Recorded live in 2011 at the Aldeburgh Festival, which Benjamin Britten founded in 1948, this performance of his dark, intense chamber opera The Rape of Lucretia stars Angelika Kirchschlager, Peter Coleman-Wright and Ian Bostridge, with Oliver Knussen conducting. “Everything, without exception, was right on the money,” said The Guardian,” … a dazzling success.”
Benjamin Britten’s chamber opera The Rape of Lucretia was given its premiere at the Glyndebourne Festival in 1946, with Kathleen Ferrier in the leading role. The composer founded his own festival two years later in Aldeburgh on the Suffolk coast, where he and Peter Pears had a home. This recording is drawn from a concert given in June 2011 at Aldeburgh’s acoustically superb Snape Maltings.
“As this brilliantly vivid, impassioned concert performance reminded us,” wrote The Telegraph, “Lucretia is a problematic and disturbing piece. It’s hard to think of another opera where the opposite poles of male violence and tender female intimacy are made so vividly real in purely musical terms, and brought into such horrifying proximity.”
BRITTEN The Rape of Lucretia. Ian Bostridge, Angelika Kirchschlager, Susan Gritton, Christopher Purves, Benjamin Russell, Peter Coleman-Wright, Hilary Summers Bianca, Claire Booth, Aldeburgh Festival Ensemble / Oliver Knussen. Virgin 2cds £16.00 Offer price (usually £17.50)
Representing those opposite poles are the Australian baritone Peter Coleman-Wright as the Roman prince Tarquinius and the Austrian mezzo-soprano Angelika Kirchschlager as Lucretia, the chaste wife of a Roman general. She commits suicide after Tarquinius has raped her, but, in an interview with The Independent Kirchschlager explained that: “There is absolutely a subtext. Lucretia is not happy where she is; both she and Tarquinius are longing for something more. People are not black and white: we long for things we don’t allow ourselves. Perhaps these two should be a real couple, but circumstances have determined that they can’t be together. You have to look carefully at the words and at every nuance Britten wrote, and it makes sense. They are both incredibly passionate people and Lucretia is a strong woman. I never see her as a victim.”
Joining them in the cast are some of Britain’s finest singers, including Ian Bostridge as the Male Chorus, Susan Gritton as the Female Chorus and, as Collatinus, Christopher Purves; the Aldeburgh Festival Ensemble is conducted by Oliver Knussen.
The Guardian felt that the performance succeeded in “revealing the score as one of Britten’s richest … Everything, without exception, was right on the money. Bostridge and Gritton vied with each other for clarity of diction and gesture, while Kirchschlager’s magnificent Lucretia was direct and powerfully sympathetic. Claire Booth and Hilary Summers, as maid and nurse respectively, sent the mellifluous flower duet wafting seductively around the Maltings’ rafters. Best of all was the orchestra, revelling in its extraordinary palette of colours, and showing how the score so often hangs like gossamer off the vocal lines. Oliver Knussen conducted neatly, precisely and economically – in short, giving his players and singers everything they needed to make Britten’s return to Aldeburgh a dazzling success.”
“Britten’s amazingly inventive score was played with scalding intensity by the Aldeburgh Festival Ensemble under Oliver Knussen,” enthused The Telegraph, while The Independent, describing the opera as “a masterpiece of psychological and musical acuity”, observed that: “Ian Bostridge and Angelika Kirchschlager, as the Male Chorus and protagonist, gave it a searing, declamatory force. But its chief glory lies in the menacing beauty of its orchestral sound: the textures which Oliver Knussen extracted from the Aldeburgh Festival Ensemble repeatedly took the breath away.” Likewise, The Sunday Times praised “Oliver Knussen’s incisive and compelling conducting. He clearly believes in every note of the often ravishingly beautiful and coruscatingly violent score.”