The Rape of Lucretia, Benjamin Britten’s operatic retelling of an ancient Roman tragedy, will be presented by Oberlin Opera Theater for four performances beginning Wednesday, November 11, through Sunday, November 15.
The production will be complemented by a series of programs that address themes ranging from the often tragic role of women in art throughout the ages to Lucretia’s relevance in 21st-century America.
Britten’s chamber opera, written in two acts with a libretto by Ronald Duncan, unfolds as an ancient pagan tragedy viewed through the eyes of two Christian choruses: one male and one female. When a group of Roman soldiers learns that every wife but one has betrayed them, the king’s son is challenged to test the chastity of the lone woman of virtue—with devastating results. Though the victim, Lucretia, is comforted by her husband, she deems herself unfit for his love.
The story of Lucretia has been recounted numerous times in the arts and literature over the past 2,000 years, including Shakespeare’s 1594 poem “The Rape of Lucrece.” Often treated as a mythological figure, Lucretia is widely regarded by historians to have been an actual Roman matron whose tragic tale sparked a revolution that led to the fall of tyrannical Rome and the rise of the Roman Republic circa 500 B.C.
Britten’s opera debuted in England in July 1946, as the nation grappled to overcome the devastation of World War II.
“Lucretia is an important work that deals with the destruction of innocence and the resulting displacement that happens because of it,” says director Jonathon Field, associate professor of opera theater at Oberlin. “Written just after World War II, it exemplifies the experience of the British during that horrendous time. In many ways, it also refers to the displacement of large numbers of innocent civilians due to forces beyond their control. This is an excellent chance to see a piece admired by many but rarely performed.”
Oberlin Opera Theater’s production of The Rape of Lucretia opens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, November 11, in Hall Auditorium (67 N. Main St.). It continues with 8 p.m. performances on Friday and Saturday, November 13 and 14, and concludes at 2 p.m. Sunday, November 15.
The opera features a talented cast of Oberlin’s voice department students and the orchestral score performed by the Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble, under the direction of Professor of Conducting Timothy Weiss.
Tickets for The Rape of Lucretia are $10, with $8 tickets available for all students. Get tickets by phone (800-371-0178), online at oberlin.edu/artsguide, or by visiting the Hall Auditorium box office from noon-5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Please note: This opera contains subject matter that may not be suitable for all audiences.
RELATED PROGRAMMING AT OBERLIN: Oberlin Opera Theater’s production of The Rape of Lucretia will be accompanied by a series of complementary programs on campus. The first of them, 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 provoke productive conversations. The panel includes 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). Facilitating the discussion will be Meredith Raimondo, Oberlin’s special assistant to the president for equity, inclusion, and diversity. Violence and Virtue will take place at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, November 11, in Stull Recital Hall (77 West College St.).
A second panel, 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 will include 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, who will facilitate the conversation. Reading Britten will take place at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, November 11, in Hall Auditorium, immediately preceding the opening-night performance of the opera.
Also on Thursday, November 12, English professor Nick Jones will lead Women in the Ancient World, a conversation about art and literary depictions of Lucretia and other tragic women throughout history that will include an examination of numerous works in the Allen Memorial Art Museum collection. Jones will be joined by Andaleeb Banta, curator of European and American art, and Assistant Professor of Classics Chris Trinacty. The program begins at noon in the museum (87 North Main St.). The works discussed may also be experienced as a self-guided tour at any time the museum is open.
FOR MORE INFORMATION on the arts at Oberlin, please visit oberlin.edu/artsguide.
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