The Consul: a conversation with our stage director, Courtney Kalbacker

Photo: Madeleine Gray

Photo: Madeleine Gray

When we decided to include Gian Carlo Menotti’s 1950 Pulitzer Prize winning opera, The Consul, in this year’s season, I knew we would need to treat it with a more theatrical approach than anything we’ve produced before. Luckily, we have the multi-talented Courtney Kalbacker in our network as our Director of Community Engagement. Courtney is also a gifted stage director, and she jumped at the chance to create a semi-staged production for The Consul.

I spoke with Courtney this week about her thoughts about this wonderful opera, and her approach to staging it. I can’t wait to see the finished product on November 22nd and 24th!

  • Julia Cooke, Artistic and General Director

JC: What draws you to this opera?

CK: What really draws me to The Consul is the music-drama. Menotti's wonderful synthesis of sound and emotion that reaches into your heart and breaks it into a million pieces. He is a master of theatrical music and this talent is on full display in this opera. 

JC: Do you find it challenging? Rewarding?

CK:  As a director, it is challenging for two reasons. One is common to many operas: outdated language and/or situations that can distance an audience from the action. As a director, sometimes you need to find a way to justify odd text or predicaments, and also to find a way to deal with the limits of semi-staging. However, I love working within tight parameters and this actually helps me focus as a creative problem-solver! The second challenge is more personal. As a new mother, I find the tragedy that surrounds Magda's sickly infant son almost overwhelming. I have yet to be able to hear these parts of the opera without being overcome with emotion myself. Hopefully by opening night I'll be so focused on running the show I'll be able to call the cues without grabbing a tissue! 

JC:  How do you feel about opera in English?

CK:  I love opera in English because as our vernacular we are able to hear meaning immediately. In addition, some new potential opera lovers are more easily persuaded to try opera if it is in their own language. Lastly, the text of an opera in English also becomes more easily embedded in our memories as well - I promise you that you will never think of the word "papers" the same way after you hear this opera! 

JC:  What is something everyone should know about The Consul?

CK:  Everyone should know a couple of things about this opera. First, a fun fact: The Consul was the first opera to ever win the Pulitzer Prize (1950.) Second, this composition is drawn from real experiences of Menotti and other refugees fleeing Europe during World War II. Menotti, as an Italian living in the United States during the war, would have been considered an "enemy alien." As a gay man (whose life partner was composer Samuel Barber) he would have known that anxiety of ostracization as well. Menotti felt he needed to speak out about the injustices he saw happening during the war and chose the powerful medium of opera to share these heartbreaking stories. I hope you have the opportunity to step into this piece with us at BCO this month. It is an experience you will never forget - and this is exactly what Menotti intended. 

Join us on November 22nd (7:30pm) or November 24th (3pm) for this incredible opera. To learn about our amazing cast, and for more information and tickets, visit

See you at the opera!

BCO: The opera company which keeps selling out its shows (and why we aren’t adding performances...yet)

by Julia Cooke, Artistic and General Director

Over the past year, we have found ourselves in the enviable position of selling out most of our concert opera and Thirsty Thursday performances weeks in advance, with many eager would-be ticket-buyers ending up on our waiting list. Unfortunately, many of those who don’t buy their tickets early never get off of the waiting list and are often unable to get a ticket. 

You may wonder: why don’t we just start adding performances? We are glad you asked!

We are thoughtfully examining the idea of expanding our programming offerings in future seasons through careful data analysis. However, simply adding performances when they start selling well is not a feasible solution.  There are three major obstacles to adding a performance without at least a year’s advance planning (and our ticket sales and trends do not yet support adding performances that far in advance):

  1. PERFORMANCE SPACE AVAILABILITY: We book our dates at our home venue, the Engineers Club, a year in advance, and they maintain a very busy schedule of other events surrounding ours.  We can’t hold the space for a performance we are not certain will happen, and the venue is understandably unable to let us add reservations even a few months in advance since they are so tightly booked. Finding a different venue for an added performance is also not feasible, since that would necessitate an additional rehearsal period for the technical aspects of the production, as well as other added staffing and facility elements which would significantly increase our costs and time considerations.

  2. ARTISTS’ SCHEDULES: We contract our artists far in advance and book them for a set period of time which includes a short rehearsal period and the planned performances. Singing an opera performance is often compared to running a marathon -- we would never ask a runner to run two marathons in two days! If we were to add a performance, we’d need to add at least two days to the contracted schedule to allow for a rest day and another performance day, which is quite literally impossible to do without several months’ notice for a group of artists who are traveling to Baltimore from all corners of the country and have other production schedules to contend with.

  3. ADDITIONAL TICKET SALES CAN’T MATCH THE COST OF ADDITIONAL PERFORMANCES: Ticket revenue covers just over one third of what it costs us to put on a performance. Our wonderful patrons often hear that we need donations to sustain our company, and this is why! If we wanted to cover the cost of producing an opera with ticket sales only, we would have to charge three times as much for tickets! So if we added a performance, all the costs that come with it would only be partially covered, we’d lose a great deal of money, and your seats would cost much more!

We recognize that all of these sell-outs mean something: our community is telling us that they just might want more from BCO!  You may notice signs this season that we are testing out some new ideas for the future which will help us to build on what we are already doing successfully. While making great art is always the primary motivation for any decision we make at BCO, we will support any evolution with calculated, data-supported decision-making (which by the way, is what has led us to such a strong position in ten short years.)

We are deeply committed to serving our great city of Baltimore with top-notch opera, and we hate to turn anyone away from a performance!  We recommend avoiding disappointment by getting your tickets early so you don’t get left out. The surest way to guarantee your seats is to be a subscriber -- we offer a 10% discount to both concert opera and Thirsty Thursday series subscribers, as well as free ticket exchanges if your schedule changes and you need to attend a different performance. Additionally, donors and subscribers go straight to the top of our waiting list if they need to change their tickets to a performance which is already sold out.

We are so grateful to the people of Baltimore for loving us! We love you right back, and want you to know that our primary goals are to produce great opera and to build community. So get those tickets early, and we look forward to seeing you at the opera.

Baltimore Concert Opera Announces new Music Director, Staff Promotions and Leadership Changes for 2019-2020 Season

New Music Director Rachelle Jonck.jpg

BALTIMORE, Maryland (February 18th, 2019) – As Baltimore Concert Opera (BCO) continues to flourish, the company announces the appointment of a new Music Director, a promotion, and a retirement. All changes will become official on September 1, 2019, though planning for the 2019-2020 season has already begun with the new staffing model in place.

Rachelle Jonck joins BCO as the new Music Director. Ms. Jonck brings to the company 20+ years in the opera industry as a conductor, pianist and premiere vocal coach. Following her stellar leadership of ‘Werther’ and ‘Don Giovanni’ at BCO in 2017 and 2018 respectively, Executive Director Julia Cooke says “We were inspired to find a way to bring Rachelle closer to the organization, and the Music Director position is a perfect fit for her. A beautiful and dedicated artist with an extensive background in opera and a deep admiration and appreciation for singers, Rachelle is a wonderful addition to our leadership team at BCO. We couldn’t be more thrilled to welcome her.”

