A Harrowing Tale of Love and Lust

Sonic Illinois’ interpretation of the Rape of Lucretia provides a modern look at a classic play

written by Janarth Dheenadhayalan

I had never heard of the Rape of Lucretia before, so I was excited to see what this performance would be like. I had been to an opera before but it was in Italian so I was forced to read the subtitles to understand the context of the play. I greatly appreciate that this was sung in English because it meant that I could keep my eyes off of the supertitles and on the performers. I think this alone elevated my experience of the performance.

Just prior to the performance

People outside of the hall waited in eager anticipation of the performance. I imagine for many it was the first time they were listening to an opera sung in English.

The beautiful path that descends into the performance hall

I think the operatic elements enhanced my appreciation of the performance as art, but also hindered my understanding of the story itself. For example, a significant amount of emphasis was placed on Lucretia and Tarquinius saying “goodnight” to each other, but there was little emphasis placed on Tarquinius’ journey to Rome. Also, the program stated that Junius taunted Tarquinius at the end of the play because he won the bet, but this scene was entirely absent from the performance.

The performance hall immediately before the performance

Nevertheless, I think having the performance in English allowed me to understand what was going on without looking at the supertitles. Looking at the performers for the entire performance gave me more context for what they were saying, and not looking at the supertitles preserved the immersion. I do not think the supertitles were necessary because in general it was easy to understand what the performers were saying.

My favorite aspect of this story is the historical significance. The rape and subsequent suicide of Lucretia ended the Roman kingdom and created the Roman republic. This was hinted at in the opera during the scene when many of Lucretia’s housemaids were chanting “down with Tarquinius.” In many ways, the kingdom of Rome itself died with Lucretia, and Lucretia’s chaste could represent the kingdom’s stability. Tarquinius raping Lucretia destroyed Lucretia’s chaste, and with it the Roman kingdom.

This story of helplessness reminds me of current times because many students feel this way during the academic year. In some ways, Lucretia could be the student body’s mental health, and Tarquinius could be the unhealthy social expectations that are placed on students during their college years. For example, many students frequently skip meals or sleep in order to complete their assignments on time. This unhealthy behavior has increased exponentially in recent years, and will likely result in a paradigm shift in the near future.

Some of the organizers of the performance having a chat

Overall, the presentation was lovely. As I have mentioned several times in this post, my favorite aspect was the language. Normally when I consume media in a different language, I am forced to read subtitles that inherently detract from the experience. This time, I was able to appreciate the performance without ever having to take my eyes off the performers.

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