RCM Rape of Lucretia

The Rape of Lucretia [An Opera in a Prologue and Two Acts;Libretto by Ronald Duncan]

Female Chorus – Nicola Stonehouse
Male Chorus – Thomas Walker
Collatinus – George Matheakakis
Junius – Simon Lobelson
Tarquinius – Jaques Imbrailo
Lucretia – Anna Grevelius
Bianca – Martina Welschenbach
Lucia – Silvia Moi

Royal College of Music Opera Orchestra
Michael Rosewell

Director – Jo Davies
Designer – Joanna Parker
Lighting – Mark Doubleday

Reviewed by: William Yeoman

Reviewed: 26 November, 2004
Venue: Britten Theatre, Royal College of Music, London

Benjamin Britten’s Rape of Lucretia is a chamber opera dealing with epic themes, and thus fulfils the dual requirements for a ‘student’ production (in this case by The Benjamin Britten International Opera School): the forces required are relatively small and clearly defined; the libretto provides ample scope for young singers to exercise both their vocal and dramatic techniques

And this beautifully sculpted production highlighted both skills to the greatest extent, as performers played out the tragedy against hauntingly evocative though minimal sets (the stage was dominated by a huge collapsing bookcase, its contents in disarray, which served as a backdrop to the entire opera; Act Two saw the addition of a square bed in the centre of the stage) illuminated with stylish restraint by Mark Doubleday.

The story itself, in which the downfall of the Etruscan dynasty is precipitated by Prince Tarquinius’s brutal rape of Collatinus’s virtuous wife Lucretia, who subsequently commits suicide, provides not only extensive dramatic opportunities for the vocalists but also for the orchestra, which on this occasion was well up to the task: the cor anglais obbligato of the neo-baroque “Lucretia! Lucretia! O never again must we two dare to part…” movingly played by Ruth Bull; the flute and harp, played by Anna Wolstenholme and Katherine Petak, forming a crystalline cushion for the high-lying vocal lines of Bianca and Lucia as they went about their domestic chores; the wonderful quasi-continuo work of pianist Gary Matthewman catching every nuance in a web of sound throughout the entire production.

The ‘Male Chorus’ was sung by Thomas Walker, whose clear diction and lightish tenor combined with a slightly creepy stage presence to really flesh out both the text and Britten’s vocal lines; likewise soprano Nicola Stonehouse made the most of her material, interacting with Walker (and occasionally other members of the cast) with an almost somnambulistic detachment. George Matheakakis’s Collatinus was the very embodiment of Roman gravitas, and for my money the best voice on the night, with a rich, powerful bass lending great dignity and solidity to his character; Simon Lobelson as the scheming Junius was suitably devious.

Jacques Imbrailo, in the crucial role of Tarquinius, was quite superb, and an hit with the audience (although that may have had more to do with his sex appeal, given that he spent most of the night baring his upper body): his baritone is capable of a great range of colours, many of which were put to good use; his acting was also quite convincing, managing to bring out the multi-faceted personality of the Etruscan prince with great skill.

Lucretia was sung by the Swede Anna Grevelius: her contralto was clear and penetrating; her diction superb; her acting, particularly in the aftermath of the rape, getting the balance between theatricality and lucid objectivity just right. Both Martina Welschenbach and Silvia Moi were graceful and eloquent in their respective roles; however Moi’s incessant smiling sometimes bordered on the inane.

Another success, then, for the Benjamin Britten Opera School – congratulations to all concerned. Next year’s production of Handel’s “Ezio” is much looked forward too.

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