Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

The Threepenny Opera, London

‘Mack does bad things.’ The tabloid headline that convinces Rory Kinnear’s surly, sharp-suited Macheath that it might be time to take a short holiday epitomizes the cold, understated menace of Rufus Norris’s production of Simon Stephens’ new adaptation of The Threepenny Opera at the Olivier Theatre.

La bohème, LA Opera

On May 25, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented a revival of the Herbert Ross production of Giacomo Puccini’s opera, La bohème. Stage director, Peter Kazaras, made use of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion’s wide stage by setting some scenes usually seen inside the garret on the surrounding roof instead.

Amazons Enchant San Francisco

On May 21, 2016, Ars Minerva presented The Amazons in the Fortunate Isles (Le Amazzoni nelle Isole Fortunate), an opera consisting of a prologue and three acts by seventeenth century Venetian composer Carlo Pallavicino.

Mathis der Maler, Dresden

While Pegida anti-refugee demonstrations have been taking place for a while now in Dresden, there was something noble about the Semperoper with its banners declaring all are welcome, listing Othello, the Turk, and the hedon Papageno as examples.

The Makropulos Case, Munich

Opera houses’ neglect of Leoš Janáček remains one of the most baffling of the many baffling aspects of the ‘repertoire’. At least three of the composer’s operas would be perfect introductions to the art form: Jenůfa, Katya Kabanova, or The Cunning Little Vixen would surely hook most for life.

Orphée et Euridice, Seattle

It’s not easy for critics to hit the right note when they write about musical collaborations between students and professionals. We have to allow for inevitable lack of polish and inexperience while maintaining an overall high standard of judgment.

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Munich

Die Meistersinger at the theatre in which it was premiered, on Wagner’s birthday: an inviting prospect by any standards, still more so given the director, conductor, and cast, still more so given the opportunity to see three different productions within little more than a couple of months).

Il barbiere di Siviglia at Glyndebourne

Director Annabel Arden believes that Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia is ‘all about playfulness, theatricality, light and movement’. It’s certainly ‘about’ those things and they are, as Arden suggests, ‘based in the music’.

Oedipe at Covent Garden

George Enescu’s Oedipe was premiered in Paris 1936 but it has taken 80 years for the opera to reach the stage of Covent Garden. This production by Àlex Ollé (a member of the Catalan theatrical group, La Fura Dels Baus) and Valentina Carrasco, which arrives in London via La Monnaie where it was presented in 2011, was eagerly awaited and did not disappoint.

Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette at Lyric Opera, Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago staged Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette as the last opera in its current subscription season.

L’incoronazione di Poppea, RAO

‘The plot is perhaps the least moral in all opera; wrong triumphs in the name of love and we are not expected to mind.’

Madame Butterfly , ENO

Anthony Minghella’s production of Madame Butterfly for ENO is wearing well. First seen in 2005, it is now being aired for the sixth time and is still, as I observed in 2013, ‘a breath-taking visual banquet’.

Valiant but tentative: La straniera at the Concertgebouw

This concert version of La straniera felt like a compulsory musicology field trip, but it had enough vocal flashes to lobby for more frequent performances of this midway Bellini.

London Festival of Baroque Music 2016: Words with Purcell

As poetry is the harmony of words, so music is that of notes; and as poetry is a rise above prose and oratory, so is music the exaltation of poetry.

The Dark Mirror: Zender’s Winterreise

From experiments with musique concrète in the 1940s, to the Minimalists’ explorations into tape-loop effects in the 1960s, via the appearance of hip-hop in the 1970s and its subsequent influence on electronic dance music in the 1980s, to digital production methods today, ‘sampling’ techniques have been employed by musicians working in genres as diverse as jazz fusion, psychedelic rock and classical music.

Great Scott Wows San Diego

On May 7, 2016, San Diego Opera presented the West Coast premiere of Great Scott, an opera by Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie. McNally’s original libretto pokes fun at everything from football to bel canto period opera. It includes snippets of nineteenth century tunes as well as Heggie's own bel canto writing.

