Back to Lucretia, the Barns, and Wolf Trap Opera

first, a little railing,

Here is the follow up to my initial discussion of Friday night’s performance of The Rape of Lucretia by Wolf Trap Opera at the Barns.  I am not the only one who found this production to have a powerful impact.  Washington Post critics, Philip Kennicott and Anne Midgette  posted a discussion of the performance on June 12 saying as much.  I noticed their article on June 14, and I was disappointed to see that after two days online there were no comments for a performance that is truly worth discussing.  I enjoy reading the comments to reviews as well as the reviews themselves.  I left a comment and as of the posting of this blog piece it remains the only comment.  I wonder what it means that the Washington area is blessed with two world-class classical music critics and they only attract one comment on an excellent local production.  I am also dismayed that such a fine production is not a complete sellout given the population of the DC area.  It is summer and there are many things vying for our attention, but I am concerned that the presentation of opera of this caliber by enthusiastic and talented young performers does not fill a small theater in a metropolitan locale. I think of attendance at music, drama, and arts events not only as entertainment but to be continuing education in citizenry.  I have been thinking about Lucretia since Friday, six days ago.  It has raised my awareness and made me think about our nature as a society of humans.  Right now I am pondering the meaning of a question that Collatinus asked his wife as he tried to comfort her and tell her the rape was not her fault.  He says, "I forgive you."  Huh?  For what?  If anyone is swayed, there is still one more performance of Lucretia on Saturday night.

J'Nai Bridges as Lucretia, Brenton Ryan as Male Chorus, Will Liverman as Tarquinius, and Kerriann Otano as Female Chorus.  Photo by Scott Suchman and courtesy of Wolf Trap Opera.

J'Nai Bridges as Lucretia, Brenton Ryan as Male Chorus, Will Liverman as Tarquinius, and Kerriann Otano as Female Chorus.  Photo by Scott Suchman and courtesy of Wolf Trap Opera.

J'Nai Bridges as Lucretia, Christian Zaremba as Collatinus, Shea Owens as Junius, Sarah Larsen as Bianca, Amy Owens as Lucia, Brenton Ryan as Male Chorus, and Kerriann Otano as Female Chorus.  Photo by Scott Suchman and courtesy of Wolf Trap Opera.

J'Nai Bridges as Lucretia, Christian Zaremba as Collatinus, Shea Owens as Junius, Sarah Larsen as Bianca, Amy Owens as Lucia, Brenton Ryan as Male Chorus, and Kerriann Otano as Female Chorus.  Photo by Scott Suchman and courtesy of Wolf Trap Opera.

more about Lucretia,

No question that The Rape of Lucretia performed by Wolf Trap Opera is in sum an elegant and emotionally powerful and intellectually engaging production.  But let me add a few minor criticisms as a fan.  For example, why are stage directors today replacing Roman soldiers with WWII GI’s to update settings?  The story of Lucretia is just as powerful in its original setting I would think and having three GI’s named Collatinus, Junius, and Tarquinius sitting around drinking Jack Black and yet talking about the merits of wine seems a little unusual.  And some aspects still have me wondering – the presence of an unnamed and unexplained child and the male chorus donning the clerical collar to bring Christianity into the the scene some 500 years before it appeared on the scene.  I got the feeling that perhaps Lucretia might have been a sacrificial lamb to ensnare the audience in Christianity; I’m just not sure if the libretto was pro or con.  And why was the female chorus dressed like the young woman you hope your daughter will not hang out with, even if she does have a good heart.  These are mostly small matters that passed by quickly in the viewing, but linger on reflection.

J'Nai Bridges as Lucretia (holding River Rogers as Child).  Photo by Scott Suchman and courtesy of Wolf Trap Opera.

J'Nai Bridges as Lucretia (holding River Rogers as Child).  Photo by Scott Suchman and courtesy of Wolf Trap Opera.

I loved the young voices.  Sometimes they sounded like not completely tamed broncos showing their spirit, but they managed to add color to an opera that could become blandly didactic.  I also like the use of the male and female choruses to place the action in a larger context forward and backward in time.  I thought Brenton Ryan who played the male chorus was particularly effective maintaining drama throughout the evening. Perhaps he had the most engaging lines; Kerriann Otano as the female chorus also sang well.  Sarah Larsen and Amy Owens, who played nurse/maids for Lucretia had strong voices, with considerable color, enough to maintain the balance among the eight players.  The same can be said for Christian Zaremba and Shea Owens who played Collatinus and Junius.  Will Liverman who played Tarquinius, the rapist, was threatening and yet in a simple, beautiful aria as he looked upon the sleeping Lucretia displayed a rather beautiful voice; he is worth hearing more of I think.  J’Nai Bridges had one of the strongest voices; I would like to hear her with more opportunity to show it off.  I think there should be a website somewhere where every opera singer has to post one song every year so we can follow their development.  I think the energy of the young singers helped to glue this performance into the unified whole that it was. 

The opera was written for twelve soloist musicians.  There was relatively little playing together to produce an orchestral sound.  I am not a musician, but I was surprised at how well the individual instruments supported the players and the story.  Kudos to the conductor and musicians.

All of the singers in Lucretia are Young Filene Artists.  I found it interesting to peruse their brief bio sketches in the outstanding WTO program guide.  You can also find info on the artists on the WTO website.  I was impressed that most are pursuing advanced degrees in music, are affiliated with other opera house training programs, and have several opera performances already under their belts.  These folks are worth following.  WTO has a strong record of its graduates going on to successful opera careers.

comments on the Barns,

I have mixed feelings about the Barns as an opera venue.  It is cozy and does have charm. The theater is not large with maybe 20-30 rows of about 20 seats across each on the floor level and a small balcony.  One advantage is you are close to the action on stage almost regardless where you sit and the acoustics seem fine to me. One disadvantage of the seating is that it is not tiered.  If you have a tall person in front of you, you will spend time moving side to side to see the performers on stage.  The Barns does have a rustic barn look.  It may conflict somewhat with the more formal nature of opera, but if it encourages more casual dress, I’m for it.  The restaurant serves light fare and drinks.  Ask the price of the glass of wine you are considering.  We found out after we had ordered that two glasses of pinot grigio were $26.  On the other hand, parking is plentiful and free.  Getting out after a performance is fairly quick since the theater is small.

The pre performance talks are held in a lecture room in a building next door to the theater one hour before the show and there is usually plenty of seating for all who attend.  I most definitely recommend these!  They will enrich your experience.

comments on Wolf Trap Opera,

I think Wolf Trap Opera is a treasure.  It’s director, performers and staff, and productions reek of quality and a commitment to excellence and to its community.  Young singers around the country compete to be part of this program and the development opportunity it provides them, and the program is designed to take full advantage of their individual talents to provide an optimal cultural and entertainment package for local patrons.  WTO is a pretty safe bet for investing your entertainment dollar.  Check out the recital performances as well as the operas themselves.