Thursday, February 08, 2001

Lucretia' explores loss of innocence

By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        “For me, the story of The Rape of Lucretia is about the abuse of the child within the adult,” director Thomas de Mallet Burgess says. “Although Tarquinius clearly abuses Lucretia, he not only rapes her physically, but he rapes her own innocence.”

        Mr. de Mallet Burgess, opera professor at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, will make his CCM directing debut in the Benjamin Britten opera today through Sunday in Patricia Corbett Theater.

    What: Benjamin Britten's The Rape of Lucretia. Thomas de Mallet Burgess, director; Michael Rosewell, guest conductor.
    When: 8 p.m. today and Friday; 2:30 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2:30 p.m. Sunday.
    Where: Patricia Corbett Theater.
    Tickets: $22 reserved seats; $13 UC students. 556-4183.
        The British-born director, who began a two-year contract at CCM last fall, comes from a theater background that began at Oxford University. He has directed numerous operas, including productions at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, and has recently published a book on integrating singing and acting.

        Mr. de Mallet Burgess was musing about the meaning of The Rape of Lucretia in his office at the Dieterle Vocal Arts Center. The story is set in Rome, where an Etruscan prince, Tarquinius, is provoked to prove that Lucretia (wife of Collatinus) is the last chaste wife in Rome. He takes her by force; she is overcome by what has happened and kills herself.

        “There's a line in the libretto, where Lucretia says, "In the forest of my dreams, you have always been my tiger,' when he comes into her room,” he says. “It suggests that one of the reasons she kills herself is because she feels guilty ... that repulsion and attraction co-exist within herself.”

        The original libretto, based on Andre Obey's play, Le viol de Lucrece, ended with a question sung by the chorus, “Is this all?” But Britten asked for more from his librettist, Ronald Duncan, who added a positive Christian ending, drawing a moral from the pagan myth.

        “The music Britten writes is not a triumphant Christian message; it's a very questioning Christian message,” Mr. Burgess says. In the end, the opera is about the male and female choruses, who share the stage with the main characters, he suggests.

        The choruses “represent the different sides of one person, the masculine and feminine,” Mr. de Mallet Burgess says. “It's about their journey, seeking to re-create this myth about Lucretia in order to support their own Christian vision of life, and make parallels between Lucretia and Christ.”

        But the choruses emerge questioning. “It's up to the audience to decide whether they have enough basis to make that leap of faith,” he says.

        “I hope that they will walk away asking questions about those big questions in life, to which nobody knows the answer.”

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