|Scott Lindroth, Amelia Hensley, Helena Brown, Andrew Dwan, Allison Gish, Victor Khodadad,
Julia Tang, and Barbara Porto
Social movements generally take a while to get off the ground and then, it seems, they reach critical mass and dominate the conversation. In the past ten days we have reviewed a half-dozen operas with the theme of women suffering from egregious male misbehavior-- being intimidated by male power and made to feel guilty for male lust. We will indeed be overjoyed when this situation is eliminated. New Camerata Opera has joined the movement with an excellent realization of The Rape of Lucretia.
The Rape of Lucretia was composed by Britten as one of a group of chamber operas written in the impoverished post-World War II period when faith and funds were in equally short supply in Great Britain. The libretto by Ronald Duncan is prosy, declamatory, filled with special pleadings for Christianity, and marked by poetic metaphors--some of which were lovely, i.e. "Thirsty evening has drunk the wine of light". Others were more obscure. There wasn't much in the way of vocal line to appreciate.
Serving as narrators of the story were Victor Khodadad and the powerful soprano Helena Brown. In a masterstroke by Stage Director Bea Goodwin, a "silent" narrator, in the person of actor Amelia Hensley, "doubled" the role of Lucretia; she enacted the words in American Sign Language, thus driving home the point of women being silenced. We wondered how the expressive Ms. Hensley co-ordinated her signing with the dialogue and learned that there were titles projected toward the stage as well as toward the audience.
We might mention right now that the English was so clearly enunciated that titles were uncharacteristically redundant. We would also like to mention that the female members of the cast learned enough ASL to incorporate some signing as gestures whilst singing. We have only a slight familiarity with ASL but enough to recognize a few of their signs and to know of their legitimacy. We found this to be extraordinarily powerful and quite compelling, adding to their expressivity.
The story is reported rather differently in various historical sources but is thought to take place around 500 B.C.E. A group of soldiers, fueled by resentment, alcohol and testosterone, rail against the unfaithfulness of women. Their wives have cuckolded them in their absence; the air is thick with shame. Only the wife of Collatinus (bass Andrew Dwan) has remained chaste and the others are jealous. The evil Etruscan Prince Tarquinius (baritone Stan Lacy) has no wife, just a bunch of whores.
Egged on by Junius (baritone Scott Lindroth), Tarquinius decides to make a wild late-night ride to Rome to prove Lucretia false. There was an interesting but subtle directorial move here; the urging of conscience takes place in one ear and the urging of lust in the other.
This ride was a highlight of the evening for several reasons. One is the creative use of the cast members to create the image of this mad ride with a violently whipped and furiously galloping horse; the other was the driven music (under the baton of Maestro Justin Bischof) which did not quite equal Richard Wagner's "Ride of the Walkyries" but was exciting in its own right.
When Tarquinius arrives at Collatinus' home, the faithful Lucretia (superb mezzo-soprano Allison Gish) feels intimidated and obliged to offer him hospitality. During the night, he enters her room. Whilst asleep she responds briefly to the rapist, thinking it to be her husband. When she awakes she fights back to no avail. The next morning, mad with shame and guilt, she sends for her husband. He understands and absolves her but she stabs herself.
Adding greatly to the story, by showing the contrast between the men's world of violence and the women's world of peaceful spinning and cultivating flowers, are Lucretia's two companions, her motherly nurse Bianca (mezzo-soprano Julia Tang) and the younger flirtatious Lucia (soprano Barbara Porto). In their spinning scene, the visuals were creative and the melismatic singing gave us an opportunity to appreciate the lovely tonal quality of their instruments.
Like most post-Puccini operas, this one struck us as a "play with music". For our personal taste, the best part of the score was the gentle music played whilst Lucretia slept, emphasizing the harp. Otherwise, the score is dissonant and complex as befits the story. Maestro Bischof conducted the strings of the chamber orchestra on stage right with the winds occupying stage left. Percussion was placed behind the performers.
Luther Frank's set was minimalistic as were Sarah Dixey's costumes. We were far more interested in Ms. Goodwin's effective storytelling and visual imagery, as well as the excellent singing. Photos of the production can be seen on our Facebook page--Voce di Meche.
After three experiences with this opera we acknowledge its powerful message and its relevancy but it will never be in our "Top 100". And yet, we recommend it highly for the originality of this production and its successful execution.
(c) meche kroop