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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intense, powerful account of a neglected Britten opera, 10 Dec 2013
Keris Nine - See all my reviews
Though it's come late in the year of the centenary of the birth of Benjamin Britten, has done much to consolidate and even raise his reputation as Britain's greatest composer and highlight some unjustly neglected works. It must be hoped that this belated release of David McVicar's 2001 production of the Rape of Lucretia for the English National Opera, recorded by the BBC at the Aldeburgh Festival, will bring this work - more deserving perhaps than Gloriana - to the attention of a wider audience.

Following Peter Grimes, The Rape of Lucretia marks something of a rethinking of approach to opera that would have a significant impact on the style of much of the composer's later dramatic works. The subject of The Rape of Lucretia then is a sparse but powerful one which, when combined with Britten's musical scoring of it, is almost harrowing in its intensity. It's not difficult to see here themes that preoccupy Britten throughout his musical career and even in his personal life relating to the corruption of innocence. Lucretia, for Britten however is about much more than just the defilement of a woman's saintly virtue, but touches on the nature of society and the values that it assigns to men and women. In particular the work questions the nature of violence, in war and as a characteristic of men, and challenges whether pacifism isn't truer to the better nature of mankind.

It's Britten's musical arrangements however that are most innovative, distinctive, modern and relevant. The reduced orchestration highlights the expression of individual instruments and heightens the dramatic tone and tension of the subject. Rarely does the music rely on any conventional signposting that tells you how to react to the drama, but instead it fulfils the primary function of music in opera by exploring below the surface and revealing other depths. It's beautiful and haunting, underpinning the drama in Britten's own developing idiomatic language, but also his own personal convictions that were so out of place with the accepted conventions of prevailing social attitudes of the time. The use of male and female soloists as a 'chorus' is an important device that allows this wider perspective and provides a contemporary relevance, and not insignificantly, it's a device that is used in a very similar way more recently by Martin Crimp and George Benjamin in 'Written on Skin'.

If it's difficult to point to any specific directorial choice that evidently has an impact on the performance, what is clear nonetheless is that David McVicar gets the mood exactly right. His direction of the singers and the acting however is what ultimately makes this a truly great production, and the cast here is great. Sarah Connolly isn't yet in her prime here. She is still terrifically good, it's just that she's even better now. Christopher Maltman too has also matured into a better singer, but he has always been a good actor. If his performance here is just a little too creepy and disturbing, that isn't a bad thing with this work. John Mark Ainsley is at his best here as the Male Chorus and with Orla Boylan good as his counterpart, the Female Chorus. All the roles really are just terrific and the measure of the success of the production is that it's about as intense, well-sung, painfully well-acted performance of The Rape of Lucretia as you could wish for, a perfect match for Britten's remarkable score, which is revealed in all its brilliance here by Paul Daniels.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars SARAH CONNOLY SENSATIONAL, 21 Dec 2013
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This jewel amongest Britten's works., 7 Nov 2013
Ultrarunner (Perth-West Australia) - See all my reviews
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Britten was born 22nd November 1913,Lowestoft,Suffolk,England. Died 4th December,1976,Aldeburgh,where his festival is held.Because he was a homosexual and a pacifist,he felt isolated,oppressed and alienated.These feelings he acted out in his operas such as Peter Grimes. If you wish to understand Britten,understand his operas.However,the composer always thought in his younger years,that Britain should have a culture of opera written in the English language.In one of these opera's, The rape of Lucretia, Britten brings out his lyrical side; his love of Mozart,Schubert and Purcell,mixed with atonal music,inspired by Berg,Webern and Shostakovich.If you wish to hear more of Britten, read my review on the box set,Britten the complete works box set,where I have reviewed most of the works.This will help you, if you wish to buy one of the individual sets of the big box set.Also, Britten-the performer.

The premiere was held at Glyndebourne,Sussex,England,on the 12th July 1946.Out of this opera came the English Opera group,for which Britten became its resident composer.The Premiere was conducted by Ernest Ansermet,with Lucretia,the part especially written for Kathleen Ferrier-a contralto.(Decca the World of Ferrier Vol 1 & 2).Joan Cross and Peter Pears as the chorus,Otakar Krauss as Tarquinius and Brannigan as Collatinus.The opera has eight vocal soloists and 13 instrumentalists.

Synopsis:"Rome,510.With a male(ten) and female(sop).Chorus commenting and eventually drawing a Christian moral,the opera relates the story of the period,destructive Tarquinius(bar). He rides from the camp where news has arrived of the Roman wives infidelity to make an attempt on the virtue of the sole exception,Lucretia(Mezzo),wife of Collatinus (bass). Claiming hospitality,he later enters her room and rapes her. Unable to bear the burden of her shame,she kills herself the next day in the prsence of her urgently summoned husband".(Oxford Dictionary of 0pera pg 587).Janet Baker thought about the part of Lucretia,"that if she had been emotionally uninvolved,she would not have felt guilty after the rape".(Kildea 2013:273).The booklet provided with the opera delves into this fact as well.

The opera opens with a picture of the Aldeburgh festival Hall where this opera was produced June 2001.The director McVicar, uses a minimalist approach to staging.A few props to indicate a room. Also,gravel where Lucretia is sleeping before the rape,with mirrors on the wall.Lighting builds up the atmosophere.Mc Vicar states in his brief interview"That in the first page of the score it states, that the chorus must stand at the side of the stage and not get involved.Because Lucretia had been objectified,I had her interact with the Chorus.I do discover things during the rehearsals,then I get to know the opera.Not work it all out beforehand.The Christian ending I had trouble with. Many have been struggling with it since 1946. But Britten had been to Belsen,so he longed for a redemptive force to take sin away. This ending is in the context of the time. But its hard now,for we live in a secular world."

The choir, two people, are dressed in modern clothes,whereas the soldiers,Junius,Collatinus and Prince Tarquinus are wearing leather armour,and Lucretia, a Roman dress.Orchestra of the English National Opera is conducted by Paul Daniel,who brings out the beautiful melodies,atonal sounds and arias.At times this small orchestra sounds like a large one. The chorus is based on the ancient Greek manner of commenting on events during a play.The male chorus John Mark Ainsley and female Chorus Orla Boylan are excellent.Clive Bayley as Colatinus with his bass voice brings a pathos to his role. Tarquinus bartione brings a realism to the part.He is in excellent voice.His aria 'to wake Lucretia with a kiss'is heartfelt. "Sarah Connolly is an impassioned,robust Lucretia" stated the critic of the Observer.At times she does bring to mind Janet Baker.Hear Connolly sing,'Flowers alone are chaste for their beauty is so brief.Or as she sings about her love' was too rare for life to tolerate'.It is heartbreaking as she sings about her rape. Bianca Wyn-Rodgers and Lucia Mary Hudson are good in their roles. As the Evening Standard wrote"the cast is so superb." The ending of this opera captures that feeling of having lost a loved one.Britten captures that in musical terms so well.Maybe,Mc Vicar is right,he may have had Belsen in mind, when he wrote this ending.

ALL REGIONS.SUBTITLES: English. French.German. Japanese .Korean. 1080iHD.16.9.LPCM 24 bit stereo. 5.0 DTS HD master audio.Remastered for bluray and surround sound.The sound is excellent probably because of the smallness of the stage.

REFERENCES:Batta,A.Opera.2005.Konemann. Booklet 2013 Opus Arte. Holden,A.(ED)The Penguin Guide opera guide.1993.Viking. Kildea,P. Benjamin Britten.A life in the 20th century.2013.Allen Lane. Warrack,J.&West,E.The Oxford Dictionary of Opera.1992.Oxford University press.
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