This year's Merola participants staged an exceptionally well-conceived and executed production of Benjamin Britten's The Rape of Lucretia last week. Setting the story in what looked like an Eastern block military tribunal, the emotional weight of the drama was laid bare on the stage and vividly brought to life by the singers. There's an unavoidable artifice to having solo male and female singers take the parts of the Greek chorus, but the acting of Robert Watson and Linda Barnett made the parts an integral part of the whole. Chris Carr's Tarquinius had nuance as well as menace, making him more than just a sociopath- one could see why Lucretia's shame wasn't based on just the loss of her honor. David Weigel's Collatinus was suitably anguished, constantly drawing one's attention to his fine singing and acting, and Efrain Solis was effective as Junius.
As fine as the men were, the show really belonged to the women- especially Alisa Jordheim, whose voice was a constant source of surprising strength and clarity. Katie Hannigan's Bianca had strong stage presence and nice tone, and Kate Allen's portrayal of Lucretia was delicately balanced vocally and dramatically- she was conflicted, tempted, shamed and repulsed- it came through in her voice and you could see it in her eyes. Mark Morash led the small chamber ensemble with an excellent sense of pacing and balance, and if there were any challenges for the musicians working in a new auditorium, no one would have been the wiser. Perhaps the highest honors should go to director Peter Kazaras, who brought sensible, illuminating metaphors to the action, delivering handsomely on the difficult task of making this tricky opera work. The period costumes by Kristi Johnson, stark set by Donald Eastman, and seemingly unforgiving lighting by Chris Maravich all combined to make this a solid success for all involved.
The next event in the Merola season is the Schwabacher Summer Concert this Thursday evening at the Everett Middle School Auditorium, with a repeat performance Saturday afternoon in Yerba Buena Gardens. The concert will feature scenes from Rossini's comic masterpiece L'Italiana in Algeri, Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, Verdi's Don Carlo, Mozart's Don Giovanni, Mascagni's L'Amico Fritz, and multiple scenes from Verdi's Otello. Saturday is free (bring a blanket or a low-rise lawn chair and a picnic), tickets for Thursday are available through San Francisco Opera, which is also where tickets can be purchased for the August 1 & 3 performances of Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro and the Grand Finale in the War Memorial Opera House on August 17th.
Pictured: Alisa Jordheim.