Secret Garden

At Lisner Auditorium

Concerts by New Age artists -- music often designed as a backdrop -- can sometimes be as exciting as watching paint dry. The duo of Fionnuala Sherry and Rolf Lovland, a k a Secret Garden, played Lisner Auditorium Friday night, and while they didn't revolutionize New Age performance, it was more interesting than grabbing a cup of herbal tea and meditating before heading to Tae Bo class.

Secret Garden is perhaps best known in this country for its PBS special filmed in Lillehammer, Norway. Composer-keyboardist Lovland is Norwegian and violinist Sherry is Irish, so their soft, electronic melodies reflect the traditional music of those countries, as well as the influence of contemporary pure moodists such as Enya.

The show marked the first time Secret Garden had ever performed with its six-piece backing band in the United States. The ensemble aided the duo on songs such as "Sona," "Ode to Simplicity" and its hit "Nocturne," which provided the impetus for the group's creation when it won the '95 Eurovision Song Contest.

Sherry encouraged the audience to "relax, close your eyes and dream" during "Pastoral," and it was easy to lie back and drift and let go and . . . zzzz. (Sorry, drifted off just thinking about it.)

While the music was relaxing (and really no different from the recorded versions), it was also interesting to see it being created. Not that Secret Garden has to rely on touring to build a fan base. One gets the feeling its sound will be timeless where it may matter most: the CD store's cash register.

--Patrick Foster

G. Love & Special Sauce

And Run-DMC at Georgetown

For all anyone knows, G. Love & Special Sauce may have performed brilliantly when they played their mix of hip-hop and blues in a double headliner with Run-DMC at Georgetown University's McDonough Hall Friday night. But because of the acoustics, it was impossible to tell: Jim Prescott's upright bass was inaudible, Jeffrey Clemens's drums echoed across the modified basketball court, and you'd have thought G. Love was speaking from the bottom of a well.

Run-DMC's show depended less on subtle acoustics, but it was also a difficult performance to watch. Rappers Run (Joseph Simmons), DMC (Darryl McDaniels) and DJ Jam Master Jay (Jason Mizell) can still rock that rhyme right on time with the best of them -- but only when they get around to it. Instead, they spent most of their stage time informing the young crowd of their status as the founding fathers of hip-hop music and badgering the audience to shout and wave more enthusiastically. It was a lot of love to ask for what amounted to a rather paltry amount of actual rhyming and scratching.

When they did manage to squeeze out some music, playing "Peter Piper," "It's Tricky," "Mary, Mary" and their take on Aerosmith's "Walk This Way," it was a charismatic rap performance that even uncovered a few practitioners of the lost art of breakdancing in the crowd. Too bad the former kings of rock didn't spend more time performing and less beating their chests.

--Mike Musgrove

The Creatures

At the 9:30 Club

When the Creatures took the 9:30 club stage Saturday night, two differences were immediately apparent between the band and its predecessor, Siouxsie & the Banshees: There was no guitarist and singer Siouxsie was wearing predominantly silver instead of basic black.

Despite these differences, the two bands -- whose lineups share Siouxsie and drummer Budgie -- had one overwhelming similarity: the vocal melodies, which remain soaringly dramatic and exotic, tempered by Middle Eastern influences. Still, the stark sound was a significant and intriguing departure. Most songs featured only vocals, percussion and two basses, although Siouxsie occasionally played one-handed keyboards and one bassist added a little violin and the other a bit of guitar. Budgie augmented his kit with marimba-like synth-drums that were sometimes the most tuneful element, and supplemented his hard-rock cadence with syncopated rhythms delivered with a force that suggested heavy-metal salsa.

When the Banshees performed at 9:30 last year, they brought along John Cale and a crop of songs they didn't write. This time the band stayed closer to its own three-album repertoire, which was limiting. For every song as compelling as "2nd Floor" or "Prettiest Thing," there were two or three of marginal interest. It came as a relief when Siouxsie, during the final encore, segued into Iggy Pop's "Nightclubbing," a tune worthy of Budgie's mighty thump.

--Mark Jenkins

Baltimore Opera:

`Andrea Chenier'

The trouble with Umberto Giordano's 1896 opera "Andrea Chenier," now at the Lyric Opera House in Baltimore, is that a strong cast can reduce audience interest in the French poet Chenier (1762-1794) to a fraction of what was clearly intended. Such is the case with the Baltimore Opera Company's production, although it is a wonderful sort of "trouble" to have.

Soprano Aprile Millo, bringing a grand manner to the role of Maddalena de Coigny, a young aristocrat caught up in the French Revolution, sang with dramatic conviction and no hint of any past vocal difficulties. Baritone Mark Delavan as Gerard, a leader of the revolution, was a revelation in his ability to convey Gerard's complexities, particularly in the showpiece "Nemico della patria." No less remarkable was the sound of his warm voice as it soared through the house. Millo's beautifully rendered aria "La mamma morta" aside, his strong appearance and bearing easily dominated the opera's powerful third act.

Tenor Fabio Armiliato sang Chenier, who falls afoul of the revolution at the instigation of Gerard. Armiliato gave the role an Italianate reading; he was generally less convincing, and notably less prepossessing, than the tightened Delavan and Millo. The duets with Millo, however, were beautifully sung.

Tenor Joel Sorensen was properly reptilian as Robespierre's spy L'Incredibile. Lovely mezzo soprano Fenlon Lamb sang the self-centered countess to perfection, and the maid Bersi was mezzo Irena Zaric. Old Madelon was mezzo Kathryn Day; Chenier's friend Roucher was well taken by baritone Kelly Anderson. Marco Armiliato, brother of Fabio, conducted.

The opera will be presented again on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

--J.F. Greene