His 1946 opera, The Rape of Lucretia, is one of Benjamin Britten’s most highly charged pieces, which harrowingly portrays the emotional and interpersonal effects of the brutal act of rape. As it says on the tin, the story centres around the traumatic rape of Collatinus’ wife (played by Tom Herring) by the Prince of Rome. The ensemble at St Peter’s College puts on an excellent production, with just a small cast of eight performers.
Yolanda Shamash and Hoagy Cunningham went along to opening night. Here’s what they thought!
Yolanda: The music was fantastic. Britten’s score is brilliantly haunting, full of discordant strings and some wonderful moments of percussion. The orchestra and singers came together very well, creating a really impressive and beautiful sound. As is typical of Britten’s operas, The Rape of Lucretia is disturbing and unsettling in its handling of the uncomfortable themes of sex and sexuality, and I felt that at times the cast pulled this difficult element off wonderfully.
Hoagy: Yeah the music was great, especially the sympathetic chorus, which alternated between detached storytelling and embodying the thoughts of certain characters. When they switched between the two it was really effective for me, and one moment in which the male chorus (Maximilian Lawrie) whispered Lucretia’s name encouragingly into Tarquinius’ ear, was particularly haunting and beautiful. At times however, I thought that the chorus was a bit too detached, and weren’t as engaging as they could have been when advancing the story. A personal highlight was probably the expressive faces that accompanied the singing, particularly the contorted and amusing looks that Junius (Salvador Mascarenhas) frequently made. I also really enjoyed Tarquinius’ acting, and the gleeful, malicious way in which he flitted around the other, more static, characters.
Yolanda: Ed Ballard as Tarquinius definitely gave one of the more powerful performances, although I do think that the staging as a whole lacked motion somewhat. It was quite static throughout, which did allow the music to take centre stage, but meant that at times the show lacked tension. Given how much the opera is centred around one particular event, I think the lack of movement on stage is forgivable, because the whole opera is already quite slow-paced as the drama builds towards the central scene in which Lucretia (Johanna Harrison) is raped. The rape scene was really powerful for that exact reason, as Tarquinius and Lucretia wrestled around the stage, creating a great contrast between that scene and the otherwise relatively minimal staging.
Hoagy: Yeah I agree – the rape scene was really convincingly done. When the orchestra came into full force after that scene it was excellent, and definitely my favourite passage of music. In fact, the singing was of really high quality throughout, with great performances from all the singers and musicians.
Hoagy: As someone who’s not entirely familiar with opera I really enjoyed this production. I would say that I got quite a bit more out of it from having read the libretto beforehand, so I’d recommend, to anyone considering going, at least having a look through the synopsis before the show. To all those who are unsure if opera’s for them, I’d definitely say that The Rape of Lucretia is worth checking out.
Yolanda: I was probably a bit more discerning about the opera than Hoagy. I enjoyed watching the action unfold and found certain scenes really quite gripping, but felt that the music was much stronger than the acting, and that at times the staging was awkward. The incredible performances of the orchestra and singers, however, won me over completely.