Opera in two acts
Music Director and Conductor: Jan Latham-Koenig
Conductor: Alexander Zhilenkov
Stage Director: Ekaterina Odegova
Designer: Etel Ioshpa
Lighting Designer: Timofey Ermolin
Drama Advisor: Mikhail Muginshtein
Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes with one intermission
Premiered on 26 April 2019
Recommended for 18+
Sung in English with Russian surtitles
In the UK-Russia Year of Music 2019, the Novaya Opera presents the first Moscow production of Benjamin Britten’s outstanding opera The Rape of Lucretia (1946). The theatre continues the English line in its repertoire: previously the Novaya Opera produced DIDO (its second part is a baroque masterpiece, Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas) and Britten’s The Turn of the Screw.
The Rape of Lucretia is the composer’s very significant work. He wrote an amazing chamber opera for only 8 singers and an orchestra of 13 instruments. Though he began to compose chamber operas rather for costs reasons, Britten appreciated this genre very much. “It (chamber opera) gives the opportunity to focus on human psychology. And it is precisely this that has become the central theme of modern progressive art”. Ronald Duncan’s libretto is based on André Obey’s drama and William Shakespeare’s poem The Rape of Lucrece.
This is a kind of a parable, a very deep and at the same time refined analysis of human psychology. Lucretia, the spouse of Roman general Collatinus, is a paragon of virtue and true love. Sextus Tarquinius, Tarquinius Superbus’ son, tries to inveigle her and, not having succeeded, rapes her. “The early Roman story of Lucretia is an important theme in European culture (one of the versions is the painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1529). Britten enlarges the theme by introducing two narrators on the pattern of old passions, which is a nod to Christian tradition. Interrupting the course of the drama, they emotionally comment on the action and represent the voice of the author and fate and even the inner voice of the characters, confirming the dominant idea of morality based on the later Christian values.” (Mikhail Muginshtein)
Examining the depth of the subconscious, Britten lays emphasis on human exaltation: rejecting violence, Lucretia blames herself like Oedipus of ancient Greece; it is the bravery of true morality. Thus the story of a woman reflects the entire spiritual path of humanity.
Ekaterina Odegova, stage director:
"The Rape of Lucretia is a masterpiece in its form and content. The genius of Britten created Passions of the 20th-century man (another example is Stravinsky’s Oedipus rex). Unlike Bach and Stravinsky, Britten concentrated the great issues and spiritual energy of passion music (the most powerful tragic genre created by Christian culture) in an incredibly intimate, chamber form.
The spiritual path of humanity and Christ passes through the frail body of a woman – Lucretia. She is like a clear tear drop on His face. It is for a reason that her leitmotif (Lucretia’s chaste) – is a baroque rhetorical figure of the cross. It is symbolically framed with the themes of two men. The ravisher Tarquinius has a descending theme which is transformed into the horrible step of the funeral passacaglia: the Good Night ensemble is a frightening lull before the night leading Tarquinius to his desolate underworld. In the part of Collatine, Lucretia’s husband, the rising tone is essentially Tarquinius’ inverted theme.
There is a fatal substitute of one man, who is desired, for another. Tarquinius is an alien, he has not been expected, but he has come, and Lucretia’s body is yearning. Desire makes us assailable, ideality is fragile. Lucretia’s desire cannot but fatally resonate with the constantly increasing lust of the man. Virtue is always the most desirable trophy for sin.
The rape of Lucretia is not a physical gender clash (the body has been lost by humanity since the time of Eden, it is dust),but a battle for the soul, for the right to stay a human. Tarquinius finds his end here and dooms his soul for eternal torment and oblivion. Lucretia begins her long painful way of ascent to God. Her self-murder is an uncompromising step towards gaining her own self, gaining infinity of spirit. The adage of the romantic writer Novalis is relevant again after 150 years: “Life is the beginning of death. Life is for the sake of death.”
The event is a part of the programme of the UK-Russia Year of Music held by the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy in Moscow and supported by the British Council.