- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 14, 2001

"You cannot get more grand than opera," says Gregory Buchalter, the new artistic director of Opera Camerata of Washington, with not a bit of snottiness in his voice.
The fresh-faced maestro looks much younger than his 38 years, speaks fast and has a nervous laugh. He is not one of those stuffed-shirt, faux-Italian-accent opera types (aside from that beach house in the Hamptons). He loves Barbra Streisand, digs mystery movies and collects ceramic cows.
Tonight, the maestro will make his conducting debut at "A Gala Evening of Opera." He inherits the baton from Micaele Sparacino, who stepped down in June 2000 over differences with the Camerata board.
Can opera be more grand? Yes, says Mr. Buchalter. At least, the Opera Camerata can.
The maestro wants to stage full-scale operas, such as "La Boheme" and "Carmen," complete with lace-up corsets and elaborate sets. This will be something new for the Camerata, which has specialized in concerts of obscure operas since its founding in 1990.
"I'd like to attract all that love opera so they can see something with a name they can actually pronounce," Mr. Buchalter says.
Since signing on last October, the maestro has dusted off the Camerata's vision while maintaining traditions. He's hatching plans for two stage operas and one concert of rare pieces each year. He also wants to bring opera to D.C. schools. This fall, he'll conduct master classes for aspiring divas and wannabe Placido Domingos.
Mr. Buchalter, a lifelong Manhattanite, will stay in New York and conduct business via phone, e-mail and fax. He's working with the Camerata on weekends and during the summer months, when his schedule at the Metropolitan Opera loosens up.
At the Met, Mr. Buchalter is an assistant conductor. He directs off-stage music and coaches singers. He says his Met connections will help at the Camerata.
"One big change will be to raise the level of performance and artists," Mr. Buchalter says.
"I'd like to bring up-and-coming singers to the Opera Camerata before the world knows them and bring more old pros from the Met."
Budding Met stars Sondra Radvanovsky and Francisco Casanova will flex their vocal chords at tonight's performance.
Selections from "Carmen" and "L'Italiana in Algeri" (the maestro's favorite) and works by Giuseppe Verdi and Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky will be featured.
Mr. Buchalter's interest in music began in grade school, when his father brought home an LP about Mozart's life. He fell in love with the romantic life of a musician and began taking piano classes.
He later studied at the High School of Performing Arts in Manhattan, the setting of the 1980 movie "Fame." (His piano-playing hands appear in several shots.)
Yet, something was missing, he says. "I always felt kind of empty when I performed by myself onstage."
At the Manhattan School of Music, he tried his hand at conducting, and, poof, it clicked.
"To conduct an orchestra is so much more fulfilling, so much more exciting," Mr. Buchalter says.
His first real conducting job was with New Mexico's Santa Fe Opera in 1986.
He began his work at the Met in 1989 as an assistant chorus master. Since then, he has toured in places such as Europe, Turkey, Hong Kong and Israel. He has been a guest conductor with the New York Symphonic Arts Ensemble and several other New York-based groups.
Tinkerbell had her wand. Mr. Buchalter has his baton.
"All one does is lift a tiny finger and 80 instruments respond to you. Anyone can beat time," Mr. Buchalter says.
A conductor makes an orchestra "understand," he says. That's the most rewarding part, says the maestro, awed at his own powers. "I think, 'Wow, it clicked. They know what I'm thinking. We are one.'"

WHAT: Opera Cmerata of Washington in "A Gala Evening of Opera"
WHERE: Warner Theatre, 13th and E streets NW
WHEN: 7 tonight
TICKETS: $20 to $50
PHONE: 800/551-SEAT or 202/783-4000 for information.

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