Rape of Lucretia
New Victoria Theatre, Woking
Review by Christine Charlesworth
On Thursday 31 October, 2013, I visited the New Victoria Theatre in Woking, to see Glyndebourne’s production of Benjamin Britten’s opera Rape of Lucretia.
Glyndebourne Opera’s autumn tour has now become an established part of Woking’s New Victoria Theatre’s programming and is the first theatre on the tour, which runs until 14 December and visits 6 other venues. This year marks the 45th annual Glyndebourne Tour and over the space of five nights, the company presented Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel, Donizetti’s Elixir of Love and Benjamin Britten’s Rape of Lucretia. As 2013 is the 100thanniversary of Britten’s birth and the world premiere of Rape of Lucretia was held at Glyndebourne in 1946, with Kathleen Ferrier in the title role, it is a very fitting inclusion in the tour. This new production is directed by actress and director, Fiona Shaw, in her Glyndebourne debut.
The Rape of Lucretia is a small scale work with a cast of just eight, which includes a “chorus” of one male (tenor) played by Allan Clayton and one female (soprano) played by Kate Valentine. In this production, which producer Fiona Shaw has treated as a “sung play”, apart from narrating the plot and revealing the inner thoughts of the characters, the chorus becomes more involved so that, to some extent, the tragedy narrated by them becomes their story, which is acted out by the cast. Michael Levine’s dark, but evocative set represents first a battle field, then a large tent and finally a Roman archeology site and home of Lucretia. The whole floor of the set slopes upwards and amazing affects are achieved with the clever use of garden peat.
Britten’s working of the story of the rape of Lucretia effectively bolts a redemptive Christian ending onto a pagan story, but Shaw ultimately leaves the audience to make up their own minds about the responses of the characters to the main action. In this sense, the opera is modern in recognizing the potential ambiguities of rape and revenge, although Shaw leaves us in no doubt that Luctretia, beautifully performed by the British contralto, Claudia Huckle, is violently assaulted by a callous Tarquinius (Duncan Rock). Duncan is a former Glyndebourne Jerwood Young Artist, won the John Christie Award in 2010 and also won acclaim for his performance at the Glyndebourne Festival 2013. Claudia Huckle, in her Glyndebourne debut, was a soloist at Leipzig Opera from 2009 and has recently been awarded the Birgit Nilsson Prize.
If this opera sounds a bit bleak, it is lifted by some of Britten’s most melodious music and in this production we are treated to terrific acting and singing throughout. Allan Clayton and Kate Valentine do a great job as the chorus and the Glyndebourne Opera Orchestra provides very competent accompaniment under the direction of Nicholas Collon, who is founder and Principal Conductor of the Aurora Orchestra and also the conductor for Glyndebourne’s two most recent community operas.
Glyndebourne continues on tour with these three operas and over the next few weeks will be visiting Norwich, Canterbury, Milton Keynes, Plymouth and Stoke-on-Trent. With a performance of Rape of Lucretia at Milton Keynes on the day of Benjamin Britten's birthday, 22nd November. If you happen to live within striking distance of any of these venues, this is an ideal opportunity to catch world class opera and I certainly recommend this production.
For more information or to book tickets visit www.glyndebourne.com.