Italian operas air on Muvico's big screen

Music column

November 20, 2007|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,Sun Music Critic

It's looking like a trend. A year after the Metropolitan Opera shook things up by beaming live, high-def performances to movie theaters throughout this country and beyond, several famed Italian opera houses will take advantage of the same technology to enter the U.S. market this season.

A production from last season of Verdi's Aida from Milan's La Scala will launch this new venture, which uses live performances on tape, rather than simulcasts. The cast will include Roberto Alagna as Radames - this is apparently the one complete performance he gave of the role at La Scala last year, a couple of nights before he was booed and, famously, walked out. Violeta Urmana sings the title role, and Riccardo Chailly conducts.

Several dozen movie houses across the U.S. are participating in the Italian project. Locally, Muvico Egyptian 24 at Arundel Mills in Hanover will offer Aida at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 5. Tickets are $20. For more information, check out

Four other La Scala productions are scheduled in the series (if a strike of opera house workers is resolved before the season begins): Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, conducted by Daniel Barenboim; Donizetti's Maria Stuarda, with Mariella Devia in the title role; Verdi's La Traviata, with Angela Gheorghiu and Ramon Vargas as the doomed lovers; and Puccini's Il Trittico.

Also slated for the big-screen treatment: Verdi's La Forza del Destino from Florence and Puccini's La Rondine from Venice.

For a live, in-person operatic experience, don't overlook the Kirov Opera's annual visit to the Kennedy Center. Valerie Gergiev will conduct the famed Russian company in productions of Tchaikovsky's The Queen of Spades (Dec. 6, 11 and 14) and Verdi's Otello (Dec. 9, 12 and 16). For tickets, call 202-467-4600 or go to

And if it's a close encounter with a stellar opera singer you're craving, there are two notable opportunities early next month.

Ben Heppner, today's greatest Wagnerian tenor and a compelling force in a variety of other repertoire, will make his Baltimore debut Dec. 2 for the Shriver Hall Concert Series. His recital, accompanied by pianist Thomas Muraco, includes works by Tchaikovsky, Grieg, Sibelius and Tosti. Call 410-516-7164 or go to shrivercon

Baltimore Opera Company presents gleaming soprano Renee Fleming Dec. 8 in a concert of arias by Handel, Verdi, Puccini and Dvorak, along with other works. Ya Hui Wang conducts the Baltimore Opera Orchestra in this performance at the Lyric Opera House. Call 410-727-6000 or go to

Slutsky stands out

Boris Slutsky's piano recital Sunday afternoon drew a sizable turnout at Second Presbyterian Church, including many of his students from the Peabody Institute, where he has been on the faculty since 1993. He divided the program between two big works - Chopin's Preludes, Op. 28, and Schumann's Symphonic Etudes, No. 13. Although Slutsky used the music and a page-turner throughout, there was never any doubt he had the music inside him.

The pianist proved particularly compelling in his approach to the Chopin selection, delivering the 24 Preludes in what seemed like one, uninterrupted breath. That cut down on the time to savor the afterglow of the gentler or moodier pieces, but the cumulative tension of the performance was considerable. There were several stand-out moments - the telling way Slutsky brought out the funereal tread that haunts the A minor Prelude; his darkly atmospheric phrasing in the B minor Prelude; the dizzying force he produced in No. 22; his shimmering articulation in No. 23. Above all, the pianist offered here a model of rubato, the rhythmic elasticity so essential in Chopin.

Various technical slips occurred along the way (I wondered whether some of them were attributable to the unusually low temperature in the church), and they cropped up again in the most muscular, bravura portions of the Schuman Etudes. But Slutsky's ability to sculpt a lyrical line and to inject spontaneity into a phrase generated some impressive playing in these alternately turbulent, brooding, reckless and tender pieces. The pianist's encore, a bittersweet Scriabin Etude, offered further evidence of his sensitive musicianship.

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