Magazine article The Spectator

Youth and Experience

Magazine article The Spectator

Youth and Experience

Article excerpt


Youth and experience

The Rape of Lucretia

Royal College of Music

The Magic Flute

Royal Academy of Music

The royal schools of music have been covering themselves with operatic glory, simultaneously as it happens - one would welcome a little more helpful coordination of dates on their parts. Still, I managed to get to both of their winter productions, and was extremely impressed by them in almost all respects.

The Royal College did Britten's The Rape of Lucretia, the third production I have seen this year, the others being at the Linbury Studio and the Guildhall School. All have been excellent, better than any others I had seen previously, and I really thought there was nothing new for the time being that I could absorb from the work. Yet in some ways this RCM account was the most powerful of all, thanks, above all, to the audacious traditionalism of Jo Davies's production, and to a team of performers (I saw the first cast) that was evidently eager to learn.

Davies quite rightly had the Male and Female Choruses apart from the action, greatly concerned about it, but clearly on a different plane. Thanks to the smallness of the Britten Theatre, and its glorious acoustic, every word was audible - it would be ungrateful to complain that with this libretto in particular one wouldn't mind losing quite a few of them. The Choruses were urgent, anxious, and both the possessors of fine voices. They enlivened every bar of their fascinating, inventive but (to me) oddly unmemorable music - one of the things I find most appealing about many of Britten's operatic scores, possibly this one most, is that I am entranced by the music but each time I hear it it seems unfamiliar.

When the action got under way, it was very much as a straightforward narrative, not as the enactment of a semi-ritual, which it is often treated as. The contrast between the macho swagger of the opening scene and the serene routine of the women at their work was not overdone, the sexes were rather presented as complementary. Jacques Imbrailo's Tarquinius was lean and vulpine, rendered almost timid by Lucretia's poise and beauty, while she, marvellously done by Anna Grevelius, was enthralled by him as soon as he entered, so that the end of Act I was horribly suspenseful.

The rape and Lucretia's suicide were both portrayed with a graphic realism which, at close quarters, made them hard to bear. For this Lucretia, Tarquinius was all too evidently the tiger in the forest of her dreams, as she puts it. The impossibility of giving a reductive account of what happens makes it all the more painful, and the progression to Lucretia's hysteria and suicide the more inevitable. …

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