Houston Grand Opera's New Rape of Lucretia Closes
Houston Grand Opera's new production of Benjamin Britten's intimate but intensely gripping chamber opera The Rape of Lucretia takes place through February 11, 2012 and features the young American theatre director Arin Arbus in her operatic debut. Arbus is the associate artistic director of Theatre for a New Audience, a classical off-Broadway company. She has made headlines in past seasons with her compelling direction of three Shakespeare productions, including her 2009 Othello, which received six Lortel nominations. In early 2010 she was featured in the New York Times, which spotlighted her work leading a theatre company of inmates at the Woodbourne Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison in upstate New York; according to Arbus, it was her work there that re-ignited her passion for directing and storytelling. Mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung, last heard at HGO as Venus in Tannhäuser, sings the title role in HGO's new Lucretia, which is led by Scottish conductor Rory Macdonald in his company debut.
In her notes for the production, Arbus observes: "Lucretia was first performed in 1946 - after WWII, after the Blitz, after over 300,000 Britons had died. As his homeland was reeling from this devastation, Britten was working on Lucretia – which attempts to harness song to human tragedy. Undoubtedly, as he wrote this opera about personal sacrifice and grief which gives way to political development, Britten was thinking of England's own attempts to grapple with those very issues." She continues, "On one level, the opera is deeply political. Lucretia's rape and subsequent death are widely known as the events that provoked the Romans to revolt against the occupying Etruscan forces, which ultimately led to the establishment of the Roman Republic. The story is both mythic and intimate. I hope to preserve these inherent ambiguities. We will set the action in Rome in the historical period, but we won't be literal or historical in the design."
HGO Artistic and Music Director Patrick Summers describes the Britten work: "It is an incredibly searing piece; hard to watch, cathartic, and very beautiful. The opera is about unmotivated acts of violence and the power play of men over women. It was written in the 1940s, when the world had witnessed the most extraordinarily violent event in history (WWII), so it is very much a product of those years." He adds, "Arin Arbus is emerging from a new, very young generation of American directors who work with real rigor and seriousness on Broadway. She has had extraordinary success directing Shakespeare, exploring the relationships between people, finding the ambiguity of the characters who behave in a certain way."
Britten's haunting score is paired with an ancient Roman tale that inspired Shakespeare. The men of the Roman army have discovered that their wives have been unfaithful during their absence – all but one: the innocent Lucretia. She has remained true to her husband, Collantinus, but falls prey to an arrogant young man, her husband's friend Tarquinius. He plots to test her fidelity and not only violates her chastity but brings about her complete ruin.
The story unfolds under the gaze of male and female chorus characters who provide commentary throughout. The opera, scored for a chamber orchestra of twelve instruments and piano, contains some of Britten's most lyrical and beautiful music.
The Rape of Lucretia was first performed in the United States on Broadway at the Ziegfeld Theatre. The production, staged by Agnes De Mille, opened on December 29, 1948 and closed on January 15, 1949 after 23 performances.
American bass-baritone and HGO alumnus Ryan McKinny will perform the role of Lucretia's husband, Collatinus. Opera News wrote, "His lyrical bass-baritone voice drips with gold in the middle and upper registers." South African baritone Jacques Imbrailo, making his HGO debut as the reckless and envious Tarquinius, was recently hailed by London's Financial Times as "the finest Billy I have heard – lusty, virile, sensitive and moving." Tenor Anthony Dean Griffey and soprano Leah Crocetto perform as the Male and Female Choruses. Griffey was last heard at HGO in the title role of Britten's Peter Grimes, which was widely acclaimed. Crocetto is a winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Auditions and recently represented the United States at the Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
HGO launched its 2011-12 season in October with a new production of Rossini's Barber of Seville, marking the beginning of a new era for the company with Patrick Summers as Artistic and Music Director. Summers will conduct three HGo Productions this season, including two Verdi masterpieces – La traviata, opening on January 27, and the five-act, French version of Don Carlos, opening on April 13 – as well as Donizetti's Mary Stuart, with Joyce DiDonato in the title role, opening on April 21.
Arin Arbus featured in the New York Times (February 2010):
Ticket and other information:
About the director:
Arin Arbus is associate artistic director of Theatre for a New Audience, a classical off-Broadway company, for which she directed Macbeth, Measure for Measure (Lortel nomination for Best Revival), and Othello (six Lortel nominations). In 2009, the New York Times described Arbus as "the most gifted new director to emerge this year." She was a Playwrights Horizons directing resident, a Williamstown Workshop Directing Corps member, a member of Soho Rep's Writer/Director Lab, and is a Drama League Directing fellow and a 2008 Princess Grace Award recipient. Arbus has directed at the Intiman, Hangar, Storm, and Working theaters; Theatre Outlet; FringeNYC; HERE Arts Center; the Juilliard School; the New School for Drama; and Williamstown Theatre Festival Workshop. In association with Rehabilitation through the Arts, she also leads a theatre company of inmates at Woodbourne Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison in upstate New York. In spring 2012, Arbus will direct The Taming of the Shrew for Theatre for a New Audience.
The Houston Grand Opera: upcoming productions
Jan 27 - Feb 12
Verdi: La traviata
Albina Shagimuratova* - Violetta Valéry (*former HGO Studio Artist)
David Lomelí - Alfredo Germont
Giovanni Meoni - Giorgio Germont
Patrick Summers - conductor
Daniel Slater - director
Feb 3 - 11
Britten: The Rape of Lucretia (new production)
Michelle DeYoung - Lucretia
Anthony Dean Griffey - Male Chorus
Leah Crocetto** - Female Chorus (**HGO debut)
Jacques Imbrailo - Tarquinius
Ryan McKinny* - Collatinus (*Former HGO Studio Artist)
Joshua Hopkins* - Junius (*Former HGO Studio Artist)
Judith Forst - Bianca
Rory Macdonald - conductor
Arin Arbus - director
Apr 13 - 28
Verdi: Don Carlos (five-act, French version)
Brandon Jovanovich - Don Carlos
Tamara Wilson* - Elisabeth de Valois (*former HGO Studio Artist)
Christine Goerke - Princess Eboli
Scott Hendricks* - Rodrigue (*former HGO Studio Artist)
Andrea Silvestrelli - Philippe II
Samuel Ramey - The Grand Inquisitor
Oren Gradus* - Spirit of Charles V (*former HGO Studio Artist)
Patrick Summers - Conductor
John Caird - Director
Apr 21 - May 4
Donizetti: Mary Stuart
Joyce DiDonato* - Mary Stuart (*former HGO Studio Artist, role debut)
Katie Van Kooten – Elizabeth I
Eric Cutler - Earl of Leicester
Robert Gleadow - Talbot
Oren Gradus* - Cecil (*former HGO Studio Artist)
Patrick Summers - conductor
Patrice Caurier - co-director
Moshe Leiser - co-director