On staging The Rape of Lucretia.
Seventy years after its première at Glyndebourne, Benjamin Britten’s opera The Rape of Lucretia is still deeply unsettling. Its small cast of eight singers and thirteen musicians places very little distance between the audience and the unfolding of Lucretia’s rape and subsequent suicide onstage. And unlike operas such as Das Rheingold where the idea of rape functions symbolically, the actuality of sexual assault tempered in some way by using it as a metaphor for the violation of nature and plundering of gold, in Lucretia the rape itself is unavoidable. The act of sexual assault is written into Ronald Duncan’s libretto, with the physical and musical drama entirely revolving around the central scene between Tarquinius and Lucretia.
Added to this, Britten’s music and Duncan’s libretto are deeply problematic. There are no clear-cut villains or heroes in their setting, and the women themselves are given very little agency in comparison to…
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