Guildhall Rape of Lucretia

Britten
The Rape of Lucretia

Collatinus – Javier Borda
Junius – John Lofthouse
Tarquinius – Giles Underwood
Male Chorus – Young-Hoon Heo
Female Chorus – Katie van Kooten
Lucia – Elizabeth Bailey
Bianca – Anna Wall
Lucretia – Julie Pasturaud

Guildhall Chamber Ensemble
Peter Robinson

Martin Lloyd-Evans – director
Dick Bird – designer
Colin Grenfall – lighting


Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: 3 June, 2004
Venue: Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London

The Rape of Lucretia, Britten’s second major opera, following Peter Grimes (with only Paul Bunyan prior to that, probably not appearing in most people’s perceptions of Britten’s significant stage-works) has suddenly become very popular in London. After David McVicar’s English National Opera version (first seen at the Aldeburgh Festival, and last November revived at the Barbican Theatre), and recently the Royal Opera’s Young Vilar Artists’ programme made it the basis of its first fully-staged opera in the Linbury Studio, comes this new Guildhall production.

Directed by Martin Lloyd-Evans, it can hold its head high against such lauded competition. Benefiting from its intimate theatre, as well as its cinema-like long-aperture stage, this production draws the audience inexorably in. The male and female (Greek) Chorus have their respective raised areas on either side of the theatre, emanating from the orchestral pit, built on scaffolding and resembling small, if crumbling, Roman rooms, complete with mosaic floor and slabs of stone relics with carved reliefs. Above the audience and also the stage area hang massive slabs of rock – again inscribed, as if Rome was cracking and these were the off-cuts. In the audience are twelve silent figures, made of rope mesh and lit mysteriously from within, acting as silent witnesses, two standing above the audience on the sides and one (behind me) with head in hands, a portent of the horror to come.

The main stage had raised plinths on scaffolding, again concreted as if Roman flooring, but their underbelly showing as rough-cast, suggesting that if you scrape the surface, beneath Roman society everything disintegrates. Even if I find the Christian gloss (500 years out of period) that governs the Chorus’s commentary all-too worthy, in this production their restricted area (they can only get on and off their plinths with the help of steps and stage crew) focused their contributions and heightened their horror at the turn of events much better than from David McVicar who allowed his pair to roam. South Korean tenor Young-Hoon Heo and American soprano Katie van Kooten, in suits, were ardent in their exceptionally clear delivery, and stole the show.

The rest of the cast was well-matched if not quite as consistent. Javier Borda’s Collatinus and Giles Underwood’s Tarquinius were occasionally strained, and Julia Pasturaud’s moving Lucretia is a little too voluptuous of tone in the second act. I would have liked a little more inner anguish in her self-hatred after the justly-horrible rape scene, rather than the angry outburst with which we were presented. Best were Lucretia’s maidservants, Elizabeth Bailey as Lucia and Anna Wall as Bianca, while John Lofthouse’s cuckolded Junius offered a contrast to his first-act bluster with his realisation that Tarquinius has taken it upon himself to have Lucretia as the only chaste woman left in Rome.

Following his productions of Postcards from Morocco and Maskerade for the Guildhall, Martin Lloyd-Evans comes up trumps with a lavish-looking production that gets to the emotional heart of the work. Supported by superb playing from the 13 instrumentalists under Peter Robinson, The Rape of Lucretia once again proves that music conservatoires can bring opera to the stage as successfully as any professional company. The next opera, in the autumn term, is Ambroise Thomas’s Mignon, which returns to more obscure works that has characterised GSMD’s repertoire of late and is definitely worth a firm entry in the diary (8, 10, 12 & 13 November).

Meanwhile the three remaining performances of The Rape of Lucretia demand to be seen (tickets from the Barbican, or from the School’s box office 45 minutes before performance). The cast of the opening night (as reviewed here) appears again on Monday 7 June. On Saturday 5 and Wednesday 9 June, David-Alexandre Borloz is Junius, John Llewellyn Evans is Tarquinius, José Aparicio is Male chorus, Elisabeth Poirel is Female chorus and Joana Thomé da Silva is Lucretia.

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