To say that the conditions under which the Baltimore Concert Opera's performances of Lakmé this weekend were unusual and difficult would be an understatement. The previous week coincided with massive social upheaval in the city of Baltimore, with "Ground Zero" for the rioting just a mile away from the performance venue. The first of the planned rehearsals had to be canceled, but the BCO decided to go ahead with the two weekend performances. Sunday's matinee turned out to be a day with no hint of any social unrest, so... disaster averted.

But there had been another challenge as well. Soprano Sharon Cheng, who was to sing the title role, had fallen ill midweek, and a replacement had to be found with no time to spare. Happily soprano Kaitlyn Davis was able to step in. A soon-to-be graduate of Rutgers University's Opera Institute, Davis had sung the role as recently as January. Another disaster avoided.

BCO presents operatic works in a concert setting and is the city's only outlet for opera since the demise of the Baltimore Opera in 2007. Its venue is the ornate ballroom of the spectacular beaux-arts Garrett-Jacobs mansion. With a seating capacity of fewer than 300, BCO performances frequently sell out, which was the case today.

Concert-goers were treated to a nearly complete performance of Delibes' masterful score (only the Act II dance sequence was omitted). Kaitlyn Davis was well-suited to the title role, bright of voice and effortlessly navigating the broad vocal range required. The high notes in the famous "Bell Song" were hit perfectly and naturally, with no evidence of strain.

Even more impressive, considering the lack of rehearsal time, were the near-flawless blending of voices Davis achieved with mezzo-soprano Madelyn Wanner as Mallika in the Act I "Flower Duet" and with tenor Ryan MacPherson as Gérard in the three arias he shared with Lakmé.

MacPherson's portrayal of the British army officer whose affair with Lakmé begins with infatuation and ends too late with an understanding of sacrificial love, was something special. In the hands of some singers, the role of Gérard can seem somehow two-dimensional, more as a device to help the story along. MacPherson conveyed more than wonderful, passionate singing; he made the plot seem almost believable.

Baritone Peter Tomaszewski brought great strength to the role of the Brahman priest Nilakantha, Lakmé's father. Tomaszewski's presence, both in his tall stature and his imposing voice, commanded authority. I was particularly impressed with his singing in Act II when Nilakantha is conspiring with his fellow Brahman priests on how to kill Gérard.

As for the rest of the cast, they were able support for the primary characters. For the most part, vocal ensemble was fine, save for a few tentative moments early in Act I. The well-prepared chorus of 16 was notably good, and the Act III choruses, which call for off-stage singing, were particularly well-done.

BCO productions do not include an orchestra. Pianist James Harp acquitted himself well, although he was hindered by an instrument that didn't sound completely in tune, and with decidedly underpowered action. Proceedings were directed by Anthony Barrese. This wasn't Barrese's first time leading a BCO production, and his enthusiasm was clearly evident not only in the musical direction, but also in his informative pre-concert remarks.

Although there is really no substitute for seeing opera on the stage, fully realized in all of its glory, there is one particular benefit to concert performances of operas: without the stage business, one can truly focus on the music  because it becomes the complete center of attention. Considered in this context, Delibes' opera came across as impressive, truly one of the best examples of French opera music during the late 1800s. It's every bit the equal of Massenet, Saint-Saëns and even Bizet. In sum, two cheers for the BCO production, along with a third cheer for the city of Baltimore. After all, bouncing back from all the upheaval earlier in the week is cause for celebration, too.