Juilliard Opera followed its collaboration on Gluck’s “Iphigénie en Aulide,” with the Metropolitan Opera, with a no-less-intense, intimate “Rape of Lucretia” (1946), by Benjamin Britten and Ronald Duncan, which opened, for three performances, on February 18, aptly given in Juilliard’s Rosemary and Meredith Willson Theater, a smaller hall than its Peter Jay Sharp Theater. Leading eight vocalists and 13 instrumentalists, Mark Shapiro carefully sculpted this rarified early Britten score, infusing it with passion as needed. Director Mary Birnbaum devised an earthy, graphic staging, in which the titular rape was every bit as horrific as it’s meant to be.
Avery Amereau, poised, dramatic, and sympathetic, as the virtuous Roman, Lucretia, displayed a rich liquid mezzo-soprano that easily reached down into dark, velvety contralto territory. She appeared, unusually, at the beginning of the opera, presenting the Male (bright-voiced tenor William Goforth) and Female Chorus (mezzo-soprano Marguerite Jones, ably singing this soprano role) with the book of her story, and ‘resurrected,’ rejoined them at the end. Amereau’s Lucretia’s struggle with and rape by the Etruscan Prince Tarquinius, oily, priapic, and menacing as depicted by high lyric baritone Kurt Kanazawa, was appropriately painful to watch, as he pawed and, binding her in his leather straps, overpowered her.
Expressive bass Daniel Miroslaw portrayed Lucretia’s loving husband Collatinus, virile and understanding, in contrast to his crude comrade-at-arms, Kanazawa’s Tarquinius, who wielded his spear like a phallus and, when riding his horse toward Lucretia, bent on conquering, all but blended with the driven animal that he rode. Mezzo-soprano Amanda Lynn Bottoms, as Bianca, once Lucretia’s nurse, and soprano Christine Price as young Lucia, Lucretia’s other servant, blithely engaged in a florid duet as they cheerfully arranged flowers, unaware as yet that their beloved mistress had been brutally ravished.
Joe Eletto lent a dark, polished baritone and impressive presence to the part of Junius, expressing bitterness in his solo about Lucretia, putting his and all other Roman wives to shame with her stoicism and fidelity. When Tarquinius taunted Junius relentlessly and repeatedly about being a “cuckold,” Eletto responded by all but forcing Kanazawa down onto his crotch. At the start of Act Two, Eletto joined voices with Miroslaw, Bottoms, and Price for a rousing cry of “Down with the Etruscans!”
As Junius equates Tarquinius’ rape of Lucretia with the ruling Etruscans’ violation of Rome, so do the Male and Female Chorus anachronistically, some might say gratuitously, tie her martyrdom to the Passion of Christ, singing a prayer to Mary, to a “God Save the King/Queen”-like melody, during the rape scene. At the end, a cross, hitherto unnoticed, emerged, lit up, from the set here, as the Choruses sang their epilogue, hand-in-hand with a resurrected Lucretia.
Sydney Maresca’s costumes combined the contemporary with elements of antiquity. Grace Laubacher’s simple setting included a turntable, which was pushed by stagehands. Anshuman Bhatia designed the lighting and Adam Cates was choreographer.
At this writing, performances remained on February 20 at 8 p.m. and 22 at 2 p.m. Visit www.juiulliard.edu
for further information.