An Opera in two Acts
Music by Benjamin Britten
Libretto by Ronald Duncan
after the play "Le Viol de Lucrece by Andre Obey
Male Chorus: Jason Ragan, Scott Rumble
Female Chorus: Mengxi You, Lisa Mulgrew
Collatinus, a Roman general: Chad Louwerse, Robert Milne
Junius, a Roman general: Conlan Gassi, Adam Ianetta (understudy)
Tarquinius, an Etruscan prince: Evan Korbut, Alastair Smyth
Lucretia, wife of Collatinus: Madison Arsenault, Stephanie Cole
Bianca, Lucretia's old nurse: Ellory Clayton, Bethany Routledge
Lucia, a maid: Amalea Lusenko-Dueck, Joyce Goh
Producer: Theodore Baerg
Stage Director: Joel Ivany
Music Director/Conductor: Alain Trudel
Set Designer: Eric Bunnell
Costume Designer: Julie McGill
Costume Assistant: Frances Howey
Lighting Designer: Simon Day
Theatre Manager: Louis D’Alton
Assistant Manager: Bryan Hart
Head Coach: Trevor Chartrand
Repetiteurs: Natalie Skomorokhova, Talissa Blackman
Stage Manager: Ryan Fitzgerald
Assistant Stage Managers: Sarah Stone, Jade Baird
ORCHESTRAViolin I: Mikela Witjes
Scene 1. The Choruses comment on the rule of 6th century B.C. Rome by the Etruscan king, the scheming, evil Tarquinius Superbus. His son, Tarquinius Sextus (the Tarquinius of the opera), is a Roman general who treats Rome “as his whore.” Tarquinius Sextus leads Roman youths to reluctantly fight the Greeks.
In a camp outside Rome, the generals Collatinus and Junius and the prince Tarquinius drink together. Junius and Tarquinius give account of the previous night in Rome, where they discovered Junius’ wife and the wives of other generals had cheated on their husbands. The generals remark that Lucretia, Collatinus’s wife, was the only wife they found to be faithful. The unmarried Tarquinius belittles Junius as a cuckold. Junius replies that Tarquinius is also a cuckold, “since you have made the whole of Rome your brothel.” Collatinus makes peace between the feuding generals. Tarquinius proposes a toast to “the chaste Lucretia!” Junius bemoans his humiliated status, and Lucretia’s virtue.
After Collatinus retires for the night, Tarquinius tells Junius of his interest in Lucretia. As the scene ends, Tarquinius rides his horse back to Rome.
Interlude. The Male Chorus describes Tarquinius’ journey to Rome.
Scene 2. In the evening at Lucretia’s home, Lucretia sews, while Bianca and Lucia work at their spinning-wheels. Lucretia longs for Collatinus. They hear a loud knock at the door. It is Tarquinius. Lucretia allows him into her home. While Tarquinius’ palace is also in Rome, Lucretia, standing on ceremony, offers him lodging for the night, and leads him to his chamber.
Scene 1. The Male and Female Choruses describe Roman resentment at Tarquinius Superbus’ unjust and degenerate rule. Lucretia sleeps in her chamber. Tarquinius approaches and kisses her Lucretia, waking her. He exclaims his carnal desire for Lucretia as she resists him. The choruses implore Tarquinius to leave, before he yields to his lust. Tarquinius mounts her bed and forces himself upon Lucretia.
Interlude. Viewing the previous scene through a Christian lens, the Male and Female Choruses ask “Mary, Mother of God, help us lift this sin, which is our nature, and is the cross to Him.”
Scene 2. Bianca and Lucia wake the next morning, and arrange flowers for Tarquinius. They leave the orchids, Collatinus’ favourite flowers, for Lucretia to arrange. Lucretia enters, and suddenly demands that the orchids are taken to Collatinus. “Tell him a Roman harlot sent it.” She laments her violated state.
Collatinus, summoned by Lucia to return to Rome, arrives with Junius. Lucretia appears, dressed in mourning. She reveals to Collatinus that she has been raped by Tarquinius. Collatinus assures her she is not to blame. The disconsolate Lucretia stabs herself, and dies.
Epilogue. The Choruses attempt to find meaning and redemption in the tragic events of the opera.
Prof. Thomas Wiebe
As you take your seats tonight and prepare to shed your disbelief and enter gently into this theatrical world, be aware there will be no gentility. While you will experience musically and emotionally beautiful moments, this is not a seduction but a brutal physical assault, just as the title and text suggest.
The rape and suicide of Lucretia has been an enduring subject for visual artists as well as a rich literary source for St. Augustine, Chaucer, Dante, Shakespeare, André Obey (the prime source for our librettist) and others. Historically the actual rape of Lucretia in 509 BC was exploited politically (by men) as the justification for a rebellion against a corrupt monarchy, establishing the Roman Republic. The parallel for Britten in 1946 was the rejection of the social “status quo,” of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” to promote a more openly accepting and tolerant society toward issues of sexual identity. Britten demonstrates a remarkable ability to empathise with his female subject, presenting the full brutality of a woman’s experience of rape as well as the ensuing feelings of isolation and vilification. Unlike many of Britten’s male protagonists, Lucretia is portrayed as a paragon of virtue and an exceptionally moral person. Her fall can thus be seen as a tragedy in a classic sense. It is more difficult to see “heroic” aspects in some of Britten’s most famous male operatic characters, including Grimes, Quint, and Budd, even as they sometimes present with admirable personal qualities that can make their fall appear tragic.
In the opera’s prologue, Britten plunges us immediately into the heart of the narrative through use of the “Greek Chorus”—two solo roles for tenor and mezzo-soprano. The chorus is the connecting element throughout the opera, presenting context, detail and moral comment, such as “time treads upon the hands of women.” The opening scene of the opera is a war encampment, the work of men, where the soldiers drink to excess and engage in ribald humour, leading to the conflict which propels us into the main theme of the drama. We are faced with the conceit of the men that Lucretia’s constancy, and likewise the betrayal of the other wives, is a reflection upon their husbands’ character, rather than a reflection of the state of their relationships. Scene Two takes us to the domestic scene of the women at work, spinning, to support the work of the men (war). They reflect soberly on their feelings of isolation and loneliness. These contrasts foreshadow the destruction of virtue and beauty: “Spirit (Lucretia) defiled by fate (Tarquinius).”
Many of the questions which the opera presents will not be answered here today, nor can they be. They are for all of us to answer individually and as a community—as humanity. How can a young girl today experience rape, and then be bullied by her peers to the point of suicide? Why are authorities only moved to action when collective outrage is loudly articulated? Further from home, rape remains a frequently used weapon, both in the home and in the theatre of war. In some more traditional societies rape is still legal, while societal misogyny sometimes even leads to the prosecution of the victim. Do we have the capacity or inclination to be more tolerant, more progressive? Britten asks the question, but only we can answer it. D. Robert Milne (’14)