Tuesday, 4 November 2008

The Rape of Lucretia - Aldeburgh @ King's Place

King's Place, the shiny new performing and gallery space, a stone's throw from King's Cross and St Pancras Stations, has been open for a month. Consequently performers are still grappling with its benefits and drawbacks - and those attending concerts are doing the same. This evening's concert performance of The Rape of Lucretia, whilst musically and dramatically manicured, was sonically distended in the hall. The soloists, singing in front of the chamber orchestra, were often charged down by the present orchestral sound - or rather charged up, as one could clearly hear the voices balanced up towards the capacious ceiling.

This is a marginal, if consistent grumble and not enough to change the character or experience of this performance. David Parry gave us a brisk Lucretia, in keeping with it's formal, perhaps monumental character (of which more later). The orchestra play with precision and vigour. The cast, in concert dress, are split across the stage, James Greer and Robyn Driedger-Klassen's chorus on one and the named characters on the other. I disagree with The Guardian's Rian Evans about the nature of the staging, albeit in a subtle way. I don't think that the chorus become involved in the drama, but rather that the entire cast, whilst acting the drama, are closer to declaiming it. There is no division between cast and commentary.

Stephen Mumbert is an insipid Junius, all (scheming) talk and no trousers; Allen Boxer a noble Collatinus. Benedict Nelson's Tarquinius is quite a treat, vocally, with pride and sonic power signposting the disaster ahead (from my position his lust often boiled over into insanity though, which might not be what he was aiming for).

Jillian Yemen and Eve-Lyn de la Haye are comparable counterparts to Blythe Gaissert's absolutely ideal Lucretia. By the end of the evening I found that I had little sympathy for anyone, despite the clear injustices - I don't know whether Gaissert's intention was to invoke enough hubris in her Lucretia and her relationship with Collatinus to allow tempering schadenfreude to enter the audience's mind but it happened with me. As I've pointed out, the chorus simply repeat, or perhaps translate the emotional content of the cast - James Geer was most affecting and Robyn Driedger-Klassen's singing was fine.

Lucretia's a difficult opera though. A 'Greek' tale of political struggle, it cannot fail to be a vehicle for Britten's own reflection's on the recent World War. Indeed, throughout its robust formality there are snatches of pathos and satire - Bach in chorales and an oboe de caccia threnody, and pastiche dances and marches - which also appear in the later, more considered War Requiem. The opera, a stark fable, finishes with an almost schizophrenic wailing at the metaphysical: the female chorus begs the audience to decide if it 'is all', which it clearly has been on the basis of what we have seen; only for the male chorus to suddenly bring the gospel to the show and promise Christian salvation. But evangelising hope after the fact, especially in this Looney Tunes, 'that's not all folks!' tacked-on manner does nothing to alleviate the misery of the present company - neither is it sufficiently explicit in linking of the tale to modern armed conflict.

The rape of Europe, of innocence by the overcranked, baited cockfighter is lost. All this company could do was to try and present the score well and in this they succeeded.

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