In Toulouse, a tragic and Christ-like “Rape of Lucretia”

Duncan Rock (Tarquin) and tenor Cyrille Dubois in

Two days of rehearsal in October 2020, on the eve of the second confinement, and a cancellation followed by two and a half years of waiting: entry into the Capitole repertoire of Rape of Lucretius by Benjamin Britten seemed charged with the same fury and the same mad desire which transform Tarquin, Prince of Rome, into a predator of the virtuous Lucretia, the only Roman woman who remained faithful to her husband, Collatinus, unexpectedly returned like the others from the war against the Greeks. The suicide of the young woman will lead to the revolt that will put an end to the Rome of kings.

” Will beauty save the world ? » : this assertion that Dostoyevsky places in the mouth of Prince Myshkin (The Idiot) also torments the pacifist Britten in this chamber opera for eight singers and thirteen solo instruments, written in the aftermath of the Second World War (the composer had declared himself a conscientious objector), premiered on July 12, 1946 at the Glyndebourne Festival (England).

Anchored in this mythical episode of ancient history, The Rape of Lucretia certainly denounces warmongering excesses but even more the destruction of innocence by evil, a recurring theme in all his work. The librettist Ronald Duncan was inspired by the eponymous play by André Obey to denounce an apocalyptic world that will save the ” beauty “ sacrifice of a redeeming Christ.

marine universe

“Through this rape, Benjamin Britten plunges into the depths of the human soul prey to the obsession of lost purity, to the tragic dimension of destructive desire”notes the director Anne Delbée, who delivers a show whose semantic density competes with scenic intelligence.

At 77, the woman of the theater whose aesthetic sense was forged in contact with the Renaud-Barrault theater company, claims a sense of tragedy that she considers disappeared. On a beautifully lit stage, torn boat sails and a mast, which will gradually collapse (symbol of a shipwrecked humanity): the decor evokes the marine world that bathes Britten’s imagination. Later, the mast raised like a cross and the face of Christ on the Shroud of Turin will mark his religious reinterpretation of the political myth.

The soldiers are back. Anne Delbée has invited the women (silent silhouettes) around the long white table where the drinkers seem to be reproducing an inverted Last Supper. The rape will be played out later in the same form of distancing, in fantasized period costumes – opulent purple for Lucretia’s dress, gold and white for an imperial Tarquin. In the background, a huge reproduction of the face of the Night sculpted by Michelangelo on the tomb of Giuliano de Medici marks the fall of civilization.

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