Glyndebourne’s touring arm continues the Britten centenary celebrations with The Rape of Lucretia - the scaled-down successor to Peter Grimes, created at Glyndebourne in 1946. Fiona Shaw makes her directorial debut for the company, characteristically drawing out revealing insights. Far from being removed commentators, the Male Chorus and Female Chorus roles are seamlessly integrated into the action, though existing outside it. They are a 1940s couple, dredging up and reliving the tale of the Etruscan prince Tarquinius and his desire for Lucretia as a means of making sense of Europe being ravaged in their own time.
A scene from The Rape of Lucretia Photo: Richard Hubert Smith
The notion of excavation is a prominent feature, with Lucretia being drawn up through the ground of an archaeological dig on her first appearance, and her house is revealed as a Roman ruin. Another twist of Shaw’s is the introduction of a daughter, who is forced to cover her ears during her mother’s rape - and who, along with all of her generation, will bear the consequences of Tarquinius’s actions.
If Michael Levine’s black-earth set underlines the opera’s austerity, Nicholas Collon in the pit reflects the same in the score, though he picks out its keen colouring too, not least in the somnolent alto flute, clarinet and muted horn accompaniment to the Female Chorus’s Act II lullaby. Duncan Rock is a bold, rich-toned and physically beefy Tarquinius and if Allan Clayton sounds a touch soft-edged as the Male Chorus it’s perhaps in keeping with the nature of the role. Claudia Huckle sings Lucretia with passion and grace, while Catherine Wyn-Rogers is luxuriously cast as one of her attendants, Bianca.
This may be a deeply unsettling evening but it’s a richly rewarding one too.