Ms. Jonck shares: “I am always looking for projects that are truly singer- and singing-driven. I firmly believe that true emotion originates in the singer’s breath, not from a directorial concept. And the true shape of a phrase stems from the same place - the singer’s breath, not the conductor’s arm. We often forget the conductor and director are relatively modern creations! The vast majority of Italian repertoire was never intended to be conducted or directed. The orchestra listened to and followed the singer and the singer executed the stage instructions in the libretto, bringing the character to life with his own imagination. Baltimore Concert Opera has this singer-driven goal at its core. I am excited to create opportunities where singers can explore roles without external influences — where they can truly make an opera their own. The work I did for two decades at Bel Canto at Caramoor and now continue at Teatro Nuovo is all focused on preparing singers to “reassume” this old-fashioned position of power in the opera house. Joining Baltimore Concert Opera is a next natural step. I look forward to working with the passionate administration of this young company. I know I have found in them new partners in my passion for today’s young singers.”

After ten years in leadership at BCO, Founding General Director Brendan Cooke will retire his current position of Artistic Director this September. Current Executive Director and co-founder Julia Cooke will be promoted to General and Artistic Director.

Brendan will remain involved in the company as Consultant for Artistic Partnerships, and will be named Founder Emeritus. Brendan states, “It has been my distinct honor to watch Baltimore Concert Opera grow over the past ten years. I am amazed at how BCO has integrated itself into the Baltimore community, striking a balance in artistic offerings to provide plenty for both the opera newcomer and the aficionado. The company’s commitment to programming both traditional repertoire and lesser-known operas piques the interest of diverse audiences, an important key to the organization’s growth and success. In this day and age, it is frankly somewhat surreal to me that the little company that started in 2009 with just over $700 in personal funds, now has a budget of $250,000 per year with nearly half the available tickets consistently sold on subscription. I’m proud to have been involved in BCO since its beginnings, and look forward to seeing where it goes next.”

Julia Cooke shares, “Having had the privilege to lead as Executive Director for the past six years, I am now eager to bring my background as a professional singer, teacher and mentor to BCO’s creative endeavors in my new role as general and artistic director. We have a terrific team in place throughout our staff, board of directors and advisory council, and I’m truly excited to lead BCO into its next ten years and beyond.”

About Baltimore Concert Opera: Founded in 2009, BCO presents concerts of complete operatic masterpieces with singers and piano in the intimate setting of a gilded 19t h century historic ballroom. This experience allows the audience to focus on the artistry of the music, and the beauty of the unamplified human voice. All performances are through the auspices of the Garrett-Jacobs Mansion Endowment Fund and its Artists in Residence program which is part of its community outreach mission. For more information about Baltimore Concert Opera, to make a tax-deductible donation, or to volunteer, please visit BCO is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. We are deeply grateful for the continuing support of the William G. Baker, Jr. Memorial Fund (, creator of the Baker Artist Portfolio, the Maryland State Arts Council, The Citizens of Baltimore County, the Venable Foundation, the John J. Leidy Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Louis L. Stott Foundation, and Mayor Catherine E. Pugh and the Baltimore Office of Promotion and The Arts.

Press Contact:

Nicole Steinberg, Operations Director Baltimore Concert Opera
The Engineers Club
11 West Mount Vernon Place, Suite 307 Baltimore, MD 21201info@baltimoreconcertopera.com443-445-0226

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Baltimore Concert Opera will participate in $43 million program

Baltimore, MD — September 18, 2018 — Baltimore Concert Opera today announced that it is a granteerecipient of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Arts Innovation and Management (AIM) program. The invitation-only program seeks to strengthen the organizational capacity and programming of small and mid-size cultural organizations within Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Denver, New Orleans, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. Through the $43 million multi-year initiative, Bloomberg Philanthropies will provide unrestricted general operating support as well as arts management training in areas that include fundraising, strategic planning, marketing and board development.

Executive Director Julia Cooke shares, “We are incredibly grateful to receive this generous funding support from Bloomberg Philanthropies, and are honored to participate in the Arts Innovation Management program. This support is remarkable, and will help Baltimore Concert Opera not only financially but through expert training under the guidance of Michael Kaiser and his amazing team.”

AIM targets arts non-profits because of the vital role that they play in building communities, driving local economies and supporting artists. “The arts inspire people, provide jobs, and strengthen communities,” said Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies. “This program is aimed at helping some of the country's most exciting cultural organizationsreach new audiences and expand their impact.”

Bloomberg Philanthropies will develop curricula and conduct seminars for the program in partnership with leading experts, including the DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the University of Maryland, led by Institute Chairman Michael M. Kaiser and President Brett Egan. AIM organizations will engage in activities that strengthen their long-term health and goals, and will receive one-on-one consultations and implementation support for organization leaders and their boards.

All organizations invited to participate in the 2018 expansion of the AIM program are nonprofits that have been in existence for at least two years. Participating organizations will be required to secure 20% of their AIM grant in matching dollars; reach 100% board participation in fundraising; and maintain up-to-date information in DataArts, an online management tool that assists arts organizations across the country in collecting, learning from, and using data effectively. The grants will be unrestricted to allow recipients to utilize the funds to address their greatest needs.

Since 2011, AIM has helped more than 500 small and mid-sized organizations in all creative disciplines, including theater, visual arts, music, film, literature and dance. Participating organizations reported significant improvements in board development, fundraising and overall income over the two-year program. Watch this video for an overview of the Arts Innovation and Management program:

About Bloomberg Philanthropies

Bloomberg Philanthropies works in over 480 cities in more than 120 countries around the world to ensure better, longer lives for the greatest number of people. The organization focuses on five key areas for creating lasting change: Arts, Education, Environment, Government Innovation, and Public Health. Bloomberg Philanthropies encompasses all of Michael R.Bloomberg’s charitable activities, including his foundation and his personal giving. In 2017,Bloomberg Philanthropies distributed $702 million. For more information, please

visit or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter.

Media Contact
Bloomberg Philanthropies, Rebecca Carriero + 1 -212-205-0182 or

Baltimore Concert Opera, Nicole Steinberg +1-443-445-0226 or

BCO announces the addition of two new positions to its staff!

Entering its 10th Season, Baltimore Concert Opera continues to thrive, adding to its staff to expand its organizational capacity. Nicole Steinberg has joined the team as Operations Director while former Managing Director, Courtney Kalbacker, moves into the new position of Director of Community Engagement.


“We are so pleased to be able to grow our organization in this way,” shares Executive Director Julia Cooke, “Ms. Steinberg’s skills will enhance Baltimore Concert Opera’s operational efficiency and Ms. Kalbacker will continue to build new relationships in the business and educational communities. I am very proud to lead BCO into our 10th season stronger than ever.”  

Ms. Steinberg brings administrative expertise as well as a deep passion and commitment to the mission of Baltimore Concert Opera. She comes to BCO with a background that combines arts management with a Master of Music Degree from Towson University. At Towson University, Ms. Steinberg was Co-President of the Graduate Student Association, focusing on engagement and visibility of the graduate community. Ms. Steinberg stated, “I’m incredibly excited to connect with artists and patrons to support the immersive experience the intimacy of concert opera has to offer. Baltimore Concert Opera’s programming highlights my reason for pursuing and supporting this art form - music’s power to transcend, move, and enthrall.”

Ms. Kalbacker was appointed Managing Director in 2016 after having served as a board member for two years. She has contributed not only to the longevity and stability of Baltimore Concert Opera, but also to its position within the community. Ms. Kalbacker’s key accomplishments have included the oversight of new marketing initiatives and developing educational programming for elementary school students. Speaking of her new role as Director of Community Engagement, Ms. Kalbacker says she “looks forward to focusing on the bridges BCO has built across the community -- and continuing to engage potential participants with BCO’s core mission in new ways.”  

