Friday, January 25, 2013

Norwegian National Opera – The Rape of Lucretia by Benjamin Britten. January 20, 2013.

Oslo Opera House, Second House, Oslo, Norway (Row 10, Seat 12, NOK450).

Conductor – Magnus Loddgard; Lucretia – Katjia Dragojevic, Female Chorus – Marita Selberg, Male Chorus – Brenden Gunnell, Tarquinius – Espen Langvik, Bianca – Ingeberg Kosmo, Lucia – Silvia Moi, Collatinius – Magne Fremmerlid, Julius – Yngve Andre Seberg.  The Norwegian National Opera Orchestra.

Story.  A group of soldiers find out that during their absence their wives have been unfaithful, with the exception of Lucretia, Collatinus's wife.  Tarquinius, the son of the foreign Rome ruler Tarquin, decides to visit Lucretia and then rapes her.  Lucretia asks a message to be sent to Collatinus asking him to come home.  When he get home, he discovers Lucretia has already stabbed herself; she dies in his arms.

We would be in Oslo for fewer than 18 hours, getting in at around 4 pm on Sunday, and leaving on Monday’s 11:45 am flight.  Most of the museum would close at about 5 pm, so we were left with this opera as about the only choice if we wanted to do anything.  I certainly would want to visit the Oslo Opera House, but was a bit hesitant because of the specific opera involved.  While I am okay with Britten’s music, I certainly don’t know how two hours of it would feel.  Also, the subject matter is quite dark, especially since Lucretia ends up committing suicide.  I actually wonder why the Norwegians would put out something like this in the dead of winter, during which time everything was dark and gray.  Yet here we were.  And to jump to the conclusion, it was an okay experience.

First, the story.  It is based on the Shakespeare poem “The Rape of Lucrece” written in 1594.  While the plot in the opera is quite straightforward, it is reasonably gripping drama as realized in the opera, to my surprise.

The Second House is a small concert hall, with fewer than 400 seats in my estimation.  Tonight there were about 300 people in attendance.  The opera will have a 7-performance run.  At NOK450 (about $80) one would have to conclude this is a “reasonable” price, especially considering how expensive things are in Norway.  Our regret is we don’t get to see the main hall.

 The Oslo Opera House is built on the waterfront.

Inside of Opera House building.

Since the venue is so small, acoustics isn’t a problem.  Although the orchestra is billed as the Opera Orchestra, its size is that of a reduced chamber orchestra.  Britten’s music is generally okay, although not remarkable on this first hearing.  Oftentimes he had the melodies – such as they are – in the orchestra, with the vocalists singing the “accompaniment.”  Except the accompaniment is often just a “pedal point” in that it is the same note throughout the phrase.  It sometimes gives the impression the singers are just speaking, as in a drama.

The singers generally have a strong voice; only exception is Lucretia who was weak at times. Norwegians speak very good English, and they actually have English subtitles (LED panels at each seat), so the story was easy to understand.

The staging and costume are all modern, which is a bit incongruous as the singers are talking about Rome at around 500BC.  I am generally for period costumes anyway, in this case particularly so as there is a historical aspect to the story.  So at first I thought Lucretia kills herself by downing a lot of pills.  It turns out she does it the traditional way: stabbing herself in the sink and drawing a lot of blood.

One other note, the male and female choruses each consists of one singer.  They also get into the act but do not interact with the characters in the opera.

An interesting experience.  For a small town like Oslo (1.3 million in metropolitan area), they certainly put out a lot of concerts and operas.  I am glad we went.

No comments: