Benjamin Britten’s operatic retelling of an ancient Roman tragedy, “The Rape of Lucretia,” will be presented by Oberlin Opera Theater in four performances from Wednesday, Nov. 11 through Sunday, Nov. 15.
Britten’s chamber opera unfolds as an ancient pagan tragedy viewed through the eyes of two Christian choruses: one male and one female.
When a group of Roman soldiers learns that every wife but one has betrayed them, the king’s son is challenged to test the chastity of the lone woman of virtue, with devastating results. Though the victim, Lucretia, is comforted by her husband, she deems herself unfit for his love.
The story of Lucretia has been recounted in the arts and literature over the past 2,000 years, including Shakespeare’s 1594 poem “The Rape of Lucrece.” Often treated as a mythological figure, Lucretia is widely regarded by historians to have been an actual Roman matron whose tragic tale sparked a revolution that led to the fall of tyrannical Rome and the rise of the Roman Republic circa 500 B.C.
“Lucretia is an important work that deals with the destruction of innocence and the resulting displacement that happens because of it,” said director Jonathon Field, associate professor of opera theater at Oberlin College. “Written just after World War II, it exemplifies the experience of the British during that horrendous time. In many ways, it also refers to the displacement of large numbers of innocent civilians due to forces beyond their control. This is an excellent chance to see a piece admired by many but rarely performed.”
Performances will be at 8 p.m. on Nov. 11, 13, 14, and 2 p.m. on Nov. 15 at Hall Auditorium, 67 North Main St.
The opera features a cast of OC voice department students and the orchestral score performed by the Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble under the direction of professor Timothy Weiss.
Tickets are $10, with $8 tickets available for all students. Get tickets by phone at 800-371-0178, online at www.oberlin.edu/artsguide, or by visiting the Hall Auditorium box office from noon to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The production will be complemented by a series of programs that address themes ranging from the often-tragic role of women in art throughout the ages to Lucretia’s relevance in 21st century America:
• “Reading Britten: The Rape of Lucretia in Context” explores musicological and theoretical perspectives on the work and addresses such issues as why tragic women have played key roles in opera throughout the ages. The panel will include Danielle Ward-Griffin, assistant professor of music history at Christopher Newport University, and three members of Oberlin’s faculty: ‘Lucretia’ director Jonathon Field and music theorists Andrew Pau and Jan Miyake. It will take place at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 11 at Hall Auditorium.
• “Violence and Virtue: Framing Lucretia in the 21st Century” focuses on the significance of the production in contemporary America and in what ways it can provoke productive conversations. The panel includes Oberlin College and Conservatory faculty members representing an array of disciplines: Carol Lasser (history), who serves as director of gender, sexuality, and feminist studies at Oberlin; Claire Solomon (Hispanic studies); Wendy Kozol (comparative American studies); and Renee Romano (Africana studies and comparative American studies). Facilitating the discussion will be Meredith Raimondo, Oberlin’s special assistant to the president for equity, inclusion, and diversity. It will take place at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 12 at Stull Recital Hall, 77 West College St.
• English professor Nick Jones will lead “Women in the Ancient World,” a conversation about art and literary depictions of Lucretia and other tragic women throughout history that will include an examination of numerous works in the Allen Memorial Art Museum collection. He will be joined by Andaleeb Banta, curator of European and American art, and assistant professor of classics Chris Trinacty. The program begins at noon on Thursday, Nov. 12 at the museum, 87 North Main St.
Photo-illustration by Jacob Gilbert