Meet composer/conductor Michael Ching!


Composer and conductor Michael Ching will lead a double bill of operatic comedies on April 13th and 15th to close BCO’s 9th season, Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi paired with Maestro Ching’s own sequel to Puccini’s masterwork, Buoso’s Ghost.

Maestro Ching joined Executive Director, Julia Cooke for a fascinating interview about his extensive career in every job in the opera business, his ideas about composing and contemporary opera in general, and his connection to Baltimore.  Read on to find out about the very interesting, very fun Maestro Michael Ching.

A selection of quotes are below. To read our full interview, CLICK HERE.

On studying composition with Carlisle Floyd:

I got the opportunity to study opera composition with Carlisle Floyd, and the thing about Carlisle Floyd that your audience may know is that he writes his own librettos. And that was of interest to me, since for (my) college (opera) project I’d written my own libretto. That was really invaluable training for me to work with him. It was very difficult, challenging, soul-busting actually. He was very exacting and challenging, and I think that was good training.

On talent:

“We have this impatient way of looking at talent nowadays that is something that is supposed to be full blown by the time you’re 22 or 23, and I look at it much more like a craftsperson’s development. You do a really long apprenticeship--you are the assistant, then the associate and you really learn how things work before you’re allowed to ‘make the tofu’ or I don’t know, put your name on a piece of furniture. And so, even though I was composing from the start, it was almost like a 25 year apprenticeship to learn the opera field from the inside out, to learn how things work….”

On his own compositional style:

“If we can keep it simple, tell stories that are accessible, that make people laugh and cry, and maybe even think a little at the end, that’s really what we ought to be doing. I want my audience to be entertained first.” 

On contemporary opera:

“My feeling about contemporary opera is that most contemporary opera is too sophisticated for its own good, and that opera ought to cut itself down a peg in terms of its seriousness. I think composers should write things that are accessible and melodic and make people laugh and cry, and they can certainly do it through whatever subject matter they want to.”

On his compositional process: Words first, or music?

“That’s a chicken or the egg question, and there’s no pure answer... Sometimes, there can be a groove or a feel that will start you off. Quite often, there is a single lyric that will get you going, it would be a ‘hook’ in pop music, so sometimes it’s the words and sometimes it’s the music and actually, then sometimes it’s the dramatic situation. And so, it’s like looking at a Rubik’s cube, and if you’re stuck, you see if you can turn it over and get any answers from the opposite side. And you play ping pong from the music to the words, the words to the music, the words to the situation... If you get really stuck, you ask a friend…”

On Baltimore:

“I went to school … at Duke, and I had a very flexible program of study there ... And one of the things I wanted to do was to go to Peabody for a semester to study with a piano teacher there.  This was in the late 1970s when Baltimore was a pretty gritty place, and I made it grittier by taking the bus, taking Continental Trailways up from North Carolina, getting off in downtown Baltimore, and walking to Peabody Conservatory. So I spent one semester of my life in Baltimore back when Divine was still around, you know, that era of Baltimore. It was very gritty, but it was enjoyable.  I haven’t seen it since before the Inner Harbor was established!”

On his opera, Buoso’s Ghost:

“‘Buoso works through a lot of stylistic borrowing and quotation - you’ve got to have your musical thesaurus there to get the “in jokes” because there are quotations that are not just from Gianni Schicchi -- there are quotations from Madama Butterfly, there is a quotation from Ponchielli’s La Gioconda, and those are just there to keep me amused and for the sophisticates to go “I know that!” You don’t need to know those things but they are there. But there are other things that everyone will certainly get. There are allusions to gospel singing and Stephen Sondheim, and things like that and the audience will get those, either on a conscious or subconscious level. But it’s really all in the service of the characterization and story telling of this devious family, and how this smart newcomer to Florence, Gianni Schicchi, outwits them in the end. And he gets it all!”

On the evolution of Buoso’s Ghost: have you made any changes to it over its 22 years?

Well, we just added a spectacular high note for the soprano, Sara Duchovnay, this morning because she’s got one! It’s one of the advantages to having the composer around, you can make little changes at the edges. In hindsight, my work gets simpler and simpler and easier and easier each year that goes by so there are complications that I wish I hadn’t written. I look at it and wonder “how come I didn’t throw a pitch there - where’s she supposed to pull that pitch from?” Things like that that I wish I had done a little bit more gracefully, or accommodating to the cast. You don’t want to write music that’s so hard that people can’t just completely own it. And I don’t think that’s the issue in this piece, the cast will completely own it, but the quicker they can get to that, the better.”

If you don’t have your tickets yet for Gianni Schicchi and Buoso's Ghost (4/13 at 7:30pm and 4/15 at 3pm), we do still have some available. Click HERE to find out more about the rest of the cast, and click HERE to buy tickets which start at just $27.50.

BCO announces the creation of our Advisory Council! Welcome!

As Baltimore Concert Opera approaches its tenth consecutive season beginning in September 2018, the company announces the creation of its new Advisory Council:

Artistic Dir. Brendan Cooke and Executive Dir. Julia Cooke, with Elizabeth Futral and her husband Maestro Steven White (new Advisory Council member) 

Artistic Dir. Brendan Cooke and Executive Dir. Julia Cooke, with Elizabeth Futral and her husband Maestro Steven White (new Advisory Council member) 

  • Suzanne Balaes-Blair (Archdiocese of Baltimore)
  • J Austin Bitner (Engineers Club, 4th VP of AGMA)
  • Michael Blair (Cummings & Co. Realtors)
  • David Dimmock (Northrup Grumman, retired)
  • Mimi Hatch (MIS Training Institute; Opera Southwest)
  •  Erika Juengst (Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health)
  • Maureen Ober Renner (Notre Dame of Maryland University, Loyola University)
  • Steven White (Metropolitan Opera)

 “We are proud to welcome this impressive group of individuals, all of whom are passionate about BCO, to join us in supporting the company’s mission. We are fortunate to have these eight council members, each bringing immense talent, energy and fresh perspective to BCO,” shares Executive Director, Julia Cooke. Several Advisory Council appointees are past BCO board members, giving them a strong understanding of the organization and its strategic plan.  Members of the Advisory Council will support the staff, board of directors, and the organization from a broad perspective, adding to the long-term stability of the company.  


Meet tenor Brian Cheney, singing the title role in WERTHER (11/10 and 11/12 at BCO)

Brian answers questions about the character of Werther, French opera, and being an opera singer.

Q: What draws you to the character of Werther?

Photo credit Leslie Hassler

Photo credit Leslie Hassler

A: The first thing that comes to mind when I think of the opera Werther is the absolutely stunning music. It truly is a masterpiece and I am so excited and humbled to make my Werther debut with BCO! The character itself is a challenge to play. It took me some time to really pinpoint how I would define this complex man and portray his deep emotional frame of mind. As an artist, he feels everything so deeply and is totally encompassed by raw emotion. From the highest highs to the depths of darkness and despair, Werther allows himself to feel it all! I view Werther as a black star that absorbs and envelops everything until, finally, he implodes. It’s really been fun to go down that rabbit hole with him.

Q: How are you same/different from the character?

