Fiona Shaw’s examination of Britten’s first chamber opera, first produced for the Glyndebourne Tour in 2013, returns to the Sussex stage nearly 70 years after the work was originally premiered there in 1946. Excavation is the central theme. The Male and Female Chorus, placed in the 1940s, almost literally rake up the Lucretia story of nearly 25 centuries earlier: on her first appearance she is pulled out of the earth on the site of an archaeological dig. These narrators are no mere observers and they continue to interact with the characters. Their presence at the rape scene underlines the immediacy of the dialogue between present and past.
The on–off love-making of the Male and Female Chorus following the rape, and the invention of a daughter for Lucretia and Collatinus may not offer any real illumination, but the austere tone and disquieting tension of the staging are deeply affecting.
Allan Clayton and Kate Royal are ideally cast as the emotionally invested Male and Female Chorus, while Duncan Rock returns with robust, virile singing (and terrifyingly brawny physique to match) as the violator Tarquinius. Christine Rice is often devastating as Lucretia, the colour leeching out of her voice following her rape, and Catherine Wyn-Rogers is a fresh-sounding Bianca. Matthew Rose also punches above the weight of his role as Collatinus. Leo Hussain, in his Festival debut, draws not only glistening colours but also a finely projected and sculpted sound from the London Philharmonic Orchestra players.