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Opera Preview: Baltimore 'Norma'

Soprano Hasmik Papian in Norma (photo courtesy of Baltimore Opera)
November has been and continues to be an opera lover's dream, with two productions at Washington National Opera, both with two casting alternatives. Later in the month, the collegiate opera companies swing into action: by comparison to the productions next weekend of two of my favorite modern operas -- Britten's Midsummer Night's Dream at University of Maryland (November 20 to 24) and Janáček's Cunning Little Vixen at Peabody Opera (November 20 to 23) -- La Bohème was a spectacularly boring choice at Catholic University. Furthermore, the month has seen a flowering of bel canto operas, most of them rarely heard. After Lucrezia Borgia, there was even more Donizetti in Washington Concert Opera's presentation of Maria Padilla, which scheduling difficulties made impossible for me to attend.

Add to that the more exciting of the two fall productions at Baltimore Opera, Bellini's Norma, which opens this evening. It would be worthwhile to see Norma under most circumstances, but it is particularly so this week in Baltimore because of the casting. Armenian soprano Hasmik Papian will return to the title role, which has earned her critical acclaim here in Washington and around the world, including famously sweeping in to last year's production at the Met, possibly replacing one Renée Fleming, as the rumor went, since few could believe that the production was actually made for Maria Guleghina. If that is not enough, there is the Adalgisa of Ruth Ann Swenson, who may feel she is not welcome at the Met anymore but is certainly worth hearing. Romanian-born conductor Christian Badea will take the podium, and the rest of the cast list includes Frank Porretta (Pollione), Chinese bass Hao Jiang Tian (Oroveso), and Farrar Strum (Flavio). The production will be directed by Roberto Oswald and Anibal Lapiz.

As reported by Tim Smith at the Baltimore Sun, the Baltimore Opera's general director, Michael Harrison, has scaled back his duties with the company to those of artistic director, in order to devote more time to the care of his critically ill son. The loss of one of the company's anchors -- Harrison served for 20 years -- led to some rumors that the company was in peril of bankruptcy. The official word from inside the company (also repeated to me by e-mail) is that the rumors are unfounded, although they have acknowledged that the season's first production, Aida, caused a major cash shortfall as ticket sales fell off as the stock market deflated.

So, you can do your part to support local opera while taking in what is likely to be an excellent evening of operatic singing by buying your tickets now: November 15 and 21, 8 pm; November 19, 7:30 pm; November 23, 3 pm. A special promotion is in place that discounts ticket prices by $20 for the Wednesday and Friday performances (November 19 and 21). I will have a review next week.

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