When the financially strapped Baltimore Opera Company went into liquidation in 2009, after more than five decades, it seemed unlikely that a new organization would take its place any time soon. But the unlikely has happened.
On Friday night, Lyric Opera Baltimore debuted with a production of Verdi’s “La Traviata” that provided a dash of déjà vu along with a good feeling about the future.
Many of the singers onstage at the Arthur and Patricia Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric, both soloists and choristers, performed with the previous company. In the pit was the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, which, until the 1990s, used to play for old company.
But a lot is different about Lyric Opera Baltimore — new management, new board of directors, new financial structure (the company is a part of the theater, not a lessee, as Baltimore Opera was). And the building itself is different, too, thanks to a major renovation of the backstage facilities that makes bigger sets and smoother set changes possible.
Friday’s inaugural event (there is another performance Sunday afternoon) had to overcome a couple of technical glitches first. Between a problem with the stage lighting and another at the will-call window, the curtain was delayed for about a half-hour.
The audience seemed to take it all in stride, though, and there were loud cheers when …
Ed Brody, chairman of the Lyric Foundation‘s Board of Trustees, announced from the stage: “Welcome to the return of grand opera to Baltimore.” (Brody also asked for a moment of silence in memory of philanthropist and former actress Patricia Breslin Modell, who died last month. Art Modell was in the house.)
When the opera finally started, it was evident that a serious, respectable company has been assembled with remarkable speed. The performance certainly had enough going for it to whet the appetite for the remainder of the season.
Chief among the assets was soprano Elizabeth Futral as Violetta, the consumptive courtesan whose chance at love is cruelly thwarted. Futral matched highly expressive, often brilliant vocalism with acting of considerable refinement and poignancy.
As Alfredo, Violetta’s love interest, tenor Eric Margiore cut a romantic figure, but revealed a voice of limited color and, in the upper reaches, stamina. Aside from some drooping intonation, baritone Jason Stearns did sturdy, stirring work as Alfredo’s myopic father, Germont.
Supporting roles were ably performed. The chorus summoned a big, mostly well-balanced sound, and the BSO played with its accustomed poise. Conductor Steven White varied between routine time-beating and beautifully molded phrasing.
Stage director Crystal Manich took a disappointing, by-the-book approach; the choral scenes looked particularly clunky. The sets from Chicago Lyric Opera filled out the stage nicely, but looked dated, even a little stuffy. Visually, more bland opera than grand.