Unusual musical offerings

CRITIC'S CORNER // MUSIC

Two concerts spotlight the pipa, a Chinese instrument

October 03, 2006|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

It's a great week to hear something different. See something different, too.

The Baltimore Chamber Orchestra shines the spotlight on a traditional Chinese stringed instrument, the pipa, during its season-opener. Noted pipa virtuoso Min Xiao-Fen will be the soloist in Ping-Pong by Boston-based composer Anthony DeRitis. Markand Thakar conducts the concert, which also includes symphonies by Beethoven and Britten, at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow at Goucher College. Information: 410-704-2787 or thebco.org.

Amazingly, there will be a second pipa sighting this month, when Wu Man, another pipa virtuoso, performs Ancient Dances, a multimedia work with music by Chen Yi and videography by Catherine Cowen. The Free Fall event will be presented by Shriver Hall Concert Series on Oct. 21 at the Baltimore Museum of Art. Information: 410-516-7164.

Back to this week: Music by the late, great Hungarian composer Gyorgy Ligeti is the focus of a program by Peabody's CAGE (Conservatory Avant-Garde Ensemble), directed by Ann Teresa Kang. In addition to such faculty artists as cellist Michael Kannen and organist Donald Sutherland, the concert will feature Lukas Ligeti, the composer's son, performing his own works for the electronic marimba lumina.

The free concert is at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow at Peabody. Information: 410-659-8100, ext. 2.

Opera in D.C., N.Y.

For a combination of audio and visual novelty, you can't go wrong with Washington National Opera's double bill of one-acts from 1918: the spooky Duke Bluebeard's Castle by Bartok, the riotous Gianni Schicchi by Puccini.

You might expect director William Friedkin of The Exorcist fame to put a nice, eerie spin on Bartok's opera about the guy in the castle with the seven locked doors, and you'd be right. But Friedkin also reveals a deft comic touch for Puccini's Dante-inspired tale of a rich corpse, greedy relatives and a thwarted will. In Friedkin's hands, the piece could be mistaken for a lost Marx Brothers flick.

Designer Gottfried Pilz has created not just effective settings for each opera, but unexpected and clever linkages between them. Vladimir Angelov, credited with puppet movement choreography, underlines those connections with, among other things, some cool ghosts-of-wives past in Bartok's opera and a giving-up-the-ghost opening shot in Puccini's.

A vocal common bond comes from stellar bass Samuel Ramey. He gives a strongly etched portrayal of Bluebeard opposite the elegant, mesmerizing and, for the most part, vocally sumptuous mezzo Denyce Graves as hapless wife-for-a-day Judith. Then Ramey switches gears effortlessly for a romp as the artfully opportunistic Schicchi, with the help of a lively, flavorful supporting cast.

Capping the attractions is a sterling effort by the orchestra, astutely and stylishly led in both works by Giovanni Reggioli. Two more chances to catch the double bill remain: 7:30 p.m. today and 7 p.m. Saturday at the Kennedy Center. Information: 800-876-7372 or dc-opera.org.

If you can swing a last-minute trip north, still more eye- and ear-diversion awaits in New York City Opera's updated, full-throttle take on Handel's oratorio Semele. With a bubbly Marilyn Monroe type, a jealous Jackie Kennedy type and all sorts of other brilliant flourishes, this is a very hot production.

Elizabeth Futral and Vivica Genaux, who open Baltimore Opera Company's season next week, provide vocal and theatrical fireworks. The rest of the cast shines, too. Semele's final performance at Lincoln Center is at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow. Information: 212-721-6500 or nycopera.com.

tim.smith@baltsun.com

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