When in 2009 Baltimore Opera Company announced bankruptcy and closed its doors indefinitely, opera lovers were devastated. Being left without opera felt like losing a dear family member. However, sad as they were, Baltimoreans never gave up hope that one day their opera would rise from the ashes and come back in its full grandeur. On Saturday night the doors of our beloved Baltimore Lyric, recently renamed Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric, opened for a truly historic event – the official return of Grand Opera to Baltimore! The feature presentation of the evening was a free preview concert of the inaugural 2011-12 season.

Accompanied on the piano by artistic director James Harp, a dynamic team of emerging opera stars (some of which are to sing the principal roles in the new season), presented an exciting, dream-of-every-opera-lover program. The first act offered highlights from the three operas of the season: Verdi’s La Traviata, Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro and Gounod’s Faust. The second act treated us to a kaleidoscope of popular opera favorites by Rossini, Bizet, Puccini, Dvorak and others.

As the concert started, it was announced that the artists were donating their performance to the public. Young, talented, good-looking and proud to represent the re-born opera, the artists sang their hearts out, giving every aria and duet their 100 per cent. Eric Margiore was a dramatic Alfredo. Irini Kyrikidou came across as a ravishing Margueritte, and Daniel Mobbs’ charismatic Figaro put a smile on more than one face, but the true star of the evening was a rising tenor Bryan Hymel. He delivered Faust’s aria “Quelle trouble inconnu…Salut! Demeur chaste et pure” with remarkable ease, virtuosity and natural vocal beauty of a great classical master. The noble pathos of a romantic hero with which he shaped his phrases worked its magic to mesmeric effect. His wide vocal range allowed the artist to luxuriate in every note of the aria, filling it with both luminous lyricism and shades of dramatic darkness. Mr. Hymel's phenonemal performance convinced everyone that his was a Faust not to be missed.

This outstanding concert left no doubt: Baltimoreans had a truly magical opera season to look forward to. The excitement both on and off the stage reached its peak as the artists crowned the night with a glorious encore of Verdi’s ode to eternal youth and happiness, Brindisi. Truly, one could hardly think of a better choice of music to mark the end of our opera starvation and celebrate the beginning of Baltimore’s new opera era!