A: I do understand the artist’s perspective to deeply feel every emotion to its fullest. It’s what I love about opera for sure! Where I differ from the character is that I am an eternal optimist. Even in the worst situations, my mind goes to the positive.

Q: What do you enjoy about singing in French?

A: EVERYTHING! I am in love with the French language and it’s such a privilege to sing it.

Q: What do you enjoy about your career as a singer?

A: The work. I love character development in every sense and the art form of opera is the pinnacle of vocalism. I get so much fulfillment as an artist in being able to sing so many different roles.

Q: What is something everyone should know about WERTHER?

A: It really the best of the best of French opera. A stunning score with soaring, beautiful melodies. It really is like a 2 1/2 hour art song with such gorgeous and subtle nuance. Come get lost down the rabbit hole with me!

A special thanks to Brian for taking the time to write for us!

If you don’t have your tickets yet for WERTHER  (11/10 at 7:30pm and 11/12 at 3pm), we do still have some available. Click HERE to find out more about Brian and the rest of the cast, and click HERE to buy tickets which start at just $27.50.

WERTHER conductor Rachelle Jonck asks: "What is more 'real' than real life? OPERA!"

One of the top operatic coaches in New York City, conductor/coach/pianist Rachelle Jonck speaks to us about her musical origins, the role of the conductor in opera, and how she believes opera is more 'real' than real life!

Photo © Lisa-Marie Mazzucco

Photo © Lisa-Marie Mazzucco

What drew you to a career as an opera coach/conductor?

I started playing the piano at age three in my native South Africa. My mom was a piano teacher and taught me to read music. I cannot remember a time when I did not want to play the piano and could not read music. I cannot remember that I ever decided that I wanted to be a musician by profession. I was just always a musician.

When I went to the University of Stellenbosch I had a realization about myself at just about exactly the same time I discovered something amazing outside of myself: I realized that I was never going to be as good as Martha Argerich. And I discovered singers. I never looked back. I was in love the first day I played a song and someone sang. I never knew how lonely it was to be a pianist until that day. I never knew how amazing it was to shape a phrase with someone else. I was SO hooked.

I was enrolled in my post graduate studies when Cape Town Opera called the university looking for a young pianist with an aptitude for working with singers. My name came up. I auditioned even though I knew very little about opera. I thought: "Hey, can't be that different from Dichterliebe, right? Someone sings, I accompany!" I was offered the job. I left school for the classic "on the job training" experience. My years at Cape Town Opera introduced me to the possibilities of conducting. I became the Chorus Master and Assistant Conductor at the State Theater in Pretoria. My partnership there with conductor Gérard Korsten had an immense influence on me. I taught him all I knew about singers and he taught me conducting.

I love the business of putting on an opera. It is the hardest and most fulfilling work. And I am still in love with singers!

Tell us about conducting and playing Werther--we would love for you describe what makes you so interested in this piece.

I love an opera that takes time to explore fully the emotional state of its characters in monologues. It must be the Italian bel canto lover in me who loves when a character tells me what he/she is feeling or thinking in gorgeous poetic and musical detail! What the director Sonja Frisell calls "think time". Or what I often tell my students is what happens in our heads when we sit on the couch eating ice cream out of the tub because our minds are full and we need to think things through. It is not action, it is reflection. It puts into words and music that which only exists in our heads in real life - in silence. And thus it is more real than real life. It is OPERA!

Werther delivers this in spades. We don't only know Werther and Charlotte because of what they say to each other and to others. We know them intimately because they allow us into their most inner thoughts, dreams, fears in multiple monologues (arias). It is my most favorite part of opera. It also is the part that is most like Dichterliebe, I guess!

Can you identify what is unique about playing and also conducting from the piano? What appeals to you about this? [This is especially interesting to us since we've never done it this way at BCO!]

As a conductor I am always a little jealous that I am not making music myself! You know, there is a physical and visceral pleasure one experiences when making music. It is a drug you cannot say no to.

The job of the conductor is a fairly new addition to the world of opera. For a long time opera was led by the harpsichord player and the concert master together - the harpsichord player taking care of the singers and the concert master of the orchestra. The "leaders" were all taking active part in the music making.

As the romantic orchestra grew in size and orchestration became more complex the role of conductor became established - someone whose sole job it was to coordinate the growing forces and complexity of orchestration and coordination between stage and pit. As time progressed the conductor also became the "inspirer" - the one who was to decide "how it goes". This latest development is problematic in my opinion - especially in opera. I prefer a singer who brings to the table a clear idea of "how it goes".

Of course Werther was written with a conductor in mind, but in our format we have neither complex orchestration to coordinate nor the problem of coordinating between the stage and the pit. Nor is there complicated ensemble singing on stage. It seemed a perfect opportunity to me for making music with the cast!

In rehearsal we will explore how to bring together the preparation of each singer into a cohesive whole. In performance we will all inspire each other to deliver not only the product of our rehearsals, but hopefully to find something new yet. A new color. A new rubato. Something that will make us say to each other afterwards over a glass of wine: "That phrase never struck me in exactly that way before!" And I will propose a toast to my continued love affair with singers.

Do you have any thoughts about the concert opera format, how it is helpful/challenging/anything else?

As Head Coach and Assistant Conductor of Bel Canto at Caramoor I have had two decades of experience with opera in concert. The first thing that strikes me is that the majority of people always comment: "It was so dramatic! I did not miss the sets at all!" They are always surprised by it - it does not surprise me in the least! The drama has always resided with the singer and the singing, not with the scenery and lighting.

Of course I love the artistry involved in fully staged productions. I just worked on a production of Hänsel and Gretel with an entire set, props and costumes made out of paper! The sheer brilliance of the concept and execution thereof took my breath away. But opera it does not make. It can merely support the telling of the story. The story is told by the singer. The emotion is carried in the music.

In the end you can take all the frills away and be in a room with a singer singing a poem and be transported to places you can only imagine and not see. And that is where opera lives at the end of the day - in the mind and in the heart.

If you don’t have your tickets yet for WERTHER  (11/10 at 7:30pm and 11/12 at 3pm), we do still have some available. Click HERE to find out more about Rachelle and the rest of the cast, and click HERE to buy tickets which start at just $27.50.


Meet Chrystal E. Williams, our star mezzo in Werther! (Nov 10 & 12 at BCO)


Chrystal writes about how she became an opera singer, and about singing the role of Charlotte in Werther for the first time.

The Beginning...

I always sang, but never thought "I am going to be a singer one day!" I have always wanted to help others, but it wasn't until I started at The Governor's School for the Arts (GSA) in Virginia that I settled on how. I originally wanted to teach English/Language to grade school children because I felt, and still feel, that teachers have great influence on our world’s citizens. My next choice was a psychologist/middle school guidance counselor, for similar reasons. Then came biologist my sophomore year of high school - I figured I could help mankind by finding cures for unknown ailments! Mind you, I had still been singing all the while. GSA took a trip to New York City and I remember being glued to the floor listening to Leontyne Price sing on one of the monitors in Tower Records. I asked the head of the program how I could help people and still sing. He said I could help them THROUGH the music. This is what I've been trying to do ever since.

One way I have found to help is through the Chrystal E. Williams Scholarship I founded in 2004 to help students wishing to pursue a career in the performing arts. This scholarship is funded in part by my annual concert, "An Evening with Chrystal E.” 

Dreams Do Come True...

