Baltimore’s Top Small Opera Houses

August 18, 2011 5:15 AM

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Photo Credit: The Figaro Project

Photo Credit: The Figaro Project

By Karlyn DeSteno

The Baltimore Opera House may have closed its doors in 2009, but that hasn’t stopped Baltimore’s composers and performers from creating and performing noteworthy new productions. Baltimore’s small D.I.Y. opera companies, like The Figaro Project, Rhymes With Opera, and the Baltimore Chamber opera, create small-scale, high-quality stagings of works ranging from the traditional to the experimental. Aided by cooperation from local venues, and armed with a dedicated cast of local instrumental, vocal and compositional talent, these independent opera companies have been serving up a series of new, genre-bending performances that are well worth the asking price.Check out these three local opera companies for new interpretations of classics, new works by local composers and innovative collaborative projects in the 2011-2012 season.
timthumb Baltimore’s Top Small Opera Houses

Photo Credit: Baltimore Concert Opera

The Baltimore Concert Opera

The Engineers Club
11 West Mount Vernon Place
Baltimore, Md.

Fans of time-tested classics and older operatic works should check out the Baltimore Concert Opera, a collective that stages intimate, no-frills readings of classic operas by talented local singers. The company forgoes flashy sets and costumes in favor of showcasing the human voice and each work’s musical and lyrical content. This is a sure way for newcomers and veteran audience members alike to experience opera in a unique and inspiring setting, at a reasonable price.

This season, check out The BCO’s performances of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and three other classic works. Single-concert and season tickets are available online

Upcoming Performances:

Madama Butterfly (Giacomo Puccini)
The Baltimore Concert Opera

Friday, Sept. 23, 2011 at 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, Sept. 25 at 3 p.m.
The Engineers Club (Grand Ballroom) (
Price: $25 

figaro project Baltimore’s Top Small Opera Houses

Photo Credit: The Figaro Project

The Figaro Project

Often at Germano’s Trattoria
300 South High Street
Baltimore, Md.
Price: Usually $10

After the Baltimore Opera House closed its doors in 2009, members of its cast and a host of special guests began creating their own self-funded performances of classic operas, to rave reviews. Since then, the Figaro Project has come into its own as an innovative, self-funded opera company comprised of graduates from the Peabody Conservatory at Johns Hopkins University and spearheaded by young singer Caitlin Vincent.

The Figaro Project curates regular concerts of excerpts and arias, and performs entire works like Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, with pared-down staging and world-class musicianship. It also sponsors and premiers new operas by young, local composers in its annual spring Opera Trio concert.

 The Figaro Project’s 2011-2101 season will be online soon. Concerts often happen on short notice, so stay tuned to the Figaro Project website for the latest.

VLA Baltimore’s Top Small Opera Houses

Photo Credit: Rhymes With Opera

Rhymes With Opera

Various places in Baltimore

Rhymes with Opera focuses its talents on new and experimental vocal works, embracing a range of sounds and styles that bring new life to the operatic form. With a cast of local operatic and instrumental talent that is as comfortable with traditional opera as it is with improvisation, electronics and the avant-garde, this small company creates flexible productions in small, local venues to engage new audiences and push the boundaries of its form.

Past performances have drawn influence from hip hop to Greek choruses, from electronic rock to reality T.V. Old and new opera lovers alike are sure to be pleasantly surprised.

Rhymes With Opera’s 2010-2011 season will be online soon. Concerts often happen on short notice, so stay tuned to the Rhymes With Opera website for the latest.

Karlyn DeSteno is a writer and artist living in Baltimore, Md.

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  • James

    Also worth mentioning are the fine productions by Opera Vivente, the occasional foray into concert opera by the BSO, and fine opera productions at Peabody, Morgan State, and Towson (among others).

  • Opera Lover

    Call me a stickler, but let’s not confuse traditional operatic production values (i.e., full staging, sets, theatrical direction, costumes, dance/choreography, complete memorization of performers, wide ranging instrumental accompaniment, and usually a large theatrical facility demanding superior, unenhanced, vocal projection technique) with what is essentially a small-venue concert reading, staging, or, at best, chamber performance. The distinguishable difference between the two cannot be overstated. While I applaud all of the above ensembles and support their missions completely (and intend no disrespect), I take issue with traditional repertoire being described as above and labelled ‘operatic production’. Opera light, perhaps, but not even close to the way most of the repertoire is intended and standardly performed in opera houses and on musical stages around the world. Apples and oranges.

    • Joshua Bornfield

      The purpose of this article is to show opera lovers that opera is not dying in our community. None of the groups stated have an annual operating budget that would even come close to doing a single weekend-long run of a production the likes of which you’d see at the Met, Chicago Lyric, or Santa Fe. That said, the interest in opera doesn’t just survive, it thrives and seeks to expand to new forms, new spaces, new kinds of productions. The standard experience at an A-list house is often as much about seeing and being seen as it is about the music. These companies — in a stark contrast to that tradition — focus on the works themselves in inclusive settings.

      Way to go, Brendan, Caitlin and Ruby. Kudos to you for putting your passion to a positive, community-serving use.

      • Opera Lover

        Opera is a peforming art, not merely a musical art. Intrinsic to opera’s very identity is a co-equal theatrical element and all the responsibilities that denotes. The theatrical component does not neccesitate an A-List venue in order to be present. Many great operatic productions are to be found at conservatories, university music schools, as well as B and C grade houses who offer low budget sets, costumes, amateur-level performances, student or pick-up orchestras and the like. My point is that opera should not be stripped of its rich confluence of essential multi-faceted art forms and still be called opera or an opera production, unless intended to be performed as such by a composer/librettist (Britten comes to mind).. Opera is something different when you take away the structural elements that make it what it is – the highest of all performing art forms (because it utilizes all of them).

        Sadly, I might argue opera is dying in our community if we cannot viably finance a real opera company that fulfils all aspects of the art form. The music may be alive and well, but that is not enough. If it’s only about the music, buy recordings. Many are excellent and historically unsurpassed. But most opera goers know opera is about so much more, and they expect more – we wish to see the talents not only of musical minds, but theatrical, visual, artistic and balletic, technical etc. at work. I contend most audience members care less about seeing others and being seen in the opera house, but instead are interested in seeing great historical works as THEY are intended to be seen, in full.

        A staged reading of a film script is not the same as watching a movie in the theater – one is a movie, the other is not. The two experiences have an integral element in common, but are hardly comparable. There is a place for both concert and full productions, of course, but let’s not confuse the two as being the same.

  • brian goodman

    how could you leave out the young vic?

  • John Bowen

    Hey Brian – Don’t feel bad. They also left out Opera Vivente which has been presenting the type of opera that Opera Lover mentions for 13 seasons.

    • Opera Lover

      Keep up the excellent work, Mr. Bowen!

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