AVA to perform Benjamin Britten’s ‘Rape of Lucretia’

by Michael Caruso
Posted 2/8/24

The Academy of Vocal Arts will continue its 2023-24 season of fully staged operatic productions.

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AVA to perform Benjamin Britten’s ‘Rape of Lucretia’


The Academy of Vocal Arts, 1920 Spruce Street in Center City Philadelphia, will continue its 2023-24 season of fully staged operatic productions with Sir Benjamin Britten’s “The Rape of Lucretia.” The show will run Feb. 17, 20, 22 and 24 at 7:30 p.m. in AVA’s own intimate Helen Corning Warden Theater in Center City.

Based on a libretto by Ronald Duncan, which itself is based on Andre Obey’s play, “Le viol de Lucrece,” Britten’s opus premiered in Glyndebourne, England, on July 12, 1946. It’s his first chamber opera and is cast for eight solo voices and an instrumental complement of 13 players. It was a commission from the Glyndebourne festival and followed immediately upon Britten’s operatic masterpiece, “Peter Grimes.” 

Set in two acts, each divided into two scenes connected by an interlude, “The Rape of Lucretia” focuses on a historical act of sexual violation that spurred the ancient city of Rome to throw off its Etruscan oppressors and establish the Roman Republic in 509 B.C. The governmental structure of the Republic lasted until 27 B.C. when Octavian Caesar Augustus (the great nephew of the assassinated Julius Caesar) declared himself the first emperor of the Roman Empire. The Republic was a seminal inspiration for the U.S. Constitution, written in 1787 right here in Philadelphia.

Britten is, by most accounts, the only composer since the passings of Giacomo Puccini and Richard Strauss to have written operas that have held their place in the standard repertoire.

For ticket information call 215-735-1685 or visit The AVA is at 1920 Spruce Street in Center City.

Afternoon Concerts

I spent two delightful afternoons in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall hearing Philadelphia’s two great symphony orchestras. The Curtis Symphony Orchestra took the stage Saturday, Jan. 27, to perform a program of works by Gabriela Ortiz, Samuel Barber and Hector Berlioz; on Sunday, Jan. 28, it was the turn of the Philadelphia Orchestra to play music by Bates, Pena Laguna and Brahms.

Both ensembles played magnificently and both concerts were attended by enthusiastic audiences that packed the house. In a third good sign, the delicate “re-tuning” of Verizon Hall’s acoustics seems to have achieved an even higher level of success than ever before.

The major work on the Philadelphia Orchestra’s program was Johannes Brahms’ “A German Requiem,” Opus 45. Composed between 1865-68 in the wake of the death of the composer’s mother, Brahms (raised as a Lutheran, not a Roman Catholic) chose not to set the Latin liturgy of the Church of Rome’s “Requiem Mass.” Instead, he gathered readings from the German text of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, that offer solace, assurance and wisdom to those left behind on earth.

Its seven movements open with “Blessed are they that mourn” and close with “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.” Along the way, Brahms offers a score that is considered his masterpiece and gets my vote for the greatest Requiem of them all. I find it superior even to Giuseppe Verdi’s “Manzoni Requiem,” often considered the Italian’s masterpiece. So impressed was Brahms’ great rival, the revolutionary innovator Richard Wagner, that upon hearing “A German Requiem,” he remarked that in the hands of an inspired composer, the old forms of the classical era still worked.

Joined by the Philadelphia Symphonic Choir and soloists Jeanine De Bique (soprano) and Christopher Maltman (baritone), Maestro Yannick Nezet-Seguin led the “Fabulous Philadelphians” in the most beautiful and powerful interpretation of “A German Requiem” I’ve ever heard in six decades of concert-reviewing. He oversaw Brahms’ most expressive scoring for orchestra, his sumptuous writing for chorus, and his soaring lines for vocal soloists. 

Most impressive of all, Nezet-Seguin never lost sight of the forest while lavishing loving attention on every detail of each tree in that forest. No individual moment or passage of emotional or spiritual delineation was overlooked, yet every one fit precisely into the fabric of the work as a whole. 

Although Hector Berlioz’s “Symphonie fantastique,” Opus 14, was indeed the “major” work on the Curtis Symphony’s Saturday program, its most seminal work was the First Symphony, Opus 9, of Curtis Institute of Music alumnus, Samuel Barber, class of 1934 and a native of West Chester. A marvel of concise late romanticism cast in one unbroken movement, it speaks in a distinctively American language marrying classical traditions with modern idioms. In this, it shares a 20th-century world of major/minor tonality with scores such as Jean Sibelius’ Fifth Symphony and Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Third Symphony or “Symphonic Dances.” 

Curtis alumnus Michael Stern (class of 1986) conducted the Curtis Symphony with passion and precision and elicited from his bevy of inspired young musicians a reading worthy of any of the world’s greatest symphony orchestras. Although he proffered a convincing rendition of the Berlioz, which was a replacement for Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, I would have preferred hearing his interpretation, with the Curtis Symphony, of any one of those three works by Sibelius or Rachmaninoff.

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