Cal Performances brought Lorin Maazel's Castleton Festival Opera out West for the first time this past weekend for two performances each of Benjamin Britten's The Rape of Lucretia and Albert Herring.
Before heading over to catch Friday night's Lucretia, the Femme Fatale and I had a lovely, inexpensive and just plain great dinner at Pasta Paradiso, which neither of us had tried before. Two salads (huge), two entrees (humongous) AND a bottle of wine, total amount of check- $54. I'm going back to this place- frequently!
After we took our seats The Opera Tattler and the Last Chinese Unicorn sat down in front us, and the OT admonished us beforehand to be quiet during the performance. Also spotted were Ragnar Bohlin, conductor of the SF Symphony Chorus; Jennifer Rivera, opera singer, blogger, and girlfriend of Collatinus; and of course Patrick was seated as usual in the front row.
A man who turned out to be Vale Rideout as the Male Chorus had been seated onstage in a dated office chair next to beat up filing cabinet for a few minutes before he stood up, Maazel came out, the lights went down and the show began. The production uses a stage that combines a dumpy 80's office setting that uses the sloping floor of an Etruscan stable as the desk. Yes, you read that correctly and you're right if you're thinking that doesn't make a lot of sense.
I was somehow too distracted in the beginning to understand Rideout was supposed to be a Christian preacher. Holding a book in his hand that was meant to be a bible, he looked more like an accountant holding a ledger that he threw around a bit. I also couldn't tell from row K that his tie had a cross insignia on it- I actually thought it was a Stanford logo, which would have been more amusing. His counterpart, Arianna Zukerman as the Female Chorus, was ostensibly engaged in helping him tell this story but their interactions didn't make a lot of sense to me and I was wondering why the accountant's secretary was upset with him.
Then three soldiers- Junius (Michael Weyandt), Collatinus (Michael Rice) and Prince Tarquinius (Matthew Worth) entered the stable, set up a tent, started drinking and were quickly lamenting the fact that all of the women in Rome have been proven to be unfaithful tarts, except for Lucretia, the wife of fortunate Collatinus.
Tarquinius is obviously upset he missed a conquest and decides to pay a visit to Lucretia (Ekaterina Metlova) to see if she is indeed a woman of virtue.
Intermission. So far I'm not that engaged with all of this, though Rice has a lovely baritone, the chamber orchestra sounds good, and Rideout does some interesting things as he breaks the third wall and sings to the soldiers.
After intermission the rape takes place, and as much I hate to say it this way, things finally got interesting. Worth, though hard to buy in the first act as a malevolent Prince, was quite menacing when he got down to it and the staging during this part was creative and sophisticated even if the set was minimally appointed. The only problem during this point was that Metlova was almost impossible to understand. Still, the effect here chilled to the bone and a heightened sense of drama and purpose was finally at hand. Sustaining it would prove to be difficult- though the responsibility for that didn't belong to anyone onstage.
Musically this is an opera with much richness, though problematically the libretto is at multiple points somewhat embarrassing. More than once I thought to myself "this would be better if this was a lackluster translation from Italian or German." Hearing it in my native tongue rendered it somewhat less than satisfying- an effect that seemed to permeate the entire production. I felt ambivalent about the whole thing more than anything else though the Femme thought it wonderful.
The other two roles not yet mentioned belonged to Alison Tupay as Bianca and
Marnie Breckenridge as Lucia. Tupay's performance, along with Rice's was a vocal highlight of the evening. Breckenridge, recently seen locally in Ensemble Parallèle's excellent Orphée, didn't make as positive an impression. In fact, Orphée kept gnawing at me during this performance- the scrappy local company seemed to do such more with less. The Castlemont production seemed to pale in comparison. Is that a fair comparison? Probably not, but there you have it.
As you may have read elsewhere, there were shockingly loud, amplified stage directions coming from backstage toward the conclusion and there was an awful lot business between some people in the front rows on the right side of the orchestra.
But here is the worst part- the woman at the "courtesy" coat check in the Zellerbach lobby didn't tell me "courtesy" meant she wasn't sticking around after she took my computer bag and left it unattended on a pile of stuff while she went home or wherever it was she went off to. That was an unpleasant surprise. Thankfully, though it clearly looked like it contained a computer, it was still there when I went to reclaim it after the performance.
The Femme Fatale and I were supposed to catch the production of Albert Herring the next night, but assorted storms prevented us from actually making it across the Bay.