More than 700 opera lovers filled the sold-out auditorium at Annapolis Senior High School recently to hear The Annapolis Opera Inc. The attendance led managing director Daryl E. Platt to exclaim, "We never had a Thursday night like this."
The occasion was the company's opening night production of Giacomo Puccini's "La Boheme," and Platt said it was a fitting way to celebrate the opera group's 10th anniversary season.
Many traveled from as far as Baltimore and Virginia to hear Korean-born soprano Jung Ae Kim sing the role of Mimi. In recent years her reputation as an exceptional interpreter of Puccini roles has created a cadre of followers.
On this night they were rewarded with Kim's vocal caresses as well as her characteristic control and gentle approach to the role's tender lyrics. But Kim's efforts to present a woman in ill health were betrayed by her consistently radiant looks and steady voice. Her poignant sigh of relief and broad, dramatic gesture of satisfaction at the reuniting of two close friends on her deathbed is a scene that imbedded itself in many a memory.
Her lover, poet Rodolfo, was played by tenor Franco Farina, whose voice was accurate and strong, if often too forceful. Farina's measured approach to the music, abetted by guest conductor Leigh Gibbs Gore's relaxed tempi, created little intensity.
Roger Wangerin's Marcello had perhaps the most appealing and dependable voice throughout the performance. And Mary Jane Johnson's Musetta was the most full-throated and spunky in memory, affirming her success in prominent national voice competitions. Supporting cast members Bruce Kramer (Colline), Braxton Peters (Schaunard), Michael Consoli (Benoit), Paul McIlvaine (Alcindoro) and Stephen Stokes (Parpignol) followed artistic director Richard Getke's designs for naturalistic movement and delivery, but to little effect. Yet Getke was able to give the entire production the necessary Parisian feeling.
Both the Adult Chorus and the Children's Chorus of Maryland produced finely blended sounds under the direction of Ava Shields and Betty Bertaux. They were joined on the wide stage by a 10-piece marching band wearing the high school's uniforms in the crowded Latin Quarter Square of Act II.
The 28 members of the youthful Annapolis Opera Orchestra were not listed in the program for some reason but deserved every bit of the applause they received. Gore's versatility and expertise helped guide the players through a difficult score. The more they can play as a unit, the better the results will be.
Projects of the Annapolis Opera Guild, which helps support the opera company, include a variety of musical programs in private homes to generate funds for the company, an annual scholarship program and an "Opera in the Schools" program that tours three high schools in the Annapolis area.
Company President Erich J. Rose says that despite "facing the new decade in a world of uncertainty economically, politically, socially and culturally, the Annapolis Opera will move with confidence into the future."
A demonstration of that confidence is the company's intention to stage the world premiere of Gregory Sandow's opera "Frankenstein" March 3 and 5, 1983. The monster and the mad doctor already have been cast.
The Prince George's Civic Opera tackled Giuseppe Verdi's "La Traviata" recently.
It would be a joy to report that the production flowed as evenly and endlessly as the champagne in the opera's opening party scene. But although there was much to absorb visually, the vocals lacked punch and taste in some parts.
Similar to the opera in Annapolis, the story is about a beautiful woman in Paris who is dying. This opera's mademoiselle of misfortune, Violetta, is a courtesan--nothing like the seamstress Mimi who lives in a Bohemian neighborhood.
Dorothy Kingston sang the leading role in the March 21 performance, coloring her voice to show a gamut of emotions. Theater buffs would quarrel with the sincerity of her stage cough but would have to acquiesce after her duet in Act II with her potential father-in-law, Giorgio Germont, sung by baritone Donald Frank with his usual panache. Kingston's valiant approximation of a fil di voce (thread of a voice) and her death scene in Act IV justified the standing ovation.
Tenor Christopher Leo King could swagger with any of the lot of the "Pirates of Penzance," but the work at hand was not Gilbert and Sullivan but Piave and Verdi. His character, Alfredo, is one who is victimized, scandalized and ostracized while still having a pretty good time. Perhaps because of one of the many viruses that inflict singers at this time of year, King projected a voice that was too often open at the top, of one color and too loud. Many of the notes in the score were tampered with; soft moments went by the board. It was the most individual Alfredo in memory.
In Dixie Shelm's inventive costumes and under Stan Dunn's management, the chorus never looked or sounded better.
While the opera in Annapolis was done in its original Italian, this production was done in the Ruth and Thomas Martin English translation. The weak spots in the translation proved to be a disadvantage for the singers, who were often rescued by Dorothy Biondi's dependable staging against the bold sets borrowed from the Tri-Cities' Opera of New York state.
This is the first year Conductor Stephen Robert Kleiman has worked with Prince George's and his expertise has had a profound effect on the ensemble.
The company's last production of the season will be "The Gypsy Baron" by Johann Strauss II, June 11-13.