Seen and Heard
Rape of Lucretia Soloists, Chorus & Orchestra
of the Benjamin Britten International Opera School at the Royal College
of Music/Thomas Blunt, 30th November 2004 (CC)
My previous experience of the RCM
Opera School left mixed feelings. Yet this production of Britten’s
Rape of Lucretia was a triumph, able to stand with its head
high against the recent ENO
production seen at the Barbican Theatre in October 2003.
The acoustic in the RCM’s Britten Theatre is very dry, and all
credit to the singers in particular for filling the acoustic space
so well. One of the most impressive singers was the Male Chorus, Andrew
Staples (who recently appeared on the Dutton recording of Everyman).
Dressed casually in black his excellence actually put in the shade
somewhat his ‘partner’, the Female Chorus, here Anna Leese.
Interesting that there were sexual overtones between the two choruses,
who were perhaps not the disinterested observers they might initially
claim to be.
To contrast with the demure dress of the Choruses, army fatigues were
de rigeur for the military men. Olle Zetterström was a strong
Collatinus (preferable, in fact, to Clive Bayley at the Barbican);
Andrew Conley also coped well, as Junius. Håkan Ekenäs
took the important role of Tarquinius. Against Christopher Maltman
for ENO, he could not really compete, but taken on his own terms this
was a powerful and convincing assumption.
The three female roles outside of the Female Chorus are Lucretia (Jennifer
Johnston), Bianca (Patricia Helen Orr) and Lucia (Malin Christensson,
who was Sister Contance in the RCM’s Carmelites). They
arrive in the drama after the Male Chorus has described Tarquinius’
journey to Rome, en route to test Lucretia’s chastity. The three
ladies appear to be spinning from ropes that hang from the ceiling.
Immediately the image of Wagnerian Norns was conjured - a symbol of
eternal feminine purity?
Of the three, Lucretia proved strongest over her entire range, but
it was Malin Christensson’s Lucia that impressed in its utmost
purity and sureness of pitching. In fact this scene was one of the
tightest, in an ensemble sense, of the entire opera, with woodwinds
completely on-the-ball and a delicate, deliciously played harp underscoring
the action. Blunt’s pacing of the final ‘Goodnight’
processional was finely timed.
The orchestra shone especially in Act II, where it managed to convey
a magical delicacy in the more lullaby-like sections. True, Orr did
not have the depth of interpretation or voice of Connolly, but the
graphic act kept its power. The contrast with Bianca (Patricia Helen
Orr) and Lucia arranging flowers the next morning was marked.
The orchestra was sunken into a hole, around which the action took
place. Production values were consistently excellent, with imaginative
and effective use of available space (director Jo Davies, Designer
Joanna Parker). Stark colour juxtapositions gave a modern, contemporary
feel to an ancient story of eternal relevance (lighting was by Mark
Doubleday). Diction was uniformly excellent. However, it was mainly
due to the expert pacing of conductor Thomas Blunt that the end of
the opera made such a lasting impression.
Back to the Top
to the Index Page