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Britten: ‘The Rape of Lucretia

Sir Jack Lyons Theatre, Royal Academy of Music 10th May 2007

Conductor – Anthony Legge

Director– John Ramster

Designer – John Ramster & Jake Wiltshire

Lighting – Jake Wiltshire


Male Chorus – Richard Rowe

Female Chorus – Anna Graca

Lucretia – Kristen Darragh

Tarquinius – Christopher Tonkin

Junius – Teit Kanstrup

Collatinus – Ross McInroy

Bianca – Lucie Spickova

Lucia – Katherine Crotty


Britten's The Rape of Lucretia is eminently suited to “studio” presentation, and in John Ramster's excellent production a classical simplicity of approach and superb lighting (Jake Wilkshire) eliminated any need for scenery.

The two Choruses are crucial to the unfolding of the story; they comment on the action and in this production even when silent their unobtrusive presence contributes to the tension. Both roles were well played by this second cast, and Richard Rowe was particularly effective, enunciating his words with great clarity and striking just the right balance between neutral observer and concerned participant.

The other crucial feature of the work is the contrast between the lyrical beauty of the music and the significant violence in the action. There is a case to be made for approaching the rape and suicide obliquely, covering the need for explicit action with some sort of coup de theatre , but young singers need to learn how to handle such matters on stage and to deal with the emotional strain that goes with them.

As Lucretia, Kristen Darragh displayed all the raw anguish of her grief, as much through her voice as her actions*, whilst Christopher Tonkin gave a firm portrayal of the ruthless Emperor-to-be. The other members of the cast acquitted themselves honourably, and surtitles were certainly unnecessary.

From a seat in row D the orchestral tone seemed harsh and a shade overloud, a problem which I cannot recall on any previous occasion in this theatre.

Serena Fenwick

Seen from the back row (which I favour at the Sir Jack Lyons Theatre) Britten's innovatory chamber orchestra was fine, and the balance excellent. This was one of the most satisfying productions of this complex opera that I have seen, and for me it has eclipsed memories of more costly ones in larger theatres. In conversation I heard that "sometimes limited budgets bring out the best in directors" and that Ramster is brilliant with minimal productions...

The moments of anticipation is well pictured above, with Anna Graca watching over the sleeping Lucretia whilst the shadow of the approaching Tarquinius passes behind.

John Ramster's approaches to the rape and suicide were, in my view, well handled; I would though question whether theactual moment of penetration (not seen, both remaining clothed for propriety) and that of the stabbing (muffed as so often, the small dagger not convincingly causing almost immediate death) might not have better been represented metaphorically, maybe by blinding flashes of light? PGW

(My reactions and comments were not dissimilar for the Royal College of Music's 2004 production.)

* q.v. Kristen Darragh's exciting assumption of Sesto's Vengeance aria from Handel's Giulio Cesare at James Bowman's master class.