Lyric Theatre @ Illinois: The Rape of Lucretia

Intriguing title, does not disappoint.

Leah Siegel

Photo by: Leah Siegel
Photo by: Leah Siegel

This week our class saw The Rape of Lucretia, an opera performance put on by Lyric Theatre @ Illinois  (directed by Kirsten Pullen and conducted by Julie Jordan Gunn) at The Krannert Center for Performing Arts (KCPA) in the Tryon Festival Theatre. Lyric Theatre @ Illinois is a division of the School of Music at the University of Illinois. Lyric Theatre @ Illinois is a program dedicated to opera and musical theatre. The program puts on 3 productions each year at KCPA.

Let’s start with a little background knowledge on the piece. The Rape of Lucretia, by Benajmin Britten, first premiered at the Glyndebourne Festival in 1946 and was the only opera that year. It was Britten’s first chamber opera. The story takes place in and around Rome in 510 BC during a war.

In the first act Prince Tarquinius Sextus, is drinking with two generals, Collatinus and Junius, at a military camp. They are talking about Roman wives and their faithfulness, or lack there of. Collatinus bragged about his loyal wife, Lucretia to the men, which made them very jealous. A drunk Tarquinius decides to go to Lucretia’s house to prove her faithfulness. Tarquinius’ surprise visit did not sit well with Lucretia or her servants, but she offered him a room for the night.

In the second act Tarquinius enters Lucretia’s room and rapes her before leaving. The following day, Lucretia was emotionally distraught, as one can imagine. Ashamed of what happened, Lucretia ends up killing herself.

Photo by: Leah Siegel

I really enjoyed the performance. When I first read in my syllabus that I would be attending a performance titled The Rape of Lucretia, I was very curious as to what the performance would be like. Obviously, I knew it had something to do with a women named Lucretia getting raped, but beyond that I was completely clueless. So I looked up some background knowledge on it, so I wouldn’t be completely confused. I feel like sometimes with opera one can get very lost in what is going on because it is hard to make out what is being sung. Thankfully I researched the opera, but also amazing Krannert had a screen with subtitles! It was absolutely wonderful. I could understand what was being sung. Such a great addition.

The performers, who are all students at the university, did an amazing job! Their singing was impeccable and the acting was superb. I was sitting near the back and I have bad eye sight, so I couldn’t see their facial expressions and their emotions, but I could feel it through the way they sung, especially during the rape scene. The choreography and the way Lucretia sung allowed me to feel the betrayal and shame she felt. I could hear despair in her voice. The scene gave me goosebumps. It was my favorite part of the entire performance. There was just so much emotion in the scene. It was truly amazing.

I think the fact that it was an opera added a whole other dimension to the performance. There is something about singing that really gets to people and makes them emotional. You just get so captured into the lyrics and the song. Music is a beautiful way to tell a story and I think using operatic song and music to tell this tragic story worked really well.

This piece came at the perfect time given the #MeToo movement. It shows that rape has been around for many, many years and occurs anywhere and everywhere. I think it is a relatable piece. A prince, who has a lot of power, takes advantage of woman who is very vulnerable. A lot of women feel very helpless and ashamed after being sexually abused. For many, it is too much for them to handle. Some become extremely depressed and suffer from PTSD, others, like Lucretia, take their own life.

All in all, this opera was a wonderful experience and one I really enjoyed. Lyric Theatre @ Illinois will be back at Krannert with another performance, Crazy for You, in April. Check it out!

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