Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Desert Island Delights at the RCM: Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe

Britannia waives the rules: The EU Brexit in quotes’. Such was the headline of a BBC News feature on 28th June 2016. And, nearly three years later, those who watch the runaway Brexit-train hurtle ever nearer to the edge of Dover’s white cliffs might be tempted by the thought of leaving this sceptred (sceptic?) isle, for a life overseas.

Akira Nishimura’s Asters: A Major New Japanese Opera

Opened as recently as 1997, the Opera House of the New National Theatre Tokyo (NNTT) is one of the newest such venues among the world’s great capitals, but, with ten productions of opera a year, ranging from baroque to contemporary, this publicly-owned and run theatre seems determined to make an international impact.

The Outcast in Hamburg

It is a “a musicstallation-theater with video” that had its world premiere at the Mannheim Opera in 2012, revived just now in a new version by Vienna’s ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wein for one performance at the Vienna Konzerthaus and one performance in Hamburg’s magnificent Elbphilharmonie (above). Olga Neuwirth’s The Outcast and this rich city are imperfect bedfellows!

Monarchs corrupted and tormented: ETO’s Idomeneo and Macbeth at the Hackney Empire

Promises made to placate a foe in the face of imminent crisis are not always the most well-considered and have a way of coming back to bite one - as our current Prime Minister is finding to her cost.

Der Fliegende Holländer and
Tannhäuser in Dresden

To remind you that Wagner’s Dutchman had its premiere in Dresden’s Altes Hoftheater in 1843 and his Tannhauser premiered in this same theater in 1845 (not to forget that Rienzi premiered in this Saxon court theater in 1842).

WNO's The Magic Flute at the Birmingham Hippodrome

A perfect blue sky dotted with perfect white clouds. Identikit men in bowler hats clutching orange umbrellas. Floating cyclists. Ferocious crustaceans.

Puccini’s Messa di Gloria: Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra

This was an oddly fascinating concert - though, I’m afraid, for quite the wrong reasons (though this depends on your point of view). As a vehicle for the sound, and playing, of the London Symphony Orchestra it was a notable triumph - they were not so much luxurious - rather a hedonistic and decadent delight; but as a study into three composers, who wrote so convincingly for opera, and taken somewhat out of their comfort zone, it was not a resounding success.

WNO's Un ballo in maschera at Birmingham's Hippodrome

David Pountney and his design team - Raimund Bauer (sets), Marie-Jeanne Lecca (costumes), Fabrice Kebour (lighting) - have clearly ‘had a ball’ in mounting this Un ballo in maschera, the second part of WNO’s Verdi trilogy and which forms part of a spring season focusing on what Pountney describes as the “profound and mysterious issue of Monarchy”.

Super #Superflute in North Hollywood

Pacific Opera Project’s rollicking new take on The Magic Flute is as much endearing fun as a box full of puppies.

Leading Ladies: Barbara Strozzi and Amiche

I couldn’t help wondering; would a chamber concert of vocal music by female composers of the 17th century be able sustain our concentration for 90 minutes? Wouldn’t most of us be feeling more dutiful than exhilarated by the end?

George Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill at Wigmore Hall

This week, the Wigmore Hall presents two concerts from George Benjamin and Frankfurt’s Ensemble Modern, the first ‘at home’ on Wigmore Street, the second moving north to Camden’s Roundhouse. For the first, we heard Benjamin’s now classic first opera, Into the Little Hill, prefaced by three ensemble works by Cathy Milliken, Christian Mason, and, for the evening’s spot of ‘early music’, Luigi Dallapiccola.

Marianne Crebassa sings Berio and Ravel: Philharmonia Orchestra with Salonen

It was once said of Cathy Berberian, the muse for whom Luciano Berio wrote his Folk Songs, that her voice had such range she could sing the roles of both Tristan and Isolde. Much less flatteringly, was my music teacher’s description of her sound as akin to a “chisel being scraped over sandpaper”.

Rossini's Elizabeth I: English Touring Opera start their 2019 spring tour

What was it with Italian bel canto and the Elizabethan age? The era’s beautiful, doomed queens and swash-buckling courtiers seem to have held a strange fascination for nineteenth-century Italians.

Chameleonic new opera featuring Caruso in Amsterdam

Micha Hamel’s new opera, Caruso a Cuba, is constantly on the move. The chameleonic score takes on a myriad flavours, all with a strong sense of mood or place.

Ernst Krenek: Karl V, Bayerisches Staatsoper

Ernst Krenek’s Karl V op 73 at the Bayerisches Staatsoper, with Bo Skovhus, conducted by Erik Nielsen, in a performance that reveals the genius of Krenek’s masterpiece. Contemporary with Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, Berg’s Lulu, and Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, Krenek’s Karl V is a metaphysical drama, exploring psychological territory with the possibilities opened by new musical form.

A Sparkling Merry Widow at ENO

A small, formerly great, kingdom, is on the verge of bankruptcy and desperate to prevent its ‘assets’ from slipping into foreign hands. Sexual and political intrigues are bluntly exposed. The princes and patriarchs are under threat from both the ‘paupers’ and the ‘princesses’, and the two dangers merge in the glamorous figure of the irresistibly wealthy Pontevedrin beauty, Hanna Glawari, a working-class girl who’s married up and made good.

Mozart: Così fan tutte - Royal Opera House

Così fan tutte is, primarily, an ensemble opera and it sinks or swims on the strength of its sextet of singers - and this performance very much swam. In a sense, this is just as well because Jan Phillip Gloger’s staging (revived here by Julia Burbach) is in turns messy, chaotic and often confusing. The tragedy of this Così is that it’s high art clashing with Broadway; a theatre within an opera and a deceit wrapped in a conundrum.

Gavin Higgins' The Monstrous Child: an ROH world premiere

The Royal Opera House’s choice of work for the first new production in the splendidly redesigned Linbury Theatre - not unreasonably, it seems to have lost ‘Studio’ from its name - is, perhaps, a declaration of intent; it may certainly be received as such. Not only is it a new work; it is billed specifically as ‘our first opera for teenage audiences’.

Elektra at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the first moments of the recent revival of Sir David McVicar’s production of Elektra by Richard Strauss at Lyric Opera of Chicago the audience is caught in the grip of a rich music-drama, the intensity of which is not resolved, appropriately, until the final, symmetrical chords.

Expressive Monteverdi from Les Talens Lyriques at Wigmore Hall

This was an engaging concert of madrigals and dramatic pieces from (largely) Claudio Monteverdi’s Venetian years, a time during which his quest to find the ‘natural way of imitation’ - musical embodiment of textual form, meaning and affect - took the form not primarily of solo declamation but of varied vocal ensembles of two or more voices with rich instrumental accompaniments.

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):