The demise of the Baltimore Opera Company last season left a sizable void at the venue where the organization had long made its home. But losing a valued tenant hasn't taken the opera out of the Lyric Opera House. The theater has lined up its own operatic activity for the 2009-2010 season.
Although modest in terms of quantity - just three performances - the series has the potential of delivering on the quality end, and of laying the groundwork for more extensive seasons in the future.
"The Lyric is thoroughly committed to having opera here," says Jim Harp, former artistic administrator and education coordinator of the Baltimore Opera. He's now director of opera and educational activities at the Lyric.
There will be a link to the Lyric's past when the theater presents an Opera New Jersey production of Bizet's "Carmen" on Feb. 14. "I'm very proud to have the former Baltimore Opera Chorus onstage again for that performance," says Harp, who honed the ensemble into one of the former company's finest artistic assets.
That "Carmen" - the first fully staged opera at the Lyric since Baltimore Opera's swan-song production of Bellini's "Norma" last fall - will star one of today's most popular interpreters of the title role, mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves, along with tenor Richard Leech and baritone Luis Ledesma. The New Jersey Symphony will be in the pit. Bernard Uzan, a familiar figure at the Baltimore Opera, will be the director.
The Lyric's opera season opens with superstar soprano Renee Fleming in a recital of art songs and arias with pianist Gerald M. Moore on Dec. 17.
Rounding out the Lyric's schedule is a performance on Jan. 21 by a troupe founded in 2008 and called The Opera Show.
"We were looking for something eclectic," says Sandy Richmond, the Lyric's president and executive director. "This show comes out of London. It's Cirque du Soleil-like. The sets are exciting. And it certainly has the makeup of something that could reach the MTV audience."
The Opera Show, an ensemble of four singers, five dancers and eight instrumentalists directed by Mitch Sebastian, offers a three-act extravaganza built out of popular arias and accented by visual styles that range from baroque to science fiction.
"It's cutting-edge," Harp says, "The best thing is that it's all high-caliber singing. We hope to get the kids in there and get them hooked on opera."
Come March, the Lyric will undergo long-awaited renovations to the stage area. The roughly $10 million project is expected to take between nine and 11 months. "When the renovations are done," Richmond says, "we will have the necessities to do grand opera in an efficient manner."
That includes a widened backstage space, built over the sidewalk on Maryland Avenue, and greatly improved capacity for flying scenery. "This will change the dynamics of the facility," Richmond says.
Upgrading the space opens up lots of possibilities, including presentations of other companies and self-produced works.
"Our goal is to have an opera season in the facility from now on," Richmond says.
The Lyric is also taking on the former Baltimore Opera's educational mission. Various programs, guided by Harp, are going into schools and senior centers.
For more information on the Lyric's 2009-2010 opera season, call 410-900-1150 or go to lyricoperahouse.com.
Prize to Baltimore artist
Baltimore painter Ren? Trevi?o won the $10,000 Best in Show from the Trawick Prize: Bethesda Contemporary Art Awards. The awards were founded in 2003 by Carol Trawick to honor local artists.
Receiving second and third place were Washington-based Molly Springfield and Baltimore-based Jessie Lehson; both were also finalists for this year's Sondheim Artscape Prize.
The Trawick Prize jury included Baltimore Museum of Art director Doreen Bolger, along with Kevin Everson, a professor at the University of Virginia, and Joanna Marsh, a curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
An exhibit of the winning work continues through Oct. 3 at the Fraser Gallery, 7700 Wisconsin Ave., in Bethesda. Call 301-718-9651 or go to thefrasergallery.com.