Review: The Rape of Lucretia (MYOpera)

Photo of Christina Campsall as Lucretia. Photo by William Ford PhotographyMYOpera presents Benjamin Britten’s classic chamber opera at the Aki Theatre in Toronto

MYOpera presents a more modern version of Benjamin Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia on stage this weekend only at the Aki Studio Theatre. What was originally set during the Roman Empire at approximately 509 BC is now staged at the end of the Second World War when the opera originally debuted. The costumes are updated for the period but the text from the opera remains unchanged.

Admittedly, neither I or my guest are experts on opera and entered this performance hoping to be moved by a powerful and gripping drama. At the end, we were end with unfortunately lukewarm impressions.

The Rape of Lucretia is a story of a Roman housewife Lucretia (Christina Campsall, mezzo-soprano) whose duty is to her husband Collatinus (Jacob Feldman, baritone), an army general. While returning home from battle, the soldiers joke about the level of infidelity they foresee their wives getting into while they were away and learn that only Lucretia has been dutifully chaste. Before Collatinus is able to return home, Tarquinius (Nicholas Borg, baritone), the Prince of Rome, enters Lucretia’s home unexpectedly. Drunkenly convinced that Lucretia desires him, Tarquinius takes advantage of her. Convinced that she is no longer clean, Lucretia takes her life.

What mostly threw my friend Kayte and I off during the production was the odd pacing. I’ve only seen a small few operas and for Kayte, this is her second. It seemed that while time was spent focusing on seemingly small moments — saying goodnight for the evening when Tarquinius arrives at Lucretia’s home, the drunken shoulder patting between the soldiers at the beginning — less emphasis was placed on more meaningful moments, like the time someone in Lucretia’s position would take to process her assault before deciding to take her own life. Granted, that is a product of the original script and not a fault of this current production, but we both left feeling unsatisfied with the ending.

I was duly impressed with the performances from the cast. In particular, from the male and female chorus who served as the narrators, soprano Jonelle Sills and tenor Daevyd Pepper. Not only were their voices a joy to listen to, but their interactions on stage gave voice to their characters’ relationship with each other in a rather amusing way. I enjoyed how Borg committed to his character of Tarquinius, and though the rape scene is uncomfortable to watch, Borg delivered a compelling performance.

On the other hand, I did want more intensity from Feldman in particular when Collatinus learns of the assault done to his wife by the Prince of Rome whom he is dedicated to. I wanted to see an anger and ferocity in that moment that wasn’t there. There is a kindness and nurturing element that Collatinus has for his defiled wife, but I wanted to see that softness mixed with anger at such a betrayal. Kayte felt that Campsall’s performance of Lucretia fell on the flat side.

We both agreed that pianist and musical director Natasha Fransblow did a superb job providing the musical accompaniment for the two-hour performance. I loved how she used mallets to strike the strings in the piano for an added percussive element to the music.

The very minimal set was made striking with the use of sheer white and red curtains that were used to sweep across the stage at various angles for great aesthetic dimension; credit to stage director Anna Theodosakis and technical director Jen Epstein for that choice. I did find the lighting choices to be consistently dark throughout and didn’t feel like it highlighted the performers in the best way it could have.

The Rape of Lucretia has two more performances: tonight at 7:30 and Sunday afternoon at 2:30. Though my impressions of the production itself is rather mixed, the performances alone stand out and for that, the show is worth the cost of admission to support independent opera.

Details:

  • The Rape of Lucretia is playing at the Aki Studio Theatre, 585 Dundas St E, until May 1, 2016.
  • The remaining two performances are on Saturday, April 30 at 7:30 pm and Sunday, May 1 at 2:30 pm.
  • Tickets are $35, $20 for students with ID, and $30 for seniors.
  • Tickets can be purchased online, by phone at 416-531-1402, or in person.
  • Audience Advisory: Performance contains depictions of suicide and sexual violence.

Photo of Christina Campsall by William Ford Photography.