The Rape of Lucretia, Benjamin Britten’s moving opera was done excellent justice in Saint John's College Music Society’s well-directed production. Telling the tragic tale of the rape and subsequent suicide of Collatinus’s chaste wife Lucretia at the hands of the jealous Prince Tarquinius, this production’s strong cast created a stirring and emotional performance.
James Beddoe and Imogen Russell as the male and female chorus were a strong introduction to the show, with their excellent and emotive storytelling forewarning of the tragic events to come. The chorus’s presence throughout the production is worthy of note: Beddoe’s menacing, fearful, Puck-like characterisation made him an exciting and engaged storyteller throughout as he crouched, creeped and crawled across the stage, making full use of the space. He acts like the devil on the shoulder of the jealous Tarquin, chanting enticingly “Lucretia”, until it almost appears like a spell has been cast over the prince to pursue his poisonous act of lust. Special mention must also go to Russell, who was outstanding as the female chorus and has a exceptional, emotive voice that gave me goose bumps on several occasions. The vocals in general were very strong: particularly from the men, who perfectly portrayed the soldiers of war with powerful notes and thrilling volume. Collatinus (Kit Holliday) was endearing and noble as the husband of Lucretia, and Tarquinius (Peter Lidbetter) was strong and convincing in his all-consuming lust for his chaste victim. Lidbetter’s sickening delievery of Tarquinius’s comment on Lucretias’ beauty, “if not enjoyed it is but waste” sent shivers up my spine and captured the character perfectly. The ruthlessness of Tarquinius was further emphasized by Chloe Allison's elegant and dignified portrayal of Lucretia, who is left a desolate, delicate ghost of her formal self after the attack.
Given the small size of the orchestra they performed very well, providing an adequate underscore to the strong vocals from the cast. The quieter moments of clarinet and harp in particular helped to generate a very moving atmosphere that added to the tragedy of the piece.
The lighting and set were simple but very effective. A number of wooden crates were used efficiently, first stacked to become the army camp where men sat drinking from wine bottles scattered across the stage, and later moved smoothly into the chairs and tables in Lucretria’s home. The lighting was warm and bright for the home, but spotlights and dramatic red was used at more tense moments to add to the sense of danger and despair.
Where the production was slightly let down was by the rather clumsy scene changes. At one point there was a black out that lasted more than a few minutes as the actors tried to completely change the scene, and there was some confusion in the audience as to whether this was an interval. At nearly two hours long the production could have benefited from having an interval at this well-timed climax, and this would have given the cast time to create the new scene without the pressure of a long blackout. Having said this, a lot of the trouble with scene changes can be attributed to first night teething problems, and the show and staging on the whole was very slick and impressive. To learn and stage an opera in less than three weeks is an incredible achievement and overall this production of The Rape of Lucretia was moving and dramatic, with great vocals: everything an opera should be!
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