Mounting an opera is no small feat. Months of preparation go into taking a work from concept to stage, and the effort of countless people is required to present four spectacular performances each semester.
In the case of Oberlin Opera Theater’s upcoming production of the Benjamin Britten opera The Rape of Lucretia—which runs Wednesday through Sunday, November 11-15—those preparations extend far beyond the stage.
Thanks to the efforts of faculty and administrators from multiple corners of campus, a series of complementary programs has been organized to help audiences contextualize the content in Lucretia from a variety of perspectives.
The programs follow the success of Oberlin Opera Theater’s fall 2014 production of Kurt Weill’s Street Scene; that opera served as the cornerstone of a similar series of related talks and other events dubbed “Weill Week.”
The Lucretia activity centers around three main events: a panel discussion that explores the relevance and implications of Lucretia in modern times, another focusing on musicological aspects of Britten’s opera, and a gallery talk and self-guided tour devoted to art depicting tragic women throughout the ages.
The first program, Violence and Virtue: Framing Lucretia in the 21st Century, focuses on the significance of the production in contemporary America and in what ways it can inspire productive conversations. It features a panel made up of Oberlin College and Conservatory faculty members representing an array of disciplines: Carol Lasser (history), who serves as director of Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies at Oberlin; Claire Solomon (Hispanic studies); Wendy Kozol (comparative American studies); and Renee Romano (Africana studies and comparative American studies). It takes place at 4:30 p.m., Wednesday, November 11, in Stull Recital Hall, on the third floor of Bibbins Hall (77 West College St.).
“The advantage of being a college and conservatory combined is that we have the structures to really have these conversations,” says Meredith Raimondo, Oberlin’s Title IX coordinator and the facilitator of the panel. Raimondo oversees Oberlin’s system for responding to and preventing all forms of gender-based harassment and discrimination. She sees her job as a way of fulfilling Oberlin’s mission to educate—and to help remove all barriers to education.
Among the themes Raimondo expects to see emerge in the discussion are the relationship between sexual violence and war, how we look back at myth and history, and how we use creative work as a way to process and move beyond violence as a solution. Lucretia not only holds historical significance, she adds, but it also functions transhistorically. “Gender-based violence is a longstanding problem,” says Raimondo, “so I have a real belief that some of the solutions lie in art.”
A second discussion, Reading Britten: The Rape of Lucretia in Context, explores musicological and theoretical perspectives on the work and addresses such issues as why tragic women have played key roles in opera throughout the ages. The panel includes Danielle Ward-Griffin, assistant professor of music history at Christopher Newport University, and three members of Oberlin’s faculty: Lucretia director Jonathon Field and music theorists Andrew Pau and Jan Miyake. Reading Britten takes place at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, November 11, in Hall Auditorium (67 N. Main St.), immediately preceding the opening-night performance of the opera at 8.
“We choose stories that are powerful,” says Miyake, the panel’s moderator, who adds that it is important to preface the performance with a clear sense of why the story is important and what power it has. Lucretia occupies an important and complex space: Tragic female roles are omnipresent throughout the history of opera, after all.
Finally, a gallery talk and self-guided tour called Women in the Ancient World focuses on tragic depictions of women in works throughout history, using examples from the collection of the Allen Memorial Art Museum. Curated by Andaleeb Banta, the series includes the painting “Death of Lucretia” (attributed to Domenico Beccafumi, c. 1515) and a pictograph called “The Rape of Persephone” (Gottlieb, 1943), among others. The talk will be led by Professor of English Nick Jones and includes Banta and Assistant Professor of Classics Chris Trinacty. It takes place at noon Thursday, November 12, at the Allen Memorial Art Museum (87 N. Main St.).
In addition to the upcoming programs, the two cast members playing Lucretia—Rebecca Printz (Wednesday/Saturday cast) and Micaela Aldridge (Friday/Sunday cast)—received guidance from counselors at the Nord Center’s Sexual Assault Services, to better understand the psychology of victims like the opera's Lucretia. Nord Center counselors will attend each performance of the opera to serve as a resource to all guests.