The Rape of Lucretia – In Aid of Prostate Cancer Research

Written by: Colin Anderson

Catherine Wyn-Rogers makes her debut as Lucretia in Benjamin Britten’s opera “The Rape of Lucretia” – a concert performance in aid of Prostate Cancer Research…

On Wednesday the 23rd at St John’s, Smith Square (near the Houses of Parliament), Catherine Wyn-Rogers leads a stellar roster of British singers, including Thomas Allen and Rebecca Evans, in Benjamin Britten’s opera “The Rape of Lucretia”, a concert performance in aid of Prostate Research Campaign UK. Catherine has organised the evening and explains that “I started from that premise, to do something for charity. Originally I was going to do it for breast and prostate cancer because Lucretia is such a male-female piece, but breast cancer is so well supported that I decided to go with prostate research, especially as my father died from prostate cancer. Most men will get it at some stage. It’s a slow grower but once it spreads it really does spread. That’s the reason why this charity exists to inform and educate. If you do catch prostate cancer early and you treat it, then it doesn’t spread and you don’t die from bone cancer. But there’s no screening process, and you can have this cancer without showing symptoms.”

Catherine reveals that the opera is “a favourite of mine, and I’ve long wished to sing Lucretia. It’s an opera about the destruction of beauty and innocence – cancer’s pretty good at doing all that, so you could relate it in that way.” The Rape of Lucretia has enjoyed four different productions in London in recent years. The one that Catherine is leading germinated “in Munich, where I was working. Several colleagues were there, and they are also very good friends, and they agreed to do it. Fantastic! Paul Davies at St John’s was also very keen; up came a date and everybody was free.” All the singers are giving their services. The small group of instrumentalists is “being organised by Nick Daniel (the oboist) and he has got a phenomenal band together, really wonderful players.” That Stuart Bedford is conducting is another plus; he is one of the composer’s most perceptive interpreters. “It’s marvellous. We can’t have Britten there, but Stuart knew Britten and worked with him.”

As for the opera itself, “the libretto might be a bit flowery, but the thing about good music is that it’s sincere and this has real intensity of feeling. The ride for the Male Chorus, describing Tarquinius heading to Rome, is wonderfully dramatic, and all the music is very illustrative. Some of it is devastating, wonderful; I don’t know how I am going to sing when I hear Nick’s cor anglais solo!” That there is no staging will not compromise the drama. Britten’s use of the instrumentalists is vivid, and Catherine recalls previous concert performances, one “in Montpellier, which Stuart conducted, and it was incredibly effective; the work always creates a tremendous atmosphere. One thing you don’t have to deal with is controversial ways of showing the rape scene; and you don’t come away not liking a particular staging. At the end of the day, this story is about chastity and purity and about its destruction. Lucretia was an icon for Christians, a very beautiful, pure woman who was faithful to her husband and somebody came along and destroyed it. It’s sort of dressed up for the operatic stage.”

The evening’s two prongs, charity and music, are both concerned with the terrible things that life can deal us: “sometimes people are to blame and sometimes people are not to blame. It just happens as you go along. Oh, happy day!” Catherine’s experience of previously singing the role of Bianca will be a boon for her debut as Lucretia: “it’s what’s in your head that informs your performance.”

  • Performance on 23 March at 7.30
  • St John’s
  • Box Office: 020 7222 1061
  • Prostate Research
  • The above article was published in “What’s On in London” on 16 March 2005 and is reproduced here with permission

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