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Lucretia made the ultimate sacrifice in order to reclaim her body and her story. Yet, despite her intent, both continue to be the canvas upon which artists’ interpretations play out, with different versions and different points of view rewriting her narrative. At Boston Lyric Opera’s production of The Rape of Lucretia, this lobby installation was conceived and designed by director Sarna Lapine, Michelle Lapine McCabe of Hivemind, and John Conklin, dramaturg and BLO’s Artistic Advisor. The fragments of Lucretia’s story are deconstructed elements from canonical Old Masters paintings, linked in full below. The installation itself reminds the audience that stories are manipulated by arrangement, interpretation, emphasis, and absence. The artists, the composer, the director and the designers all contribute to the reconstruction of Lucretia’s story onstage, while moving through the visual space of the lobby and into the lyrical space of the opera, the audience too participates in the taking of Lucretia’s tale and making it their own.
The rape of Lucretia is a narrative rooted in historical fact: the tale of a Roman matron’s rape and subsequent suicide has lived on in the Western imagination for 2,500 years. This story has taken many forms in literature and in art, most of which have come from a male perspective. What developed is a mythology of Lucretia, an object of desire whose destruction gave rise to many interpretations. When she was used as a symbol of courageous resistance to the oppression of a Roman tyrant, her story inspired the historical revolt against the last Roman monarchy. What did the story mean to Benjamin Britten, when he created it in the 1940s? And what does it mean to us today as we view it?
The World Premiere of Benjamin Britten’s opera The Rape of Lucretia took place in 1946, almost a decade before David Angus was born. The composer died in 1976 when Angus was only 20, so the conductor of Boston Lyric Opera’s current production of Lucretia is too young to have become a member of Britten’s immediate circle of friends and interpreters. But as member of the King’s College (Cambridge) Choir, he did sing under Britten’s baton in a 1970 concert in Snape Maltings, the auditorium of the composer’s summer festival on the northeast coast of England. Only a year earlier, Snape Maltings had been destroyed by fire, and the work that reopened the hall and the festival in 1970was Britten’s vernal “Spring” Symphony, which remains a favorite of Angus’s – and at the drop of a hat he can still sing lilting lines from the boys’ choruses. “It was a great experience for all of us – as choirboys we sang every day, and music became our language.”