Operas put interesting tales to music

MUSIC

Two little-heard pieces and one premiere brighten local campus stages

February 22, 2005|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Things look very interesting, operatically speaking, on two local campuses. The Peabody Conservatory is getting ready to premiere an opera based on a multilayered Somerset Maugham story, while Towson University is gearing up for two comic one-acts.

The Towson double bill contains one of Gian Carlo Menotti's gems, The Old Maid and the Thief, originally written for radio in 1939. The opera tells a wry tale about a drifter who shakes up the lives of an unsuspecting spinster and her maid.

Paired with this work is a rarely encountered opera by Gustav Holst (best known for his orchestral showpiece The Planets) -- The Wandering Scholar, from 1930, about a 12th-century housewife who gets an untimely visit just as she is about to have a fling with the local priest. (Remember Anna Russell's dictum: You can do anything in opera, as long as you sing it.)

The production, featuring members of the university's Music for the Stage class and directed by Phillip A. Collister, will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 8 p.m. Saturday; and 3 p.m. Sunday at Stephens Hall Theater, 8000 York Road. Tickets are $14. Call 410-704-2787.

Next month, Peabody Opera Theatre will give the premiere of The Alien Corn, with music by Tom Benjamin and libretto by Roger Brunyate. The 1931 Maugham story tells of a Jewish family that emigrated from Germany to England and its attempts to become thoroughly British. One rebellious member prefers to return to his roots, a decision that leads to tragedy.

For an advance look into the new opera (performances are March 9-12), check out a lecture by Benjamin and Brunyate at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Peabody's Cohen-David Family Theatre, 1 E. Mount Vernon Place. Tickets are $10, which includes a pre-lecture reception at 5:15 p.m. Call 410-659-8100, ext. 2.

Schoenberg challenge

The next installment in Peabody's weeks-long exploration of music from the Second Viennese School continues today with a program by the Peabody Symphony Orchestra that includes Schoenberg's potent Chamber Symphony No. 2. Written before Schoenberg embraced the most radical language of atonality, it still stretches traditional musical boundaries in challenging and compelling ways.

Also in this concert, conducted by Hajime Teri Murai, will be a piano concerto by Mozart (Mi-Yeon I as soloist) and Stravinsky's Agon. The performance is at 8 tonight at Peabody's Friedberg Hall. Tickets are $18 (discounts for students and seniors). Call 410-659-8100, ext. 2.

Choir attractions

The Handel Choir of Baltimore focuses on Brahms and other eminent German romantics this weekend. Along with a group of Brahms Liebeslieder Waltzes, there will be solo and ensemble pieces by Mendelssohn and Schubert. The guest soloist is mezzo-soprano Leneida Crawford.

The concert is at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Cathedral of the Incarnation, East University Parkway and North Charles Street. Tickets are $20 (plus service fee) in advance, $22 at the door. Call 410-366-6554.

Archiglas, a five-member a cappella choir from St. Petersburg, Russia, visits Baltimore this week as part of a U.S. tour, performing sacred and folk music. The concert will be at 8 p.m. Thursday at First English Lutheran Church, North Charles and 39th streets.

Admission is free. (Before the concert, a Russian dinner will be served; the cost is $8.) Call: 410-235-2356.

And don't forget the monthly series devoted to Bach's richly expressive cantatas at First English, led by T. Herbert Dimmock. His programs, featuring choir, soloists and orchestra, are preceded by detailed introductions to the music. The next concert, devoted to Cantata No. 135, is at 3 p.m. March 6. Free admission.

BSO players up close

Several BSO musicians will be heard in intimate settings this weekend. Concertmaster Jonathan Carney will play works by Mozart, Brahms and 20th- century British composer Alan Rawsthorne, accompanied by Micah Yui, at 3:30 p.m. Sunday at Second Presbyterian Church, 4200 St. Paul St. Free admission. Call: 410-744-4034.

A violin sonata by Beethoven; a trio for violin, horn and piano by Brahms; and a quartet for piano and strings by Dvorak will be played by BSO members at 4 p.m. Sunday at Central Presbyterian Church, 7308 York Road. Free admission. Call: 410-823-6145.

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