The Rape of Lucretia
was Britten's first chamber opera, following
the success of Peter Grimes
but looking forward very clearly to the
operas and "parables" that followed it. For many years it was regarded with
some critical disdain, especially for its libretto, but now it appears to be
more generally accepted as one of the composer's most imaginative and
dramatic works, full of vivid and varied music. Extended excerpts conducted
by Reginald Goodall were recorded soon after the premiere and an early live
performance under the same conductor is available
. The composer's own later recording lacks the
immediacy of those early recordings but has the immense advantage of Janet
Baker as Lucretia. The present recording also has much to commend it but is
sadly lacking in dramatic tension or immediacy.
The cast is dominated by Jean Rigby's admirably portrayed Lucretia, warm
but positive in a role that can seem monochrome in character. She lacks the
warmth of voice of Janet Baker or Kathleen Ferrier but has a poise and
dignity in the role that make up for it. The three men are all well sung but
more contrasted voices would have helped, in the first scene especially.
Patricia Rozario is well cast as Lucia, well contrasted with Ameral Gunson
as Biana. The roles of Male and Female Chorus are well sung by Nigel Robson
and Catherine Pierard but without the sheer passion or dramatic involvement
heard in the early recordings with Peter Pears and Joan Cross.
I suspect that the main problem lies in the conducting of Richard Hickox.
The detail of Britten's wonderful scoring for a chamber orchestra is
apparent but there is a general lack of forward momentum or the kind of
telling detail or characterisation that brings the score to life.
Chandos include a forty page booklet with the set but unfortunately it
lacks the libretto. Good as Eric Roseberry's essay is the listener needs to
be able to follow the words in detail, and the diction of most of the cast,
at least as recorded here, lacks the clarity to enable this.
All in all, this is a respectable but by no means indispensable version of
the opera, and although presented as part of "The Hickox Legacy
" does not show this wonderfully gifted
conductor at his best.
Britten discography & review index:
The Rape of