Peabody Chamber Opera presents

The Rape of Lucretia

by Benjamin Britten

libretto by Ronald Duncan, after the play by André Obey

Chamber Opera Orchestra

JoAnn Kulesza, conductor

Roger Brunyate, stage director

Kel Millionie, set and costume designer

February 2, 3, 4*, 2007
Evenings at 7:30 PM; *Sunday matinee at 3:00 PM.

Theatre Project, 45 West Preston Street, Baltimore
Admission $24 / Seniors $12 / Students with ID $10
Tickets available from Theatre Project online, or call 410/752–8558

Photographs   Press   Peabody Opera home

Benjamin Britten wrote The Rape of Lucretia on commission from the Glyndebourne Opera immediately following the success of his Peter Grimes in 1945. The opera was premiered in July 1946, with Kathleen Ferrier in the title role and Ernest Ansermet conducting. The work could not be more different from its predecessor in scale, however, being written for only eight singers and thirteen instrumentalists — the first of what was to become a long series of chamber operas continuing through the rest of Britten’s career. Its combination of intimacy and stark dramatic intensity makes the work ideal for performance in a smaller theater.

The original production of THE RAPE OF LUCRETIA
The original production of The Rape of Lucretia
Kathleen Ferrier and Ottakar Kraus, Glyndebourne, 12 July 1946

The story is one that has been illustrated often by renaissance artists: Lucretia, the virtuous wife of a Roman general, kills herself after being raped by Sextus Tarquinius, the son of the tyrant king Tarquinius Superbus. Historically, this event catalyzed the overthrow of the monarchy and the foundation of the Roman Republic in 510 BC. Britten, however, chose to concentrate on the psychological aspects of the story, and the ambiguities of the relationship between the two principal characters; for example, the poet Ronald Duncan gives Lucretia these striking words when Tarquinius wakes her: “In the forest of my dreams, you have always been the tiger.” The rape itself is stylized, and its implied violence is set off against long passages of limpid beauty. Especially memorable are the scenes showing Lucretia’s women engaged in everyday tasks: spinning or folding linen before Tarquinius’ arrival, or arranging flowers at dawn on the following morning.

  Tarquin and Lucretia, based on Tiepolo
André Obey, the author of the 1932 play Le viol de Lucrèce which Duncan adapted, frames the action by two narrators, a Male and Female Chorus. Duncan goes further, giving these personages a Christian perspective on the pre-Christian story, with the rape epitomizing Original Sin and the subsequent action moving with difficulty towards the promise of Redemption. This device has been criticized as artificial, and yet the Choruses have the most passionate music in the opera (the interlude after the rape) and (in the simple radiance of their final pages) some of the most beautiful. The best modern productions do not treat the Choruses as detached observers, but involve them emotionally in terms of their personal relationship to one another and/or their guilt and horror at the perpetual violence of men against women.

The Rape of Lucretia was last performed at Peabody in 1988, with Theodora Hanslowe in the title role. The opera will once again be directed by Roger Brunyate, though in a newly-conceived production inspired by contemporary events. The conductor will be JoAnn Kulesza, who conducted The Threepenny Opera at Theatre Project in 2004, and led another Britten chamber opera, The Turn of the Screw, with Opera Vivente in 2005. The designer, Kel Millionie, was formerly Technical Director at Theatre Project, and has designed all the productions of Ignoti Dei Opera since the company’s founding in 2002.


Pausing the cursor over singers’ names will show some previous roles

Female Chorus       Mary Catherine Moroney
Male Chorus Kyle Malone
Lucretia Leah Serr
Tarquinius David Krohn
Lucia Sarah Hershman
Bianca Ruth Carver
Junius Kevin Wetzel
Collatinus Jeffrey Tarr