I fell in love with Werther years ago. It all started with a man named Massenet. His music stole my heart and wouldn't let it go. He is, after all, the Puccini for mezzo-soprani. Ha! But, truthfully, his music itself has a soul. It is full of profound harmonies and intriguing rhythmic patterns that create intensely mesmerizing drama. It reaches me deep within and makes me want to pour out something I didn't realize I had. Music is a gift, and I believe we are called to share it. Massenet shared his gift in such a way, that I wasn't even aware I was receiving it. His music permeates the mind, body, and soul. It fills you with the lives of the characters, reminding you of your own experiences. No, not the same scenario, but you all the same. I sang the role of Charlotte in parts of Act III while in graduate school, and have been itching to complete the role ever since. Ahhhhh, excited doesn't even begin to express my state of being!

Preparing a Dream Role...

Is probably the hardest type to prepare. Ha! The expectations are enormous, and those are just coming from myself! I've heard Charlotte in my head for years just as I believe the role 'should be.’ Preparing it is like trying to compete with a legendary recording. We are our own worst critics, and never has the saying been more true. But, the joy and elation of bringing this character I've only dreamed about for so many years to life is a good balance, as I have learned that those legendary recordings were made by artists committing to doing what they could on that day, and not dwelling on what they should be able to do or would be able to do later. The role of Charlotte is hard in its own right: stamina, endurance, tessitura, legato, heightened drama not hindering the throat, complex character, pure language, you name it. But when it comes to performance, great artists give what they have and don't apologize for what they don't. Mind you, they have A LOT already, but that virtue says something to me. They communicate. They share. They give. Besides, challenge brings about growth, and I love growing my art!

I pray I do justice to Massenet's music. I pray I do justice to the gift that is music! Let's go, Team Werther BCO 2017!!!

A special thanks to Chrystal for taking the time to write for us!

If you don’t have your tickets yet for WERTHER  (11/10 at 7:30pm and 11/12 at 3pm), we do still have some available. Click HERE to find out more about Chrystal and the rest of the cast, and click HERE to buy tickets which start at just $27.50.

Better Together: Why BCO loves to collaborate! by Julia Cooke

Originally posted 5/24/16.  Updated 4/28/17.

We’ve made a major effort over the past few years to collaborate in various ways with other artistic organizations. With children’s and student choruses in our productions (Children’s Chorus of Maryland, Maryland Boychoir, and Towson University opera students) we are able to educate and offer transformative musical experiences to young artists. By working with other local arts organizations (The Walters Museum, Chesapeake Shakespeare Company), we highlight the connection between opera and other art forms.

However, the most expansive way we collaborate is by presenting co-productions with other companies, where the cast rehearses and gives concert performances at BCO, then travels to the partner company to prepare and perform a full production with staging, costumes, sets and orchestra.

These artistic partnerships have been an instrumental part of BCO’s evolution, keeping us at the top of the opera game and in the news! Our co-productions with Opera Southwest (Albuquerque, NM) and OperaDelaware (Wilmington, DE) enable us to bring more variety to our programming, always offering our audiences top talent on stage. These collaborations also allows BCO to support the art form of opera at large, since the BCO component cements artists’ ability to get straight to the work of staging as soon as they arrive at the next company for the full production, enhancing their musical security when all the other elements are added.

It is because of these collaborations that we are able to add very complex, or rarely performed operas to our repertoire, which our short rehearsal period wouldn’t allow time to prepare if they were solely BCO productions. It is our goal to continue to offer a combination of collaborations AND BCO solo productions in the coming years, fulfilling our mission to bring opera to Baltimore and beyond.

Our Semiramide cast and chorus, who closed at BCO just a few weeks ago will open the fully staged production at OperaDelaware this weekend (performances 4/29 at 7:30pm and 5/7 at 2pm at The Grand in Wilmington). When I saw the principal cast after their final room run at OD, I told them how great they were and asked if having had that extra week at BCO had been helpful. They all gushed about how wonderful it had been, and what a luxury it was to be able to work together musically before moving to staging rehearsals at OD!

Last year, we had another successful collaboration with OperaDelaware: Verdi’s Falstaff. The top-notch cast arrived in Baltimore, spent five days rehearsing the “fiendishly complicated” score (Gail Obenreder, Delaware News Journal) and smoothing through the tough spots, getting to know one another and creating a tremendous team spirit, and enjoying Baltimore and everything it has to offer!

After the last of the glowing concert performances in Baltimore, our casts travel to our partner company, and get straight to work on staging. The fruits of the collaborations are vast and shine brightly both at the BCO performances and at our partner companies - a win-win for all!

Luckily, Baltimore continues to get the first taste of these partnerships. Stay tuned for more next season!

Opera Delaware, Semiramide and Arsace.  Photo: Joe del Tufo, Moonloop Photography.

Opera Delaware, Semiramide and Arsace. Photo: Joe del Tufo, Moonloop Photography.

Baltimore Concert Opera, Arsace and Semiramide. Photo: Courtney Kalbacker

Baltimore Concert Opera, Arsace and Semiramide. Photo: Courtney Kalbacker

Baltimore Concert Opera, Falstaff and Dame Quickly. Britt Olson-Ecker Photography.

Baltimore Concert Opera, Falstaff and Dame Quickly. Britt Olson-Ecker Photography.

Opera Delaware, Falstaff and Dame Quickly. Photo: Joe del Tufo, Moonloop Photography.

Opera Delaware, Falstaff and Dame Quickly. Photo: Joe del Tufo, Moonloop Photography.

Q & A: Bass-baritone Ben Wager speaks with BCO’s Executive Director, Julia Cooke about singing ‘Reverend Olin Blitch’ in our SUSANNAH this week

Q & A: Bass-baritone Ben Wager speaks with BCO’s Executive Director, Julia Cooke about singing ‘Reverend Olin Blitch’ in our SUSANNAH this week.

Ben Wager makes his Baltimore Concert Opera debut as the Reverend Olin Blitch in ‘Susannah’ this week.  We are so happy he has time in his busy schedule this season to sing with us in between appearances with Lyric Opera Kansas City and Deutsche Oper Berlin. Recent years have brought Ben to Opera San Jose, Minnesota Opera, OperaDelaware and Den Norske Opera in Oslo. We are delighted to welcome Ben to BCO in this “dream role” of his. He was kind enough to share some thoughts about his career and journey as an opera singer, and in particular, singing the role of Olin Blitch with us.

Q: What drew you to a career as an opera singer?

A: I had been involved with music from an early age but it was not classical.  I grew up playing guitar and bass guitar in rock bands but I never did much singing.  When I was a senior in college, I went to local music store to find a singing teacher since I wanted to front my own band.  After the first or second lesson I was persuaded to give classical music a try since I had an unusual voice part that was also pretty loud.  I spent the next few years getting second opinions and steadily improving.  I always wanted to be more in the spotlight but bassists didn't really belong there, singing bass made more sense for my personality than playing it!

Q: Tell us about singing Blitch. I know you're very invested in this role, what makes it so interesting to you?

A: It really is a dream role.  It was written for my voice part (bass-baritone) which is essentially a bass voice whose strength lies in the upper part of his voice rather than the lower.  Plus, it's always more interesting to play morally ambiguous or even evil characters than good ones.  Blitch is just that: you don't know exactly where he lies on the moral continuum (he does feel remorse, after all) but it's not on the lighter side.  It's also very interesting to explore how much a character like Blitch actually believes what he says he believes, versus what's simply showmanship.  Samuel Ramey made the definitive recording of the role and his is a style of singing I've always admired and tried to emulate.

