J’Nai Bridges (Lucretia, on right in blue) and River Rogers (Child) in The Rape of Lucretia (photo courtesy of Wolf Trap Opera)
As noted in my preview article, Mary Beard discusses the story of Lucretia in some detail in her informative book SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome. The events, which supposedly took place in the sixth century B.C., were not recorded by Livy in Ab urbe condita until the first century B.C. The virtuous Lucretia, wife of the Roman nobleman Collatinus, was raped by Tarquinius Sextus, the son of the last Etruscan king to rule Rome. Not able to suffer the shame, she commits suicide, and Collatinus and his friend, Junius Brutus, brandish the bloody knife as they rally the Romans to rise up and overthrow the Tarquins. Not coincidentally, Collatinus and Brutus (the ancestor of the Brutus who took part in the assassination of Julius Caesar) are elected the first consuls of the new Roman republic.
Mezzo-soprano J'Nai Bridges brought dignity and a strong vocal presence to the title role, equal parts virginal lightness and tragic weight. In the wonderful women's ensemble scenes, which are the best parts of this opera, she was supported by the flighty high soprano of Amy Owens as Lucia and the steady maternal sound of Sarah Larsen as Bianca, her nurse. Will Liverman captured the transformation of Tarquinius from patrician soldier into bestial attacker, and Shea Owens stepped into the role of Junius (Brutus) effectively on only a week's notice. Christian Zaremba had the largest sound, just slightly unfocused here and there, as Collatinus, tall and noble of bearing. The framing of the story in Christian terms is an unfortunate relic of librettist Ronald Duncan's choice of source, André Obey's modern French play Le Viol de Lucrèce. Here, the Male Chorus, sung with moral force by tenor Brenton Ryan, and Female Chorus of powerhouse soprano Kerriann Otaño related the story to each other as part of what seemed like a confession, due to Kara Harmon's costuming of the characters as Catholic priest and modern lay woman.
Philip Kennicott and Anne Midgette, A powerful opera about a horrible subject (Washington Post, June 12)
Two aspects of Muller's directorial concept went unexplained until the final scene. She has added a supernumerary character, the daughter of Lucretia, played by the adorable and affecting River Rogers. Adding characters without any lines to a libretto that does not include them is a perilous business, as eventually a viewer will wonder why a major character is unable to speak. One also wonders why the Female Chorus, an angry woman with a nose ring, a smoking habit, and issues to resolve, is going to confession with the Male Chorus. In the final scene, Muller seems to want us to understand -- because the girl takes her dead mother's necklace, the same one around the neck of the Female Chorus -- that the Female Chorus is the daughter of the raped woman, all grown up.
This production runs through June 18, in the Barns at Wolf Trap.