Luminous Lucretia at the Concert Barn

SwedenSweden Britten, The Rape of Lucretia: Soloists, Vattnäs Operakapell. Mattias Böhm (conductor). The Concert Barn, Vattnäs, Dalecarlia, Sweden. 13.7.2012 (Premiere) (GF)Cast:

Lucretia: Pers Anna Larsson
Tarquinius: Håkan Ekenäs
Female Chorus: Eva-Lotta Ohlsson
Male Chorus: Göran Eliasson
Collatinus: Anton Ljungqvist
Bianca: Ingrid Tobiasson
Junius: Richard Laby
Lucia: Catherine Setterberg


Directed by Pers Anna Larsson, Ingrid Tobiasson and Mathias Clason
Sets and costumes: Mathias Clason
Lighting design: Peter Stockhaus
Projections: Anders Hanser

A couple of months ago I wrote at some length about the brand new concert hall at Vattnäs . The concert that was the main reason for my visit there was a kind of false start for this year’s summer activities, Sångfest (Song Festival) between 13 and 29 July. During those two weeks there will be a number of concerts and panel discussions as well as six performances of Britten’s opera The Rape of Lucretia. Next year (2013) will be the centennial of Britten’s birth but this year is the centennial of Kathleen Ferrier’s birth and she was the one who premiered the title role in this opera in 1946, so these performances can be seen as one contralto’s (Pers Anna Larsson) tribute to a colleague from a couple of generations back. Let me just mention that Pers Anna Larsson is identical with the great Anna Larsson who is one of the leading Mahler singers of our time and, among many other things, the reigning Erda in Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen. In Dalecarlia one very often adds the family name before the first name.

The Rape of Lucretia was Britten’s second opera (Paul Bunyan, written during his exile in USA during the war, is more of an operetta) and the first of his chamber operas, requiring eight soloists, no chorus and an ensemble of 13 musicians. This makes it ideal for a small venue like the concert barn. The limited stage is sparsely furnished with evocative projections as backdrop and the costumes rather everyday, locating the action to the present day, not ancient Rome as was the original concept. The story is briefly as follows: Three officers are drinking together in a military camp outside Rome and relate what happened the night before when some soldiers went home and caught their wives red-handed cheating on their husbands, all except Collatinus’ wife Lucretia. Junius incites Tarquinius to test Lucretia’s chastity. He sets off to Rome and asks for lodging during the night. When Lucretia has fallen asleep he creeps into her bedroom and kisses her. She wakes up and rejects him but Tarquinius persists and finally rapes her and then leaves. In the morning Lucretia sends for her husband who promptly arrives. Lucretia confesses what has happened and Collatinus comforts her, but Lucretia feels that she can’t live her disgrace and kills herself.

As in the ancient Greek drama Britten employs commentators, a male and a female ‘chorus’, who in this production are not passive onlookers but – though unseen by the actors – very much take part in the proceedings. They represent the Christian world and thus also are the link between the ancient pagan play and the audience of today. The Female Chorus at the end regrets the lack of moral in the play but the Male Chorus explains that all the sins will be forgiven through the affliction of Christ. Ever since the premiere of this opera there has been controversy among commentators concerning the message of the play and also the verbosity of the text. It is true that it sometimes is turgid, even bombastic, but it is saved by the music. This is Britten at his most inspired and he creates throughout a marvellous score that is transparent, witty, colourful, thrilling and enormously beautiful. The long Cor Anglais solo in the second act is among the loveliest pieces written for the instrument.

For this production the production team has assembled a marvellous cast, headed by Pers Anna’s sublime Lucretia and her husband Göran Eliasson as a superb Male Chorus, a role created for Britten’s life long partner Peter Pears. But every member of the cast is excellent, from the towering presence of Anton Ljungqvist’s Collatinus and the expressive Tarquinius of Håkan Ekenäs to Eva-Lotta Ohlsson’s Female Chorus, Catherine Setterberg’s Lucia and Richard Laby’s Junius. Most impressive of all is perhaps Ingrid Tobiasson, who retired from the Stockholm Royal Opera almost six years ago but has retained the dramatic power as well as the beauty of tone unimpaired. Every role in this opera has a lot to sing, there are no traditional comprimarios.

This The Rape of Lucretia is a triumph in every respect.

Göran Forsling