Thinking ahead amid a cornucopia of autumn offerings

Music Column

November 07, 2006|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,Sun music critic

The Baltimore Opera Company's 2007-2008 season will resemble the 2006-2007 lineup - three Italian works and one non-Italian, with a Puccini favorite as the finale. And, although all of next season's operas have been performed by the company before, three of them will be returning after long absences.

Verdi's brooding tragedy, La forza del destino, which contains some of his most stirring music, will open the season next October, re-entering the Baltimore Opera repertoire for the first time in 21 years. Continuing the company's potent series of bel canto classics, Donizetti's Maria Stuarda, a coloratura-rich treatment of the conflict between Mary Stuart and Elizabeth I, returns after more than three decades in November 2007.

Gounod's Romeo et Juliette, a tender treatment of the Shakespeare favorite last staged by the company a decade ago, is due in March/April 2008. The season will close with Puccini's more regularly encountered Madama Butterfly in May 2008. (His Tosca gets the last note this season.)

Casting details have yet to be announced.

Meanwhile, don't forget the Baltimore Opera's current season, which opens a new production of Verdi's first certified hit, Nabucco, this weekend.

On one level, it's a straightforward drama, with plot lines of love and loyalty woven into the biblical story of the Babylonians and the Hebrews. Beneath the surface, the opera simmers with political messages that seized the imaginations of its first Italian audiences, long resentful of foreign occupation and yearning for independence.

Verdi's choral writing in this work is particularly powerful, nowhere more so than in Va, pensiero, the prayer of the Hebrew captives, which went on to become a kind of national anthem for Italians. To this day, the pull of that noble melody is impossible to resist.

The Baltimore production, designed and directed by Roberto Oswald, features exceptional baritone Mark Rucker as Nabucco (Nebuchadnezzar), Adrienne Dugger as Abigaille and Malgorzata Walewska as Fenena. Christian Badea, a frequent and welcome visitor to the company, conducts.

Performances are at 8:15 p.m. Saturday and Nov. 17, 7:30 p.m. Nov. 15 and 3 p.m. Nov. 19 at the Lyric Opera House, 140 W. Mount Royal Ave. Tickets are $45 to $127. Call 410-727-6000 or visit baltimoreopera.com.

Powerful recital

The wisdom of keeping some power in reserve was effectively demonstrated Sunday evening by Helene Grimaud, the remarkable French pianist who drew an overflowing house to her recital for the Shriver Hall Concert Series. (It was necessary to add seats onstage.) During the first half of her program, she certainly produced force as needed, but without going into overdrive. Then, after intermission, came the deluge.

Grimaud tore into the opening of Rachmaninoff's torrential Sonata No. 2 with ear-popping intensity. This was no-holds-barred playing, generous of tone and full of technical panache. It couldn't hurt that the pianist is left-handed; bass notes rang out with extra weight and steel, a quality I have rarely heard in live performances of this work.

The visceral impact of the performance was memorable enough. The impassioned phrasing deepened the experience, especially in the second movement's outpouring of lyrical lava. Grimaud's affinity for both the muscle and poetry in Rachmaninoff continued in her generous helping of encores.

As for the earlier part of the recital, the most interesting work came in the two Rhapsodies, Op. 79, by Brahms, music that benefited greatly from the pianist's seemingly spontaneous, impulsive approach. A pair of Chopin gems, the Berceuse and Barcarolle, passed by pleasantly, if without much in the way of distinctive coloring. Grimaud didn't sound quite warmed up in the Bach/Busoni Chaconne at the start of the program, encountering a few digital slips along the way.

All in all, though, an impressive and involving recital.

Bach marathoner

Had the weekend calendar been not so full, I would have been tempted to catch all of Felix Hell's four-day, 10-concert marathon of Bach's organ music. As it turned out, I only made it to the first installment Friday afternoon at Peabody Institute's Griswold Hall, but that was still enough to get a firm sense of the 21-year-old musician's considerable gifts.

The infectious energy he generated, especially when the dance rhythms that propel so much of Bach's music, rose to the fore, as in the Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C major, BWV 564. The well-worn Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565, got a fresh and vigorous workout, and Hell's fleet feet made quick work of any prominent pedal passages in the well-balanced program.

A few notes slipped through his fingers, and he missed some elegance of line in the Wachet auf chorale, but Hell proved to be a consistently engaging, dynamic player. My guess is he reached the finish line in this bold Bach feast in fine shape.

Hahn Q&A

Violinist Hilary Hahn returns to An die Musik this weekend for a public Q&A session. She is expected to play a little music, as well as field questions about her life and career. Afterward, she'll sign copies of her latest CD, a collection of concertos by Paganini and Spohr.

The two-hour session starts at 11 a.m. Sunday at An die Musik, 409 N. Charles St. Admission is free. More information: 410-385-2638.

tim.smith@baltsun.com

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