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Opera Review: The Rape of Lucretia at Glyndebourne Summer Festival

14/07/2015 12:58 BST | Updated 14/07/2016 10:59 BST

Glyndebourne is one of the most important worldwide Opera festivals during the summer. It brings the best of British with a mix of exceptional talent, originality, sophistication and above all sheer enjoyment. Set in a beautiful country house near Lewes, about one hour by train from London, it is an experience that lasts a whole day: from having a picnic, to visiting the new Whitecube art gallery offshoot with a solo show the highly respected German artist Georg Baselitz, to admiring the well-crafted garden and, of course, listening to the opera with a 90 minute interval to perfectly blend in with a summerly soirée.

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Gardens in the evening. Photographer James Bellorini. Courtesy Glyndebourne.

The Rape of Lucretia is the first chamber opera, a smaller scale production specially suited for tours and the austerity requirements after the World War II, completed by the British composer Benjamin Britten just after the successful premier of Peter Grimes in 1945. It formed the template for successive creations in his future career. Britten attempted to invent a new School of Opera removing many of the most grandiose elements of other classic productions. He also reduced the orchestral palette to just 13 solo instrumentalists in a most inventive manner and great precision with a sparingly use of the piano and a protagonism of the harp for the most emotive moments. This intimacy allows the viewer to focus on the wording and the powerful dialogues held between the characters. Some of the deepest exchanges I have ever heard in opera. The libretto, the term used for a script in opera, written by Ronald Duncan, based on the play with the same title Le Viol de Lucrece by André Obey, provides evocative exchanges such as when blind by envy Tarquinius is about to rape Lucretia:

Lucretia asks: What do you want with me?

Tarquinius: What do you fear?

Lucretia: You! In the forest of my dreams you have always been the Tiger.

The plot has the background of the Etruscan domination of Rome in 509 BC. The generals Collatinus, Lucretia's husband, played by the understanding bass Matthew Rose; Tarquinius, the nasty perpetrator charismatically sang by the baritone Duncan Rock kindly regaling us with a pectoral show off; and the instigator Junius, sweet voice by the bass-baritone Michael Sumuel, discuss their disappointment when finding their wives in the company of other men in an impromptu ride back to Rome. It develops to envy when Lucretia is the only woman found by herself. The virtue of faithfulness becomes her worst enemy. Lucretia, played by the mezzo-soprano Christine Rice, holds the stage with a strong presence and displays a warm coloratura perfectly suited for this role. A victim that takes full control of her destiny. The Male Chorus, played by Allan Claytong, and the Female Chorus, performed by Kate Royal, managed to strike a balance between enhancing and informing but without being obstructive. Bianca, performed by Catherine Wyn-Rogers, her servant but also acts the role of a mother, portrays the inability of protecting her mistress. As Fiona Shaw, who intelligently has directed this piece, says:

"There is something about the exchanges between Lucretia and her maid before she goes to sleep, something about Lucretia's dignity that is really captured in the opera. There is poise in the writing of who she is and yet also passion. Poise and passion are a heady combination. She has both. I also have found that the morality of the piece is as dark as it is in Medea. There is no worse fate for a moral person than to have their morality tested in a way in which they cannot win. And that is what happens to Lucretia."

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The Rape of Lucretia, Glyndebourne Festival 2015. Tarquinius (Duncan Rock). Photographer Robbie Jack. Courtesy Glyndebourne.

The stage design is very imaginative with a scarce use of artefacts designed by Michael Levine. The Roman ruins symbolising the sinister side of our subconscious that keeps unearthing as the story darkens. Magistral music played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. The result is an operatic experience that is extraordinarily emotional and dramatic. Highly recommended.

The Rape of Lucretia with nine performances until 19 August with a cinema screening life on the 9th August, Sunday, and a free online streaming, also life, on the same day, Sunday the 9th of August. For more information, please visit website http://www.glyndebourne.com

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The Rape of Lucretia, Glyndebourne Festival 2015. Male Chorus (Allan Clayton) and Female Chorus (Kate Royal). Photographer Robbie Jack. Courtesy Glyndebourne.