12 July 2017 | TheLittleSongbird
Post-modern 'Lucretia'- and it works
While there is a preference for 'Peter Grimes', 'Billy Budd' and 'Albert Herring' (admittedly operas of his that are more familiar to me) as far as Britten's operas go, 'The Rape of Lucretia' is still something of a modern masterpiece (went from highly appreciate 5 plus years ago to love in the past two years or so), with an intense and moving story and music with an effectively sparse texture.
First hearing of this production, there were real doubts. At first it seemed like a concept production with silly touches that are either pointless or distasteful, on paper it sounded like it could be a disaster. What a pleasant surprise. Viewing the performance, it turned out to be a quite intelligent, intensely dark and achingly moving production with potentially silly touches working effectively within a concept that added even more layers to an already layered story. It is a perfect alternative to the brilliant 1987 ENO performance with Jean Rigby and Russell Smythe.
Visually it is stark and gloomy with emphasis on dirt, but it mirrors the storytelling very well and the starkness is in good keeping with the sparseness of the orchestral textures (being only scored for and played by 12/13 instruments). The lighting is hugely atmospheric, and brilliantly represents the opera's constantly shifting levels of realism, and the costumes (muddy and dusty) fit the concept well. This may sound very heavy-handed, like the emphasis of dust and mud, but isn't.
Staging has nothing silly, pointless or distasteful at all. Instead it tells an intense and moving story with intensity and poignancy, with scenes like the rape that are harrowing and others that moves even the most cynical of viewers to sobs like Lucretia's last couple of scenes. It's really very thought-provoking staging, different (being more post-modern than used to with this opera and opera in general) but good different.
Musically the production is outstanding. The orchestra have a real sense of dramatic drama but also intimate pathos, and sound so rich and so much of a larger orchestra than they actually are, for so few players (12/13) it sounds more than that in the knife-edge tension parts while toning it down enough to keep things sparse and intimate. The conducting is alert and accommodating. Allan Clayton and Kate Royal do a great job as a sort of Greek chorus observing the action, dressed up as archaeologists they don't just observe it but it seemed like they were becoming increasingly involved.
Of the uniformly great performance, it is Christine Rice and Duncan Rock who are particularly good. Rice has a very warm voice and portrays Lucretia's perseverance, terror and torment in a way that's gut wrenching and poignant, particularly in her final couple of scenes which are something of contralto/low-mezzo show-cases. Rock is a charismatic and chilling Tarquinius, the villain of the opera, and sings warmly.
That is an ideal contrast to the sensitive Collatinus of Matthew Rose, who particularly shines in his heart-breaking scene with Rice towards the end of Act 2. Junius, Bianca and Lucia are taken beautifully by Michael Sumuel, Catherine Wyn-Rogers and Louise Alder.
In conclusion, a different 'Lucretia, and despite doubts it works. 10/10 Bethany Cox