Sunday, February 11, 2001

Opera review

'Lucretia' showcases strong CCM cast

By Nicole Hamilton
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Tarquinius is a good looking guy. He has money, power and more women admirers than he can handle. But he also has a big problem. The woman he really wants, Lucretia, is chaste. She's also married — to Tarquinius' friend Collatinus.

        Tarquinius, Collatinus and another friend, Junius, drink and discuss their lady troubles. They badger, tease and scoff at each others' lascivious tales, all the while getting more and more drunk.

        This could be a scenario from any soap opera, or a fantastic story about three college guys with strange names and drinking problems. But it's not. It's a scene from The Rape of Lucretia, a 1946 opera by Benjamin Britten, libretto by Ronald Duncan, as performed by the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music this weekend.

        The opera, directed by Thomas de Mallet Burgess, explores the ambiguous nature between good and evil and the corruption of innocence. The strong performances by every cast member made the opera's lesson a more poignant tale to which the audience could relate.

        In the opera, Tarquinius is an Etruscan prince. Collatinus (played by Benjamin Smolder) and Junius (Sean Anderson) are his Roman generals. When he leaves one battlefield, he heads right to another — Lucretia's bedroom — where he rapes her.

        There exists, in both lead characters, a dual nature. Tarquinius is at times sensitive and practical and at other times, passionate and brutal. Lucretia, too, battles the terrible realization that she was once a chaste woman, now attracted to her rapist.

        Two major parts are interwoven in the opera — that of the male and female chorus, two later-day Christians searching for meaning in the pagan myth, and the myth itself.

        The male and female chorus roles are especially vocally demanding, and Ross Hauck and Kathryn Hart delivered. The audience journeyed with the young Christians in and out of the feverous lives of the doomed Romans as the two deal with their own struggle to understand Christ.

        Their narrative helps the audience connect; their emotive interpretation made it easy. Mr. Hauck and Ms. Hart sang their parts like their characters were vulnerable and confused, as if diving deep into the heady topic of Christianity and fate may have confused them more. Their characters' struggles were apparent.

        David Babinet as Prince Tarquinius and Blythe Gaissert as Lucretia acted as well as they sang opera. Mr. Babinet's voice boomed, as intimidating as his character, but he was also able to convey the vulnerability and immaturity in Tarquinius with little effort.

        Ms. Gaissert's performance emphasized the enormous strength that existed in perhaps the too-self-contained Lucretia. Even as she emerged in the final scene with the wild-eyed look of a tortured woman (her long black locks all cut off), she was unwavering in her stubbornness (first in chastity, then in her efforts to take her own life).

        Scenery, designed by Corey Shipler, was simple and elegant. Props were sparse but poignant. Robert Hahn's lighting was dramatic, moving from deep reds to an uneasy color of green in the scene after the rape.

        In his American debut, Michael Rosewell guest conducted members of the CCM concert orchestra. Their part, like the scenery, is simple and elegant; the orchestra never got in the way of what was happening on stage. The continuous, minor-key strum of the harp, played at just the right time, was all that was needed.

        The Rape of Lucretia, 2:30 p.m. today, Patricia Corbett Theater. 556-4183.


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