Lesley Valdes, WRTI's critic-at-large, reviews the Opera Company of Philadelphia's production of Britten's The Rape of Lucretia. Repeat performances will be held at the Kimmel Center's Perelman Theater on June 10th, 12th, and 14th, 2009.
Opera Company of Philadelphia
Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center
Benjamin Britten: The Rape of Lucretia
Opera in Two Acts
Libretto by Ronald Duncan
Based on the play by Andre Obey (Le Viol de Lucrece)
Innocence defiled is a major theme of Benjamin Britten's. His belief in Christian redemption is another. His first chamber opera, The Rape of Lucretia, plays upon both themes with what today feels a heavy, dated, hand. Thankfully, the music itself is never dated in this work for eight singers and 14 instruments. The Opera Company of Philadelphia's production of The Rape of Lucretia at the Perelman Theater has an attractive staging and superior singing. It is Ronald Duncan's libretto (based on the French play of the same name) that causes the difficulties. Duncan has written a lot of purple prose about virtuous women and chaste wives. Further, the opera is narrated by male and female singers, who view the Roman story from the point of view of Christian apologists: odd since it took place 500 B.C. when faithful Lucretia is ravished by Tarquinius, the Etruscan. Her shame leads to her suicide, a political act that helps to topple the monarchy in Rome.
Britten's 1946 chamber opera builds to rape in the first act and suicide in the second, with tortured commentary by the male and female narrators. William Burden brings suspense and melancholy to his assignment, telling us of Tarquinius. As bad-boy Prince, baritone Nathan Gunn is a Russell Crowe look-a-like, who sings with dimension. Karen Jesse is the female narrator. Like Burden, she is in contemporary dress but her outfit is so unflattering, it takes attention away from the accomplished singing. Mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford fulfills the demanding role of Lucretia; her first entrance is a splendor. Ben Wager is the hubby who boasts too much. Allison Sanders (as servant Bianca) and Rinnat Moriah (the role of Lucia) are well chosen but ill served with a hokey flower scene. The second act lags; threatens to come apart. Nicholas Vaughan's scenery and costumes for The Rape of Lucretia at the Perelman are borrowed from the Chauteauville Foundation. Philadelphia Singers' Maestro David Hayes conducts a good ensemble blessed by Sophie Bruno's harp.