The significance of San Francisco Lyric Opera's production of Benjamin
Britten's "The Rape of Lucretia" is obvious before you hear a single
note. For a tiny local company to take on a complicated, challenging,
still largely unfamiliar contemporary opera should get a big, shiny
"A" for effort. How delightful then is the experience of an excellent
performance, with talented young singers, an outstanding orchestra, and
sterling musical direction by Barnaby Palmer.
In the cramped, but acoustically fine quarters of the Legion of Honor's
Florence Gould Theater (no orchestra pit and a minuscule stage, lacking
even the most basic facilities), Heather Carolo managed to direct the
Britten's 1946 chamber opera, coming hard on the heels of his career-opening
"Peter Grimes," is dramatically-philosophically a queer duck, but musically
it's ravishingly rich (serving appropriately for Kathleen Ferrier's
debut). Complex but easily accessible, the music contrasts the ugliness
of the topic with sublimely beautiful passages. As in "Peter Grimes,"
the most gorgeous portions belong in the orchestra, and Lyric Opera's
small band of a dozen did itself proud, under the young maestro's unfailing
direction, Palmer's tempi, balances, dynamics rock solid, the music
unfolding with consummate inevitability.
Ronald Duncan's libretto is based on Livy's history, the Shakespeare
poem "The Rape of Lucrece," and the 20th century French play by Andre
Obey, "Le Viol de Lucrece." Bracketed, strangely, by a statement that
the story took place 500 years before the birth of Christ and an epilogue
of devotion to Christianity, the story is about the Etruscan prince
Tarquinius Sextus and his violation of the virtuous Lucretia, devoted
wife of the Roman general Collatinus.
Interspersed between historic references to the Etruscans' role in
Roman history, hideous verbal debasement of women, and the incongruous
Christian context, the rape of the title IS the story, the first act
leading up to it, the second act beginning with it, the finale and
epilogue dealing with its consequences (which, in fact, included Rome's
successful overthrow of Etruscan rule).
What you take away from the opera, however, is the robust music of
Tarquinius' ride to Rome, the beautiful night music of the Act I finale,
the gloriously complex music of contradictory and conjoining motifs
throughout the work of angular, brutal sounds, intricate figures, and
melting beauty, contrasts similar to those of Strauss' "Electra." Devices
such as Lucretia's six-note theme (an ingenious quintuplet-plus-upbeat
on the piano, played as an elegant, wistful ostinato by Hadley McCarroll)
drive the music home powerfully.
Played against period costumes, the two narrators/interpreters/commentators
- the Male Chorus and Female Chorus - appear in modern dress. Trey
Costerisan and Melody Moore turned in affecting, dramatically outstanding
performances. Moore, a current Adler Fellow, is an exceptional singer,
with a powerful voice, and an uncanny ability of being not only on-key,
but on-the-note, on-the-money; her singing blends with instruments more
effectively than most singers I know. With her musicality and intelligence,
the sky should be the limit for Moore.
Darla Wigginton, in the title role, built her performance steadily,
using a rather raw voice successfully, until peaking just right in Act II.
Daniel Cilli's Tarquinius impressed with a big, vigorous, and (appropriately)
virile voice. Meagan Todd's Lucia introduced a high soprano which, with
more training, is likely to become a factor in the local music scene.
Diction was good all-around, but the inconsistent supertitles - summarizing
at times, then carrying partial text, then staying blank - didn't help.
The orchestra should not be acknowledged with a general statement only,
must be recognized individually... for their selfless and first-class
ensemble playing. Besides McCarroll, the roster: violinists Claude
Halter and Rita Lee, violist Charith Premawardhana, cellist Vanessa
Ruotolo, David Aaron (bass), Michelle Caimotto (flute), Ann Lavin
(clarinet), Erin Irvine (bassoon), Peter Lemberg (oboe), Diane Ryan
(horn), and Michael Passaris (percussion). Bravi!
[log in to unmask]