Wednesday, March 27, 2013
KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando previews the opera, "Murder in the Cathedral."
The murder of archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170 has been the subject of both the stage (plays by both T.S. Eliot and Jean Anouilh) and screen ("Becket" starring Richard Burton as Becket and Peter O'Toole as King Henry II). It’s also the basis of the rarely performed opera, “Murder in the Cathedral.”
T.S. Eliot’s verse drama “Murder in the Cathedral” used the real life murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket to explore issues of politics, religion, and an individual’s opposition to authority -- issues that still resonate today. He wrote it in the 1930s as Fascism was on the rise in Central Europe. In 1958, it became the basis for Ildebrando Pizzetti’s opera. The opera focuses on the last month of Becket's life as he defends the church against King Henry II's attacks. The two men were once friends but grew apart as Becket devoted himself to religion and Henry to politics. The King, enraged by what he saw as an act of betrayal by his former friend, reportedly let slip the exclamation, "Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest." This prompted four knights to kill Becket, who was soon canonized as a Saint.
This Saturday “Murder in the Cathedral” receives its West Coast premiere at the San Diego Opera. A key element is a female chorus says director Ian Campbell.
"The chorus will never leave the stage, the women will always be there because at the end of their first scene they say we are condemned only to watch. They know they can’t do anything about the events that they have a premonition about and since they are condemned to watch I’m going to have them watching."
Production designer Ralph Funicello (who frequently designs sets for The Old Globe Theatre) creates a set that captures the epic and impressive scale of Canterbury Cathedral. There are stunning stained glass windows, massive pillars, and plenty of steps to provide the chorus with multiple levels of observation. He says designing for opera is different than designing for a stage play.
"As I have always said, you design for the music in an opera. I mean there’s the story and the plot and all that but what really keys in to what the scale and the emotional feeling of the design really comes more from the music than anything."
“Murder in the Cathedral” runs through April 7th at the Civic Theater.
Companion viewing: "Becket," "Pan's Labyrinth," "A Man For All Seasons"