|Kurt Kanazawa and Avery Amereau (photo by Ken Howard)
We are filled with wonder whenever brought to the point of appreciating that which we might have disdained. Whom do we credit for the reversal of taste? In the case of Benjamin Britten's The Rape of Lucretia, credit must be shared by the super-talented young artists and the incredibly astute production team.
The libretto by Ronald Duncan did not sound promising; the evil Etruscan prince Tarquinius rapes the faithful wife of Collatinus, his comrade in arms. But look what director Mary Birnbaum has made out of this slender story. She has placed the Greek chorus firmly in the 21st c., allowing them to comment on the story through the prism of Christianity and also to address the characters in this 500 BCE story. For the most part, the narrators appear to be reading from a history book. She has mined the tale for contemporary relevance, highlighting the contrast between the creative productivity of women and the destructive power-seeking and war-mongering of men.
Jocelyn Dueck merits special mention for getting each and every artist to enunciate each and every word clearly so that not a single word was missed, thereby overcoming our dislike of operas sung in English. The dialogue, based on Le Viol de Lucrèce, a play by André Obey, has language that rivals that of Homer with some beautiful metaphors that deserved to be heard and savored. They were.
And what a cast! There is such strength in Juilliard's Vocal Arts Department that each role could be perfectly cast. As the eponymous Lucretia, mezzo-soprano Avery Amereau fulfilled the demands of the role both vocally and dramatically. She has a rich and resonant instrument that she employs skillfully and flawlessly. Dramatically, she was totally convincing as the beautiful and innocent Lucretia who, in a fit of self-directed "slut shaming", stabbed herself after being raped.
As the rapist, the good-natured baritone Kurt Kanazawa transformed himself into an arrogant entitled brute who cannot bear the fact that his fellow comrade-in-arms Collatinus is married to the only faithful woman in Rome. His mellow voice was given a bitter edge that was chilling. His wild ride into Rome was breathtaking.
As the aforementioned Collatinus, bass Daniel Miroslaw, whom we had not previously heard, made a fine showing--the only sympathetic male character amongst the warriors. We look forward to hearing his booming bass in the future.
Baritone Joe Eletto portrayed Junius, another soldier, with great vitality. He too has been cuckolded and feels resentment toward Collatinus' good fortune but would not act on it. All the ambivalence was there in his wonderful voice and body language.
The three military men have a wonderful scene in their encampment outside Rome as they malign women and strut about emanating testosterone-fueled rage. It was made clear how humiliation leads to rage and that rape is an act of rage, not sex.
Tenor William Goforth beautifully handled the role of narrator (Greek chorus), telling the story in a meaningful manner and with supernally clear diction. Mezzo-soprano Marguerite Jones held up the female part of the chorus with her customary skill.
As Lucretia's two women servants, mezzo-soprano Amanda Lynn Bottoms impressed as the maternal Bianca as did soprano Christine Price as Lucia. One of our favorite scenes was that of the three women joining voices in a stunning trio while spinning wool on spindles. Might we add that they appeared to know exactly how this task is accomplished! Britten's music at this point was extraordinarily lovely.
The opera itself 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. Members of the excellent Juilliard Orchestra, under the baton of Mark Shapiro, brought the compelling score to vivid life. We do so love the harp and Marion Ravot's playing was ravishing. The wind section was particularly well employed.
The simple but effective set by Grace Laubacher comprised a simple table and chairs for the two narrators and a large rotating platform for the historical scenes. Lighting was by Anshuman Bhatia. Costumes by Sydney Maresca were effective, particularly the soldiers' garb. Adam Cates choreographed Tarquinius ride and the rape scene most grippingly.
Who could ask for anything more?
© meche kroop