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A Discount-Opera Outlet?

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Since the 58-year-old Baltimore Opera Company filed for bankruptcy in March, the future of opera in Charm City has been in question. Enter Giorgio Lalov, a Bulgarian-born impresario who for 20-plus years has headed a touring opera outfit called the Teatro Lirico D'Europa; who happens to live in Baltimore; and who is now seeking to establish a new permanent opera company there, the Baltimore Opera Theater.

Lalov's modus operandi with the Teatro Lirico has involved cost-saving through using inexpensive unknown singers, creating his own sets and costumes, and curtailing rehearsals. (In the standard repertory, he says, more than a week of rehearsal is "a waste of time.") He will have to change considerably to establish a permanent company, which will require him to follow the wage guidelines of the American Guild of Musical Artists, the musicians' union, and for which he will have to hire outside directors as well as conductors. (He will also have to figure out where and what he will be presenting; his plans fluctuate between the Lyric Opera House and the Hippodrome, and his first season may or may not include "Rigoletto," "La Bohème" and "Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci.")

He certainly intends to get what he can of the Baltimore Opera's leavings, including concrete assets ("I'm trying to get this stuff before the auctions," he says) and many of the company's orchestra and chorus musicians, although it is not clear that these musicians have yet been apprised of the fact. And he plans to save money by keeping administrative costs low. Michael Harrison, the former general director of the Baltimore Opera, "used to have 6, 7 million [dollars]" a year, he says. "I think we can run the whole season on 2 million."

You get what you pay for. Lalov has experience in getting opera onstage, but it remains to be seen whether it's the kind of opera that lingers in the mind and heart-- assuming, that is, that he manages to get his venture off the ground.

-- Anne Midgette

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