The Rape of Lucretia - Benjamin Britten - English National Opera

Also at the Coliseum in June 2001, were Benjamin Britten's "chamber opera" for eight singers and a small orchestra, The Rape of Lucretia. The librettist was Ronald Duncan after the play by Andre Obey La Viol de Lucrece, which itself based on an ancient Roman legend. The libretto has been updated by David McYicar. It was first performed at Glyndebourne in 1946. After a disagreement at Glyndebourne, Britten founded the Aldeburgh Festival in Suffolk.

Sarah Connolly as Lucretia was powerful and robust of voice but not a beauty as depicted in the story; she was strangely sexless, even boyish. It certainly was shocking when Christopher Maltman, as the menacing Tarquinius, rips her dress and exposes her right breast. These Roman generals are violent and quick with their blades to impose their will, but as Junius (Leigh Penrose) said, "All women are whores by nature". There is reference, too, that Lucretia is actually asking for it. "In the-forest of my dreams, you have always been the tiger. " she sings, as Tarquinius approaches her bed. (I'm positive the feminists had something to say here!!!) Clive Bayley as Collatinus, Lucretia's husband showed both strength and vulnerability.

In one scene, a group of Roman generals paying a surprise visit to their homes found their wives engaged in revelry and dissipation, with the exception of Lucretia, sitting quietly sewing among her women. Her beauty and chastity piqued the vanity of the licentious Etruscan Prince Tarquinius and the next night he rode secretly from the camp and forced her to yield to his desires. In the room, Lucretia summoned her husband and his friends. After she told her story to her husband, she stabbed herself to death. The Roman soldiers are brutal and licentious, even Collatinus whose reaction to his wife's rape is anger rather than compassion. (Certainly a case of "double standards"!!!)

Memorable music features Tarquinius' wild ride through the night sung by the Male Chorus (a solo tenor); the Morning Song of Lucretia's maids as they arrange the flowers; and the musing of the Female Chorus (a solo soprano) upon the sleeping Lucretia, sung over an orchestral lullaby. Brittten portrays the evocative atmosphere of the sultry Roman night with the crickets and bullfrogs- depicted by tinkling harp arpeggios. The Male Chorus takes a voyeuristic interest in the rape, while the Female Chorus (Irish soprano, Orla Boylan) looks on in horror. It has something of a pious Christian theme at the end, which seems at odds with the story but this is possibly because Britten and Duncan were both involved in the Peace Pledge Union in the '50s. The performance was dedicated to the memory of mezzo-soprano Nancy Evans.


Verinha Ottoni.


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