Not many days ago at the Prince George's Civic Opera there was an anxious conference between manager Dorothy Biondi and music director Marc Tardue.
"Where is the music for that opera?" asked Tardue.
"I don't know," replied Biondi."I hope somewhere between New Orleans and Maryland, en route with the composer."
Biondi and Tardue were preparing for the Prince George's Civic Opera's first operathon, a continuous round of opera happenings that opens this morning at 10:30 and will run through Sunday evening at the Publick Playhouse in Bladensburg.
"We were having birth pangs," said Biondi, more relaxed after the orchestra music and the composer had arrived. "We expected to have them -- tough perhaps not to this extent."
"We're learning a lot this first time through," added Biond, who raised the operathon idea back in August. "Announcements for next year's operathon are going out in January and we'll insist on having the complete scores in hand no later than July."
Biondi said that an operathon seemed a good way to generate awareness of the company and its purpose.
"The community in general should take another look at us, if they are giving us money anyway (the company receives a grant from the county arts division), and see what we're about, see if we're worth supporting, decide if we deserve more help. Otherwise, we are left wonderng how far backwards we must go, where we must cut -- and I don't want to think that way."
"We also wanted to give some of the many talented singers in this area a chance to explore new literature and work with the composer, something they can't do in a Verdi opera," said Biondi.
"Doing new works is exciting," agreed baritone Robert Patton, who will sing the male lead in Thomas Cain's "The Lesson." "For a singer it's like being ambidextrous -- stretching, doing these new roles, and then turning around to sing mozart. Besides, I can identify with the situation in "The Lesson' in a way that I can't with "Cosi Fan Tutte,' though I love Mozart's music. I think the audience will share that feeling of closeness to the opera."
"That's us in this music, our age," said music director Tardue who, like everyone else involved in the operathon, is excited about bringing new works to the public.
In addition to Thomas Cain's "The Lesson," based on Ionesco's play of the same name, the operathon will offer a more lyrical first opera by another American composer, Thomas Czerny -- Hydzik, entitled "The Tell -- Tale Heart," based on Edgar Allen Poe's famous story. The opera's single role will be sung by soprano Marilyn Cotlow, who created the role of Lucy in Menotti's opera, "The Telephone." The production will also utilize a dancer and intricate visual effects, including slide projections.
Every day at 2:30 p.m. there will be a performance of "Hansel and Gretel." Workshops on related fields such as acting and makeup will be held each morning and a seminar led by various figures in the music world is scheduled daily. On Saturday Charles Jahant, an aminent music historian who has been encountering operas and opera singers for six decades on both sides of the Atlantic, will discuss opera's past, present and future with fellow critics and writers Michael Modt and Jack Wilson. Offering a brief preview of his talk, Jahant indicated that he sorely misses the 50 -- cent seats and glorious tenors of the past.
"We've really tried to offer something for everyone," said Biondi, "because we want very much to reach the man on the street. That's also why we've offered our three-for-$10 bargain price so that once a person comes for one thing he'll be tempted to try something else."
About the future, Biondi said, "We want to have an annual festival of new chamber operas and, in time, we would even like to become a repository for these works, renting out the opera scores to companies all over the country. I also see this operathon as a way of helping to define the personality of the Prince George's Civic Opera. This reaching out and trying the new says something about us, gives us an identity all our own."
For schedule information and tickets to the operathon, which runs from 10:30 a.m. through an evening performance for the next four days, call 277 -- 1710 or 337 -- 1817.