Opera AACC celebrates a decade of performance, training

Douglas Brandt Byerly brings broad interest to productions

  • Doug Byerly and Joy Greene for Opera AACC.
Doug Byerly and Joy Greene for Opera AACC. (Bud Johnson, Baltimore…)
January 06, 2012|By Mary Johnson, Special to The Baltimore Sun

As Anne Arundel Community College celebrates its 50th anniversary, Opera AACC marks its own milestone as a company now in its 10th year. Founded by musician Douglas Brandt Byerly as artistic director, Opera AACC provides professional training for young artists and students and quality productions for the community.

Over the past decade, Opera AACC has created many professional-level opera productions designed to be accessible to younger audiences who might be discovering a new art form, while also appealing to more seasoned opera lovers. All AACC Opera productions have always had the additional advantage of being so reasonably priced that anyone can afford tickets at less than half the cost of productions elsewhere.

Now chairman of AACC performing arts, Byerly began his AACC career as a part-time instructor in 1999. He launched Opera AACC Opera in 2001 while serving as coordinator of music and conductor of the AACC concert choir. Byerly set out to select works with broad appeal that could be translated into English and tailored to contemporary audience tastes.

Byerly said he is pleased that Opera AACC has access to skilled performers, as well as talented backstage workers who serve as carpenters, costumers and light designers, plus box-office personnel.

"As a teaching institution, we can offer students apprenticeships in stagecraft and in opera performance preparation," Byerly said.

Among past offerings was a clever version in 2006 of Smetana's "The Bartered Bride," set on a small Eastern Shore island at a crab shack where Natty Boh was the drink of choice. "The Bartered Bride" became immediately accessible to diverse audiences who gained appreciation of music faithful to Smetana.

In 2007, Donizetti's "Elixir of Love" received smart tweaking by director James Harp, now artistic director of Lyric Opera Baltimore. In 2009, Opera AACC delivered a spectacular version of Mozart's "Magic Flute," featuring Joy Greene's stunning Queen of the Night performance and fabulous costumes by John Lehmeyer. All of this — along with a fascinating version of Menotti's rarely performed "Bishop of Brindisi" in 2010 and an enchantingly staged 2011 production of Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Mikado" — prepared the company for this important 10th year.

Two operas are scheduled for the current season. First arriving on Jan. 27-29 and Feb 3-4 at Robert Kauffman Theater is Opera AACC's production of Victor Herbert's light opera "Naughty Marietta," to be directed by David Brock of Catholic University and conducted by Anna Binneweg, associate professor of music at AACC. The story tells of a couple finding true love amid misadventures involving pirates, pioneers, royalty and wenches. Featured artists include AACC music faculty members tenor Frederic Rey as Captain Dick and young Carrie Anne Winter as Marietta.

On June 22, 24, 28 and 30 at the Robert Kauffman Theater, Opera AACC will present Verdi's "La Traviata," sung in Italian and directed by John Bowen, general director of Opera Vivente. This, the most frequently performed of Verdi's operas, tells the story of courtesan Violetta Valery, played by faculty member Greene, who finds love with Alfredo Germont, played by young artist Peter Drackley.

The 10th anniversary of Opera AACC is an event to be celebrated by everyone in the community who enjoys opera, an accomplishment for which Byerly gets considerable credit.

"Although Annapolis is thought of as a Navy town and sailing mecca, my wife, Suzanne, and I are so proud to say of our hometown that Annapolis is also a center of the arts. With so much variety in music, drama, dance, orchestra and even opera, this small town is also big on culture," said Annapolis resident and Metropolitan Opera soloist Jason Stearns. "It has been our great pleasure and privilege over the years not only to perform with Doug but also to be able to do some teaching and directing for him along with his great faculty helping young artists get a strong foundation of musical and performance skills under his guidance."

Byerly champions all kinds of music, including reggae, blues and rock, describing a mission "to find value from a teachable standpoint because it's important to teach students that the most important tool is our ear."

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