Pacific Opera Victoria

Rape of Lucretia
by Benjamin Britten

Dates 9, 11, 16, 18 February 2006 at 20.00 Venue Royal Theatre, 805 Broughton Street, Victoria

Conductor and Artistic Director Timothy Vernon Director Diana LeBlanc Set & Costume Designer Alison Green

Lucretia Louise Guyot Tarquinius Phillip Addis Collatinus Alain Coulombe Junius Alex Dobson Male Chorus David Pomeroy Female Chorus Monica Whicher Bianca Mia Lennox-Williams Lucia Sookhyung Park

Reviewer J. H. Stape

Benjamin Britten's 1946 opera, based on Livy and Ovid and set in the fifth century BC, offers lush, distinctly modern music, dramatic intensity, and much to think about. In verse and with some beautiful and strong lines, the libretto's Christianity, particularly at the opera's quiet close, is, on the other hand, preachy and unconvincing. That false note aside -- and it's the composer's and librettist's error -- this is a work deserving several encounters, and its secure place in the repertoire means that the drama and music have won out over its cloying religiosity.

The cast gathered by Pacific Opera Victoria for this mid-winter production gives a no-holds-bar performance of rare intensity: they are committed, have carefully thought out their roles, and are brilliantly directed by Diana LeBlanc. Throughout nearly two hours -- this production has no intermission -- the dramatic tension is relentlessly built and sustained, every cast member delivering a solid dramatic performance and evidencing ensemble playing of the highest order.

The vocal achievements are equally secure and impressive, and this is a cast without a weak link. Louise Guyot's Lucretia is shot through with drama: affectingly suggesting the nobility and vulnerablity of a woman in a brutal world, Guyot sings ably and acts with quiet dignity. Baritone Phillip Addis, a handsome hunk dressed like a leatherman pin-up, is well cast in the role of Tarquinius. The sexual predator drunk on power and oozing dark sexual urges, Addis conveys just the right edginess in his attractive voice, and his stage presence suggests the panther Lucretia sees in her nightmares.

The strong supporting cast performs in stellar fashion. Alain Coulombe as Lucretia's husband, Collatinus, is a humane man desperately caught up in the meshes of others. Alex Dobson as Junius is a chameleon figure: a weakling in Tarquinius's hand, he also proves schemingly ambitious and unfeeling. Sookhyung Park's beautiful soprano floats on the air and suggests great promise as her voice blooms into full maturity. Her sympathetic Lucia is yet further testimony to first-class casting. If too young for the part of an old woman, Mia Lennox-Williams makes the most of Bianca, Lucretia's caring serving maid.

As the male chorus, David Pomeroy's Sunday stiffness is nicely paralleled by Monica Whicher's keen sense of repression and near neuroticism. Compared to the Romans, whatever their brutal and "unredeemed state," this chorus of 1950s Anglicans is dry-lipped and half-alive. Both Pomeroy and Whicher sing convincingly, with Pomeroy making a real impression in his larger role, especially in his Ride of Tarquinius aria.

This performance has the usual panache one associates with Pacific Opera Victoria: so-called risky repertoire that wholly succeeds, fine and evenly balanced casting, and an emphasis on music-theatre, with both elements of that equation given full value. The sets in their austerity and the clear no-nonsense staging put maximum emphasis precisely where it ought to be: on the interaction of the singers and on the sound Timothy Vernon caressed out of the pit where the twelve players Britten scored this work for played their hearts out.

This is a noble performance, continuing proof that something very special is happening in Victoria. With the Royal Theatre at near capacity, the proof is in the pudding. Next on the bill is Rigoletto in late April. The company has also announced its 2006-07 season: Puccini's Manon Lescaut, Strauss's Daphne, and Don Giovanni. Given Pacific Opera Victoria's track record, a thrilling night in the opera house is guaranteed.

© 2006 J. H. Stape