Q: What is it like to sing a role for the first time? Particularly this one.

A: A challenge!  While Floyd knows how to write for the voice he writes some pretty difficult intervals and harmonic shifts.  Often you have to sing very low notes in your range and then very high ones immediately after.  In addition, Floyd will often have the singer sing a dissonant note that isn't supported by any other instrument in the harmony.  As a native of Philadelphia, I'm also finding it challenging to deliver the text with a convincing Inland Southern dialect (it's written into the text so it must be done) while not compromising the musicality.  Finally, I'm looking forward to playing a role that is histrionic within the context of the piece itself:  rarely does a singer get to "perform" within a performance as I will get to do with Blitch during the revival scene. 

Q: Do you have any thoughts about the concert opera format, how it is helpful/challenging/anything else?

A: It's probably my favorite way of performing anymore.  I love the intimate setting, the gorgeous surroundings, and simply stripping the show down to its essentials.  Everyone in the room can hear every note and see every expression on your face.  It may sound daunting but it's intensely rewarding to perform in this way.  

THANK YOU to Ben for taking the time to answer these questions!

If you don’t have your tickets for SUSANNAH  (2/24 at 7:30pm and 2/26 at 3pm), we do still have some available. Click here to find out more about Ben and the rest of the cast, and click here to buy tickets which start at just $27.50.


Q & A: Soprano Colleen Daly speaks with BCO’s Executive Director, Julia Cooke

Q & A: Soprano Colleen Daly speaks with BCO’s Executive Director, Julia Cooke

Colleen Daly returns to Baltimore Concert Opera to sing the title role in ‘Susannah’ this month.  Colleen made her BCO debut as Micaela in ‘Carmen’ in 2013, and returned last year as Fidelia in ‘Edgar.’  She was kind enough to share some thoughts about her career and journey as an opera singer, and in particular, singing the title role in ‘Susannah’ with us.

Q: What drew you to a career as an opera singer?

A: I had always wanted to perform, some how, some way.  I started taking voice lessons in high school -- you know, to prepare for my career on Broadway -- and my voice teacher at the time noticed I had a more classically-oriented voice and an ear for languages.  She introduced me to opera through a Puccini aria at age 17, and I became intrigued.  I decided that this was the way in which I was going to perform, and started researching universities that offered a degree in classical vocal performance.  At college (DePaul University), I was lucky to have some excellent instructors, including a voice teacher, Susanne Mentzer, who had had a major career all over the world and had coincidentally grown up in my hometown (Frederick, MD).  She taught me not just vocal technique, but how it was possible to have a career in this industry and what that entailed.  I had an extraordinary acting director that really showed me how vital human communication was, and how to do that effectively through this art form, and I had music history and theory teachers that opened my mind and heart to the world of classical music and all this powerful art form had to offer. I was hooked.  The idea of being able to communicate with people through live musical theater, collaborating with other artists, and to be able to travel and experience new places, people, and projects was intoxicating!

Q: Tell us about singing the role of Susannah in particular.  I know you're very invested in this character, and would love for you describe what makes you so interested in her.

A: I first came to Susannah in undergrad.  My voice teacher collaborated quite a bit with the composer, Carlisle Floyd, and introduced me to his music.  We started with Susannah's second aria, "The Trees On The Mountain."  I loved the simple, beautiful melody and the accessibility of the text.  Frederick sits amid part of the Appalachian Mountain train, and I grew up with a view of the mountains outside my bedroom window.  I used to imagine hiking over the mountains myself to see what was on the other side.  I had a great upbringing, but I was restless to see the world as a teenager.  To be out in it, to experience things that were beyond my realm. I wanted to live in a big city, to fall in love, to be an artist.  These are all things that Susannah wants, and it was the first time in opera I really felt like I understood the interior life of a character so completely.  Then there was the contemporary nature of it.  I remember once in my voice lesson, we had a question about what the composer intended in the music, and my voice teacher went to her desk and picked up the phone and called Carlisle Floyd on the spot.  He gave her the answer to our questions right there!  I felt like I was part of something so special, to give life and interpretation to a living art.  Can you imagine calling Mozart and asking him what he meant about something??  To have that connection to a living, musical composer is unique, and not all that common in opera.  So I guess you can say that performing this role in its entirety has always been on my bucket list.  When BCO announced that it would be part of their season, I emailed Julia and asked if they had cast it yet, or if they wanted a cover.  I had NEVER done that before with any opera company, and I was afraid I was being presumptuous or too bold, but I was SO excited about this piece.  Julia told me that they had not cast it yet, and asked if I would be interested in singing it.  I think I told her that I would saw off my left arm to sing it on a highway overpass for a nickel....  Hope they don't think I was desperate or anything...    

Q: What is it like to sing a role for the first time? Particularly this one.

A: It's equal parts exciting and terrifying.  It's exciting because it feels like the first day of school.  Everything is momentous, from purchasing the score and writing your name in it and highlighting your part, to learning all the pitches and rhythms, and understanding the style, the language of the composer, figuring out the interior life of the character.  But it's terrifying because there's no prior knowledge to fall back on.  And this is (hopefully) the foundation that you're laying for future performances of this character, and you don't want to do it "incorrectly".  This piece is particularly challenging because of his writing style.  So much of what Susannah sings feels like chatter, or even recitative, and to try to make this sound effortless and natural actually takes a great deal of effort.  Understanding this shifting musical landscape, and when it goes someplace unexpected -- how do you get there?  How do you make it sound connected to the drama of the scene instead of just notes on the page?  And dramatically, how do you keep her an empathetic character, someone who is strong despite being a victim of her circumstances?   Especially in this precarious political climate, I find it extraordinarily important that a female heroine who is a product of her environment and circumstances -- poverty, sexual abuse, and religious persecution --  has a voice that is valid and heard with compassion and understanding.

Q: Do you have any thoughts about the concert opera format, how it is helpful/challenging/anything else?

Colleen singing in BCO's Edgar in 2016

Colleen singing in BCO's Edgar in 2016

A: I love concert opera.  It allows you to focus so much more on the music, to let the drama come through in the expressivity of the singing, with everything else stripped away.  I think it's an ideal format for coming to a role for the first time, and particularly the intimate setting offered by BCO provides the performer and the audience with an extraordinary experience of being a part of the same musical journey in a uniquely personal way, something that doesn't always happen in a larger house.  It feels sacred somehow.

I want to extend a big THANK YOU to Colleen for taking the time to answer these questions!

She is a brilliant artist and a wonderful colleague. If you don’t have your tickets for SUSANNAH  (2/24 and 2/26), we do still have some available. Click here to find out more about Colleen and the rest of the cast, and click here to buy tickets which start at just $27.50.


Jenny Wen, Hopkins med student, shares: "BCO is my favorite thing in Baltimore"

Executive Director Julia Cooke (L) and Jenny Wen (R)  Photo: Elisabet Pujadas.

Executive Director Julia Cooke (L) and Jenny Wen (R)  Photo: Elisabet Pujadas.

