1999, Edinburgh, Rape of Lucretia

The Rape of Lucretia

“[He] exuded almost existential sexuality from every pore.” Tom Sutcliffe, The Guardian

“Vocally splendid, and radiating petulance and ominous sexuality.” The Scotsman.

Composer : Benjamin Britten
Librettist : Ronald Duncan
Venue and Dates : Edinburgh Festival Theatre
19th August 1999
Performers :

Lucretia : Lorraine Hunt Lieberson
Tarquinius : Simon Keenlyside
Collatinus : John Relyea.
Male Chorus : Ian Bostridge
Female Chorus : Geraldine McGreevy



The Times, 23rd August 1999 (Hilary Finch)

The Male and Female Chorus of Ian Bostridge and Geraldine McGreevy had already made their mark: now their potent fusion of involvement and detachment became electrifying. As the bass woodwind soloists of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, conducted from the piano by Donald Runnicles, conjured sleep and dream from Lucretia, McGreevy looked on, detatched yet infinitely tender. Bostridge had already dripped words into Tarquinius’s subconscious with a guile and seduction prophetic of Peter Quint. Now, with the power of the declaimed word alone, he stage-managed Tarquinius’s panther-like progress to Lucretia’s bedchamber. As Tarquinius himself, Simon Keenlyside fused menace and sensuality in a tour de force of vocal manipulation and imagination.

The extraordinary musical chastity of the rape itself never fails to have its effect. And an equal chill gripped the audience when Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, as Lucretia, awoke to her dark morning monotone. As that monotone rose into her song of despair, only to sink back into numbness, Lieberson’s own formidable range of vocal expression met its match in the Collatinus of John Relyea. This American bass-baritone was a real Festival discovery: his shortlived reunion with Lucretia, bound into a trio with Rosie Stanforth’s exquisite cor anglais solo, will remain one of the most memorable aural images of an unforgettable Festival evening.“

Conrad Wilson for The Scotsman, August 20 1999

If Monday’s Turandot was a production in search of a performance, last night’s Rape of Lucretia was a performance in search of a production. But what sort of production? Britten’s early opera has never been a work greatly dependent upon stage action for its success, and in this concert version it seemed more than ever a sort of extended Christian canticle interrupted by stretches of old- fashioned radio drama set to music.

Less dwarfed than expected by the vast space of the Festival Theatre, the performance drew special attention to the beauty and luminosity of Britten’s instrumental detail, while leaving the drama to fend mostly for itself. The fiery red screen serving as background was no great help, being singularly ill-suited to Britten’s cool, delicate timbres, exquisitely realised by members of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra with Donald Runnicles as pianist and conductor.

From their central position on the stage, the players showed where the poetry really lay. If, as a result, Ronald Duncan’s ludicrously pretentious libretto proved less than usually audible, this was to almost everyone’s benefit. The exception, and an admirable one, was Ian Bostridge’s Male Chorus which, articulated with all the clarity of the Evangelist in the Matthew Passion, stressed the baroque connections between Britten and Bach.

Simon Keenlyside brought a bit of robustness to the thankless role of the rapist, but this was a cast with no weak links. Geraldine McGreevy, Lisa Milne, Catherine Wyn-Rogers, and, as Lucretia, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, were a fine female quartet, and in the great passacaglia Runnicles brought the opera unerringly to its climax.

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