Sunday, 29 July 2018

Lucretia through a newcomer’s eyes and ears

Britten: The Rape of Lucretia - front, Bethan Langford (Lucretia), Natasha Jouhl (Female Chorus) - back,  Katherine Taylor-Jones (Bianca), Claire Swale (Lucia) - Grimeborn Festival (Photo Robert Workman)
Britten: The Rape of Lucretia - front, Bethan Langford (Lucretia), Natasha Jouhl (Female Chorus) - back,
Katherine Taylor-Jones (Bianca), Claire Swale (Lucia) - Grimeborn Festival (Photo Robert Workman)
Britten The Rape of Lucretia; James Corrigan, Andrew Tipple, Bethan Langford, Benjamin Lewis, Rob Murray, Natasha Jouhl, dir: Julia Burbach, Orpheus Sinfonia, cond: Peter Selwyn; The Grimeborn Festival at the Arcola Theatre Reviewed by Ruth Hansford on 25 July 2018 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
An intense evening: Britten's chamber opera about male power is an aposite choice for The Grimeborn Festival

Britten’s 1946 chamber opera about male power and abuse of power should have been an ideal choice for The Grimeborn Festival, at the Arcola Theatre (25 July 2018). The Director, Julia Burbach, writing in the printed programme, tells us of her intention to pull in a diverse audience and maximise the impact of the piece in the space. I feel sure that as the run matures this will happen. It would be too good an opportunity to miss otherwise. The cast included James Corrigan as Junius, Andrew Tipple as Collatinus, Bethan Langford as Lucretia, Benjamin Lewis as Tarquinius, Rob Murray as the Male Chorus and Natasha Jouhl as the female chorus, with Peter Selwyn conducting the Orpheus Sinfonia.

In the interest of full disclosure I, a regular opera-goer (white), had as my Plus One a newcomer (brown), with ears and eyes open to new things, who has had an interest in opera kindled by surtitles that help him worry less about understanding the text he is hearing for the first time, whilst allowing him to be immersed in the other elements of the art form. I said: “No surtitles but it’s in English and Britten is really good at setting text, so you’ll be fine”.

Britten: The Rape of Lucretia - Rob Murray (Male Chorus), Bethan Langford (Lucretia), Claire Swale (Lucia), Katherine Taylor-Jones (Bianca) - Grimeborn Festival (Photo Robert Workman)
Britten: The Rape of Lucretia - Rob Murray (Male Chorus), Bethan Langford (Lucretia), Claire Swale (Lucia),
Katherine Taylor-Jones (Bianca) - Grimeborn Festival (Photo Robert Workman)

Now, even though I am an opera surtitler, I don’t believe surtitles are vital, and of course I do know how much it costs to have them. But I believe that you need to allow the story to be told in a way that reaches new and old audiences. And I also know that after the magic age of 45 those 4-6kHz frequencies where we hear the consonants (and the meaning) need a bit of help, be it from seeing the text or from clear diction and a direct line from the singer’s mouth to the listener’s ear.

Britten’s orchestration is used in this production – the excellent Orpheus Sinfonia were perched above the stage behind the singers. It did make the balance tricky, but there were some terrific solos (notably Tamara Young on harp, and the wind players), and some stonkingly loud ensembles. The audience sit on three sides of the performing space and inevitably not all text comes our way, making for frustratingly incomplete storytelling. Some voices fared better than others, notably Rob Murray’s engaging Male Chorus, who also had some of librettist Ronald Duncan’s most memorable lines to sing. Meanwhile Bethan Langford’s Lucretia and Natasha Jouhl’s Female Chorus tended to lose us when they faced the other way. Benjamin Lewis’ macho Tarquinius was cold and detached while Andrew Tipple’s Collatinus melted us. I mean emotionally, nothing to do with the temperature in the theatre. While I am on the subject, that they all survived under those lights and wearing those costumes and, in Bethan Langford’s case, that extravagant wig and lying under a duvet, was a minor miracle.

Britten: The Rape of Lucretia - Benjamin Lewis (Tarquinius), Bethan Langford (Lucretia) - Grimeborn Festival (Photo Robert Workman)
Britten: The Rape of Lucretia - Benjamin Lewis (Tarquinius), Bethan Langford (Lucretia) - Grimeborn Festival (Photo Robert Workman)
Julia Burbach’s production makes the Male and Female Chorus ubiquitous – observing the action, cueing the lights sometimes, coming out into the audience, eyeballing every one of us and occasionally upstaging the others with their own fling. The major events of the plot, the rape and the suicide, happened so quickly we didn’t know what to make of them, as often with momentous events in real life, where we wish we had been fully concentrating in the moment.

It was an intense evening out, and in many ways could be an ideal time and place for this opera with the world of politics and the world of the arts reeling from #MeToo. I do hope that in the course of the run they figure out how to do justice to Ronald Duncan’s jarring, tender and prescient text as well as Britten’s wonderfully mesmerising score.
Reviewed by Ruth Hansford

Britten: The Rape of Lucretia, Grimeborn Festival, 25th July 2018 at the Arcola Theatre
Cast
James Corrigan - Junius
Bethan Langford - Lucretia
Benjamin Lewis - Tarquinius
Rob Murray - Male Chorus (first week)
Natasha Jouhl - Female Chorus
Claire Swale - Lucia
Katharine Taylor-Jones - Bianca
Andrew Tipple - Collatinus

Music Direction - Peter Selwyn
Orpheus Sinfonia
Direction - Julia Burbach
Designer - Bettina John
Lighting Designer - Rob Price

Elsewhere on this blog:
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  • Approaching Winterreise: Angelika Kirchschlager on performing Schubert's great song cycle  - interview
  • Richly Romantic: Mascagni rarity, Isabeau, brought to life at Opera Holland Park (★★★★½) - opera review
  • A disturbing journey: Schubert's Winterreise from Angelika Kirchschlager and Julius Drake (★★★★★)  - concert review
  • Byron's Grand Tour: Alison Pitt & Gavin Roberts at the St Marylebone Festival (★★★½) - concert review
  • It’s Opera Giacomo, but not as we know it - Turandot at Torre del Lago (★★★) - Opera review
  • A study in dementia: a radical new version of Verdi's Nabucco from the Heidenheim Opera Festival (★★★) - Opera review
  • Lithe and musically engaging: Verdi's I Lombardi from the Heidenheim Opera Festival (★★★★) - Opera review
  • Premiere of a rarity: Donizetti's L'ange de Nisida from Opera Rara and the Royal Opera - (★★★★★) Opera review
  • An impressive achievement: Richard Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos at Opera Holland Park - (★★★★½) Opera review
  • Alissa Firsova: Fantasy  (★★★★) - CD review
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