"Hey I know this one!" Henry turned to me with a grin as the first lyrical phrases of "La donna e mobile" rang out on stage. Henry, a college friend visiting from Boston, and I were at the premier of Baltimore Concert Opera's Thirsty Thursday "Arias, Ambers, and IPAs" in fall of 2015. We lounged on the velvety red couches in the dazzling Engineers Club, nursing glasses of local Baltimore Brewery's Bell's Amber Ale (specially paired with the musical selections), while hanging onto each inhumanly beautiful note resonating from the performers. Surrounded by audience members who also couldn't help beaming, we drank in the beauty with all our senses.

Both of us had grown up begrudgingly playing classical music (piano for me, clarinet for him) and had dutifully studied our scales and inversions. But as adults, we were still trying to learn what parts of our musical upbringing we actually feel connection with. I was lucky  to have been exposed to opera in college as a happy accident; Henry had never been to an opera performance of any kind. At that moment though, both us had were equally enchanted. We had no doubts we were having the time of our lives.

But arguably, the performers and directors themselves were having even more fun. They beamed jovially with each note, each wink at the audience, and each cheeky introduction ("this is the 'no you hang up' duet"). To our pleasant surprise, during intermissions and after the final standing ovation, the singers along with the executive director Julia Cooke and artistic director Brendan Cooke mingled with the crowd, and we discovered they're just as warm, funny, and charismatic offstage. In true BCO fashion, they invited the audience to join them for drinks and food  nearby, which my friend and I eagerly joined. The BCO team brought me back to my college days of wonder and openness, that feeling of the world is your oyster and any new person you meet can change your life.

During one of these post-show chow sessions after another performance, I sat next to Julia and Brendan and learned firsthand of their adventurous origin story and vision to share the best of opera with as broad an audience as possible.

"Well to be honest, I really don't know much about music," I confessed between mouthfuls of jalapeno poppers, " I have a ton of fun, and I bet these singers are great, not that most of us can tell though."

Brendan turns to me, suddenly uncharacteristically serious. " Well, I don't think that's true. People can tell quality. It's like when someone eats a hamburger from a McDonald’s versus a prime cut of filet mignon. They can tell the quality on the first bite, even if they don't know anything about steak, or have the language to describe it, or the skills to make it. It's the same with music. We only bring in artists at the top of the game and give our audiences the best."

If I loved BCO before, that moment cemented my respect and understanding of this team. Contrary to what many may assume about opera, these folks don't take themselves seriously, but they are very serious about their art. That faith in the audience, that firm belief we all deserve the best regardless of our musical background, that opera is fun and joyful-- this spirit is what draws me to BCO.

Brendan is right. I can always count on them. It is because I trust their vision and taste that I recommend  Baltimore Concert Opera to everyone with full confidence, whether they are classical musicians or just curious, whether they grew up in small towns or are visitors from New York or London (Henry still asks about when shows are so he can time his visits). Since that first Thirsty Thursday, I've made an effort to come to each event I'm in town for with friends, dates, classmates in tow. Inspired by BCO's democratic, down-to-earth approach, I make a special effort to bring people who are new to opera. I tell them with absolute sincerity that the BCO is my favorite thing in Baltimore. At BCO, I don't hold back my tears, laughter, or cheers. I relish the opportunity to break out of my daily routine and enter a magical space saturated with beauty. I itch for each chance to revel in awe, rub elbows with every generation, and hear joyous exclamations and amazed whispers in multiple languages. I look forward to meeting new artists from around the country who humble and exhilarate me with their talent, passion, and pursuits of excellence in paths so unfamiliar to me.

I am so grateful to BCO because they remind me how rich, expansive, and beautiful the world is, and how lucky I am to be here. I already can't wait for the next time.

Best wishes,

Jenny Wen

MD Candidate (2019), Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

Join Jenny in her love of BCO --  make your tax-deductible donation today! 

Q&A: Mezzo-soprano Heather Johnson speaks with BCO's Executive Director, Julia Cooke

Mezzo-soprano Heather Johnson returns to Baltimore Concert Opera to sing the title role in ‘Tancredi’ in co-production with Opera Southwest.  Heather made her BCO debut as Rosina in ‘Il barbiere di Siviglia’ in 2011, and was our leading lady in ‘Carmen’ in 2013.  She’s been singing all over the country since we last saw her, including her Metropolitan Opera debut! Heather was kind enough to share some thoughts about her career, and in particular, singing the title role in ‘Tancredi’ with us and with Opera Southwest.

Q: What drew you to a career as an opera singer?

A: I was also involved in Music from the time I came out of the womb.  My parents are both professional musicians and teachers and my grandfather was a tenor and choral conductor so I guess it was in my blood.  I started out playing the violin when I was 4, added the piano when I was 6, then the oboe when I was 11 (that only lasted two years...I was horrible!) then finally started taking voice lessons when I was 15. I knew almost instantly that singing was what I wanted to do with my life.  It was solidified when I went to college at St. Olaf and started to really study opera.  I was hooked!

Q: You told me in a recent phone conversation that you felt like Rossini wrote the role of Tancredi just for you! Tell us about singing it.

A: It's amazing!  I love this role so much.  First of all, I typically sing the comedic Rossini roles so it's a pleasure to dig in dramatically to a role like this within the same musical style.  Not only do I love the drama of the opera but I love that it's a bit lower than a lot of the Rossini roles that I sing.  I had a baby two and a half years ago and, like many women who have children, my voice changed a bit.  It really filled out in the lower middle so I love singing down there, if you will. 

Q: What is it like to sing a role for the first time? Particularly this one.

A: Singing a role for the first time is always a bit nerve-racking.  You can't really get a good sense of pacing until you actually get it "up on its feet", so to speak, with the whole cast.  But, I love learning now roles!  You get to sink your teeth into something new musically and dramatically that you can make your own.  This role is particularly that way.  Like, I said earlier, I love the drama of it. But, that being said it is a challenge as far as pacing is concerned.  It's very large role and one has to really pace it so that you save enough dramatically and vocally for the scenes at the end.

Q: Can you tell a bit about the BCO format and how the co-production element with Opera Southwest will be helpful to you and the rest of the cast?

Johnson in Sarasota Opera's Cenerentola.

Johnson in Sarasota Opera's Cenerentola.

A: Doing a co-production is such an incredible luxury!  We get an entire week to work it musically which almost never happens in the opera world these days.  It brings us back to focus on what is the most important part of opera....the music!  Not only do we get to work out the musical kinks first here in Baltimore but then we get an opportunity to perform it twice just concentrating on the the music.  This puts us all at such an advantage going into the staging process.  Plus, it's always such a treat to sing here in Baltimore. 

I want to extend a big THANK YOU to Heather for taking the time to speak with me!

She is a brilliant artist and a wonderful colleague. If you don’t have your tickets for ‘Tancredi’ this weekend, we do still have some available. Click here to find out more about Heather and the rest of the cast, and click here to buy tickets which start at just $27.50.


