Loins of Pain: “The Rape of Lucretia”

The morning after. Lucretia (Kelley O’Connor, kneeling) and Bianca (Margaret Lattimore,). Photo by Liza Voll.

Presented by Boston Lyric Opera
Music by Benjamin Britten
Libretto by Ronald Duncan
After the play by Andre Obey
Music direction by David Angus
Stage direction by Sarna Lapine
Dramaturgy by John Conklin
Movement/intimacy direction by Yury Yanowsky

March 11 – 17, 2019
Artists for Humanity Epicenter
100 West 2nd Street
Boston, MA 02127
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Sung in English with English supertitles

Critique by Kitty Drexel

Trigger warnings: sexual violence

(Boston, MA) The Rape of Lucretia is about how a sexual assault turned into a war. It’s a timely message… But it’s always been a timely message. Women die at the hands of their abusers everyday. They will continue to do so until society values the lives of women as much as it does power. Boston Lyric Opera partners with Boston Area Rape Crisis Center and Casa Myrna to discuss Britten’s opera about rape and politics.  

Politicians bent on mass violence will scapegoat a woman’s rape to create chaos. We begin in a military camp. Junius (David McFerrin) goads Tarquinius (Duncan Rock) into raping Lucretia (Kelley O’Connor), wife of Collatinus (Brandon Cedel), to prove that all women are whores. While Tarquinius drives his horse towards her, Lucretia maintains her home under the care of her housemaids Bianca (Margaret Lattimore) and Lucia (Sara Womble). All is well until they hear a knock at the door. The chorus (Jesse Darden and Antonia Tamer) tells us how Rome seeks vengeance for Lucretia through war at Junius’s suggestion.

Britten’s opera skirts the virgin/whore dichotomy: its male characters define women as either one or the other. He’s incredibly astute when expressing a victim’s experience of sexual assault but he cannot make ears see. It is Lapine’s direction that gives the opera its nuance. Lucretia and her handmaids represent the maiden/mother/crone trinity. The male characters are the male gaze made flesh. Her interpretation of Lucretia is an homage to female survivors of sexual violence. The staging keeps the male characters’ machismo dialed to 11, but the violence is satisfactorily symbolic. Focus remains on Lucretia as a woman who received justice. She has a husband who believes her! Her rapist is made to suffer consequences! It’s proof positive that an audience of potential survivors (such as me) doesn’t need to be retraumatized in order to discuss sexual violence.

BLO’s production is beautifully sung by the cast. O’Connor and Rock deliver exquisite performances as the lead characters. Despite the occasional snakey “ssssss” from the cast when cutoffs were out of sync, all of the supporting cast gives sincere and committed performances as well. It’s a solid production by a talented cast. It’s a shame it ends on March 17!

The costume work of Robert Perdziola is thoughtfully executed.  He not only customized the costumes to each vocalist but synced them. The mosaic pattern of Lucretia’s dress matches the patterns on Tarquinius’ jacket. Some of the hemming on Lucretia’s nightgown is in the same fabric as her mosaic dress from Act I which also incorporates the colors of the flowers placed on stage after the rape. It all ties in together.

The programme booklet does not shy away from the truths of sexual violence. Lapine gives an earnest account of her artistic process. Dramaturg John Conklin’s writing on the Lucretia myth is fair and feminist. Their work in conjunction with the BLO museum guide and Angus’s “Musical Notes” provide comprehensive social, political and artistic background information on the opera’s influence and influences.

Unlike their transformation of the DCR rink for Trouble in Tahiti, this triumphant production is lessened by its environment. The Artists for Humanity Epicenter nearly works as a found location but its oddly shaped insides create obstructed views for some seats. For example, a wall prevents sections of the audience from seeing some of the balcony scenes (we can still hear them).

Please note: seating for The Rape of Lucretia consists of red folding chairs or benches with backs. Audience members who need them should bring their own cushions. Audience servies can be reached at  617.542.6772 or boxoffice@blo.org for additional information.

Additionally: opera is not for everyone. Lucretia was wonderful. The artists involved have created some high art for their audience. Respectfully mind your own behavior by not expressing your boredom out loud during the performance.

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