When I leave the opera, I usually have one of the following reactions: so glad that it’s over because I need to stretch my legs and pump caffeine into my system, melancholic over lost, thwarted love, disconcerted by rampant misogyny, or the need to talk-sing full gust while concurrently jumping into the air down a long empty hallway, if available. Although it seems in bad taste, the latter reaction is what I had after HGO’s Rape of Lucretia.
But why would an opera about the pillaging of Rome by the Etruscans through the mask of the rape of a chaste Roman woman make me want to be so, well, sprightly?
The truth of the matter is that I love Benjamin Britten. I am keen on many contemporary composers of opera (Phillip Glass and John Adams, for example) but I have found something special in Britten. Stylistically Britten is a bit tough. In his works there are no specific arias and the vocal range and syncopation are oftentime difficult to arrange into intuitive musical order.
What does that mean? When you listen to a Madonna song (which we all did this past weekend), you can “feel” what notes come next and when it sounds “right.” When you listen to Britten, parts of the music remain unresolved which makes many people uncomfortable. For lack of a better term, it doesn’t always sound “right.”
For me, the lack of resolution feels very comfortable. It reminds me that conversations that never quite end and projects that never quite get finished have the opportunity to be a part of something more comprehensive if we let them be what they are instead of forcing their end product. Oftentimes in pop music and in life, we are always looking for an ultimate resolution that doesn’t really exist. Britten reminds me of this.
But it still might have been in bad taste to sing-talk (the only way I know to describe Britten’s vocal quality through most of his operas) while floating down the grand stair at the Wortham after seeing an opera that is, basically, about a chick getting raped.
Tragic ending notwithstanding, it was nice to go to a performance where the diva level was low, the libretto was in English, and the music had a crystalline quality that felt sharp and clean. In short, the singing was fantastic, most notably, Anthony Dean Griffey who played the Male Chorus role. (I saw him in the title role of Peter Grimes last season.)
Below are some excerpts from the show.
The Rape of Lucretia is at Houston Grand Opera until February 11th. You can purchase tickets here, prices start at $38. Definitely worth the $$ and a trip downtown.