The Case for Concert Opera

by Courtney Kalbacker, Managing Director

I am an opera performer/director, a lover of music-theatre and drama-driven spectacle. I am also a fervent supporter of the concert opera form. My last two years with Baltimore Concert Opera have helped me understand concert opera's unique value in the general operatic landscape. As I become more involved with opera companies internally, I realize what streamlined concert opera can do to support our art form and boost audience development. Besides the obvious appeal of hearing fantastic singers perform gorgeous music in our own neighborhood, the concert format has an important place in the operatic scene at large.  1.) BCO can produce roughly four operas in concert form for less than the cost of one grand opera.  2.) Because of this cost structure, concert opera can afford to take chances on rarely-heard works and rising young singers. 3.) Concert opera can give full productions a head start on cast cohesion through collaborative co-productions. 4.) Most importantly, Baltimore Concert Opera gives Baltimore more opera. More singing. More operatic options. More chances to connect with audiences. This is a very, very good thing. So often, our art is overlooked, misunderstood, or just unknown. Baltimore Concert Opera has reached hundreds of new patrons this past year through 4 mainstage productions and 3 "Thirsty Thursday at the Opera" events. Some of these new patrons will prefer Falstaff over Lakme, or Amleto over Die Fledermaus, but the point is - folks can have choices, develop opinions, and learn about opera in Baltimore. This is a valuable chance for Baltimore's lucky opera lovers, singers, and producers. I am all three -- but if you identify even as one of these, you can be proud to join me in my support of BCO.

-Courtney Kalbacker, Managing Director

Courtney Kalbacker is a dedicated opera performer and producer based in Baltimore, MD. She has taken on many roles both on and off stage including currently serving as Managing Director of Baltimore Concert Opera and Director of Production at UrbanArias. She is also a freelance stage director with Maryland Live Arts, Victorian Lyric Opera, UrbanArias, Silver Finch Arts Collective, Unmanned Stagecraft, Oklahoma City University and the Boston University Tanglewood Institute. She performs as a coloratura soprano with many local companies including Washington National Opera, Lyric Opera Baltimore, The Victorian Lyric Opera Company, Harford Choral Society, HUB Opera Ensemble, Silver Finch Arts Collective and at venues abroad including the Warsaw Chamber Opera and Kingshead Theatre (London). More info at

The Focus on the Singing, a Pure Pleasure

by Virginia Pond, BCO Supporter

As a sometime backstage worker, I am often distracted, watching a performance, by an unfortunate wig, a costume problem, an annoying mannerism or odd direction. I love the theatre of a production, and sometimes pay more attention to that than to the music. With Baltimore Concert Opera, and the friendliness of the audience and the Engineers' Club ballroom, I can focus on the singing. I am struck by the joy -- and the commitment -- of the singers doing what they love and have chosen to do with their lives -- sing. And how well they do it! BCO is pure pleasure.

- Virginia Pond, BCO Supporter

Drawn to the stories: the operas, the individuals, the organization

by Susan Yager, BCO Board Member – Treasurer

Stories are what draw me to Baltimore Concert Opera; the stories of the organization, the stories of the operas we present, and the stories that lead each of us and our audience to the music. BCO was founded on the idea of keeping opera alive in Baltimore, and from that idea we have attracted incredible vocal talent to the city and fostered the incredible voices of our home. It's a tale of incredible resilience, determination, and passion. We've told some of the greatest musical stories put to paper, from uncovering a lost Amleto to the epic tale of Aida. I have always enjoyed opera, and even studied it extensively in college, but what draws me in the most is the power of the human voice to convey the deepest of emotions.  Each member of our audience has their own unique story, joining us from within Baltimore or coming into the city to see us. I'm excited to help the Baltimore Concert Opera continue its story and write the pages of its future.

- Susan Yager, BCO Board Member - Treasurer

Susan Yager is focused on melding her passion for music and accounting by serving the BCO. She is an accounting specialist at MJM Innovations, a software and management services firm. In her position she works with various government agencies to improve transportation services for seniors and persons with disabilities through auditing and payment processing. To further her career, she is pursuing a graduate certificate in accounting at the University of Baltimore. Susan’s bachelor’s degree is in vocal performance from Trinity University in San Antonio, TX where she won the Rosalind Phillips Vocal Excellence Award. While in Texas Susan sang with the San Antonio Chamber Choir and the San Antonio Opera. In Baltimore Susan enjoys singing with the newly formed chamber ensemble, Canticum Novum.

BCO: Creating camaraderie in Baltimore City

by Joe Zuccaro, BCO Board Member

Moving to Baltimore five years ago from the Washington, DC area, I had thought I knew what opera was.  I was blessed in that my parents introduced me and my brothers to opera when we were boys.  Little did I realize at the time that I was weaned on Renata Tebaldi LPs - it was just something in the background as we had our traditional Sunday pasta dinner. As a young adult, I was active with the young professionals group, BRAVO!, that supported the Washington Opera (now Washington National Opera) and saw my share of wonderfully staged productions as well as the headliners that sang them. But in Baltimore, I was introduced, through former board member Mimi Hatch, to a more endearing, intimate and just-as-musically potent form called "concert opera."  The opulence of the Garrett-Jacobs Mansion, the friendliness of the Cookes (Brendan remembered my name the second time I came), and of course, Maestro Harp and the singers sealed the deal.  I knew I had to become more involved. I now better understand and appreciate the behind-the-scenes work it takes a small arts organization to achieve excellence, the wonderful personalities and talent of the singers who have stunned us with their gift on the stage, and the camaraderie it takes to make it all happen.  Most importantly, as I stand and either welcome guests or thank them for coming on their way out, I feel great satisfaction knowing we are touching so many people in this great city.

- Joe Zuccaro, BCO Board Member

  A lifelong opera lover, Joseph Zuccaro has over 25 years of experience in Marketing, Sales, and Business Development, including angel-funded, pre-IPO and post-IPO technology companies. He is the Founder and President of Allinio LLC, a CRM and Marketing Automation professional services firm helping organizations plan and implement web-based technologies to better gather, store, analyze, share, and act upon data that maximizes marketing ROI and drives higher revenue. Joe attended the United States Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. He earned a Bachelors degree in Logistics, Transportation, & Supply Chain Management and an MBA in Marketing from the R.H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland at College Park.

Expanding Opera Offerings for Baltimore

by Dennis Ferguson, BCO Board President

I love music. I grew up playing classical piano, but my tastes run eclectic. The great thing about living in Baltimore was the ability to see a band play at Hammerjacks or The 8x10 on one night, then listen to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra or the old Baltimore Opera Company on the next. In fact, it was through friends at the old Baltimore Opera Company that I first heard about Brendan Cooke's idea for Baltimore Concert Opera in 2009.

From that initial contact, I started as a volunteer with BCO's first production, Don Giovanni. After a few more productions and a few conversations with Brendan, I was introduced to the board and ultimately joined. Of course I joined! I was tremendously excited to have the opportunity to expand the opera offerings in the city. Baltimore Concert Opera allows existing opera fans hear the music in a new way, while also providing the opportunity for a new audience to become introduced to the power of the voice. It's so rewarding to see new audience members from MICA or Johns Hopkins listening to opera alongside life­long opera lovers. I'm happy to play a part in sharing this timeless music from generation to generation.

- Dennis Ferguson, BCO Board President

Dennis Ferguson has been involved with Baltimore Concert Opera since its inception in 2009, first as a passionate volunteer and later as a board member and chairman of the Technology Committee. As a result of his dedication and devotion to BCO, he was appointed as president of the Board in January, 2013. From a young age, he began developing an interest in classical piano and computer software design. He further developed his technology and management skills at Carnegie Mellon University and University of Maryland. Since college, he has worked for St. Paul Companies and Travelers Insurance. Today, he is employed as a lead IT specialist and project manager at the Social Security Administration. In addition, he also serves as the president of his homeowner’s association and volunteers at his church and other organizations in the Baltimore community. In his remaining time, he enjoys traveling the world with his wife of 9 years.