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THE RAPE OF LUCRETIA | DIRECTOR’S NOTES

August 18, 2017

The Rape of Lucretia is a foundational myth that traditionally has been used to perpetuate ideas surrounding the ‘value’ of a republic: namely that men must bind together in order to protect the chastity of their women. At its core, our production asks questions of the ways in which this thinking still exists in our contemporary lives, and what impact this paradigm has had on how we think about gender, power and sex. Ultimately, we are interested in examining this ancient culture in the context of our own, drawing parallels between ideologies and systems of power that permit masculine entitlement, engender the disempowerment of women, and both perpetuate and exonerate acts of sexual assault. This production is an act of illumination and erosion of the exculpatory power of this history.

Britten’s opera establishes two narrative threads: that of a dual Chorus with an early 20th century Christian perspective, and that of the world they narrate – the actions leading to the formation of the Roman Republic in 6th century BC. We have built on this meta narrative by introducing a third narrative thread of contemporary story tellers, who construct the story of Lucretia and provide comment and perspective from within it.

One of the challenges in approaching a staging of Britten’s opera is the absence of any critical perspective on the gender politics contained within the world of Rome. By giving our performers contemporary identities as their primary relationship to the audience, we afford them an active critical voice on the politics at play. Through them we explore the performative and restrictive nature of gender in the Lucretia myth by fracturing each character into three parts: the costume, which represents the character, the actor, who performs the character’s actions whilst lipsynching their dialogue, and the singer, who gives voice to the character.

An additional complexity that Britten’s opera presents is the presence of the Christian perspective of the Chorus on Lucretia’s rape. On the surface Britten appears to endorse this perspective, one that ultimately absolves us of this action. However, on closer look there is a line of questioning that the Female Chorus takes toward the end, which is more existential and culpable in its essence. When considering Britten’s historical context, the covertness of this questioning begins to make more sense. Britten was writing in a era where to overtly challenge the Church would have caused outrage, and almost certainly would have cost him a major source of income. It is in this context that we see Britten positing Lucretia as a subversive work of existentialism. We were struck by this aspect of Britten’s work and have sought to build upon this assertion of the Female Chorus, knitting her line of critical reflection to an examination of structures of power that provide avenues to absolve ourselves of responsibility.

KIP WILLIAMS, DIRECTOR
ELIZABETH GADSBY, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR & COSTUME DESIGNER

SYDNEY CHAMBER OPERA – THE RAPE OF LUCRETIA
19 – 26 AUG 2017
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PHOTO: SAMUEL HODGE