On Thursday Night at Peabody Institute’s Miriam A. Friedberg Concert Hall in downtown Baltimore, a half-capacity audience heard the benefits, without the perils, which an academic setting can provide for music. Where else in the Baltimore-Washington area can one see two one-act French modernist operas staged?
The first opera was Les Mamelles de Tiresias (meaning The Breasts of Tiresias) by Francis Poulenc, based upon a satire by Guillaume Apollinaire. Few things date more quickly than satire, particularly if the subject is low post-WWI birth rates. Poulenc provided a neutrally beautiful score for it that could as easily accompany Greek Tragedy. The students treated the score like the masterpiece it clearly isn’t. Standouts included soprano Amber Schwarzrock and tenor Jayson Greenberg as the story’s central married couple. Finer still was the Peabody Concert Orchestra, which displayed fearsome technical standards rarely achieved by professional orchestras.
Following intermission we heard Maurice Ravel’s strange masterpiece: L’enfant et les Sortileges (The Child and the Spells). Odd it may be, but this opera is a great artistic achievement of the 20th century and heard all too rarely. The inexplicable story functions perfectly as an allegory for childhood terrors and how they prepare us for maturity. Ravel’s awesomely imaginative score matches its book weird-for-weird. This opera, with many solos for minor characters, showcased the Peabody Opera Department’s depth. Standouts included a beautifully sung role of ‘the child’ by mezzo Mary-Lacey Rogers. Also impressive were Jisoo Kim, Stephen Campbell and Alexandra Razsakoff who displayed their talents while respectively playing a Comtoise Clock, a Wedgewood Teapot, and a squirrel.
None of the above should imply that either performance was beyond reproach: a number of young singers displayed strain in roles for which their voices weren’t ready. Few singers displayed an idiomatic command of French and the orchestra was occasionally too loud to hear the singing. But all that must be weighed against a surfeit of musical sensitivity, finely nuanced acting and imaginative staging. Here’s hoping that Peabody continues to provide us with nights like this long into the future.