It was about this time in 2020 I had An Opera Theatre’s production of The Rape of Lucretia on my schedule, but alas it was not to be. Two years later and the company finally has a chance to perform before a live audience. An Opera Theatre is a company founded on the idea of making art available to all, focusing on works that have a social justice angle, and partnering with community organizations around the issues addressed in their work. What’s interesting and unique is that they choose to do this through Opera. My first exposure to the company was in December 2019 when they put together a program to highlight and bring awareness to World Aids Day. As with all of their programs there is a group of partner organizations that can help bring understanding of the subject matter and ways in which we can all help make a difference. I will provide links to those at the end of my review.
The Rape of Lucretia composed by Benjamin Britten with Libretto by Ronald Duncan is set in ancient Rome which is being governed by an Etruscan King. Rome under foreign rule is also at war with the Greeks. The story is told by two choruses, one male and one female who are stationed at desks and are presented as academics. The male chorus tells what is happening with the men in the story and the Female chorus takes over when we are with the female characters. The men are commenting that all of the wives of the soldiers have been found to be unfaithful with the exception of Collatinus’ wife, Lucretia. The King’s son Prince Tarquinius decides to test Lucretia himself. He rides to Collatinus’ house where the woman are preparing for bed, fearful of the Prince and his motives, they have no choice but to let him stay as he says his horse has come over lame. That night Tarquinius sneaks into Lucretia’s room, when she refuses him and asks him to leave, he rapes her.
I’ve written before of my ignorance and unfamiliarity when it comes to Opera. I know as I experience more and more Opera that excuse will become less sustainable. It is still an acquired taste, like Shakespeare, it takes a little while for the novice to tune in to the proper wavelength. For me, the first Act was about admiring the design and staging as I got accustomed again to this style of storytelling. I admired the staging in general from Director Teresa Mock. The Southern Theater can be a great venue for the right show, I’ve stated before it’s ideal use for horror plays, but it can be a tricky space. Mock uses the space and set as designed by Emily Jaques well. On either side of the stage we have the Chorus’ desks, Stage left and to the back we have the Orchestra in full view. Between the two desks and in front of the Orchestra, we have multi-use pieces that can be easily shifted about to suggest a change of place and function. Simple and very effective, it gave me the impression of an abstract artist’s rendering of ancient Rome. In Act two, I found myself more engaged in the performances, for the first time I was able to relax into the story and really notice the music. I was particularly taken with the music at the opening of the act, I believe the lyrics that accompanied the passage were “Thus Sleeps Lucretia”. After this lyrical interlude we come to the rape scene. The tension in this scene is handled very well, better than at the end of the first act when everyone is saying goodnight and you feel there should be more of an emphasis on a sense of apprehension about the Princes presence. The rape itself is handled very tastefully. After some unwanted embracing, she sings in response “Though I am in your arms, I am beyond your reach”. To illustrate this, Lucretia then stands next to the bed while Tarquinius has his way with an empty bed.
Not all of the performers had enough power to project sufficiently, but all of the main roles were quite good. Top marks go to Kara Morgan as Lucretia, not only in the vocalization but her acting in general really brought home the power of the piece. Justin Anthony Spenner’s beautiful voice and performance captured the entitlement of the Prince, Tarquinius. It helps to make the case for the parallels that could be drawn to our own world in the last five years or so. Alex Ritchie as Collatinus brought the operatic down to the human level and helped to sell the devastating finale. Also of note were Hannah Benditt and Andy Lupinek as sort of dance companions to the choruses. Dance, sitting right up on the shelf next to Opera in the things I need more exposure to section. What I can say, I liked the concept and felt it added to the production without distracting from it in any way, hats off to Choreographer Jennifer Mack. I really enjoy a nice piece of live music and particularly in the second act when I had settled into the show I found Music director Lara Bolton and her Orchestra a joy to listen to.
So the regular reader will have picked up that this was Opera week at The Stages of MN. This was the third and final Opera of the week. I found something worthwhile in all of them, and I think to some degree all of them are accessible to the average theatergoer. The Rape of Lucretia is full of ideas that can spark conversation. I encourage you to see it and to spend some time thinking about and discussing the themes and how they reflect on our current culture. There are ideas presented and attitudes that reflect the fact that the Opera was written over 70 years ago. Some of them are troubling, but I think that is what can spark conversation. I recently heard or read somewhere, I wish I could remember where, that words shape our thoughts. Thoughts shape our actions. Actions shape our destiny. Let that be your path. Go to The Rape of Lucretia, think about it then go to the links below and help shape our collective destiny.
The Rape of Lucretia runs just this weekend so hurry for more information and to purchase tickets go to www.anoperatheatre.org.
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