Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

San Diego Opera presents Adams’ Riveting Nixon in China

Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.

Ars Minerva presents Castrovillari’s La Cleopatra in San Francisco

It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.

An Ideal Cast in Chicago’s Tannhäuser

Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.

Madame Butterfly, Royal Opera

Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.

Tosca in Marseille

Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.

Poetry beyond words — Nash Ensemble, Wigmore Hall

The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.

Arizona Opera Presents Magritte Style Magic Flute

On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.

Henry Purcell: A Retrospective

There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.

Die Meistersinger and The Indian Queen
at the ENO

It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.

Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, Royal Opera

At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.

Unsuk Chin: Alice in Wonderland, Barbican, London

Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican, London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?

Welsh National Opera: The Magic Flute and Hansel and Gretel

Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.

Double bill at Guildhall

Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.

LA Opera: Barber of Seville

Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.

Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Wigmore Hall

Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me … I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.

Eine florentinische Tragödie and I pagliacci in Monte-Carlo

An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.

Carmen, Pacific Symphony

On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.

The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, ENO

Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.

San Diego Opera presents an excellent Don Giovanni

On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.

Tosca at Chicago Lyric

In a production first seen in Houston several years ago, and now revised by its director John Caird, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with two casts, partially different, scheduled into March of the present season.

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):