Fiona Shaw’s direction of the Opera ‘The Rape of Lucretia’ is new production of Benjamin Britten’s opera first performed in 1946. This outstanding performance makes opera available for all those who could be intimidated by the genre. The Rape of Lucretia is a timeless story, brilliantly brought to life by director Shaw and conductor Nicholas Collon.
The structure of a pagan story carried to the audience by the Christian message of the Chorus, representing Lucretia’s sacrifice as like that of Christ’s to clean away sin.
British contralto Claudia Huckle as the title role of Lucretia and Duncan Rock as Tarquinius are piecing dualities at the centre of this story. Their roles show the constant conflictions and dynamics of the story; war and love, clean and soiled, male and female. This duality is further carried by the role of the Roman Generals Collatinus and Junius, counterparts to the roles of Lucretia’s servants Bianca and Lucia.
The role of the Chorus is perhaps the most outstanding element of this opera. The chorus represent the audience, speaking on our behalf. In this case Shaw brings across the poignant point that the Chorus are two contemporary people, telling a story about Rome before Christ. The projection of the thoughts of Lucretia and Tarquinius are expressed through the female and male role respectively. There actions allow the audience to ponder up over-excitable sexuality that could run throughout the play.
The Female Chorus performed by Kate Valentine can steel the opera with her soprano as she sings a lullaby over Lucretia. The chorus are simultaneously steering the view of the audience while tragically unable to intervene upon the historical events that the Christian befalls. She is complemented by Male Chorus tenor Allan Clayton whose rising of Lucretia out of the earth as ghostly figures demonstrates not only the Christian message of resurrection but also the ongoing timeless suffering of The Rape of Lucretia.
Set Designer Michael Levine has produced a masterpiece. His set consists of a Roman camp and then simultaneously Lucretia’s home and an archaeological dig. The Chorus’ set the string outlining the dig, symbolising the literal excavation of the truth. The earth of the ground contrasts with her and her servants talk of white linen, soiling of Lucretia’ own linen in her house which represent her own loss of purity after her ‘ravishment’. Yet if this seems too simple we may also understand how truth may be buried in this earth and Lucretia’s return to it after her death.
For me the brilliance of this opera was in its simple, subtle yet intelligent construction. It was at once accessible and understandable, as well as timeless, yet the design of the dig and the dualities of masculine and feminine kept you thinking about more layers of understanding and realities. Furthermore what everyone will enjoy from their first to their last visit to the opera is the power of the human voice. The Glyndebourne Touring Opera does this more than justice.