Curtis Opera Theatre Mounts Touching, Finely Sung Rape of Lucretia

United StatesUnited States Britten, The Rape of Lucretia: Curtis Opera Theatre, Conner Gray Covington (conductor), Prince Theater, Philadelphia, 19.11.2016. (BJ)

Evan Johnson and Tiffany Townsend as the male chorus and female chorus
in the Curtis Opera Theatre’s The Rape of Lucretia (c) Cory Weaver

Male Chorus – Evan Johnson
Female Chorus – Tiffany Townsend
Collatinus – Vartan Gabrielian
Junius – Dennis Chmelensky
Tarquinius – Doğukan Kuran
Lucretia – Kendra Broom
Bianca – Anastasiia Sidorova
Lucia – Emily Pogorelc

Director – Jordan Fein
Scenic designer – Amy Rubin
Costume designer – Ásta Bennie Hostetter
Lighting designer – Barbara Samuels
Musical preparation – Danielle Orlando

In some important respects, this season’s Curtis Opera production of The Rape of Lucretia was at least equal or superior to the two that Curtis staged in the last two or three decades. First impressions, on entering the Prince Theater’s main auditorium, were by no means promising. We were confronted, on the super-titles screen, by the brusque order, “Turn off your cell phones,” rudely omitting the magic word “Please,” which we taught our children was essential to polite discourse. We were confronted also by a set of considerable ugliness. But this latter proved in the course of the evening to be an unobtrusive and efficient environment for Jordan Fein’s production, which, effectively lit by Barbara Samuels, was unfussy and generally excellent in its deployment of the dramatically convincing cast. And in addition to superlative work from the chamber orchestra under Conner Gray Covington’s baton, much of the singing was of a very high standard.

The vocal stand-out in this cast – there was a different cast in two of the run’s four performances – was Evan Johnson, a Male Chorus with a tenor voice of sterling strength and clarity at both forte and pianissimo dynamic levels. The Female Chorus, Tiffany Townsend, also achieved soft singing of touching eloquence. The soldiers and servants were all accomplished singing actors, with Vartan Gabrielian and Emily Pogorelc providing especially strong accounts of their roles.

As Lucretia, Kendra Broom sang beautifully, and realized the pathos of that demanding role vividly, except perhaps at the moment when Lucretia becomes aware of Tarquinius’s arrival in her house and the threat it constitutes. At this point, I thought her bearing failed to evoke any sense of stress: she strolled about the stage in relaxed fashion as if without a care in the world. Ms Broom might find it instructive to take a look at Paul Czinner’s film version of Der Rosenkavalier, where she could learn from Elisabeth Schwarzkopf how much dramatic force can emanate from the back view of one’s shoulders, resourcefully deployed.

But all in all, this was a Lucretia worthy of the celebrated institution that created it.

Bernard Jacobson

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