Opera Scotland

Rape of Lucretia in Scotland

Posted 17 Jan 2020

As the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland presents this important Britten piece again, a review of its local history seems timely.

The Rape of Lucretia by Benjamin Britten (pictured) was premiered at Glyndebourne on 12 July 1946. 

Exactly one month later, with the original casts and on an extensive national tour, Lucretia received its first Scottish performance at Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre on 12 August 1946.  Glasgow saw it the next week at the Theatre Royal.  In a staging by Eric Crozier, conducting duties were divided between Reginald Goodall (who was later to be famed for his work on Wagner) and Hans Oppenheim.

The singers alternated in several combinations.  Kathleen Ferrier and Nancy Evans shared Lucretia, with Otakar Kraus and Frank Rogier as Tarquinius.  Male Chorus was sung by Peter Pears and Aksel Schiøtz, while Joan Cross and Flora Neilson took the Female.  The basses playing Collatinus were Owen Brannigan and Norman Walker.

Edinburgh International Festival

The Edinburgh Festival first mounted the work in 1963 when the English Opera Group visited, and Colin Graham’s new production was conducted by Meredith Davies.   Lucretia was the famed Swedish mezzo Kerstin Meyer, with two notable Australians, Ronald Dowd and Sylvia Fisher, as Choruses.   Peter Glossop was Tarquinius, with the other parts taken by Forbes Robinson, John Shirley-Quirk, Helen Watts and Elizabeth Vaughan.

The only other performance at the Edinburgh International Festival was a concert performance of superb quality in 1999.   Edinburgh-born Donald Runnicles led a performance with the great American mezzo Lorraine Hunt Lieberson in the lead and Simon Keenlyside as Tarquinius.   Ian Bostridge and Geraldine McGreevy were the Choruses, with Catherine Wyn-Rogers and Lisa Milne as the domestic servants.

Scottish Opera

Scottish Opera have staged the work once.  This was an excellent production in the hands of director Anthony Besch and designer John Stoddart, which occupied a constant place in the company’s repertoire from 1976 to 1978.   As with all Britten’s chamber works that Scottish Opera had mounted, it was toured abroad several times, introducing the opera to Poland, Switzerland and Yugoslavia, in addition to Germany.   The conductor was nearly always Roderick Brydon, though Alexander Gibson conducted one tour.

Initially, Lucretia was sung by Patricia Kern, followed by Claire Livingstone and Carole Rosen.   John Robertson and Robert Tear sang Male Chorus, with Catherine Wilson or Linda Esther Gray as Female Chorus.   Collatinus was shared between Malcolm King, John Shirley-Quirk and Gerwyn Morgan.  The excellent Tarquinius at every performance was the young baritone Stuart Harling, with Australian Malcolm Donnelly equally effective as Junius.

Youthful themes

In recent years, it has been recognized that this opera can work particularly well with student performers, as so many of the characters are youthful.   In 2010, St Andrews (now Byre) Opera put on an effective production by Kally Lloyd-Jones conducted by Michael Downes.  Lucretia was Annabel Philips, with Ben McAteer as Tarquinius.

The most recent staging in Glasgow by students of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland came in 2012, when Mark Hathaway’s dramatic production was conducted by Timothy Dean and Gordon Bragg.  Laura Margaret Smith and Lynda-Jane Nelson alternated as Lucretia, with Douglas Nairne and Mikhail Pavlov sharing Tarquinius.   The servant Bianca was given an excellent interpretation by Catriona Morison, several years before she became the first British singer to win Cardiff Singer of the World.

Timothy Dean previously conducted the piece in 2001, in a staging by Cynthia Buchan.   One of the Lucretias was Karen Cargill.   John Mackenzie sang Tarquinius, with Elizabeth Atherton as Female Chorus.

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