Bellini’s Adelson e Salvini, London

A foiled abduction, a castle-threatening inferno, romantic infatuation, guilt-laden near-suicide, gun-shots and knife-blows: Andrea Leone Tottola’s libretto for Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, certainly does not lack dramatic incident.

Manitoba Opera: Of Mice and Men

Opera as an art form has never shied away from the grittier shadows of life. Nor has Manitoba Opera, with its recent past productions dealing with torture, incest, murder and desperate political prisoners still so tragically relevant today.

The Rose and the Ring

Published in 1855 as an entertainment for his two daughters, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring is a burlesque fairy-tale whose plot — to the author’s wilful delight, perhaps — defies summation and elucidation.

The Lighthouse at San Francisco’s Opera Parallèle

What more fitting memorial for composer Peter Maxwell Davies (d. 03/14/2016) than a splendid performance of The Lighthouse, the third of his eight works for the stage.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Peter Marsh (Male Chorus), Nathaniel Webster (Prince Tarquinius) [Photo: Barbara Aumüller]
08 Apr 2008

Frankurt Opera — The Rape of Lucretia

Plainly put, Frankfurt Opera’s “The Rape of Lucretia” could be offered as a textbook example of just how great a performance can be when everything goes right.

Benjamin Britten: The Rape of Lucretia
Oper Frankfurt

Male Chorus (Peter Marsh), Female Chorus (Anja Fidelia), UlrichCollatinus (Simon Bailey), Junius (Andrew Ashwin), Prince Tarquinius (Nathaniel Webster), Lucretia (Claudia Mahnke), Bianca (Arlene Rolph), Lucia (Krenare Gashi)

Above: Peter Marsh (Male Chorus), Nathaniel Webster (Prince Tarquinius)
All photos by Barbara Aumüller

 

Britten wrote this complex chamber opera after his large-scale masterpiece “Peter Grimes” and it could not be less alike, not only in scale, but in the method of storytelling. For “Lucretia” is a concept work from the get-go, a tale of violent criminal sexual behavior in ancient Rome juxtaposed with a narration and commentary characterized by Christian proselytizing from a solo “Male and Female Chorus,” one each.

Peripatetic baritone Dale Duesing, while still performing well himself, has been venturing into stage direction in the early autumn of his vocal career, and he has come up with a stunning solution in which to frame the piece. He made the two “Chorus” soloists insidiously engaging televangelists, and the clean and effective “pure” white stage setting (by Boris Kudlicka) their TV studio set. Indeed, the effect would not have been out of place on the Praise the Lord Network.

Like a PTL pre-show, the “ministers” mingled with and greeted the real life audience, and the rest of the cast/production team joined them onstage for a prayer circle before the telecast began. A video cam was used selectively throughout with telling effect, sometimes creating a TV show atmosphere, sometimes manipulating its target worshipers with calculated inspirational imagery, but often as not capturing characters in the cross hairs of emotional flash points with a chilling freeze frame effect.

As the enactment of “Tarquinius’” pre-meditated, unutterably evil ravishment of “Lucretia” unfolded (as played by the TV “cast”), the line between an elusive “good” and faux piety began to blur inexorably. It was soon hard to reconcile ugly reality with pious posturings, which indeed initially reveled in re-telling this sordid tale as something merely to be rather salaciously exploited for moralizing effect. As the whole scenario careened out of anyone’s control it morphed into a profound spiritual tragedy which would not be soothed away by empty religious platitudes of convenience. When the “moral” televangelists are as spiritually bankrupt as the godless “Tarquinius,” to whom does one turn for succor? (Stop me if this sounds familiar. Jerry? Tammy Fay? Oral?)

