The Baltimore Opera opened its season over the weekend with a generally commendable production of Bellini's "Norma" featuring several internationally known singers. In the title role, Johanna Meier's singing sometimes sounded a bit labored but was essentially accurate in style and technique. In compensation, Ashley Putnam sang the role of Adalgisa with a freshness and agility that were constantly delightful, and Jerome Hines, one of opera's living monuments, was a pillar of strength in the role of Oroveso.

For many in the audience, the major revelation of this production was tenor Antonio Barasorda, making his debut with the company in the role of Pollione. Besides fine tone, clear diction and evident emotional involvement in what he is doing, Barasorda has a stage presence granted to relatively few tenors. We may expect to hear more from this gifted young man in the future.

The orchestra (the Baltimore Symphony) was conducted with distinction by Anton Guadagno, and the chorus was musically excellent, theatrically acceptable. One problem with this production was the stage direction, which tended to be somewhat melodramatic when it was not downright static. This problem may be blamed on the opera's rather creaky plot more than director Bliss Hebert, who had trouble injecting vitality and credibility into this "Medea"-like story set among Roman legionaries and Druid freedom fighters. The sets and costumes were well designed.

The Baltimore season will continue with Flotow's "Martha" in February, "La Traviata" in April and "Porgy and Bess" in May.