Maryland Opera will be presenting “Passion at the Pendry: French Fantasies,” directed by James Harp on February 14 at 7:30 pm and February 16 at 3:00 pm in the Sagamore Pendry, Baltimore’s gorgeous and historic ballroom.
According to Maryland Opera “Love, lust, passion, drama! This Valentine’s Day weekend, experience the compelling emotional pathos, the soul-stirring music and high-end, luxurious scene of Maryland Opera’s “Passion at the Pendry: French Fantasies.” The program celebrates the romance of French grand opera and includes fully-staged and costumed scenes from Saint-Saëns’ “Samson and Delilah,” Offenbach’s “The Tales of Hoffmann,” Massenet’s “Manon” and many more. The opera will be performed in their original French with projected surtitles.
I had the opportunity to interview James Harp, who also serves as Maryland Opera’s Artistic Director, about himself and this upcoming concert.
Bio: James Harp is the artistic director of Maryland Opera, where he is building a comprehensive, innovative opera and opera education/outreach program to serve the entire state of Maryland. He is pursuing and nurturing partnerships and collaborations with local and national arts organizations to sustain the operatic art form in perpetuity. He is also a judge for regional and district Metropolitan Opera auditions. Harp is well known in the Baltimore area as a pianist, organist, stage director, singer, composer, lecturer, writer and conductor. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Peabody Conservatory of Music. Harp was the artistic administrator of the Baltimore Opera Company beginning in 1989, and chorus master starting 1993. Since 1983 he has served as organist for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and since 1987 has been the cantor (organist/choirmaster) for Baltimore’s historic St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, where he also serves as artistic director of the St. Cecilia Society Concert Series.
Since 2009, he has been the principal accompanist and chorus master for Baltimore Concert Opera. He is a coach/accompanist with the Wagner Society of Washington, D.C., and is on the opera faculty at the Peabody Conservatory. Knowledgeable in many areas of music, Harp has lectured extensively on opera in many venues, including the Towson Arts Festival, the Maryland Opera Society, the Biblical Archaeology Society, and the Joy of Opera Series. Sought after as an orchestral musician and accompanist, Harp has been featured soloist with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in works ranging from Saint-Saens “Organ Symphony” to Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera.” He has appeared as continuo (harpsichord/organ) soloist with many local orchestral and choral groups, where his informed and overly theatrical realizations of baroque figured bass have won acclaim. Accompanist to many local singers, many of whom feature his own compositions, he has also accompanied such artists as Elizabeth Futral, Stephen Costello, Leontyne Price, Marilyn Horne, Sherrill Milnes, Licia Albanese, Anna Moffo, Chris Merritt, Lucine Amara, and Paul Plishka. His appearance with Miss Futral and Mr. Costello was part of the noted “Vocal Arts Society of Washington D.C.” series at the Kennedy Center. An aficionado of gardening, theology, genealogy and all things Victorian, Harp lives in Baltimore’s Bolton Hill neighborhood with his three gregarious pugs, Vera, Minnie Lee and Otto.
- Why do you think opera, especially classical opera, remains relevant to today’s audiences?
The stories of the operas are in fact more relevant than ever. Love, death, passion, tragedy, the consequences of bad choices, betrayal, political intrigue—these are all part and parcel of operatic dramas and are profoundly relevant in modern times.
- How do you encourage youngsters, especially in the inner city, to give opera, and other classical music a chance through your outreach programs?
We make it fun, accessible and relevant. We use easily recognizable melodies and operas to teach them about the rudiments. We used puppets for the youngest ones and more interactive programs for the older ones.
- How old were you when you started playing the organ? Harpsichord?
I started piano lessons at age 7 and wanted to start organ but my feet wouldn’t reach the pedals. I began organ at 10 and harpsichord at 16.
- Why did you choose these 3 sections to perform on Valentine’s Day weekend?
French Grand Opera is quintessentially Romantic, and these particular selections have an added element of fantasy to them.
- Do you have your personal favorite operas, composers and musicians?
For the most part, my favorite opera is the last one I heard! I do love the 19th-century grand opera composers – Verdi, Wagner, Puccini. My favorite opera is “Tristan und Isolde” by Wagner. I admire the great singers of the past, especially sopranos such as Birgit Nilsson, Renata Tebaldi, and of course Rosa Ponselle.
“Passion at the Pendry” will be performed on February 14, 2020, at 7:30pm and February 16, 2020, at 2PM at the Historic Sagamore Ballroom at the Sagamore Pendry Baltimore in Fells Point, 1715 Thames Street, Baltimore, MD 21231. For tickets and information on the performance go online.