This compact two-acter crams a lot of provocative imagery into its rather short running time: The ravishment of innocence. Radical religious pronouncements. Exploitation of power. Objectification of women. Political one upsmanship at any cost. Mindless degradation of a perceived rival. Military misdeeds. All this in a piece penned in 1956. Find any contemporary resonance here? Let’s see a show of hands. . .

lucretia2.pngClaudia Mahnke (Lucretia)

In addition to his shatteringly correct concept, Mr. Duesing not only showed a refined skill for varied and meaningful blocking, but more important, he coaxed highly individual and deeply internalized characterizations from a uniformly excellent ensemble of singers, cast from strength. A sure directorial hand infused the piece with a palpable tension building to the titular act of uncommon menace, brutality, and pre-meditation.

The largest ovation of the night was earned by baritone Andrew Ashwin for a top notch reading of “Junius.” This young performer, with his robust, focused voice and a strapping presence, seems on the verge of a major career. Simon Bailey’s sympathetic demeanor and warm, burnished tone brought dignity and compassion to “Collatinus.”

The lovely young lyric soprano Krenare Gashi served Britten’s high-flying leaps and turns with spot-on precision in a wholly engaging turn as “Lucia.” She was matched in artistry and stage presence by the plummier mezzo of Arlene Rolph as “Claudia.” Their extended bucolic duet scene “the morning after” was immaculately voiced. Nathaniel Webster was a fine “Tarquinius,” and not of the mere “eye candy” variety that other recent star singers have brought to the part. Mr. Webster not only sang with force and beauty throughout, but he can also color and declaim his threats with a biting urgency, and even sexual huskiness. His uninhibited, disrobed physicalization of “the deed” was powerful stagecraft.

As the “Chorus,” Anja Fidelia Ulrich and, especially, Peter Marsh were frighteningly focused on their “mission,” as grinning disingenuous money lenders who needed to be driven from the temple. (Where’s a Messiah when you need one?) Although I have always found the “Female Chorus” to be less interesting musically, Ms. Ulrich certainly sang it well, and found plenty to work with dramatically as her character arguably became the most sympathetic onlooker in the the tragedy. Only she appeared to realize what they, and God had wrought in setting this tale in motion. Mr. Marsh seemed born to sing his role. Part snake oil salesman, part brain-washed believer, his characterization was disturbingly well-rounded, and as well sung as you are likely to hear.

That leaves our heroine, and Claudia Mahnke created a noble heroic figure, pitying and pitiable, strong-willed yet accepting of her fate in a way similar to the young wife in the recent film “No Country for Old Men.” Confronted with consummate evil, she knows why “Tarquinius” is there, and is helplessly doomed to be his prey. Whether singing full tilt or scaling down to a whisper, this splendid house mezzo deployed her smoky-hued voice to full effect in sculpting a multi-faceted portrayal. Her defiled appearance before her husband in purple gown (just one of Nicky Shaw’s excellent costumes), and subsequent slitting of her wrists ending in a bloody death on the flower-strewn, lit white steps in a crucifixion pose, was just one more chilling image in an evening filled with visual artistry.

The chamber orchestra under Maurizio Barbacini could hardly have been bettered. Soloists all, they relished their individual moments as virtuosically as they essayed the concerted ensemble efforts. Britten’s harp effects always strike me afresh as magical calculations, and his masterful scoring was well served by the skilled Frankfurt instrumentalists.

lucretia04.pngAnja Fidelia Ulrich (Female Chorus), Krenare Gashi (Lucia), Claudia Mahnke (Lucretia), Arlene Rolph (Bianca)

As true testament to the success of “The Rape of Lucretia,” not only were there waiting lines for ticket returns for each show (for “Lucretia” of all things!), but I cannot remember the last time I was a member of an audience that was so still, so engaged, so attentive to every phrase, every musical utterance. Honestly, the promise of thrilling evenings like these is why I continue to go to the opera.

Suffice it to say if this is an example of Dale Duesing’s directorial skill, I may have to become a groupie. And Frankfurt should seriously consider reviving this splendid production, a triumph for all concerned. Bravi tutti!

James Sohre

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):