In 1813, a couple of weeks before his 21st birthday, Rossini caused quite a stir with “Tancredi,” a big, serious work packed with melody and enough plot for two operas. He had many more works ahead of him, but this one left a substantial mark on the development of the art form.

Baltimore Concert Opera is presenting “Tancredi” in the gracious ballroom of the Engineers Club, featuring singers who will perform in a fully staged production later this month with Opera Southwest in Albuquerque.

A concert format is not ideal for any opera, especially, as in this case, with only a tinny, unevenly played piano for accompaniment. But it's still a welcome opportunity to sample Rossini's genius.

Set around the year 1000 in Sicily, where Saracen and Byzantine forces are struggling for control, the opera tells of a secret love and the parental and political friction surrounding it. No point in getting too caught up in all that, since Baltimore Concert Opera is not delivering a note-complete account of the piece — conductor Anthony Barrese, who shapes the music sensitively, provides periodic narration to fill in plot details.

The music was served particularly well Friday night by Heather Johnson as Tancredi, a banished Syracusan soldier. The mezzo-soprano offered a warm tone; confident coloratura; and, in the musically compelling death scene, admirable subtlety of expression.

Soprano Lindsay Ohse, as Tancredi's ill-fated love Amenaide, came up short only when pushing hard at the top of her range. Otherwise, her tonal sweetness and eloquent phrasing paid off beautifully, notably in the aria “Giusto Dio.”

As Amenaide's father, Argirio, tenor Heath Huberg barely squeaked by the role's punishing high notes. The other soloists and the chorus got the job done, more or less.

The first version of “Tancredi” ended happily, but the sad finale Rossini subsequently crafted is now standard.

In a nice touch, Barrese provided a brief taste of that original all's-well ending as a kind of encore. It was fun to hear, but also underlined that Rossini knew what he was doing when he decided to take the tragic route.

“Tancredi' will be performed at 3 p.m. today at the Engineers Club, 11 W. Mount Vernon Place. Call 443-445-0226, or go to