The IU Opera Theatre continues its millenial celebration of twentieth century opera with Benjamin Britten’s setting of "The Rape of Lucretia."
The tale is set in a military camp and a home of the aristocracy in Etruscan-occupied Rome. In the military camp Etruscan Prince Tarquinius sung by Sumner Thompson drinks and jests with his Roman generals Junius, Jeffrey Monette and Collatinus, Mathew Curran. Collatinus is famed for the constancy of his wife Lucretia, Kathryn Lang. This constancy inflames Tarquinius and he leaves camp and rides hard back to Rome seeking hospitality from Lucretia. We see the faithful Lucretia in cozy domesticity, with her servants Lucia, Solveig Olsen, and Bianca, Erin Coats. Despite her doubts, Lucretia grants hospitality to Tarquinius. During the night he forces himself upon her. In the morning, despite the returning Collatinus’ assurances that he holds her blameless, Lucretia kills herself with a dagger.
Britten chose a minimum of forces with just fourteen instrumentalists and eight singers to tell the story. In addition to the six characters of the play there are two narrators, Scott Six and Jennifer Rice. They comment on, expand and describe the actions. The IU production staged by Vincent Liotta with design by C. David Higgins neatly matched the economy of the ensemble with the simplest of staging and two stylish, but relatively bare sets.
Britten sets his small orchestra for a maximum of colors and rhythms. As Paul Biss led the players and the singers, the continued variety was a delight. Britten was also a skilled setter of English lyrics and Saturday’s IU cast more than met him halfway with excellent diction throughout. Of the male singers Scott Six as one of the narrators and Mathew Curran as Collatinus were the most successful. On the female side Kathryn Lang as Lucretia, with Erin Coats and Solveig Olsen as her servants Bianca and Lucia all were fine. The female narrator, Jennifer Rice, had some lovely moments, but suffered from her pairing with more powerful Six.
The general effect of "The Rape of Lucretia" was slightly distant and abstract. Britten’s use of the narrators and the production’s artful use of scrims worked nicely together. Despite the viciousness of the motives and the central action, the most pervasive atmosphere was one of relaxed charm. Britten does work with chamber forces and the result is a chamber opera.