Maybe they came to Baltimore Concert Opera’s first Thirsty Thursdays this season to hear their favorite arias. Maybe they came to taste some craft brews. What the audience members got was shock and awe. The beer was excellent, but I’m talking about operatic voices. Many attendees were there for the first time and it was a much younger crowd than opera typically draws. The audience was exposed to opera singers performing and moving about them in the relatively small Engineer’s Club ballroom, the venue for BCO; at various times throughout the evening, I was within a few feet of an opera singer performing an aria. The power of operatic voices is a thing to behold, especially engaged with them for an entire evening. It will surprise you when you encounter these voices up close for the first time. You’ve probably experienced the difference between hearing opera singers live in the major opera houses and hearing them on a recording, and gotten a taste of the power and clarity of the live performance. Well, hearing them a few feet away takes that experience to yet another level.
Views of entrance line and the atrium social area. Photos from social media; courtesy of Baltimore Concert Opera.
This was the first opera event that I have attended where each attendee was issued a glass after their ticket was scanned; it was a good feeling, more of a night club feeling. The beer tasting, included in the price of admission, included two brews by craft brewery and restaurant, Brewhouse No. 16, which is located within walking distance of the Engineer’s Club. The first of four quality beers to be sampled was available immediately upon arrival. Each of the craft beer sample tastings (a Hefe Weiss (wheat) beer, an IPA, an amber ale, and a porter) were followed by a program of three or four arias selected to fit with a theme and the beer selected for that session: 1) Celebrate youthful love; 2) Life’s complicated; 3) Crying in your beer yet?; and 4) Love wins in the end. The English lyrics for the arias were projected onto a screen over the stage, but for me, I was too engrossed in the singing and emotion to pay much attention to the lyrics. The singers most often prefaced the arias with the background story of the aria, which was enough for me in this setting. Clearly the evening was intended to be relaxed, fun, and enjoyable; and obviously intended to recruit new fans for both opera and the Baltimore Concert Opera. In fact, staff had worked hard to reach out to young people in the Baltimore area who had not attended one of BCO’s productions previously.
left: The Engineer's Club ballroom. Photo from social media; courtesy of Baltimore Concert Opera. right: Aurelian Eulert preparing to start an aria session. Photo by author.
The Engineer Club’s ballroom was set up with both regular rows of seats and several tables with seats in the back. I sat in the front row to be as close as possible to the stage; I could almost touch the piano with my hand. After a brief introduction by BCO Executive Director, Julia Cooke, the next voice I heard came from a tenor in the rear of the room and grew in intensity as it moved forward, pausing at the front row close to my chair. Wow! That’s right, wow! The rest of the arias were performed that way with the singers not only occupying the stage but moving around in the ballroom. You got a little of the feeling of what it must be like to be on the stage with these men and women singing and acting in character. It makes an impression.
Mezzo-soprano Chelsea Duval-Major, tenor Norman Shankle, soprano Kelly Glyptis, pianist Aurelian Eulert, and baritone Hal Wilson. Photo from social media; courtesy of Baltimore Concert Opera.
The five young performers featured were soprano Kelly Glyptis, mezzo-soprano Chelsea Duval-Major; tenor Norman Shankle, baritone Hal Wilson, and pianist Aurelien Eulert. This group of young artists seemed to enjoy this setting, but of course, they are also good actors. Hearing the opera singers so close reveals textures to their voices you are unlikely to note in large opera houses and certainly not on a recording; it was exciting, actually. The arias and a couple of show-tunes selected were established opera audiences favorites. Ms. Glyptis sang with impressive precision and emotion, such that I was astonished to learn later that she was fighting a cold. Her “Mi chiamano Mimi” from La Boheme was quite impressive, and I think this emerging young artist could make it as an actress alone. I tend to favor the baritones and hearing Mr. Wilson was a pleasure, from his opening Prince Gremin’s Aria from Eugene Onegin to his final aria/song from Camelot, “If ever I would leave you”. Mr. Shankle’s tenor voice was clear and bright, pleasing from the opening notes of “Libiamo” from La Traviata to ending with “If I loved you” from Carousel; both of these pieces ended as duets with Ms. Glyptis. I also enjoyed Mr. Eulert’s work at the piano and sitting close enough to watch his fingers move across the keyboard was fascinating. I save Ms. Duval-Major for last because she provided a revelation. She taught me something about the value of the mezzo-soprano voice, perhaps that it can impart a somewhat earthy gravitas I don’t associate with sopranos. All of her renditions, from “Non vous n’avez jamais je gage” from Les Hugenots to “Non piu mesta” from La Cenerentola moved me in a way that sopranos have not typically done; her singing opened my eyes as well as pleased my ears. I’m sure that the fact she was singing in such close proximity played a role in my personal breakthrough; regardless, I will now be paying more attention to mezzos.
Here is my take away from the evening: Want to hear the true sound of opera voices and have a thoroughly enjoyable evening? Put Baltimore Concert Opera’s Thirsty Thursdays on your calendar.
The Fan Experience: The venue for Baltimore Concert Opera productions, the Engineer’s Club, is stunning – see a previous OperaGene post for photos of the Club and surrounding area. The trek from my home in northern Virginia is not bad if you can avoid rush hour, but rush hour can double the commute time. I also hit backups going into Baltimore due to traffic for the Ravens football game that night. Parking in the area has not proven to be a problem; so far, I’ve found free on-street parking and not had to resort to a parking lot. Once inside the Club, all travails are quickly forgotten as you begin to assimilate the posh 19th century architecture and decor. In addition to the glass when you enter, you also receive four tickets for the four samples. The beer samples were a reasonable quantity for evaluating the beers, but not large. There also was a cash bar for non-beer drinkers, though few attendees chose the option, preferring to try the excellent selection of craft brews. BCO has scheduled two more Thirsty Thursdays this season, February 15 and March 22. Their next concert opera production will be Jules Massanet’s Werther on Nov 10, 12. Ticket prices for Thirsty Thursdays are $29 (a BARGAIN!) and for the operas they are quite modest, ranging from $27.50 to $71.50.