since there has been talk of the Baltimore Opera Company temporarily using the space at some point, if renovations are made at the Lyric, the performance provided a valuable test run.

Not surprisingly, the natural sound at the Hippodrome was on the dry side (heard from the balcony), but not as faint as one might have expected. There was good presence and clarity from the stage, less from the pit. The experience certainly was positive enough overall to make me want to hear more operatic workouts at the Hippodrome.

As for this one, well, let's just say that rarely have so many achieved so much with so little. And, as Dame Edna would say, I mean that in the kindest, most caring way.

Founded nearly 20 years ago by Bulgarian singer Giorgio Lalov, Teatro Lirico is a touring troupe with its own singers, conductors and musicians (drawn from all over). The company, with more than 3,000 performances behind it, regularly visits communities large and small in Europe and America; Taiwan will be added next season.

Don Giovanni, with Valentin Topencharov's efficient unit set and pleasant costumes, boasted an agile, true ensemble cast that carried out comic moments with particular aplomb. Everybody onstage demonstrated an appreciation for the expressive richness of Mozart's writing, and considerable determination to add nuance to their phrasing.

The only problem was that most of the voices just weren't solid enough, either in tone or technique, or both. Much of the time, it sounded like a so-so student performance. You could hear the potential, but not the full force of the opera.

The most satisfying vocalism came from Hallie Neill, who had lots of color and bite as Donna Elvira; Viacheslav Pochapsky, who had the heft for the Commendatore's music; and Veselina Vasileva, who added some charming touches as Zerlina.

Don Bernardini lost ground in the upper register, but his account of "Il mio tesoro" impressed with its poetic impulses and great breath control. Although Vytautas Juozapaitis threw himself into the title role, he never quite fleshed out the notes. Same for Stefano De Peppo's romp as Leporello. Steffanie Pearce sounded seriously under the weather (or just miscast) as Donna Anna.

The opera, presented without some of the alternative music Mozart wrote after the premiere, was conducted by J. Ernest Green, well known locally as music director of the Annapolis Chorale and Young Victorian Theatre. He brought an effective sweep to the score and had the small, uneven orchestra providing decent support.

Lalov's stage direction kept things animated, if sometimes overly slapstick-y. And I couldn't buy the silly ending, with the Don and Commendatore returning from the dead for a drink.

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