This August, Carriageworks presents Sydney Chamber Opera’s (SCO) new co-production with Victorian Opera, Benjamin Britten’s opera in two acts, The Rape of Lucretia. Directed by Helpmann Award Winner, Kip Williams, the production stars Mezzo Soprano Anna Dowsley (Le Nozze di Figaro for Opera Australia; SCO’s Ich habe genug) in a career-defining title role. Conducted by SCO’s Artistic Director, Jack Symonds, Costume Design and Associate Direction is by Elizabeth Gadsby; Set Design is by David Fleischer; and Lighting Design is by Damien Cooper. Six performances of this world premiere season will be presented at Carriageworks from 19 – 26 August 2017.

The Rape of Lucretia marks SCO’s first co-production with Victorian Opera, and Kip William’s first production for SCO since being appointed Artistic Director of Sydney Theatre Company. Williams’ directorial credits for SCO include Fausto Romitelli’s An Index of Metals (2015); Peter Maxwell Davies’ The Lighthouse (2012), Through the Gates, for or the 18th Biennale of Sydney (2012) and a staged version of Bach’s cantata Ich Habe Genug, paired with a modern Nunc Dimittis by SCO’s Jack Symonds (2011).

Seldom performed in Australia, Benjamin Britten is the most important British composer of the twentieth century, and the greatest composer of opera in English. For Britten, the Roman tale of Lucretia’s tragic violation at the hands of the tyrant Tarquinius became the vessel for an operatic revolution. Written in the aftermath of World War II, it premiered at Glyndebourne in 1946, and was the first work to which Britten applied his term, ‘chamber opera’. In place of grandeur and bombast, his work was taut and intimate, with only eight singers and a chamber ensemble to score their every thought and action. Britten was sewing the seeds of an art form that SCO have become the sole professional practitioners of in Australia.

Sydney Chamber Opera Artistic Director and Conductor Jack Symonds said: “In every bar of this score there is a sense that Britten is inventing a new genre of opera. The genre upon which we have built Sydney Chamber Opera. Britten is discovering the expressive and musical possibilities in uniting true chamber music with operatic drama- and the results are extraordinary. Mounting this foundation stone in the repertoire is a completely natural fit, and it couldn’t be more exciting to have this outstanding cast and dream creative team. I have a feeling that our fifth production directed by Kip Williams will be a very special artistic event.”

Often regarded as a ‘problem piece’ by virtue of its overtly Christian framework, the work is a natural fit for Williams, whose work frequently delves into religious motifs. The production explores the moral implications of rape, marital fidelity and male aggression, with complex feelings and motives filtered through the microscope of the Male and Female Chorus.

Director Kip Williams said: “I’m delighted to be working with Sydney Chamber Opera and Victorian Opera to realise this extraordinary work. Britten’s opera offers an incredible opportunity to re-examine a one of our foundational myths, and lay bare its provocations and problems in all their fullness. My team and I are interested in excavating the work’s complex exploration of gender, power, and sexuality, whilst finding new perspective on this oft interpreted tale. I’m thrilled to have long-time collaborators Elizabeth Gadsby, David Fleischer, and Damien Cooper joining me in bringing the world of Lucretia to new life.”

Victorian Opera Artistic Director, Richard Mills said: “All at Victorian Opera are proud and excited to be working with this brilliant young company whose fresh vision and uncompromising excellence have been an inspiration. Artistic Director Jack Symonds is one of the most talented emerging conductors in the country and Kip Williams’ production of Britten’s dark masterpiece is sure to be a revelation.”

As the opera opens, the ancient Etruscans seize Rome. At an army camp outside the city, the generals Collatinus, Junius and Tarquinius discuss how, the previous night, they had ridden back to Rome only to find their wives unfaithful – except for Lucretia, the wife of Collatinus. The cuckolded Junius, jealous of Lucretia’s fidelity, mocks and argues with the single Tarquinius. Junius insists that all women are unfaithful by nature, but the drunken Tarquinius declares that Lucretia is not. ‘I’ll prove her chaste,’ he says, and leaves for Rome.

That evening at Lucretia’s house in Rome, there is a violent knock on the door. Tarquinius enters and asks Lucretia for wine and lodging. Reluctantly, she shows him to a room for the night. Tarquinius steals into Lucretia’s room. He kisses her and she, dreaming of Collatinus, draws him closer. But when Lucretia wakes and realises it is Tarquinius, they struggle and Tarquinius overcomes Lucretia.