Benjamin Britten’s early chamber opera is probably as big an endeavour as could take place on the pocket-sized stage of King Place’s Hall One. It was certainly a snug fit, even with the young artists of the Britten-Pears programme leaving their set and costumes in Aldeburgh for this one-off concert performance.
The Rape of Lucretia is a somewhat problematic work, with its faulty stagecraft – principally the use of extensive narration to describe what the audience can see before them – and its final plunge into anachronistic Christian sermonising. The almost cantata-like nature of the work should lend itself to a line-up of soloists but ironically this performance kept crying out for a fuller staging.
Fortunately, because the company had presented the opera fully-staged at their home base in Snape only last week, there was a depth and three-dimensionality to the characterisations which added much needed lift.
David Parry conducted the Britten-Pears Orchestra in a driving, vigorous account of the biting score (what it lacks in dramatic integrity, it gains in inspired and often lovely music) but didn’t always gauge correctly the balance needed in the smaller hall. With the needle-sharp acoustics of Hall One, there was a constant threat of over-filling the space, which had the predictable result of drowning singers.
The performers fought back bravely, though, with uniformly strong singing from all eight principals: Blythe Gaissert (Lucretia), Benedict Nelson (Tarquinius), Allen Boxer (Collatinus), Robyn Driedger-Klassen (Female Chorus), James Geer (Male Chorus), Stephen Mumbert (Junius), Jillian Yemen (Bianca) and Eve-Lyn de la Haye (Lucia).
As with so many Britten operas, Billy Budd and Turn of the Screw in particular, virtue and innocence are engulfed by dark, destructive forces and the score paints a powerful picture of suffering and despair –a lot for young artists to cope with. It was clear that director Edward Dick had worked hard to guide his cast through the demanding and difficult emotional states needed for a situation involving jealousy, rape and suicide.
The roles of Male and Female Chorus were fully-integrated into the action and as involved as any of the characters. The 12-piece band, strings, wind and lively percussion, acquitted themselves well in Britten’s highly descriptive and emotive writing.
The performance was part of a most welcome tour of Aldeburgh artists to London’s newest venue, and a great showpiece for the excellent work of the Young Artists programme. Remaining events include appearances by The Aronowitz Ensemble (5 Nov), Exaudi in an intriguing programme of early and contemporary music (6 Nov), The Faster Than Sound project brought in from Bentwaters Air Base (7 Nov) and Florilegium in a concert of baroque English masters (9 Nov).