The premiere of Benjamin Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia did not fare well at the Glyndebourne Opera Festival in England on July 12, 1946, nor two years later at its American debut on Broadway at the Ziegfeld Theatre on December 29, 1948, closing 18 days later. The controversy surrounding this opera may lie in its elemental presentation, and boundary-pushing libretto by Ronald Duncan.
But presenting engaging new interpretations of challenging, progressive work is a Mannes touchstone—so it’s no surprise that Mannes Opera will cap the academic year (and mark Britten’s centennial year) with two performances of The Rape of Lucretia on Friday May 10 and Saturday, May 11 at 7:30 p.m. The production features The Mannes Opera with members of The Mannes Orchestra, conducted by Artistic Director Joseph Colaneri and directed by Laura Alley.
“The Rape of Lucretia exemplifies Mannes’ commitment to exploring provocative work,” said Richard Kessler, Dean of Mannes College. “As the semester’s culminating presentation, Britten’s opera gives us a terrific opportunity to showcase innovative performances by the best emerging talent.”
Britten was inspired by a French play by André Obey, based on Shakespeare’s poem The Rape of Lucretia. In a sequence of short scenes with commentary from the two-voice chorus, the opera depicts the rape of the Roman matron Lucretia by Prince Tarquinius, an Etruscan overlord, and the responses to this aggression—her suicide and a nationalist uprising by the Romans. Although the opera takes place five centuries before Christ’s birth, the solo tenor male chorus and solo soprano female chorus view the story through a Christian perspective.
“The Rape of Lucretia presents an extraordinary challenge to our young singers and instrumentalists,” said Mannes Opera artistic director Joseph Colaneri, who conceived, supervised and will conduct the production. “Britten’s combination of edgy dissonance and poetic lyricism provide the perfect landscape in which our students can explore the power of modern musical expression.”
Both performances will be held at The Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College, 68th Street between Park and Lexington Avenues. Tickets are $25 for general public and $10 for students/seniors, and are available at the Kaye box office by calling 212.772.4448.