This was a revival of the first
of Britten’s chamber operas, The Rape of Lucretia. English National
Opera’s 2001 production was a critically successful one and it was indeed
wonderful that further audiences get this (brief) chance to see it again.
Lighting, in particular, is remarkably effective (Kevin Sleep reviving
Pauline Constable’s efforts in this respect), from the darkness and
silhouettes of the opening through to the stronger colours later on.
The cast is a strong one, and
Paul Daniel seems at home in this intimate piece (I have found him wanting,
previously, in larger scale pieces, particularly in Wagner: ENO’s forthcoming
Götterdämmerung should be instructive, therefore).
Sarah Connolly recently emerged
as the star of Bellini’s Capuletti,
and she was no less impressive on this occasion. Her Lucretia was eloquently
and powerfully acted, and beautifully (at times heart-rendingly) sung.
Her imposing presence tended to dominate the stage: her portrayal of
post-rape utter depression, desperation and defeat in Act 2 was emotionally
shattering. Christopher Maltman’s Tarquinius is beautifully sung. His
legato is a dream (particularly effective in Act 2), his melismas near-perfect
and yet he can project with pure strength, too. I’m afraid I can’t comment
on what Melanie Eskenazi memorable called the ‘phoarr’ factor in her
excellent review of the 2001
production, but he does indeed seem to have spent a while at the weights.
And, yes, a fair amount of his kit is jettisoned. However, his acting
could tend towards the wooden (especially obvious when pitted against
Clive Bayley’s acting abilities
as the Roman general Collatinus, although not completely cleansed of
hackneyed poses, was more than acceptable and he sang with aplomb. Leigh
Melrose made for a convincing Junius (if slightly weak of projection
on occasion) and Timothy Robinson (Male Chorus) displayed strength,
despite a sense of strain at the upper registers of his voice (this
part was taken by John Mark Ainsley in the 2001 production).
So to the supporting ladies. Orla
Boylan (Female Chorus) presented some beautiful phrasing. Catherine
Wyn-Rogers, always reliable, was a concerned Bianca (Lucretia’s nurse),
but I’ve saved the ‘other’ star of the show for last. Mary Nelson, as
Lucia (Lucretia’s maid) was simply superb. Not only did her looks fit
the part perfectly, but her pitching of the difficult soprano part was
spot-on, her light tone a delight.
For his orchestra, Britten uses
a small ensemble. His skill in handling these forces is remarkable (as
in Turn of the Screw) and Daniel brings out the subtleties of
the score on numerous occasions, while simultaneously carefully shaping
the structure. In paring down his orchestra, Britten is able to depict
the most tender, and also the most powerful emotions poignantly and
unforgettably. Tremendous expression of this ilk with minimal forces
is surely an art in itself. This memorable performance enabled the audience
to appreciate Britten’s art to a remarkable degree, and for that we
should be grateful
English National Opera
Revival of The Rape of Lucretia (Britten)
First Performance - Friday 7th November 2003
PHOTOGRAPHER CREDIT: BILL RAFFERTY
1 - Sarah Connolly(Lucretia) & Orla Boylan(Female Chorus)
Lucretia - 14 - Christopher Maltman(Tarquinius) & Sarah Connolly(Lucretia)