Review: Trinity Laban’s production of ‘The Rape of Lucretia’

A student production won’t necessarily be ‘perfect’ but it will be engaging. A discerning eye will look out for potential and celebrate it. There will definitely be spirit too. Trinity Laban’s opening night of Britten’s Rape of Lucretia delivered.

The first half lacked confidence – no real surprises there especially. First night nerves (or anticipation) distracted focus resulting in some lumbering around, a little bit of over-acting, and one or two woolly entries.

This isn’t in itself a bad thing. It highlights the challenges of opera performance something which many of us take for granted, and also shines a light on the demands Britten unwittingly places on his performers in Lucretia. In particular, it strikes me that in a story that’s low on action and on character development, there’s a greater emphasis placed on acting and, especially, movement for example. 

But there was a steely resolve – an infectious kind of determination that kept me hooked in. That helped me invest in this production and observe the story of the performers.

The performance shone brighter in the second act. An entirely different ensemble appeared to be on stage and in the pit. Tighter and more confident both in stage presence and the way each occupied their own melodic line. Purpose, story and motivation combined to create an unexpectedly authentic production, significantly more engaging than anything I’ve seen for a long time.

Some of that is down to the libretto, the comparative stillness of the second act, and in particular the way our curiosity seeks out the individual reactions of those reacting the horror on stage. 

Juliette Koch (Lucia) maintained an assertive style that helped convey a sometimes willful character.  Second year Masters William Branston (Male Chorus) met the considerable challenge of his role with apparent ease with an uncomplicated voice and unfussy delivery, matched by Hope Lavelle (Female Chorus) whose sweet soft voice made the character’s gradual and eventual breakdown all the more painful. Anna Prowse (Bianca) maintained a matronly presence with a chillingly detached air about her. Rachel Maby (Lucretia) conveyed an everyday normalcy to her character which contrasted sharply with the mystical setting established by both the setting and the Choruses’ costumes.

Where the company seemed complete and most at ease was during the blissfully satisfying ensembles towards the end of each act. The combination of women’s voices in the final scene of the first act seemed especially strong – an invigorating combination of textures that brought edge and urgency to proceedings. Similarly at the end of the second act where Britten’s characteristic vocal writing shone.

Here too second year student Samuel Mitchell (Collatinus) found his feet, allowing him to reveal a touching tone that had previously been hidden. Come the second and third performances he will, I hope, feel more at ease in the first act. There is undoubtedly a beautiful voice there which needs to come out more. 

Special mention to fourth year Michael Lafferty (Tarquinius) who, to my mind, faced the biggest challenge in terms of acting and movement. The soldier scene is surprisingly difficult to convey convincingly – and the mimed horse-riding especially demanding. But he relaxed into the character during the second act, during the run-up to and during the rape scene – ‘panther agile, panther virile’ saw him especially menacing. 

And be sure to keep an eye out for bass James Lomas in the future. A solid consistent voice which at times provided stability and reassurance.

Listen to a podcast featuring Director Laura Attridge and Music Director Jonathan Tilbrook discussing the problems staging Britten’s chamber opera in the age of #MeToo. The podcast is also available on Spotify and iTunes. 

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